News Round-up

New York, Battles of the Budget, Paul Krugman, Jan. 3, 2013. The centrist fantasy of a Grand Bargain on the budget never had a chance. Even if some kind of bargain had supposedly been reached, key players would soon have reneged on the deal — probably the next time a Republican occupied the White House.  For the reality is that our two major political parties are engaged in a fierce struggle over the future shape of American society. Democrats want to preserve the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and add to them what every other advanced country has: a more or less universal guarantee of essential health care. Republicans want to roll all of that back, making room for drastically lower taxes on the wealthy. Yes, it’s essentially a class war.  The fight over the fiscal cliff was just one battle in that war. It ended, arguably, in a tactical victory for Democrats. The question is whether it was a Pyrrhic victory that set the stage for a larger defeat.

Why do I say that it was a tactical victory? Mainly because of what didn’t happen: There were no benefit cuts.

This was by no means a foregone conclusion. In 2011, the Obama administration was reportedly willing to raise the age of Medicare eligibility, a terrible and cruel policy idea. This time around, it was willing to cut Social Security benefits by changing the formula for cost-of-living adjustments, a less terrible idea that would nonetheless have imposed a lot of hardship — and probably have been politically disastrous as well. In the end, however, it didn’t happen. And progressives, always worried that President Obama seems much too willing to compromise about fundamentals, breathed a sigh of relief.

There were also some actual positives from a progressive point of view. Expanded unemployment benefits were given another year to run, a huge benefit to many families and a significant boost to our economic prospects (because this is money that will be spent, and hence help preserve jobs). Other benefits to lower-income families were given another five years — although, unfortunately, the payroll tax break was allowed to expire, which will hurt both working families and job creation.

The biggest progressive gripe about the legislation is that Mr. Obama extracted less revenue from the affluent than expected — about $600 billion versus $800 billion over the next decade. In perspective, however, this isn’t that big a deal. Put it this way: A reasonable estimate is that gross domestic product over the next 10 years will be around $200 trillion. So if the revenue take had matched expectations, it would still have amounted to only 0.4 percent of G.D.P.; as it turned out, this was reduced to 0.3 percent. Either way, it wouldn’t make much difference in the fights over revenue versus spending still to come.

Oh, and not only did Republicans vote for a tax increase for the first time in decades, the overall result of the tax changes now taking effect — which include new taxes associated with Obamacare as well as the new legislation — will be a significant reduction in income inequality, with the top 1 percent and even more so the top 0.1 percent taking a much bigger hit than middle-income families.

So why are many progressives — myself included — feeling very apprehensive? Because we’re worried about the confrontations to come.

According to the normal rules of politics, Republicans should have very little bargaining power at this point. With Democrats holding the White House and the Senate, the G.O.P. can’t pass legislation; and since the biggest progressive policy priority of recent years, health reform, is already law, Republicans wouldn’t seem to have many bargaining chips.

But the G.O.P. retains the power to destroy, in particular by refusing to raise the debt limit — which could cause a financial crisis. And Republicans have made it clear that they plan to use their destructive power to extract major policy concessions.

Now, the president has said that he won’t negotiate on that basis, and rightly so. Threatening to hurt tens of millions of innocent victims unless you get your way — which is what the G.O.P. strategy boils down to — shouldn’t be treated as a legitimate political tactic.

But will Mr. Obama stick to his anti-blackmail position as the moment of truth approaches? He blinked during the 2011 debt limit confrontation. And the last few days of the fiscal cliff negotiations were also marked by a clear unwillingness on his part to let the deadline expire. Since the consequences of a missed deadline on the debt limit would potentially be much worse, this bodes ill for administration resolve in the clinch.

So, as I said, in a tactical sense the fiscal cliff ended in a modest victory for the White House. But that victory could all too easily turn into defeat in just a few weeks.

FireDoglake, ACLU Wins Lawsuit Against Cory Booker, Forcing Release Of Emails with Facebook Executives, DSWright, December 26, 2012.  Facebook founder and Winklevii nemesis Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million donation to Newark schools to blunt PR damage from the release of The Social Network help school children. The money would not be going into the struggling city’s budget but would be privately controlled with Newark Mayor Cory Booker providing guidance. Yes, money used to transform Newark public schools would be administered privately and, until recently, in secret from the people of Newark.FireDoglake, Privatizing schools in Newark was already a tough task this year after the crown jewel of charter schools in the city was caught up in a cheating scandal. Apparently telling teachers they get paid more/remain employed if their students do better on tests leads to gaming the test system – who knew monetary incentives lead to the pursuit of self-interest? The strategy was clear, use the private money to launch attacks on public schools and keep anyone from seeing how.

Boston Globe, Michael Kranish, The story behind Mitt Romney’s loss in the presidential campaign to President Obama, Boston Globe, December 22, 2012.

Juanita Jean blog, Texas State Troopers Declare War on Christmas, Dec. 22, 2012. As if the Texas Department of Public Safety haven’t has enough bad publicity lately, what with roadside strip searches, yesterday they arrested Santa Claus in front of the State Capitol with children watching.

Wall Street Journal, A Doctor's Posthumous Vindication, Harvey Silverglate, Dec. 25, 2012. On December 3, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Al Caronia, a pharmaceutical salesman who had been convicted of violating the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act by pitching the off-label uses of a narcolepsy drug to doctors at conferences throughout the country. Declaring that the Department of Justice’s overly broad interpretation of the law violated Caronia’s free speech rights, the Court vindicated a practice that has become commonplace among physicians. Doctors such as Peter Gleason, Caronia’s former codefendant, learn through their experiences with patients that many drugs turn out to be effective treatments for ailments other than those for which the FDA has granted official approval. And physicians have a well-established right to prescribe any drug for any use they see fit and to share their insights about effective treatments with other doctors. So it came as quite a surprise to Dr. Gleason when he was arrested by a half-dozen federal agents one day in 2006 and sent down the rabbit hole of the federal criminal justice system for allegedly conspiring to mislead his fellow physicians. I discussed Dr. Gleason’s unjust prosecution in my book Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent (Encounter Books, 2009). My latest piece for the Wall Street Journal serves as a postscript for that discussion, explaining how the Second Circuit’s ruling vindicated Dr. Gleason’s belief that he had never engaged in any improper activity – vindication that, tragically, came too late.

Washington Post, Ezra Klein, For Republicans, it’s not about deficit reduction, Ezra Klein, December 24, 2012.  Perhaps the oddest of the conservative rationalizations for refusing any kind of budget compromise is the insistence that budget deals are pointless — and maybe even counterproductive — because Democrats rig them such that the taxes are real and spending cuts are illusory. “For Republicans, agreeing to those tax increases means agreeing to a larger government than would be possible in the absence of those tax increases,” Klein wrote. “That undermines their real goal: Not smaller deficits, but smaller government.”

OpEd News, Jonathan Cook, Why the Washington Post killed the story of Murdoch's bid to buy the US presidency, OpEd News, Jonathan Cook, Dec. 21, 2012. Carl Bernstein, of All the President's Men fame, has a revealing commentary in the Guardian today, though revealing not entirely in a way he appears to understand. Bernstein highlights a story first disclosed earlier this month in the Washington Post by his former journalistic partner Bob Woodward that media mogul Rupert Murdoch tried to "buy the US presidency."  A taped conversation shows that in early 2011 Murdoch sent Roger Ailes, the boss of his most important US media outlet, Fox News, to Afghanistan to persuade Gen David Petraeus, former commander of US forces, to run against Barack Obama as the Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Murdoch promised to bankroll Petraeus' campaign and commit Fox News to provide the general with wall-to-wall support. Murdoch's efforts to put his own man in the White House failed because Petraeus decided he did not want to run for office. "Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran," Petraeus says in the recording, "but I won't " but if I ever ran, I'd take him up on his offer."

Guardian, Carl Bernstein, Why the US media ignored Murdoch's brazen bid to hijack the presidency; Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-eared judgment? Guardian, Carl Bernstein, December 20, 2012.   The Ailes/Petraeus tape made clear to many that Murdoch's goals in America have always been nefarious. So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America's democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press. In the American instance, Murdoch's goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

Paragould Daily Press (Arkansas), Armed task force to patrol streets; Police chief says citizens could be subject to ID checks, Ryan Saylor, December 15, 2012. In response to a recent increase in crime, Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill and Police Chief Todd Stovall offered residents at a town hall meeting Thursday night at West View Baptist Church what could be considered an extreme solution — armed officers patrolling the streets on foot. Stovall told the group of almost 40 residents that beginning in 2013, the department would deploy a new street crimes unit to high crime areas on foot to take back the streets. "[Police are] going to be in SWAT gear and have AR-15s around their neck," Stovall said. "If you're out walking, we're going to stop you, ask why you're out walking, check for your ID." Stovall said while some people may be offended by the actions of his department, they should not be. "We're going to do it to everybody," he said. "Criminals don't like being talked to."

New Orleans Times-Picayune, Aaron Broussard slams Jim Letten's office, seeks inquiry into 'prosecutorial misconduct,' Drew Broach, Dec. 17, 2012. Aaron Broussard asked a federal judge Monday to disqualify the U.S. attorney's office from prosecuting him, citing leaks to the news media, disparaging online comments by prosecutors, a cover-up by the office's No. 2 executive and "an obvious, deliberate and years-long conspiracy to scheme ... by all means possible to destroy the public image" of the former Jefferson Parish president. Broussard's request came 12 weeks after he pleaded guilty to political corruption charges and two weeks after the presiding judge disclosed the cover-up. The motion from defense attorney Robert Jenkins does not try to withdraw Broussard's guilty plea. Instead, it asks Judge Hayden Head Jr. to recuse the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans from his case and to investigate virtually the entire history of the prosecution, steps that presumably could undermine the government's efforts to send Broussard to prison. (Read the motion, 1.5 MB.)

Exactly one year after the ProPublica/Washington Post series on “Shades of Mercy” began, the Inspector-General found that the US Pardon Attorney has engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."  The report finds the Pardon Attorney effectively worked to vindicate and support the breast-thumping posture of DOJ prosecutors, failed to honestly review the facts, and continuously blocked legitimate pardon requests.  While it doesn't get down to specific names, it is important to note that this report is all about the conduct of one man:  David Margolis, the key figure at the senior DOJ level responsible for the persecution of Don Siegelman, who directly supervises the office of US Pardon Attorney.

Pro Publica, Pardon Attorney Misrepresented Facts to White House in Clarence Aaron Case, Dafna Linzer, Dec. 18, 2012. The U.S. Pardon Attorney failed to accurately share key information with the White House regarding a federal inmate seeking a commutation, the Justice Department's Inspector-General concluded today in a detailed 20-page report. The findings determined that in overseeing the case of Clarence Aaron, the pardons attorney, Ronald L. Rodgers, engaged in "conduct that fell substantially short of the high standards expected of Department of Justice employees and the duty he owed the President of the United States."

ProPublica, Obama has granted clemency more rarely than any modern president, Dafna Linzer, Nov. 2, 2012. A former brothel manager who helped the FBI bust a national prostitution ring. A retired sheriff who inadvertently helped a money launderer buy land. A young woman who mailed ecstasy tablets for a drug-dealing boyfriend, then worked with investigators to bring him down. All of them and hundreds more were denied pardons by President Obama, who has granted clemency at a lower rate than any modern president, a ProPublica review of pardons data shows. The Constitution gives the president unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses. While pardons do not wipe away convictions, they can restore a person's full rights to vote, possess firearms and obtain business licenses, as well as remove barriers to certain career opportunities and adoptions. For many applicants, a pardon is simply an opportunity for a fresh start. But Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

Legal Schnauzer, Bonnie Wyatt's Attorney Appears To Have a Conflict As Judge Prepares To Rule On Incarceration, Roger Shuler, Dec. 18, 2012. A judge is scheduled today to hear arguments about the incarceration of an Alabama woman who has been in the Chilton County Jail since July 26 because of a property-related debt connected to her divorce case.  Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt, at least in theory, could be freed in time for the Christmas holidays. But a review of court records raises serious doubts about whether Wyatt is receiving vigorous legal representation in the case. Angie Avery Collins, Wyatt's Clanton-based attorney, filed a Motion to Reconsider Incarceration on December 6--and it is due to be heard, along with a number of other cases, on a motion docket beginning at 9 a.m. today at the Chilton County Courthouse. Collins' motion, however, might be described as "watered down" (at best) and "ineffectual" (at worst). To muddy the waters even further, Collins is engaged in her own divorce, in the same circuit court. Might she be tempted to go soft on Bonnie Wyatt's defense in order to gain favor for her own divorce battle? Does that represent a conflict of interest that threatens Bonnie Wyatt's fundamental rights to due process?

Joan Brunwasser, "Michael Collins on Obama's Failures and What Awaits Us, OpEdNews, December 17, 2012, My guest today is political observer and writer, Michael Collins. Welcome back to OpEdNews, Mike. How should we judge the intentions of the Obama administration?  There are a number of ways to do this and I will give you my best thinking on the subject in a minute. But let me back up from that question and comment on why it's important to judge the intentions. We just finished a presidential election featuring the disappointing (to just about everybody) president against an extremist Republican, Mitt Romney. The horror of an extremist Republican and House of Representatives running the country was averted. But that is no reason to be relieved. In my opinion and, based on the best evidence I have reviewed, quite a few Obama votes were really "No" votes on Romney. President Obama ended his first term a failure by any number of measures. The election was a choice between The Money Party light and the hard-core version of those who rule us. The tell for his second term was his desire to nominate United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State. She favored the 2003 invasion of Iraq, she pushed the NATO assault and destruction of both Libya and Syria, and, she's a shareholder in the highly toxic tar sands oil project-Keystone XL pipeline effort, a matter that she would have to handle as Secretary of State.  More war, death and destruction and conflicts of interest.  More outlandish expenditures on the national security state, even though we spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined.  Those are the messages of the Rice nomination and the continuation of aggressive policies overseas, DOD chief Panetta fires back at sequestration, outlines the future of a 'leaner, more efficient' fighting force, Leada Gore, December 18, 2012. to reach a deal on sequestration will weaken the U.S. in the minds of our allies, partners and potential adversaries and cause "lasting damage" to the country's defense and those serving in the military, Secretary of Defense Leon PLeon Panetta told a group at the National Press Club Tuesday.

Tom Thumb, Obama’s Chained CPI Is A Permanent Cut To Earned Benefits, FireDogLake, December 18, 2012
Even as reports surface in Washington that leaders may be closer to a deal to avoid the tax increases and across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, Panetta said one of the greatest threat to the country's defense is a "political system that is depriving the department of the certainty we need to operate in the future."

David Dayen, FireDogLake, Though Liberals Carp at Chained CPI, Pelosi Says She Could Live With It, David Dayen, December 18, 2012., Others will have to live with it, too. Many of what would be described as the liberal left of Congress have weighed in against using the chained CPI to calculate cost of living increases in Social Security benefits. Here’s a representative sample from Sen. Jeff Merkley: We had an election, and the voters sent a message to Congress to focus on jobs and fairness — not cutting benefits for people who have worked all their lives and are now making ends meet on fixed incomes. The formula we use to adjust cost-of-living changes for seniors needs to reflects the real costs they face, not the budgetary fantasies of Washington.
I mean that’s precisely it. You will hear virtually nobody claim that chained CPI represents a more accurate way of determining the cost of living for senior citizens on Social Security, because if they were honest about it, they would tailor an inflation index to the real costs of seniors. The only benefit to chained CPI is that it saves the government money at the expense of senior citizens. That’s it. It’s a back-door way of lowering the benefit. Even if you agree with the methodology of the substitution effect, that people will manage the cost of living by purchasing less expensive products, you have to ask yourself if seniors have been getting away with murder all these years under the old rules. And considering they get an average annual benefit of just $13,000, and that almost half of them use that as their only form of income, without savings or anything else to fall back on, the very idea is preposterous. And the public, who has a working knowledge of Social Security benefits and how far they stretch, agrees.
Regardless of the carping of a few of those liberals and the majority of the country, however, Nancy Pelosi basically gave the game away: she will force her charges to stick with the President.  Despite these changes, Pelosi said she could convince her caucus to get behind such a plan, if need be.  “Do you think you could sell it to your caucus?” MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell asked Pelosi in an interview on Tuesday. “I do,” replied Pelosi, adding, “Yes, the Democrats will stick with the president — and maybe not every single one of them.”
Pelosi tried to emphasize the unformed idea that there would be “protections” for the most vulnerable. For example, the disabled on Supplemental Security Income might not be subject to chained CPI, and there could be a “bump-up” for people aged 80, to compensate for the cumulative effect of the benefit cut. Again, the vulnerable are a massive part of this population. This is almost the entire income source for almost half of seniors, and for 3/4 of widows or unmarried women. And 15.1% of seniors live in poverty. And if you hold all of them harmless, you erode the actual savings you can derive from this. The three-legged stool of retirement has withered away, especially since the dot-com bust and the Great Recession. This argues strongly for increasing Social Security benefits, not cutting them and not even mitigating cuts.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called this a “technical fix” to better calculate inflation. Bullshit. If this were just a technical fix, you would adjust so that the fix wouldn’t hit beneficiaries in a regressive fashion, with the most pain at the bottom. This plan doesn’t, to any real degree. The goal isn’t to properly measure inflation, it’s to save money for the federal government. It always has been:, DOD chief Panetta fires back at sequestration, outlines the future of a 'leaner, more efficient' fighting force, Leada Gore, December 18, 2012. to reach a deal on sequestration will weaken the U.S. in the minds of our allies, partners and potential adversaries and cause "lasting damage" to the country's defense and those serving in the military, Secretary of Defense Leon PLeon Panetta told a group at the National Press Club Tuesday. Even as reports surface in Washington that leaders may be closer to a deal to avoid the tax increases and across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, Panetta said one of the greatest threat to the country's defense is a "political system that is depriving the department of the certainty we need to operate in the future."

Wayne Madsen, Hagel-DoD quid pro quo, Wayne Madsen Report, December 18-19, 2012, WMR has learned from election oversight sources that President Obama's decision to appoint former Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense is a quid pro quo for the Defense Department, in particular, the National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. Cyber Command, both headed by General Keith Alexander and headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland, to assert control over a major U.S. voting machine firm. The company is Election Systems and Software (ES&S), which, according to our sources has drawn foreign investors, particularly Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal, who is one of the world's richest men, and who are felt by the U.S. intelligence community to pose a risk to U.S. national security. In return for Hagel agreeing to turn over financial control of ES&S over to financial interests that take their direction from NSA and Cyber Command, Obama has agreed to nominate him to be Secretary of Defense. Hagel, who is friendly with the two top Obama critics in the Senate, Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, will face no opposition to his nomination from the Republicans. Officially, ES&S will be integrated into the defense contracting world by being awarded contracts to support the Defense Department’s Federal Voting Assistance Program that permits U.S. military and civilian personnel abroad, including non-DoD civilians, to vote electronically from abroad. NSA and Cyber Command will then be authorized to certify the security and integrity of the voting systems but their authority will extend to all elections in the United States with a classified mandate to ensure that foreign interests cannot corrupt or otherwise interfere with voting and vote tabulation in U.S. elections.

There was an intense battle between NSA and the National Institute of Standards and technology (NIST) in the 1980s and 1990s over which agency would be responsible for the security of federal interest computers in the federal, state, and municipal civilian sectors of government. For years, NIST, part of the Department of Commerce, fought off efforts by NSA to extend its reach into civilian computer security, including voting systems. That battle largely ended after 9/11, when NSA and the new Cyber Command extended their tentacles into every facet of the nation's information system infrastructure. The deal with Hagel finally clinches the deal for NSA to exercise control over the nation's voting systems.

Hagel, the co-chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board, is the former chairman of American Information Systems (AIS), a subsidiary of the hedge fund that owns ES&S, the McCarthy Group. AIS changed its name to ES&S in 1997 when it merged with Business Records Corporation. The chairman and co-founder of McCarthy Group is Mike McCarthy, the one-time Senate campaign finance chairman for Hagel. Hagel is also a co-founder of the McCarthy Group, which is currently co-owned by a holding company in which Hagel is a sizable investor and the Omaha World-Herald Company, which is owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway holding company.

ES&S bills itself as the “world's largest and most experienced provider of total election management solutions.” ES&S’s press release states the following about the firm: “Headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, the company has a customer base of more than 2,100 jurisdictions in 46 states, Canada, United Kingdom, and several other international locations. Based on the primary voting tabulation system installed within the United States, ES&S customers represent approximately 50 percent of the precincts and registered voters in the U.S. ES&S systems have counted approximately 56 percent of the U.S. national vote in each of the last four presidential and congressional elections, amounting to more than 100 million ballots cast in each election. ES&S hardware and software solutions support the entire election process to include local and statewide voter registration, ballot production, voting, vote tabulation, and results reporting.”

Hagel had a financial interest in AIS/ES&S even as its machine counted 85 percent of the votes in Nebraska in the two U.S. Senate elections that Hagel was on the ballot. Hagel did not disclose his financial interests in AIS/ES&S until 1997, after he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996.
In 2009, ES&S acquired Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold Election Systems, which was instrumental in flipping votes from John Kerry to George W. Bush in the 2004 election in Ohio, thus securing Ohio and a second term for Bush. In the last election, there was a complaint filed in court against Ohio Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted for applying suspicious ES&S software "patches" in voting machines in 39 Ohio counties. It was believed the patches contained a backdoor that would allow the flipping of votes. Nevertheless, Obama easily carried Ohio.
Last September, ES&S was in the news for quite a different reason. ES&S's senior vice president for international sales, John Groh, 63, was arrested for placing a video camera in a bathroom to record an 11-year old girl showering. Groh fled from Nebraska to Florida, where he was arrested by Florida police. Groh pleaded no contest in Dodge County, Nebraska court to a misdemeanor of making an unlawful intrusion. Earlier, Groh apologized to Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita for the firm’s faulty election counts in Indiana in 2003.

ES&S's John Groh. The firm specializes in fixing elections and taking naked videos of little girls. And Obama's reported incoming Defense Secretary has a large financial stake in the company.

Fremont Nebraska Tribune, North Bend man accused of trying to make video of girl, October 19, 2012. 63-year-old North Bend man will be sentenced in November on charges that he attempted to make a video of a young girl while she was undressing at his home. John Groh faces up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine when he is sentenced Nov. 27 in Dodge County Court on a misdemeanor charge of attempted unlawful intrusion. An arrest warrant for Groh said the North Bend man set up a video camera in a bathroom where an 11-year-old girl was preparing to shower. The girl discovered the camera and reported the incident to her mother.
Omaha World Herald, ES&S vice president accused of peeping, October 18, 2012.
A senior vice president with Omaha-based Election Systems & Software Inc. has pleaded no contest in Dodge County Court to attempting to make a video of a young girl while she was undressing. According to an arrest warrant filed in Dodge County, John Groh, 63, of North Bend, Neb., placed a video camera in a bathroom on July 7 that recorded an 11-year-old girl as she was preparing to shower. The girl found the camera, viewed the footage of herself and reported it to her older sister and mother. Sgt. M.C. Ough of the Dodge County Sheriff's Office said Groh's wife turned the camera over to authorities. Groh fled from the state but was arrested Sept. 28 in Florida.
Yes that ES&S!!!!

OpEd News, Coverups concerning former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, June 27, 2011, Don Smith, Chapter 2 of Bev Harris's book Black Box Voting tells the story of former Nebraska Governor Chuck Hagel. Hagel won a surprise landslide election against a Democrat who had been leading in the polls. What's suspicious is that the votes were counted by machines produced by Hagel's former company, American Information Systems (later renamed ES&S). Hagel had left the company two weeks before launching his campaign. Hagel apparently hid the facts about his leadership of and investment in AIS when he submitted required disclosure forms. This story was also covered by Commondreams, by Thom Hartmann, and by the Hill, which states that "ES&S makes 'half' the voting machines used today, and 85% of the ones that elected Hagel in '02 and '96 (i.e. nine months before he upset Nelson. ) " The Hill article and Harris' book allege a coverup in ethics investigations and a forced resignation.

Democratic Underground,

Bob Somerby, Santa, please bring me the chained CPI! Daily Howler, December 18 2012. The way we the peasants get governed: Is it possible that a budget deal is nearing completion?  Needless to say, no one knows. But Jonathan Weisman presented this outline in today’s New York Times: WEISMAN (12/18/12): The two sides are now dickering over price, not philosophical differences, and the numbers are very close. Mr. Boehner had offered the president a deficit framework that would raise $1 trillion over 10 years, with the details to be settled next year by Congress’s tax-writing committees and the Obama administration. In response, Mr. Obama reduced his proposal to $1.2 trillion from $1.4 trillion on Monday at a 45-minute meeting with the speaker at the White House. That was down from $1.6 trillion initially.The White House plan would permanently extend Bush-era tax cuts on household incomes below $400,000, meaning that only the top tax bracket, 35 percent, would increase to 39.6 percent. The current cutoff between the top rate and the next highest rate, 33 percent, is $388,350.

Paul Krugman, The Deal Dilemma, New York Times, December 18, 2012.  First things first: cutting Social Security benefits is a cruel, stupid policy — just not nearly as cruel and stupid as raising the Medicare eligibility age. But sometimes you have to accept bad things in pursuit of a larger goal: health reform should have included a public option — heck, it should have gone straight to single-payer — but a flawed route to universal coverage was better than none at all. The question about this looming deal is whether the end justifies the means. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as clear a case as the health care deal, and I’m agonizing, big time; as of last night I was marginally positive, right now marginally negative.

Let’s talk about what’s going on.

First of all, the comparison has to be with what we think Obama can get if he goes over the cliff; if that happens, all the Bush tax cuts expire, and he can propose and probably get accepted a new round of middle-class cuts — but nothing else: no extension of unemployment benefits (another cruel, stupid action), no infrastructure spending to boost the economy.

So how does the possible deal differ? It doesn’t raise rates on the second-highest bracket, which means that the tax hike on earned income only falls on those making $400,000 or more. As I understand it — the reporting is weirdly silent on this, but it’s what I got from my own conversation with an SAO* — is that taxes on unearned income are going back to pre-Bush levels: capital gains at 20 instead of 15 percent, dividends taxed as ordinary income. If I’m wrong about that, this is easy: no deal.

And there’s extra revenue too, notably from changing the treatment of itemized deductions: instead of being a deduction from taxable income, they offer a tax credit, not to exceed 28 percent — which means a further substantial tax rise for people in the top bracket. Overall, there’s more revenue in this deal than you get from letting the high-end tax cuts expire after the cliff.

So the revenue side isn’t that bad; we do make some headway on unstarving the beast. On the other hand, I really don’t think of revenue — as opposed to preserving the social safety net — as being the most important thing.

Also on the plus side, extended unemployment benefits and more infrastructure spending. But no payroll tax cut extension, which means a fairly big dose of austerity despite the deal.

But then there’s the Social Security cut.

Switching from the regular CPI to the chained CPI doesn’t affect benefits immediately after retirement, which are based on your past earnings.What it does mean is that after retirement your payments grow more slowly, about 0.3 percent each year. So if you retire at 65, your income at 75 would be 3 percent less under this proposal than under current law; at 85 it would be 6 percent less; there’s supposedly a bump-up in benefits for people who make it that far.

This is not good; there’s no good policy reason to be doing this, because the savings won’t have any significant impact on the underlying budget issues. And for many older people it would hurt. Also, the symbolism of a Democratic president cutting Social Security is pretty awful.

So is what Obama gets out of this — basically unemployment benefits and infrastructure — worth it? The hardship of the unemployed is important; on the other hand, the numbers here are only about half a percent of GDP. As I said, right now I’m not feeling positive.

I understand that Obama prefers not to go over the cliff and face the political and economic uncertainty that this opens up; maybe my assumption that he can still get the middle-class tax cuts is wrong. On the other hand, cutting Social Security, even modestly, is a very big concession, especially because, as I said, it’s cruel and stupid viewed purely as policy.

One thing is for sure: any further concession on Obama’s part would make this a total non-starter. And I’m waiting for clarification on capital gains and dividends. But even as it stands, it’s not a deal to be happy about.

So am I dead set against? No, I’m still agonizing. Very uncomfortable times.

*SAO = senior administration official

Meg Fowler, "From Eisenhower to Obama: What the Wealthiest Americans Pay in Taxes," ABC News, January 24, 2011,

David Dayen, CRS Resurrects Report Showing No Correlation Between Low Tax Rates on the Wealthy and Economic Growth, December 14, 2012, A couple months ago, under pressure from Republicans, the Congressional Research Service, basically the think tank of Congress, took down a study on tax rates for the rich and the economy that rebutted a key GOP argument, that tax cuts at the top spurred economic growth. It didn’t matter that the Congressional Budget Office found almost the same thing, Republicans didn’t want in print a study showing no relationship between tax cuts for the rich and growth. That would ruin their whole program. Yesterday, the CRS republished the work, and while a bit of the language has changed – Republicans reportedly objected to the phrase “tax cuts for the rich” – the conclusion is exactly the same.

FireDogLake, Is Obama REALLY Going to Nominate Chuck Hagel for Defense Secretary?  Edward Teller, December 15, 2012. Hagel is serving as co-chairman of The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and is chairman of the neo-liberal Atlantic Council, among other duties and activities. I perceive him as too realistic about policy toward Iran and Israel to make it through the nomination process, should the so-called “Israel Lobby” stand against him.

Will Femia, "Republicans reap the fruits of redistricting, Maddow Blog, December 13, 2012,

Katy Steinmetz, The Cost of Romney’s Government-Assisted Transition: $8.9 Million, Time, December 19, 2012,
One of the less scintillating milestones of the 2012 election was marked by the General Services Administration, when Mitt Romney became the first candidate to take advantage of the Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The Act, spearheaded by former Sen. Ted Kaufman, provides resources for major candidates to start planning for their presidency long before Election Day. Through a Freedom of Information Act request, TIME acquired documents from the GSA that show the scope–and cost–of this unprecedented government-assisted transition.

Matt Taibbi, "Glenn Hubbard, Leading Academic and Mitt Romney Advisor, Took $1200 an Hour to Be Countrywide's Expert Witness, December 20, 2012.