Politics and Legislation

Obama’s below-the-radar healthcare push


By Sam Baker and Elise Viebeck

The Obama administration is employing an aggressive ground game to build support for its controversial healthcare law that often reaches beyond the Beltway.

While President Obama doesn’t mention healthcare much in his public appearances, the administration consistently touts its popular reforms to make the case for a law whose approval rating is stuck just below 50 percent.

In the two years since Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, the administration has released a deluge of reports, press releases and blog posts from the White House and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS). The administration consistently highlights new policies as they take effect and tries to keep other popular provisions, such as discounts on prescription drugs, in the news.

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Rep. Issa circulates contempt resolution against Attorney General Eric Holder

By Jordy Yager

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has circulated a draft copy of a resolution that would hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

The 44-page measure was sent to members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday in an attempt to shore up support for what would be the toughest action taken by Issa as chairman of the powerful panel.

Issa has been investigating the botched gun tracking operation Fast and Furious for more than a year and has repeatedly expressed his frustration at the Department of Justice’s lack of cooperation.

Issa has issued two subpoenas to obtain documents from the DOJ, and is arguing that the agency’s glacial pace in returning the requested information provides cause for holding Holder in contempt of Congress.

“The Justice Department’s failure to respond appropriately to the allegations of whistleblowers and to cooperate with congressional oversight has crossed the line of appropriate conduct for a government agency,” reads a 17-page memo attached to the draft copy of the resolution on contempt circulated to members.

“Congress now faces a moment of decision between exerting its full authority to compel an agency refusing to cooperate with congressional oversight or accepting a dangerous expansion of executive-branch authority and unilateral action allowing agencies to set their own terms for cooperating with congressional oversight.”

Issa says he has received about 7,300 documents from the DOJ. That’s only a small fraction of the documents that Justice has provided to its inspector general, who has been conducting an investigation of Fast and Furious for more than a year.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) recently said the oversight committee has received documents in only 10 of the 22 categories that Issa requested in last year’s subpoena.

The DOJ has said it has been responsive to Issa’s large request for documents. In some cases, the agency opted not to turn over documents because their public release could damage ongoing criminal cases, according to agency officials.

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Blind Chinese dissident calls Congress, wants meeting with Secretary Clinton

By Pete Kasperowicz – 05/03/12 04:26 PM ET

The Chinese dissident at the center of a political firestorm called a hearing Thursday and told lawmakers he wants to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Chinese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng called a hearing set up to explore his efforts to leave China and escape persecution—apparently from a Chinese hospital room.

“I want to meet with Secretary Clinton,” he said on the phone. “I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face.”

Chen added that he is most concerned with his family, and said, “I really want to know what’s going on with them.”

“I want to thank all of you for your care and your love,” he added, through a translation by Pastor Bob Fu, Founder and President, ChinaAid Association. Fu was a witness at Thursday’s hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Chen is at the center of a diplomatic row between the U.S. and China that has become a political liability for President Obama.

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Economy

Wall Street CEOs Personally Lobby Federal Reserve to Weaken New Financial Regulations

By Travis Waldron

Federal regulators in charge of writing the Volcker Rule, which would ban federally-insured financial institutions from risky proprietary trading, are moving at a faster pace than expected and could have the rule finalized by September.

Wall Street banks have been lobbying to weaken the rule since it was originally proposed by its namesake, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and now that it is just months away from finalization, their efforts are getting stronger. The chief executives of six major Wall Street banks, led by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, traveled to Washington yesterday to personally lobby the Federal Reserve on multiple issues — weakening the Volcker Rule chief among them — Bloomberg reports:

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Everyone Agrees That the Decline in Pay has Been Understated

logo private sector of the americas

By Dean Baker

Jason Richwine and Andrew Biggs have a piece saying that many public-sector workers are overpaid in which they also say that I agree with them in much of their analysis. This is true.

Let me outline what I think are areas of agreement. First, we seem to agree that if we just compare the wages paid to public-sector and private-sector workers, the latter do better. When we adjust for education and experience, private sector workers tend to get higher pay than their counterparts in the public sector.

This is not true across the board. My colleague John Schmitt has found that while workers with college and advanced degrees (e.g. doctors and lawyers) get less in the public sector, less-educated workers get paid the same or slightly more than their counterparts in the private sector. In other words, there is less inequality in public sector wages than we see in the private sector, with the average being somewhat lower.

We also agree that the lower wages for public-sector workers are largely or completely offset by higher benefits. The key difference here is that public-sector workers are far more likely to have a traditional defined benefit pension plan. Most workers in the public sector still have defined benefit pensions, while less than 20 percent of workers in the private sector do. (The difference is considerably less stark if we restrict the comparison to large private firms, where defined benefit plans are still common.)

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Ford Motor Backs Thailand And Opens Second Plant

Published on May 3, 2012 by

Ford opened a second plant in Thailand on Thursday giving the firm the ability to produce 445,000 vehicles a year in the country.

Expect stagnant U.S. economy in 2013: Roubini

Second half of a double-dip recession is possible, economist says

 |Russ Britt, MarketWatch

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — The U.S. economy could retreat into stagnation in 2013 and ultimately cast the nation into the second half of a double-dip recession, high-profile economist Nouriel Roubini said Wednesday.

Speaking at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., Roubini noted that real wages for U.S. workers are not growing and that America’s crushing debt is strangling growth.

That translates into possible fiscal decay in which GDP will be “lucky” to grow 2% this year and faces the prospect of retreating into near-zero growth next year, according to Roubini.

Both political parties can share blame for the trouble, he added, arguing that the Republican Party wants to limit spending and Democrats don’t want to cut programs, and so are at an impasse. Little is likely to change regardless of this year’s presidential election, as Senate Democrats are likely to use the filibuster even if Republican candidate Mitt Romney unseats President Barack Obama.

“If there is gridlock, it’s going to get worse,” Roubini said.

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Wars and Rumors of War

Israel gets 4th German submarine

Advanced submarine handed over to Israel in festive ceremony; new sub is IDF’s most expensive weapon. Defense Minister Barak: Vessel will greatly boost army’s capabilities

Yoav Zitun

Published: 05.03.12, 18:15 / Israel News

Fourth Dolphin submarine starts long journey to Israel: An official ceremony was held in the German city of Kiel Thursday to mark the handover of a fourth submarine to Israel’s Navy.

The Tanin (“alligator” in Hebrew) is considered one of the world’s most advanced submarines and is the IDF’s most expensive. The vessel is expected to reach Israel only in 2013 and dock at the Haifa Port.

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Russia threatens Nato with military strikes over missile defense system

Russia has threatened Nato with military strikes against in Poland and Romania if a missile defense radar and interceptors are deployed in Eastern Europe.

Russia has threatened Nato with military strikes against in Poland and Romania if a missile defence radar and interceptors are deployed in Eastern Europe.

Gen Makarov has threatened to target Nato bases hosting an anti-missile system designed by the US to protect European allies against attack from states such as Iran Photo: AFP

By , Brussels

6:06PM BST 03 May 2012

General Nikolai Makarov, Russia’s most senior military commander, warned Nato that if it proceeded with a controversial American missile defence system, force would be used against it.

“A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” he said.

Gen Makarov has threatened to target Nato bases hosting an anti-missile system designed by the US to protect European allies against attack from states such as Iran.

He said that Russia would counter Nato deployment by stationing short-range Iskander missiles in the Russian Kaliningrad exclave near Poland, creating the worst military tensions since the Cold War.

“The deployment of new strike weapons in Russia’s south and northwest – including of Iskander systems in Kaliningrad – is one of our possible options for destroying the system’s European infrastructure,” he said.

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Russia Says May Strike Preemptively Against NATO Missile Defense

Published on May 3, 2012 by

Russia said on Thursday (May 3) that it may use pre-emptive force against the NATO missile defense system if it considers the threat of it growing.

Russia hosted an international conference on missile defense in Moscow on Thursday where Russian army officials showed computer simulation models to illustrate how they believe the planned U.S. and NATO missile shield threatens its security.

NATO officials are hopeful an agreement with Russia will be reached before the NATO summit but Russia is adamant their concerns are not being listened to.

Washington says the shield, due to be completed in four phases by roughly 2020, is meant to counter a potential threat from Iran. Moscow says the system will undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent because it could also give the West the ability to shoot down Russian missiles.

The shield’s first phase is to be declared up and running at the summit in Chicago later this month.

Russia and NATO agreed in 2010 to seek ways to cooperate on missile defense but have failed to reach a deal. The Kremlin wants a legally binding guarantee that the system will not be used against Russia. The United States says it cannot agree to any formal limits on missile defense.

In the meantime, Moscow said it can strike the missile defense system elements pre-emptively if they are considered a serious threat to Russia’s security.

Two blasts kill 14, injure over 80 in Dagestan

Published on May 3, 2012 by

14 people have been killed and up to 87 others injured as two powerful explosions hit Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan in southern Russia, security services report. The first bomb was detonated by a suicide car bomber not far from a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Makhachkala, when the car was stopped for a regular check. The second bomb, which caused most of the casualties, struck when rescuers arrived at the scene 20 minutes later. The blast caused a fire but it was soon extinguished. The combined power of the blasts was equivalent to 60 kg of TNT, according to officials from the National Antiterrorism Committee. The incidents are being treated as terror attacks. RT’s Sean Thomas has the details and also RT talks to Doctor Walid Phares, a counter-terrorism adviser to the US Congress.

Encircling Iran: US claims would win in 3 weeks

Published on May 4, 2012 by

The war rhetoric from Washington towards Iran is again being ramped up – just ahead of the second round of high-level international talks on the country’s nuclear program. US military top brass claim they would need just three weeks to defeat Iran’s armed forces. RT’s Gayane Chichakyan looks at whether it’s just more tough talk – or preparation for real action.

“We are Preparing for Massive Civil War,” Says DHS Informant

Posted by

In a riveting interview on TruNews Radio, Wednesday, private investigator Doug Hagmann said high-level, reliable sources told him the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is preparing for “massive civil war” in America.

“Folks, we’re getting ready for one massive economic collapse,” Hagmann told TruNews host Rick Wiles.

“We have problems . . . The federal government is preparing for civil uprising,” he added, “so every time you hear about troop movements, every time you hear about movements of military equipment, the militarization of the police, the buying of the ammunition, all of this is . . . they (DHS) are preparing for a massive uprising.”

Hagmann goes on to say that his sources tell him the concerns of the DHS stem from a collapse of the U.S. dollar and the hyperinflation a collapse in the value of the world’s primary reserve currency implies to a nation of 311 million Americans, who, for the significant portion of the population, is armed.

Uprisings in Greece is, indeed, a problem, but an uprising of armed Americans becomes a matter of serious national security, a point addressed in a recent report by the Pentagon and highlighted as a vulnerability and threat to the U.S. during war-game exercises at the Department of Defense last year, according to one of the DoD’s war-game participants, Jim Rickards, author of Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis.

Through his sources, Hagmann confirmed Rickards’ ongoing thesis of a fear of a U.S. dollar collapse at the hands of the Chinese (U.S. treasury bond holders of approximately $1 trillion) and, possibly, the Russians (threatening to launch a gold-backed ruble as an attractive alternative to the U.S. dollar) in retaliation for aggressive U.S. foreign policy initiatives against China’s and Russia’s strategic allies Iran and Syria.

“The one source that we have I’ve known since 1979,” Hagmann continued.  “He started out as a patrol officer and currently he is now working for a federal agency under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security; he’s in a position to know what policies are being initiated, what policies are being planned at this point, and he’s telling us right now—look, what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg.  We are preparing, we, meaning the government, we are preparing for a massive civil war in this country.”

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Articles of Interest

ALEC Wasn’t First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill – Enter Council of State Governments

By Steve HornFile:House Financial Services Committee hearing with Ben Bernanke.jpg

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck’s truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

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Rupert Murdoch in “Unprecedented Firestorm” As UK Panel Finds Him Unfit to Run Media Empire

Published on May 3, 2012 by

DemocracyNow.org – A British parliamentary report has issued a scathing report that finds Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run a major international media company because of how News Corp. handled its phone hacking scandal. The Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport said Murdoch and his son, James, showed “willful blindness” about the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World tabloid. The panel’s finding has prompted a U.S. watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to call on the Federal Communications Commission to revoke News Corp’s 27 Fox broadcast licenses in the United States. We speak with David Leigh, investigations editor at The Guardian, the news outlet that first exposed the phone-hacking practices taking place within the Murdoch media empire. Leigh says the British panel’s findings could threaten Murdoch’s media presence across the Atlantic: “People are now beginning to say, ‘Doesn’t this bleed over into the man who runs Fox News and has all those TV outlets in the U.S.?’ If he is not fit and proper person in Britain, then he is not a fit and proper person in the U.S. either.”

To watch the complete independent, weekday news hour, read the transcript, download the podcast, and for more information about Democracy Now!, please visit http://www.democracynow.org

Alex Jones: Pentagon prepares re-education camps for political activists

Published on May 3, 2012 by

On May Day in 1971, the US Army rounded up approximately 7,000 protesters into a stadium in Washington, DC that they treated like a make-shift prison camp. Have things changed in the past 40 years? Now a Department of Defense document has been leaked to the Web that details “Internment and Resettlement Operations.” The manual outlines policies for processing detainees in internment camps domestically and abroad and how to “re-educate” unruly activists. Alex Jones, host of the Alex Jones Show, joins us to find out what this means to people across the globe.

Pungent Chemical Smell Alarms Gush Dan Residents

Home Front Command reports source of smell drilling off coast of Ashdod; environment officials: gas concentrations ‘negligible’

By Gabe Kahn

Panic in the Dan!

Panic in the Dan!
Flash 90

There were reports in the Tel Aviv and the Sharon region of a strong chemical smell on Thursday.

Most complainants reported a strong smell of chlorine or bromine, or insecticide.

While most residents simply closed their windows and remained calm, others became concerned there had been a chemical attack.

Police and city administrations in the region received numerous calls, and Environment Ministry officials were dispatched to take readings.

The officials reported low concentrations of gas in the air, which they say do not pose a danger to public health.

“All measurements in the Tel Aviv area are negligible,” they reported. “The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to perform measurements, and trying to locate the source of odors. We are continuing to monitor other areas too.”

The officials also stressed they had yet to identify the souce of the smell.

However, a local environmental consultant told Channel 10 that concentrations producing a pungent scent were not healthy.

“This is an exceptional case,” the consultant said. “Such chemicals in high concentrations can be dangerous. The smell is quite strong.”

“The city administration could not identify the source,” he added.

However, the IDF Home Front Command identified the source of the smell as drilling off the coast of Ashdod.

Ramat Hasharon Mayor Itzik Rochberger complained that while the HFC told him the source of the smell, officials from the Environment Ministry were still in the dark.

“If it were a harmful substance what would happen?” he asked. “Why is no synchronization between the government systems?”

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