October 3rd, 2011
The New Yorker
By: Jane Mayer
In the spring of 2010, the conservative political strategist Ed Gillespie flew from Washington, D.C., to Raleigh, North Carolina, to spend a day laying the groundwork for REDMAP, a new project aimed at engineering a Republican takeover of state legislatures. Gillespie hoped to help his party get control of statehouses where congressional redistricting was pending, thereby leveraging victories in cheap local races into a means of shifting the balance of power in Washington. It was an ingenious plan, and Gillespie is a skilled tactician—he once ran the Republican National Committee—but REDMAP seemed like a long shot in North Carolina. Barack Obama carried the state in 2008 and remained popular. The Republicans hadn’t controlled both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for more than a century. (“Not since General Sherman,” a state politico joked to me.) That day in Raleigh, though, Gillespie had lunch with an ideal ally: James Arthur (Art) Pope, the chairman and C.E.O. of Variety Wholesalers, a discount-store conglomerate. The Raleigh News and Observer had called Pope, a conservative multimillionaire, the Knight of the Right. The REDMAP project offered Pope a new way to spend his money.
That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow, who often voted with the Republicans, was considered one of the most conservative Democrats in the General Assembly, and his record reflected the views of his constituents. His Republican opponent, Jim Davis—an orthodontist loosely allied with the Tea Party—had minimal political experience, and Snow, a former college football star, was expected to be reëlected easily. Yet somehow Davis seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow.
Snow recalls, “I voted to help build a pier with an aquarium on the coast, as did every other member of the North Carolina House and Senate who voted.” But a television attack ad presented the “luxury pier” as Snow’s wasteful scheme. “We’ve lost jobs,” an actress said in the ad. “John Snow’s solution for our economy? ‘Go fish!’ ” A mass mailing, decorated with a cartoon pig, denounced the pier as one of Snow’s “pork projects.” It criticized Snow for “wasting our tax dollars,” citing his vote to “spend $218,000 on a Shakespeare festival,” but failing to note that this sum represented a budget cut for the program, which had been funded by the legislature since 1999.
In all, Snow says, he was the target of two dozen mass mailings, one of them reminiscent of the Willie Horton ad that became notorious during the 1988 Presidential campaign. It featured a photograph of Henry Lee McCollum, a menacing-looking African-American convict on death row, who, along with three other men, raped and murdered an eleven-year-old girl. After describing McCollum’s crimes in lurid detail, the mailing noted, “Thanks to arrogant State Senator John Snow, McCollum could soon be let off of death row.” Snow, in fact, supported the death penalty and had prosecuted murder cases. But, in 2009, he had helped pass a new state law, the Racial Justice Act, that enabled judges to reconsider a death sentence if a convict could prove that the jury’s verdict had been tainted by racism. The law was an attempt to address the overwhelming racial disparity in capital sentences.
“The attacks just went on and on,” Snow told me recently. “My opponents used fear tactics. I’m a moderate, but they tried to make me look liberal.” On Election Night, he lost by an agonizingly slim margin—fewer than two hundred votes.
After the election, the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, a nonpartisan, pro-business organization, revealed that two seemingly independent political groups had spent several hundred thousand dollars on ads against Snow—a huge amount in a poor, backwoods district. Art Pope was instrumental in funding and creating both groups, Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action. Real Jobs NC was responsible for the “Go fish!” ad and the mass mailing that attacked Snow’s “pork projects.” The racially charged ad was produced by the North Carolina Republican Party, and Pope says that he was not involved in its creation. But Pope and three members of his family gave the Davis campaign a four-thousand-dollar check each—the maximum individual donation allowed by state law.
Snow, whose defeat was first chronicled by the Institute for Southern Studies, a progressive nonprofit organization, told me, “It’s getting to the point where, in politics, money is the most important thing. They spent nearly a million dollars to win that seat. A lot of it was from corporations and outside groups related to Art Pope. He was their sugar daddy.”
Bob Phillips, the head of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, an organization that promotes campaign-finance reform, said that Snow’s loss signals a troubling trend in American politics. “John Snow raised a significant amount of money,” he said. “But it was exceeded by what outside groups spent in that race, mostly on commercials against John Snow.” Such lopsided campaigns will likely become more common, thanks to the Supreme Court, which, in a controversial ruling in January, 2010, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. For the first time in more than a century, businesses and unions can spend unlimited sums to express support or opposition to candidates.
Phillips argues that the Court’s decision, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, has been a “game changer,” especially in the realm of state politics. In swing states like North Carolina—which the Democrats consider so important that they have scheduled their 2012 National Convention there—an individual donor, particularly one with access to corporate funds, can play a significant, and sometimes decisive, role. “We didn’t have that before 2010,” Phillips says. “Citizens United opened up the door. Now a candidate can literally be outspent by independent groups. We saw it in North Carolina, and a lot of the money was traced back to Art Pope.”
July 12, 2011
By Jim Abrams
Having to buy a squiggly fluorescent light bulb is an affront to personal freedom, some lawmakers are saying as the House decides whether to overturn a law setting new energy-efficiency standards for the bulbs.
House Republicans are pushing legislation that would overturn measures in a 2007 energy act requiring efficiency upgrades in the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb, little changed since it was invented by Thomas Edison in 1879.
Republicans say the new standards, signed into law by President George W. Bush, are a symbol of an overreaching federal government and people should have the right to buy the traditional, cheap and reliable incandescent bulbs. The Obama administration and environmentalists say new bulbs on the market will save American households billions of dollars in energy costs.
Today, Kevin explains how the internet is causing even more censorship than ever before and how collective thoughts are creating the future!
Government Removes Mother, Father From Passports
Wife Of White House Aide Found Dead In Burning Car
Confessions Of An Economic Hit Man
Mark Twain’s Books Get Censored
Dead Birds Falling From Sky Puzzling Investigators
Dead Fish Cover 20-Miles of Arkansas River
WikiLeaks Acquires Details of Thousands of Swiss Bank Accounts
Take Trudeau on the Go! Click here to download this show to your iPod, mp3 player, or PC through iTunes!
October 13, 2010
Big US cities could be squeezed by unfunded public pensions as they and counties face a $574 billion funding gap, a study to be released on Tuesday shows.
The gap at the municipal level would be in addition to $3,000 billion in unfunded liabilities already estimated for state-run pensions, according to research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the University of Rochester.
“What is yet to be seen is how this burden will be distributed between state and local governments and whether the federal government will be called upon for bail-outs,” said Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School.
The financial demands of unfunded pension promises come as state and local governments grapple with years of falling tax revenue related to the recession.
The combination has raised concern that defaults, which are historically rare in the $2,800 billion municipal bond market where local governments obtain money, could now rise.
“The bondholders would be competing with the pension beneficiaries for scarce government resources,” Mr Rauh said.
Current pension assets for plans sponsored by Philadelphia can only pay for promised benefits through 2015, while Boston and Chicago would deplete their existing funds by 2019.
Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Florida and St Paul have current pension assets that can only pay for promised benefits through 2020.
Local governments use unique accounting methods that many, such as Mr Rauh, believe understate obligations. Based on his estimates, which use US Treasuries as the benchmark, each household already owes an average of $14,165 to current and former municipal public employees in the 50 cities and counties studied.
“Philadelphia has the most immediate cause for concern, as the city can pay existing promises with existing assets only through 2015,” Mr Rauh said, assuming an 8 percent annualized return, the most common benchmark for municipal plans.
In New York City, San Francisco and Boston the total is more than $30,000 a household and, in Chicago, it tops $40,000.
Taxpayers in these areas risk not only local tax increases and service cuts to pay for benefits, but potentially some of the bill for the $3,000 billion unfunded obligations at the state level, the researchers say.
“The fact that there is such a large burden of public employee pensions concentrated in urban metropolitan areas threatens the long-run economic viability of these cities, as residents can potentially move elsewhere to escape the situation,” Mr Rauh said.
The research examines 77 pension plans sponsored by 50 major cities and counties and covering about 2 million workers, which is estimated to be two-thirds of workers covered by local pensions. Researchers then extrapolated the results – an unfunded liability of about $5,300 per worker – to come up with the total estimate of $574 billion.
September 20, 2010
By Robin Night
The UK’s tax collection agency is putting forth a proposal that all employers send employee paychecks to the government, after which the government would deduct what it deems as the appropriate tax and pay the employees by bank transfer.
The proposal by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) stresses the need for employers to provide real-time information to the government so that it can monitor all payments and make a better assessment of whether the correct tax is being paid.
Currently employers withhold tax and pay the government, providing information at the end of the year, a system know as Pay as You Earn (PAYE). There is no option for those employees to refuse withholding and individually file a tax return at the end of the year.
If the real-time information plan works, it further proposes that employers hand over employee salaries to the government first.
“The next step could be to use (real-time) information as the basis for centralizing the calculation and deduction of tax,” HMRC said in a July discussion paper.
HMRC described the plan as “radical” as it would be a huge change from the current system that has been largely unchanged for 66 years.
Even though the centralized deductions proposal would provide much-needed oversight, there are some major concerns, George Bull, head of Tax at Baker Tilly, told CNBC.com.
“If HMRC has direct access to employees’ bank accounts and makes a mistake, people are going to feel very exposed and vulnerable,” Bull said.
And the chance of widespread mistakes could be high, according to Bull. HMRC does not have a good track record of handling large computer systems and has suffered high-profile errors with data, he said.
The system would be massive in terms of data management, larger than a recent attempt to centralize the National Health Service’s data, which was later scrapped, Bull said.
If there’s a mistake and the HMRC collects too much money, the difficulty of getting it back could be high with repayments of tax taking weeks or months, he said.
“There has to be some very clear understanding of how quickly repayments were made if there was a mistake,” Bull said.
HMRC estimated the potential savings to employers from the introduction of the concept would be about £500 million ($780 million).
But the cost of implementing the new system would be “phenomenal,” Bull pointed out.
“It’s very clear that the system does need to be modernized… It’s outdated, it’s outmoded,” Emma Boon, campaigner manager at the Tax Payers’ Alliance, told CNBC.com.
Boon said that the Tax Payers’ Alliance was in favor of simplifying tax collection, but stressed that a new complex computer system would add infrastructure and administration costs at a time when the government is trying to reduce spending.
There is a further concern, according to Bull. The centralized storage of so much data poises a security risk as the system may be open to cyber crime.
As well as security issues, there’s a huge issue of transparency, according to Boon.
Boon also questioned HMCR’s ability to handle to the role effectively.
The Institute of Directors (IoD), a UK organization created to promote the business agenda of directors and entreprenuers, said in a press release it had major concerns about the proposal to allow employees’ pay to be paid directly to HMRC.
The IoD said the shift to a real-time, centralized system could be positive as long as the burden on employers was not increased. But it added that the idea of wages being processed by HMRC was “completely unacceptable.”
“This document contains a lot of good ideas. But the idea that HMRC should be trusted with the gross pay of employees is not one of them,” Richard Baron, Head of Taxation at the IoD, said in the release.
A spokesperson for Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was not immediately available for comment.
August 9th, 2010
By: Larry Kudlow
With the disappointingly soft jobs report for July, and a faltering recovery overall, is Team Obama getting ready for some sort of new, liberal-left, Keynesian, big-bang stimulus package? Will they be desperate to “do something”?
Already there are rumors of an August surprise (to use the phrase of business columnist Jimmy Pethokoukis) where Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac forgive underwater mortgages held by millions of Americans. And with state and local government jobs having fallen 169,000 year-to-date, perhaps the Democratic Congress and the White House will seek an even bigger spending plan for teachers and Medicaid workers — on top of the $26 billion plan that just passed the Senate.
Or maybe the Democrats will come up with a new infrastructure-spending bill, perhaps for green technologies and whatnot. Or maybe they’ll extend unemployment benefits even more. My liberal friend Robert Reich is even talking up the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), where the government employed millions during the 1930s.
With the announcement this week that Council of Economic Advisers chair Christy Romer will leave the White House to go back to teach at Berkeley, it looks like the center of economic gravity will shift leftward inside the West Wing.
Meanwhile, over at the Fed, it seems ever more likely that the FOMC meeting next week will produce a much more dovish policy statement, one that will lengthen the “extended period” near-zero-interest-rate language and hint at new cash purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds to increase the central bank’s balance sheet and expand the basic money supply. Already, in recent weeks, the dollar has been plunging.
Of course, Republicans will push harder to keep the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — as they should. But Democrats are now trapped by Treasury man Tim Geithner’s statements that extending low tax rates for successful earners, investors, and small businesses would actually imperil economic recovery. This is his war against investment and capital formation.
Maybe the Democratic revolt in favor of keeping all the Bush tax cuts will gather steam. But Democrats are more likely to push for greater spending than investment tax incentives. They’d rather take your money than let you keep it.
The GOP also should call for lower corporate tax rates, including full cash expensing for businesses. But so far they haven’t made much noise on this, despite the fact that cash-rich businesses are mostly avoiding new hires in the face of the Obamacare regulatory threats and the uncertainty about future tax burdens.
The bottom line? Panic over this stalled economy may be setting in.
The unemployment rate is hanging stubbornly at 9.5 percent and economic growth looks to be slipping to only 2 to 3 percent. In order to get unemployment down significantly, the economy has to grow by at least 4 percent.
Inside July’s jobs report, small-business household employment dropped by 159,000 jobs — a very bad sign. In the three months to April, this survey produced 417,000 new jobs. In the three months to July, it fell by 151,000.
At the same time, private payrolls in the corporate survey rose by only 71,000 in July, compared with an expected gain of 100,000. In the three months to April, payrolls gained by 154,000. Over the past three months, payrolls have increased only 51,000. They need to grow at a better-than 200,000 monthly pace in order to reduce joblessness.
So just like the overall economy, the jobs recovery is faltering. It isn’t a double-dip recession. But the story is moving in the wrong direction. And if the Democrats in power push for a big-bang summer surprise that seeks even more failed stimulus spending, they will do much more harm than good.
The Intrade pay-to-play investment parlor already shows a 60 percent likelihood of a GOP House takeover this November. That’s the ultimate silver lining in this story.
August 6th, 2010
By: Helen Jung
It’s hardly unusual to hear small-business owners gripe about licensing requirements or complain that heavy-handed regulations are driving them into the red.
So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again.
Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license.
Turns out that kids’ lemonade stands — those constants of summertime — are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors.
“I understand the reason behind what they’re doing and it’s a neighborhood event, and they’re trying to generate revenue,” said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. “But we still need to put the public’s health first.”
Julie had become enamored of the idea of having a stand after watching an episode of cartoon pig Olivia running one, said her mother, Maria Fife. The two live in Oregon City, but Fife knew her daughter would get few customers if she set up her stand at home.
Plus, Fife had just attended Last Thursday along Portland’s Northeast Alberta Street for the first time and loved the friendly feel and the diversity of the grass-roots event. She put the two things together and promised to take her daughter in July.
The girl worked on a sign, coloring in the letters and decorating it with a drawing of a person saying “Yummy.” She made a list of supplies.
Then, with gallons of bottled water and packets of Kool-Aid, they drove up last Thursday with a friend and her daughter. They loaded a wheelbarrow that Julie steered to the corner of Northeast 26th and Alberta and settled into a space between a painter and a couple who sold handmade bags and kids’ clothing.
Even before her daughter had finished making the first batch of lemonade, a man walked up to buy a 50-cent cup.
“They wanted to support a little 7-year-old to earn a little extra summer loot,” she said. “People know what’s going on.”
Even so, Julie was careful about making the lemonade, cleaning her hands with hand sanitizer, using a scoop for the bagged ice and keeping everything covered when it wasn’t in use, Fife said.
After 20 minutes, a “lady with a clipboard” came over and asked for their license. When Fife explained they didn’t have one, the woman told them they would need to leave or possibly face a $500 fine.
Surprised, Fife started to pack up. The people staffing the booths next to them encouraged the two to stay, telling them the inspectors had no right to kick them out of the neighborhood gathering. They also suggested that they give away the lemonade and accept donations instead and one of them made an announcement to the crowd to support the lemonade stand.
That’s when business really picked up — and two inspectors came back, Fife said. Julie started crying, while her mother packed up and others confronted the inspectors. “It was a very big scene,” Fife said.
Technically, any lemonade stand — even one on your front lawn — must be licensed under state law, said Eric Pippert, the food-borne illness prevention program manager for the state’s public health division. But county inspectors are unlikely to go after kids selling lemonade on their front lawn unless, he conceded, their front lawn happens to be on Alberta Street during Last Thursday.
“When you go to a public event and set up shop, you’re suddenly engaging in commerce,” he said. “The fact that you’re small-scale I don’t think is relevant.”
Kawaguchi, who oversees the two county inspectors involved, said they must be fair and consistent in their monitoring, no matter the age of the person. “Our role is to protect the public,” he said.
The county’s shutdown of the lemonade stand was publicized by Michael Franklin, the man at the booth next to Fife and her daughter. Franklin contributes to the Bottom Up Radio Network, an online anarchist site, and interviewed Fife for his show.
Franklin is also organizing a “Lemonade Revolt” for Last Thursday in August. He’s calling on anarchists, neighbors and others to come early for the event and grab space for lemonade stands on Alberta between Northeast 25th and Northeast 26th.
As for Julie, the 7-year-old still tells her mother “it was a bad day.” When she complains about the health inspector, Fife reminds her that the woman was just doing her job. She also promised to help her try again — at an upcoming neighborhood garage sale.
While Fife said she does see the need for some food safety regulation, she thinks the county went too far in trying to control events as unstructured as Last Thursday.
“As far as Last Thursday is concerned, people know when they are coming there that it’s more or less a free-for-all,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where they need to be in all of our decisions. They don’t trust us to make good choices on our own.”
August 2nd, 2010
Sheriff Paul Babeu is hopping mad at the federal government.
Babeu told CNSNews.com that rather than help law enforcement in Arizona stop the hundreds of thousands of people who come into the United States illegally, the federal government is targeting the state and its law enforcement personnel.
“What’s very troubling is the fact that at a time when we in law enforcement and our state need help from the federal government, instead of sending help they put up billboard-size signs warning our citizens to stay out of the desert in my county because of dangerous drug and human smuggling and weapons and bandits and all these other things and then, behind that, they drag us into court with the ACLU,” Babeu said.
The sheriff was referring to the law suits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the state’s new immigration law.
“So who has partnered with the ACLU?” Babeu said in a telephone interview with CNSNews.com. “It’s the president and (Attorney General) Eric Holder himself. And that’s simply outrageous.”
Last week, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton placed a temporary injunction on portions of the bill that allowed law enforcement personnel during the course of a criminal investigation who have probable cause to think an individual is in the country illegally to check immigration status. The state of Arizona filed an appeal on Thursday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“Our own government has become our enemy and is taking us to court at a time when we need help,” Babeu said.
Babeu and Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County Ariz., spoke by phone with CNSNews.com last week about the May 17 ACLU class-action lawsuit, which charges the law uses racial profiling and named the county attorneys and sheriffs in all 15 Arizona counties as defendants. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on July 6, charging the Arizona law preempted the federal government’s sole right to enforce immigration law.
“If the president would do his job and secure the border; send 3,000 armed soldiers to the Arizona border and stop the illegal immigration and the drug smuggling and the violence, we wouldn’t even be in this position and where we’re forced to take matters into our own hands,” Babeu said.
Dever said the federal government’s failure to secure the border and its current thwarting of Arizona’s effort to control illegal immigration within its borders has implications for the entire country.
“The bigger picture is while what’s going on in Arizona is critically important, what comes out of this and happens here will affect our entire nation in terms of our ability to protect our citizenry from a very serious homeland security threat,” Dever said. “People who are coming across the border in my county aren’t staying there. They’re going everywhere USA and a lot of them are bad, bad people.”
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), about 250,000 people were detained in Arizona in the last 12 months for being in the country illegally. Babeu said that that number only reflects the number of people detained and that thousands more enter the country illegally each year.
The CBP also reports that 17 percent of those detained already have a criminal record in the United States.
Both Babeu and Dever said they want to remain involved in the legal battle over the law, which many experts predict will end up being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Dever has hired an independent attorney to represent him in the ACLU case and his attorney has already filed a motion of intervention in the DOJ lawsuit so the “(Dever) will have a seat at the table.”
A Web site also has been launched by the non-profit, Iowa-based Legacy Foundation to raise money for the Babeu’s and Dever’s legal defense.
Both men said they believe the outcome of the case has national significance.“For us, this is a public safety matter and a national security threat,” Babeu said.
August 2nd, 2010
My FOX N.Y.
A town on New York’s Long Island is using Google Earth to find backyard pools that don’t have the proper permits.
The town of Riverhead has used the satellite image service to find about 250 pools whose owners never filled out the required paperwork.
Violators were told to get the permits or face hefty fines. So far about $75,000 in fees has been collected.
Riverhead’s chief building inspector Leroy Barnes Jr. said the unpermitted pools were a safety concern. He said that without the required inspections there was no way to know whether the pools’ plumbing, electrical work and fencing met state and local regulations.
“Pool safety has always been my concern,” Barnes said.
But some privacy advocates say the use of Google Earth to find scofflaw swimming pools reeks of Big Brother.
Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., said Google Earth was promoted as an aid to curious travelers but has become a tool for cash-hungry local governments.
“The technology is going so far ahead of what people think is possible, and there is too little discussion about community norms,” she said.
A representative for Google said she did not know of any other community using Google Earth as it has been used in Riverhead. She did not respond to a question about whether Google has any concerns about how the town is using the service.
June 24, 2010
The Globe and Mail
By Marcus Gee
At City Hall, employees arrived at work to find a burly security guard demanding their access pass before they entered the normally unlocked doors. At a downtown law firm, lawyers were told to leave their suits and high heels at home and dress casual-like to avoid being set upon by anti-capitalist rioters. At one provincial government office, bureaucrats were told in late afternoon that the building was going under “lockdown” because protesters were in the neighbourhood. Many scooted for exits to avoid being trapped in the closed-up building.
All of a sudden on Monday, our calm, mild, pacific city took on a changed feel as the security noose tightened in advance of this weekend’s G20 summit. In the downtown, packs of police officers on bikes roamed the streets – followed, incongruously, by a golf cart-type vehicle transporting water, juice and granola bars for the boys and girls in blue. Around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the shiny metal security fence neared completion, a ghastly thing, like all such barriers, that made the notoriously ugly convention centre that will welcome foreign leaders even more unsightly than usual.