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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bain Capital Workers Face Down Mitt Romney Over the Outsourcing of Their Jobs


After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, Romney has been put on the defensive by Bain workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs.

Photo Credit: Democracy Now!
After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, Mitt Romney has been put on the defensive by Bain Capital workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs. One hundred seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois — of which Bain is the majority owner — are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China. The factory manufactures sensors and controls that are used in aircraft and automobiles, but has been dismantling and shipping the plant to China piece by piece — even as it requires the workers to train personally their Chinese replacements, who have been flown in by management. We’re joined by two workers from the Sensata plant in Freeport, Illinois: Tom Gaulrapp and Cheryl Randecker. Both worked at Sensata for 33 years and were told their jobs would be terminated by the year’s end.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," as we cover the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, inside and out, as we will do in Charlotte next week, as well, covering the Democrats.

Well, as the Republican National Convention gets a late start due to Tropical Storm Isaac, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is facing another type of storm, one involving his tenure at the helm of private equity firm Bain Capital. After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, the former Massachusetts governor has been put on the defensive by Bain workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs.

One hundred seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois, of which Bain is the majority owner, are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China. The plant manufactures sensors and controls that are used in aircraft and automobiles, but has been dismantling and shipping the plant to China piece by piece, even as it requires the workers to train personally their Chinese replacements, who have been flown in by management. The workers in Illinois say their petition of 35,000 signatures, as well as their multiple visits to Romney’s headquarters, have fallen on deaf ears, so they’re taking their plea straight to Romney here at that Republican National Convention.

Two of them are joining us now in our Tampa studio here at WEDU, PBS TV in Tampa. Tom Gaulrapp is with us, and Cheryl Randecker. Both worked at Sensata for 33 years, were told their jobs would be terminated by year’s end. Tom and Cheryl, welcome to Democracy Now!

TOM GAULRAPP: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom, let’s start with you. Tell us what’s happened.

TOM GAULRAPP: Well, when they took over the plant, they told us—

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s they?

TOM GAULRAPP: Sensata Technologies. When they took over the plant—

AMY GOODMAN: Who was it owned by before?

TOM GAULRAPP: It was owned by Honeywell, and they sold the automotive business to Sensata Technologies. And they brought us into a meeting, and they said all the jobs are being moved to China by the end of 2012. And they have—since that happened, they have slowly started to move this equipment out. And these areas which were full of equipment and full of people working very hard on this highly technical equipment is now empty space, where the only indication there was ever anything there is the discoloration of the floor.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Cheryl, how did you find out who even bought your plant? It was owned by Honeywell. You’re making these sensors for General Motors, for GM. And then what happened?

CHERYL RANDECKER: We actually found out—we all went home and looked up Sensata, and we found out in this summer that it was owned by Bain. And then we found the connection between Bain and Governor Romney. And that just spurred a little bit of emotion that we wanted to stand up and fight back and take—take a stand for the American people and for our jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you first heard that Honeywell was being bought, that your plant was being bought, when you were actually in China training your replacements? The company sent you to China?

CHERYL RANDECKER: Actually, I was in China for Honeywell’s, moving their lines. And then—I was over there in June of 2010, and they said the automotive line had been sold. When we got back Freeport—

AMY GOODMAN: You learned in China.

CHERYL RANDECKER: In China. When we got back to Freeport, we asked the managers at that time if this was true. "No, this is not true." October, the end of October of that same year, they announced that they were being—the automotive line was being sold to China, or just Sensata, and was—probably be moved.

AMY GOODMAN: So, now, you were training your replacements in China, and then the Chinese—some of the Chinese workers came to the plant to be trained here, as well, in the United States?

CHERYL RANDECKER: The workers that I trained in China were for Honeywell. The workers that we trained here in the States at—this last group of people were the Sensata workers.

AMY GOODMAN: How did that feel to be training your replacement?

CHERYL RANDECKER: Knowing that you’re going to be completely out of a job and there’s no hope for any job in our area, it was gut-wrenching, because you don’t know where the next point is going to be. I mean, we’re 52 years old. What are we going to do? So, within three weeks—or, not three weeks, three months, my life is going to change as I know it. And to start over at this point in my life is extremely scary.

AMY GOODMAN: But you don’t blame the Chinese workers.

CHERYL RANDECKER: I don’t blame the workers so as much as I blame the governments of both countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom, taking this issue to Mitt Romney, how have you done it? Where have you raised your voice?

TOM GAULRAPP: Well, the first thing we did was the employees signed an open letter to Mitt Romney urging him to come to Freeport and to help save our jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, locate Freeport, Illinois, for us.

TOM GAULRAPP: Freeport, Illinois, is about two hours west of Chicago and about 20 miles south of the Wisconsin border, so it’s really in the northwestern corner of the area, of Illinois. And the economy there is really bad. So, after we wrote the open letter, we did petition drives to congressmen. We did a petition drive to—which was delivered to the Bain Capital headquarters in Evanston, Illinois. And we attempted to bring the open letter to the Romney campaign headquarters after they repeatedly said that they were unaware of the situation. At every stop when we had to—tried to have contact with them, they locked us out of the building. At the one campaign headquarters outside of Madison, Wisconsin, they called the police on us. So then we tried to ratchet it up, and we actually went to a Romney event, campaign event, in Bettendorf, Iowa, where we politely asked him to come to Freeport, Illinois, and help save our jobs. And our response there was we were also forcibly removed from there. So, we decided to ratchet up even more, and that’s why we’re here.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the supporters of Mitt Romney when you come to events where he is, what their response is to you?

TOM GAULRAPP: Well, you know, we’re there trying to save our jobs, and we were called communists. For trying to save our jobs from going to China from the United States, we were called communists. They—if there hadn’t been a large police group in there, I’m sure we would have been more threatened. They started this "U.S.A." chant. It’s like, yes, we’re all for the U.S.A., too. That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to keep well-paying manufacturing jobs from being moved out of this country to China. And they make it sound like we’re not patriotic. And it boggles the mind as to what they’re thinking.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, when I was talking to you in Romneyville, you said, as they called the workers communists, you asked why they’re sending your jobs to communist China.

TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah, yeah. You know, and one of the things that really bothered some of us was that about a month before—it was less than that—couple weeks before they brought the Chinese workers in, they physically removed the American flag that hung outside the plant. And the week after the Chinese workers left, they put it back up, like they were afraid they were offending somebody, you know. And it’s—and it’s like, I’m sorry, but this offends us. This offends 170 people who are having their jobs moved to China, only to increase the bottom line, because, you know, these products have always been profitable, and it’s just not enough.

AMY GOODMAN: But, Cheryl, Mitt Romney doesn’t work for Bain anymore. So why is this his responsibility?

CHERYL RANDECKER: Mitt Romney created the model of outsourcing jobs. He created Bain, so therefore it is his responsibility. And he is still reaping very high benefits from Bain, in the financial end of it. So he can pick up the phone and call his buddies and say, "We need to stop this practice and keep the U.S. jobs here." And it’s good-paying jobs, not the lower-paying jobs.

AMY GOODMAN: Have either of you spoken with other workers laid off by Bain-owned companies?

TOM GAULRAPP: Yes, we’ve had contact with some of them, when we were down here.



AMY GOODMAN: And what are your plans here at the Republican National Convention?

TOM GAULRAPP: Well, actually—

AMY GOODMAN: You were in that march in the afternoon—


AMY GOODMAN: —the unpermitted march. Interestingly, it was led by Cheri Honkala, who is a well-known anti-poverty activist, who happens to be now the Green Party vice-presidential candidate. Joe Biden didn’t show up here, though he was going to—


AMY GOODMAN: —the vice president and vice-presidential candidate. But Cheri did.

TOM GAULRAPP: Yeah. We’re actually going back today, so we’re not going to be here for any more. I think we’re doing an event today, but then, after that, we’re actually going back home. We feel like one of the things that’s come out of this, besides getting our message out, is we’ve had an opportunity to meet a lot of people who are dealing with this issue, as well, you know, with—whether it be outsourcing or whether it be people that work for Bain that are making very low wages, you know. And it’s all part of this corporate view that anybody can do anything, and you don’t need to reimburse them for it.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to Mitt Romney, who doesn’t tout his time as governor of Massachusetts, but his time as a business executive, to bring us out of an economic recession—some say depression—now?

TOM GAULRAPP: Well, what I would say to him is I think he should be ashamed of what they’re doing, because they’re destroying our American dream to increase their profits.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Cheryl?

CHERYL RANDECKER: I would have to say, look at—take a look at what you’re doing. Get in touch with the American people. You created this model. You’re taking good jobs away, and you’re saying you can replace them with the lower-paying jobs. And how are people supposed to get by?

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Cheryl Randecker and Tom Gaulrapp.

TOM GAULRAPP: Thank you. Thank you very much.


AMY GOODMAN: Bain workers now, but not in a few months.

TOM GAULRAPP: Yep, not for long.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated news program, 
Democracy Now!.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Is Paul Ryan a Real American?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is Paul Ryan a Real American?

Ken Kersch

I’m concerned.

In the oft-repeated list of major intellectual influences on Ryan – Ayn Rand, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek – only Friedman was American-born. Although the others lived in the United States when they were older, all were Mitteleuropeans. We hear a lot about Ryan’s Tea Party associations and appeal (that Revolutionary War branding, of course, like patriots at a Sarah Palin rally, screams “USA! USA! USA!”). But Ryan’s tutoring was in what is called “Austrian Economics” – a label that wears its Mitteleuropean provenance on its sleeve.

How American is Austrian Economics – that European import, honed, since World War II, in tutorials and transatlantic tete-a-tetes in the Swiss Alps?

Two qualifications. First, the fact that Paul Ryan’s political philosophy has been strongly formed by these Mitteleuropean intellectuals doesn’t mean he subscribes to everything they say. And, second, there’s no denying that there has always been a home-grown form of Red-White-and-Blue anti-statism and penchant for work, markets, and business. Still, something about the tone and style of Austrian economics, it could be argued, make it distinctively Mitteleuropean. If Obama is a European-style socialist (though I doubt it…), then devotees of Austrian Economics are European-style anti-socialists. In many of its iterations, Austrian economics is the apodictic mirror-image of that which it opposes – a cast utterly self-evident in Ayn Rand (who, in (albeit lesser) mind and temperament, is Vladimir Lenin, flipped).

There are lots of ways to be an American anti-socialist. But the case can be made that Ryan -- deer-bagging and fish-gutting notwithstanding -- has made of himself a highly-ideological Mitteleuropean anti-socialist. In the process, he may have jettisoned some good old (can-do, pragmatic, anti-ideological) American values along the way. Might real Americans deserve better?

With a bromance ticket comprised of an uber-capitalist and Austrian-tutored intellectual worshipper of uber-capitalists, it’s no wonder that the two habitants of the Republican ticket (reportedly) can’t bare to be separated: each has found his other half.

Since Austrian economic thought has been a major influence on today’s Republican Party, and since Austrian thought might soon be the governing philosophy in the White House, it might be time for Americans to bone up on the intellectual output of interwar Vienna and postwar Switzerland.

After all, my fellow Americans: The Austrians have seen the future – and it works.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Path to Prosperity?" For Many Senior Citizens, VP Pick Ryan's Plan Would Be Path to the Poorhouse

If Americans who are embracing Rep. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" -- and that now includes Mitt Romney -- spent a few minutes reviewing a few recent research reports, they just might conclude that the Wisconsin Republican's plan to reduce the deficit might better be renamed the "Path to the Poorhouse" because of what it would mean to the Medicare program and many senior citizens.

Ryan's proposal, which will get new scrutiny now that Romney has made him his running mate, would end the current Medicare program for everyone born after 1956. It would replace Medicare with a system in which beneficiaries would receive a set amount of money from the government every year to buy coverage from private insurers. That money would go straight into insurance companies' bank accounts, which would make them far richer and even more in control of our health care system than they already are.

While the amount of money beneficiaries would receive would depend on their health status, the average 65-year-old would get $8,000 under the Ryan plan in 2022, the year it would take effect. That's the amount the current Medicare program is expected to spend on the average 65-year-old that year. After 2022, the annual increase in the "premium support" payments would be based on the consumer price index (CPI). And therein lies one of the biggest problems for anyone hoping to live long enough to enroll in Medicare and stay alive for a few years.

Last month the government reported that the consumer price index had increased 1.7 percent between June 2011 and June 2012, meaning we've been paying on average 1.7 percent more this year than last year for goods and services. The cost of medical care, however, shot up 4.3 percent -- more than two and a half times the CPI. And that was not an aberration. The cost of medical care has been rising faster than the cost of just about everything else in this country for years. That's one of the reasons why private health insurance premiums have been increasing so rapidly. That and the fact that insurance corporations have to report a big enough profit every quarter to satisfy their shareholders and Wall Street analysts.

Health insurance premiums rose nine percent in 2011 to an average of $15,073 for an employer-subsidized family plan, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Over the past 10 years, premiums have increased a "whopping" (Kaiser's word) 113 percent, much faster than wage increases and general inflation. So you can see what almost certainly would happen to Medicare beneficiaries beginning in 2022: They would have to shell out more and more money out of their own pockets every year just to cover the premiums their private insurers would charge them.

That's bad enough, but consider this: Health insurers began implementing a strategy several years ago to move all of us into high-deductible plans, meaning every one of us will soon be paying (if we're not already) thousands of dollars of our own money for medical care before our insurance company will pay a dime. Insurers adopted this strategy because they have failed miserably at controlling health care costs. If you can't control those costs, the only way you can make Wall Street-pleasing profits if you're an insurer is to keep hiking premiums and shifting more of the cost of care to policyholders.

Under the privatized Medicare program Ryan envisions, the effect of that cost-shifting strategy would be disastrous for the growing number of senior citizens who are finding that every year they have less and less money to make ends meet.

Almost half of Americans now die with virtually no financial assets, according to a recent study by economics professors at Harvard, MIT and Dartmouth. They found that 46.1 percent of Americans are now dying with less than $10,000 (19 percent die with no financial assets at all) and that many rely almost entirely on Social Security benefits for support. Not surprisingly, those people are disproportionally in poor health.

"With such low asset levels, they would have little capacity to pay for unanticipated needs such as health expenses or other financial shocks or to pay for entertainment, travel, or other activities," the professors wrote.

Those findings are not so surprising when you look at other recent measures of Americans' wealth and our ability -- actually, our inability -- to save money. The Federal Reserve reported in June that, after adjusting for inflation, median family income fell to $45,800 in 2010 from $49,600 in 2007. The recent economic crisis also took a big toll on median home equity, which fell during the same period from $110,000 to $75,000, and family net worth, which plummeted 40 percent from $126,400 to $77,300.

For the relatively wealthy Americans lucky enough to have a 401(k), most of their account balances are not nearly high enough to be of significant help when they retire. According to Fidelity Investments, the country's largest 401(k) administrator, the average account balance among its customers at the end of June was $72,800, which is down 2.4 percent from March and about the same as it was in June 2011. And balances in Health Savings Accounts are also low -- averaging just $1,494 in 2010, according to J.P. Morgan.

So one has to wonder how Messrs Ryan and Romney think making our senior citizens pay a lot more for care under a privatized Medicare program could even remotely be a Path to Prosperity for most of us. Could it be that they're not thinking -- or even caring -- about most of us but about people who, like them, have such big 401(k) accounts they'll be able to do just fine in their golden years regardless of how Medicare is structured?

Wendell Potter
Wendell Potter is former Vice President of corporate communications at CIGNA, one of the United States' largest health insurance companies. In June 2009, he testified against the HMO industry in the U.S. Senate as a whistleblower. He is now the Senior Fellow on Health Care for the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison, Wisconsin.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Erasing W: "Fool Me Once..."

August 10, 2012 at 14:45:07

Erasing W

By (about the author)

As Bill Clinton is resurrected by the Democrats, George W. Bush is being erased by the GOP -- as if an entire eight years of American history hadn't happened.

 While Bill Clinton stumps for Obama, Romney has gone out of his way not to mention the name of the president who came after Clinton and before Obama.

Clinton will have a starring role at the Democratic National Convention. George W. Bush won't even be at the Republican one -- the first time a national party has not given the stage at its convention to its most recent occupant of the Oval Office who successfully ran for reelection.

The GOP is counting on America's notoriously short-term memory to blot out the last time the nation put a Republican into the Oval Office, on the reasonable assumption that such a memory might cause voters to avoid making the same mistake twice. As whoever-it-was once said, "fool me once ..." (and then mangled the rest).

Republicans want to obliterate any trace of the administration that told America there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and led us into a devastating war we couldn't win; turned a $5 trillion projected budget surplus into a $6 trillion deficit; gave the largest tax cut in a generation to the richest Americans in history; handed out a mountain of corporate welfare to the oil and gas industry, pharmaceutical companies, and military contractors like Halliburton (uniquely bThe GOP is counting on America's notoriously short-term memory to blot out the last time the nation put a Republican into the Oval Office, on the reasonable assumption that such a memory might cause voters to avoid making the same mistake twice. As whoever-it-was once said, "fool me once ..." (and then mangled the rest).enefiting the vice president); whose officials turned a blind eye to Wall Street shenanigans that led to the worst financial calamity since the Great Crash of 1929 and then persuaded Congress to bail out the Street with the largest taxpayer-funded giveaway of all time.

Besides, the resemblances between George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are too just too for comfort. Both were born into wealth, sons of prominent politicians who themselves ran for president; both are closely tied to the nation's corporate and financial elites, and eager to do their bidding; both are socially awkward and, as candidates, tightly scripted for fear of saying something they shouldn't; and both presented themselves to the nation devoid of any consistent policies or principles that might give some clue as to what they actually believe.

They are both, in other words, unusually shallow, uncurious, two-dimensional men who ran or are running for the presidency for no clear reason other than to surpass their fathers or achieve the aims and ambitions of their wealthy patrons.
 Small wonder the Republican Party wants us to forget our last Republican president and his administration. By contrast, the Democrats have every reason for America to recall the Clinton years.


Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including (more...)
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

America's Private-Sector Recovery Has Been Awesome! (*Awesome Is a Relative Term)

The Atlantic

America's Private-Sector Recovery Has Been Awesome! (*Awesome Is a Relative Term)

By Matthew O'Brien
Jul 31 2012, 11:47 AM ET 

Companies and households aren't "doing fine" for a recovery, but they're doing better than normal.


Gaffes come in two varieties. There's the inconvenient truth and the less convenient untruth. Both are damaging, as far as these things go, but President Obama's statement rather remarkably combined the two -- call it Schrödinger's gaffe -- when he commented that the private sector is "doing fine".

Remember the private sector? People buying things, selling things, and investing in things? So, that's the engine of our unbelievable American system. Unfortunately, it's not doing too well -- unless you compare it to the public sector. That's doing even worse. State and local cuts have led to the biggest decrease in overall government spending since the 1950s. And now the federal government is getting in on the austerity act too. With the stimulus fading out, it currently employs fewer people than it did back when the recovery began. 

How's that for socialism?

This undercover austerity is what precipitated President Obama's much-hyped gaffe that the private sector is "doing fine." The gist was that the private sector isn't doing that badly, and that the big problem is the government hurting rather than helping the recovery. And that's true! Or, at least true-ish. As Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute points out, private sector real GDP growth since the end of the Great Recession has been better than average.

That's right. The private sector is growing faster than it normally does.

But that's a low bar we're stepping over. As Josh Barro notes, we expect the economy to grow faster after a recession -- particularly a deep recession. If it didn't, we'd never recover. What we really want to know is how this recovery compares to other recoveries. The answer: Not well.

Take a look at the depressing picture. The chart below compare average real private GDP growth during the first eight quarters of each recovery since 1950. The only recovery worse than our current one was the previous one.

It's been a long time since we've had a recovery worthy of the name. 


Something has happened the past 20 years. We've gone back to the future. Back before the Federal Reserve existed, recessions came when bubbles burst. Recoveries were long, slow affairs. Then the Fed came along. In the postwar period, recessions came when the Fed raised rates to cool an overheating economy. Recovery came -- and came fast -- when the Fed lowered rates. Until 1991.

Now burst bubbles are back with a vengeance. So are jobless recoveries. Actually, we might call them GDP-less recoveries too. You don't need to resort to hand-waving about regulatory uncertainty or the fiscal cliff to explain our tepid growth. It's the new normal. Consider the chart below, which takes our first chart and adjusts for population. 

The post-2009 private sector recovery matches the post-1991 private sector recovery. And both outclass the really anemic post-2001 private sector recovery.


Lehman Brothers didn't break the private sector. It's been broken for a long time -- at least when it comes to recoveries.

It’s Time for Obama to Fire DeMarco—Will He?

It’s Time for Obama to Fire DeMarco—Will He?

Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac won’t reduce the principal of underwater homeowners—FHFA head Edward DeMarco made that official yesterday. Despite the fact that FHFA analysts concluded this week that forgiving certain mortgage debts could save public money, DeMarco said yesterday he would not allow it because of the “costs and risks”—he is particularly concerned that people might strategically default to qualify for help.

This is a nonsense argument—as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner pointed out in a letter [pdf] to DeMarco yesterday, strategic default is an incredibly risky strategy:

A borrower who defaults cannot be certain that he and she will obtain a HAMP modification, much less…principal reduction. Therefore, a borrower would take a substantial risk be deliberately defaulting: they would have to choose to damage their credit for years to come and perjure themselves on the chance that they would be found eligible for the program.

Despite the consistent worry of financial elites, strategic default has never been a hazard in principal-reduction efforts—via Jared Bernstein, we see that nobody is strategically defaulting to get relief under the national mortgage settlement:
Few, if any, borrowers strategically defaulted to take advantage of mortgage servicer relief under the $25 billion settlement struck in March…

In fact, the percentage of current underwater borrowers moving to delinquent status, or the roll rate, shrank to 2.8% in June from 3.1% in February, a trend consistent since before a deal was reached with mortgage servicers to settle past foreclosure abuses.…

“Fitch views strategic defaults as an ongoing concern,” the credit ratings agency said in a report Monday. “That said, there does not appear to be any sign yet of a material change in the behavior of underwater borrowers attempting to strategically default to qualify for a reduction.”

But bankers always worry about these phantom defaulters. “This is something you often see among bankers and lenders who view any sort of write down as the unacceptable breaking of a contract,” notes Bernstein.

Democratic critics—who have for months been hammering DeMarco for his obstinacy—are now focusing on his apparently ideological opposition to principal write-downs. “We are five years into the housing crisis, and FHFA remains paralyzed by the fear that somehow homeowners innocently trapped in the worst economy since the Great Depression are going to weasel out of paying every penny on their mortgage that they could,” said Representative Brad Miller in a statement.

In a way, DeMarco is making his position more untenable by opposing write-downs on ideological grounds. That’s not something that can be easily rectified—as opposed to having complaints about technical aspects of the program.

Obama has the power to replace DeMarco whenever he wants. Since DeMarco is only Acting Director of the FHFA, Obama can simply nominate a permanent one. That person would have to clear a Senate confirmation vote, which won’t happen this year (but might be an interesting fight to have in an election year anyhow). Moreover, Obama could use a recess appointment to install someone else.

Progressives have been pushing hard on the White House to replace DeMarco—and now that DeMarco has dug himself in, why not do that, especially now that he has gone through the motions of considering and then denying write-downs.

Many progressive critics of the administration correctly note that for years, the administration opposed principal reduction too, and has only recently come around to it. So was that a true policy evolution, or political theatre in an election year? Forcing in an FHFA chief who will do principal reduction—or failing to install that person—would go a long way to answering that question.

I Have Photo ID, Therefore I Am

Voting Rights Watch 2012

Voting Rights Watch 2012

In-depth coverage of voter suppression efforts nationwide, in partnership with Colorlines.com.

I Have Photo ID, Therefore I Am

When Laila Stones sent a letter to the Commonwealth of Virginia requesting a copy of her birth certificate, the response was jarring: “They say I don’t exist,” she recounts under oath.

Stones needs her birth certificate so that she can obtain a photo identification card and thereby vote in November. She’s a witness against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where she now lives, in a lawsuit filed by civil rights groups to block the state’s voter ID law. Stones is one of at least ten witnesses called to testify about the burdens she’s suffered to obtain the ID now mandated for voting. Her testimony is mostly about why she doesn’t have the resources to comply.

But how can this be? How hard is it to get a driver’s license? You need one for everything these days: to cash a check, to board a plane, to open a bank account, to buy allergy medicine, to buy liquor. How can one function in society without a picture of themselves on a government-issued piece of plastic? As I’ve covered the voting rights battles of 2012, these are questions I’ve heard repeatedly not just from Republicans and conservatives, but also from some Democrats, liberals and progressives. How can one exist without this card?

Stones has lived in Philadelphia for fifty-three years, but was born in a small town in Virginia. I’m sitting in the Commonwealth courtroom listening as she explains from the witness stand how Virginia denied her a birth certificate. A lawyer from the petitioners’ side pulls a letter from Virginia’s vital records office that explains the denial.

She’s an African-American woman who’s wearing her hair in cornrows, with a white sleeveless shirt that’s maybe a notch above a tanktop and blue shorts. She’s what the body-mass-index campaigners would call “obese.” Her English is not the Queen’s, and it sounds like she might be chewing gum on the stand. These are not important characteristics to me, but I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t notice them. I ask myself, what is in me that makes me want to notice her difference from the rest of the room?

And if I notice it, then God, those white lawyers representing the state in their crisp, FBI-dark suits, they must notice, too. Watching the state lawyers scribble on paper as she testifies, I wonder if they’re noting perceived inconsistencies in her statements, or simply that she’s wearing cornrows. Like I just did.

When Stones is cross-examined by one of the state’s attorneys, they ask her about how she gets around. The bus, she says.

And how long does it take you to get to your polling place? About a half-hour on public transportation.

Do you know your Social Security number? they ask this adult woman.

She begins reciting it aloud, number-by-number, emphasizing each numeral to prove she knows it. This is unnecessary, so the state’s attorney holds up his hand halting her from finishing the numbers. His hand motion draws laughter. “That’s very impressive,” he says.

The judge, who is white and robed darkly, also laughs, but politely, I guess. He sits to Stones’ immediate left, slightly elevated above her so that whenever he speaks directly to her, he must speak down to her. Same when he laughs.

Like Stones, most of the petitioners’ witnesses live in some kind of public housing facility. They live in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh and some of them had to catch rides with their lawyers to this hearing in Harrisburg. After the hearing, they’ll return to their home cities and resume using public transportation. This is part of the reason why they don’t have driver’s licenses. This is also part of the reason why their lives are under assault.

Outside the courtroom, campaign wars are being waged over why America is broken, or at least why the economy is. Perhaps not coincidentally, the same political party and ideology that passed strict voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and at least a half-dozen other states in the last two years, are the same players calling for funding cuts to public transportation, public healthcare and public housing—in some cases, erasure of these funds altogether. They argue, in short, that people who turn to these public goods for life’s basic necessities need to get their shit together, like the rest of America.

Inside the courtroom, I wonder if the all-white lawyers of the state are thinking this, too, thinking that Stones just needs to get her shit together. I shudder to think the judge might think this, even though he’s so polite. I look around the mostly white courtroom—the judge, news reporters, even the advocates who have come to support Stones—and I wonder how many others share the thought.
Stones’ inability to get an ID comes through no fault of her own. She just doesn’t exist, according to Virginia. All we know of her reality, is what’s shared in court.

At this point, that’s the ID cards in her possession: a check-cashing ID, a food stamp card, her Medicare card and a library card. The cards stand as symbols of the areas of society to which Stones has access. They are displayed on a wall-sized projector screen for all of us to gawk at, and judge. She has a library card and thus can educate herself about the politics of the moment, but her lack of a driver’s license now means she can’t vote on what she’s learned.

Pennsylvania’s lawyers argue that Stones can vote by other forms of ID. She should know this, they say, because they’ve been doing community outreach to ensure everyone learns the provisions of the new voter ID law. Yet it’s been established that the governor and secretary of state don’t know the details of the law themselves.

The Commonwealth argues that Stones can vote with the use of a passport. They assume she has left the country, or can afford to. They say she can use a college ID, assuming she went to college, or could afford to, or even that the college she might have attended puts expiration dates on its ID, as the voting law requires.

Some of the petitioners’ other witnesses didn’t finish high school. One witness, Anna Gonzalez, was adopted in New York after her birth in Puerto Rico, and has no birth certificate. Neither can she board a plane to get back to her native state to locate it. Puerto Rico also told Gonzalez she doesn’t exist, she testified earlier.

These are not irresponsible people. All of them have held jobs. The eldest witness, Viviette Applewhite, 93, an African-American, testified that one of her jobs was as a cleaning lady when she lived in Virginia. She cleaned a courtroom, “one just like this one,” she says from the stand. I look at the paintings of the white judges lining the perimeter of the courtroom and I wonder, Where are the paintings of the janitors like Applewhite? The room is pristine. Someone got it that way and it wasn’t the judges and the lawyers.

The Commonwealth’s lawyers grill Stones. They ask her to explain why she doesn’t have other forms of identification.

Tell me again why you don’t have a birth certificate? Do you have a Social Security card? Why not? Are you still trying to get one? When was the last time you tried? Did you know that if you took this bus route to get to that polling place before it closes, and then supply this information and then sign that application, and another one, and an affidavit, that you can have a Pennsylvania ID, delivered maybe on the last week of August?

These questions are to help the state prove its argument: that obtaining a voter ID is neither burdensome nor intrusive. But I also wonder if they seek these answers because they genuinely want Stones to account for herself. Because they don’t live her reality, but they want to understand. Because maybe understanding it might change their minds and they’ll drop the law. That seems unlikely.

The challenge for Stones’ lawyers is to convince the judge and the state’s leaders—people who also don’t live Stones’s reality—that her narrative is valid, as are the narratives of the other witnesses like her. We know that this is a Commonwealth, but the wealth assumed here in court is not at all common. And there are reasons for that.

So Stones submits to a grilling as her life, rather than the voter ID law, stands trial. She has, in recent years, been reminded constantly from the news, from Congress, from political campaigns that her use of public health insurance, public transit, public housing are all drains on the nation’s wealth; that people like her are the reason government is “too big,” the reason for the foreclosure crisis, for the economic collapse; that the race, gender, native status, income status of her and her fellow witnesses are all problems, as are the fact that they are carless or homeless.

Still, they have taken the stand, seated below the Commonwealth’s judge, which must take a tremendous amount of courage, to stand up for the rights of Pennsylvanians like themselves. They are fighting off the consequences of a new label: ID-less. Which is to say face-less, potentially vote-less. Or as Stones put it, far more eloquently, “They say I don’t exist.”

—Brentin Mock

Underwater Homeowners Face a Tax Time Bomb


On Dec. 31, underwater homeowners could be hit with a huge tax bill, unless Congress moves to help them.


The letter from Bank of America Home Loans got right to the point. “We are pleased to inform you that we have approved your Home Equity Account for participation in a principal forgiveness program offered as a result of the Department of Justice and State Attorneys General global settlement with major mortgage servicers.” In the letter, which I obtained from an anti-foreclosure activist, Bank of America offered the homeowner full forgiveness of their entire home equity loan balance of over $177,000. But then Paragraph 5 came with an ominous warning: “Please be aware that we are required to report the amount of your cancelled principal debt to the Internal Revenue Service.”

Under current law, a principal reduction like this would be exempted from tax liability. However, that law, the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, expires at the end of the year, and after that, any mortgage debt forgiveness provided to a borrower will count as gross income for tax purposes, potentially costing millions of families several billion dollars. In the above case, the borrower would be required to pay taxes on the entire $177,000 amount forgiven by the bank, as if it were earned income. And that’s money that struggling homeowners simply don’t have.

“They wouldn’t be able to handle it,” said Peggy Mears of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a community organizing group in California that has worked extensively on foreclosure issues. “If they could handle it, they wouldn’t be in arrears with their house notes. They don’t have that kind of money.”

The tax issue could significantly disrupt a still-fragile housing market and rob homeowners of the tools to pull themselves out of mortgage debt. It also represents a final indignity for homeowners who have been abused by the fraudulent mortgage practices of leading banks for years. Just when they think they get relief from their troubles, they get hit with a massive tax bill they cannot pay. “This has the effect of pulling people up with one hand, and hitting them in the face and knocking them over the cliff with the other,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who supports extending the law.

The issue dates back to 2007, when the housing bubble first started to deflate. Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., was tasked by the then-chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Barney Frank , D-Mass., to find ways to help borrowers who would get caught up in the ensuing carnage. Miller’s search led him to Section 181 of the tax code. “I heard about the fact that interest reductions are not treated as income and principal reductions are, which creates a huge problem for modifying mortgages and solving the foreclosure crisis,” Miller said.

The odds of foreclosure largely correlate with a borrower’s level of indebtedness. A homeowner who’s “underwater,” meaning he or she owes more on the home than it’s worth, is far more likely to miss payments that a borrower with equity. And studies show that principal reductions do a far better job than any other kind of loan modification in helping borrowers maintain payments and avoid foreclosure. If you privilege other modifications through the tax code, like reducing the interest rate, over principal reductions, you punish those homeowners receiving the most sustainable type of modification, and eventually take them off the table, leading to a weaker housing recovery.

“I suggested to Barney [Frank] that we create an exemption for principal reductions,” Miller said. “Barney said to me, ‘Let’s go talk to Richie,’” meaning Richard Neal, the chairman of the tax-writing subcommittee in the House. Neal agreed to help, and the change got added as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

That first exemption lasted three years, but the foreclosure crisis lingered on beyond that. Democrats were able to include an extension in the larger deal that extended all of the Bush tax cuts for two years. Now the law is scheduled to expire again on Dec. 31, 2012. Any debt relief that completes after that date would be taxable.

The difference now is that principal reductions and other debt relief are set to become more widespread. Banks have been extremely resistant over the last several years to grant principal reductions, which forces them to take an up-front loss. Even if, over time, the greater probability of the borrower maintaining the payments makes it more cost-efficient for the bank than the risk of a bigger loss in foreclosure, banks do not want to mark the immediate loss on their books. In addition, mortgage servicers, who manage securitized loans sold to investors, get compensated through a percentage of unpaid principal balance, so principal forgiveness represents a direct cut into their profits.

Because of the mortgage settlement, banks are mandated to forgive at least $10 billion of principal, as a punishment for using false documentation to foreclose on homeowners, among other abuses. Though this is a relatively small amount of forgiveness (homeowners have roughly $700 billion in negative equity on their mortgages), the implications for the borrowers who receive it are significant. A $100,000 principal reduction for a family making the median adjusted gross income of $32,393 would calculate to an additional tax bill of roughly $21,200. And most homeowners threatened with foreclosure and in need of a principal reduction have far poorer finances than the median. “’I’m on unemployment and I just got a $20,000 tax bill?’” said Ira Rheingold of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “This would be so counter to public policy, it makes absolutely no sense.”

In addition, the tax exemption also covers short sales, which have increasingly become an option for banks and homeowners to avoid foreclosure. In a short sale, the bank agrees to allow homeowners to sell their property for less than the value of their mortgage, forgiving the balance. The borrower walks away from the home without an eviction, the property sells at a higher price in a short sale than a foreclosure sale, and the bank doesn’t have the expense of maintenance and upkeep on the property between eviction and the foreclosure sale. Short sales increased 25 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2012. But if the exemption expires, the homeowner would have to pay tax on the balance forgiven by the bank in a short sale, making this option much less attractive.

The mortgage settlement added several other cases where homeowners would have to pay taxes on awards from banks. Under the settlement, up to 750,000 foreclosure victims, who have already lost their homes, will receive checks of $2,000 as compensation for foreclosure fraud. But the settlement language did not make clear that the cash reward represented compensatory damages, and as a result, these checks could be taxed. Similarly, service members stand to get compensation of $116,800 or more, due to a series of violations under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, including incidents where banks illegally foreclosed on military members while they were deployed overseas. But because of the vagueness of the language, they could be taxed as well. Rep. Brad Miller said he advised those involved in writing the settlement that they should try to make everything, including the mandated principal reductions, explicitly portrayed as compensatory damages, to ensure the exclusion from tax liability. “They had no idea what I was talking about,” Miller said.

At this point, only Congress can fix this problem by extending the exemption, and there are two parallel efforts underway to do so. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has sponsored a bill, S.2250, which would prevent taxation on all debt forgiveness, like principal reduction or short sales, through the end of 2013. That bill has 17 co-sponsors, including four Republicans (Dean Heller, Scott Brown, Susan Collins and Johnny Isakson), as well as the support of the White House, which called for it in its proposed budget. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., has a more extensive bill in the House, H.R.4290, which would not only relieve the tax burden for principal forgiveness, but also exempt the direct cash payments to homeowners from the mortgage settlement. It would also stop banks from taking a deduction for any payments they make for Servicemembers Civil Relief Act violations. That bill has 42 co-sponsors, but no Republicans. “I wanted to put an idea out there and let it cook,” McDermott said. “I can’t ram it through, I can’t get a hearing on it in the Ways and Means Committee. But people can look at it, decide it’s a good idea, take it and shape it.”

Given that this is in essence a tax cut – the Congressional Budget Office estimates that excluding principal reductions from taxation for two more years will save recipients $2.7 billion — many Democrats in Washington believe that Republicans will eventually get onboard. But that’s no guarantee. “I’m not sure we can get that extended,” Rep. Miller said. “Republicans are not keen on principal reduction in the first place. When we extended the law in 2010, that was considered a give to Democrats.” Given that the tax issue would in all likelihood bring principal reductions to a screeching halt, Republicans could view resisting an extension as a way to stop something where they have ideological opposition. And it could be used as a bargaining chip in other negotiations.

In addition, it’s not like Congress has nothing to work on in the lame duck session, where this will probably get decided. Lawmakers must navigate a host of issues, including trillions of dollars in fiscal measures like the Bush tax cuts, the automatic sequester of $1.2 trillion in discretionary and defense spending, the alternative minimum tax and much more. With all this packed into a short space of legislating, the principal reduction issue could easily get lost in the shuffle. And it’s not as if Washington has made a priority out of granting relief to homeowners over the past several years. “In a rational world with a rational Congress, I would not be concerned,” Rheingold, of NACA, said. “But we don’t have that.”

At stake is the future of the housing market itself. Though analysts keep touting a bottoming out of prices and home sales, the numbers suggest that there’s still a long way to go, and the biggest stumbling block remains negative equity. “For us to get to a housing recovery, we really do need significant principal reduction,” said Rheingold. “As we’re seeing the first signs of doing any principal reduction or short sales, if this tax relief is allowed to expire, it would really do tremendous damage.”

But consumer and housing advocates have not engaged on the issue yet, though they have relentlessly demanded more principal reductions. “It’s not something that a lot of us have been thinking or talking about,” acknowledged Rheingold. “We’re thinking about implementation of the settlement, and whether there will be principal reductions, not these other hazards.” Housing advocates have called on Ed DeMarco, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to authorize principal reductions on loans owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And his rejection of this has spurred calls for President Obama to fire him. But this issue, which would punish the beneficiaries of those principal reductions with a giant tax bill, has not generated the same level of outrage.

There’s still time for a fix. An extension would probably get folded into some other must-pass bill at the end of the legislative session, reasoned Sen. Merkley. There’s also the possibility of dealing with it retroactively sometime in 2013, before homeowners get the big surprise on their 2013 taxes. “I’ve heard no one defend the way the law will go,” Merkley said. Rep. McDermott, the lead sponsor in the House, saw options as well. “The legislative process can move very rapidly when it wants to,” he said. “When there’s a will, there’s always a way. What’s troublesome is finding out if anybody cares.”

Peggy Mears, of ACCE, said that her organization would begin to talk to its members about the issue. “We’re going to refuse to give up fighting for homeowners,” she said. “It would be a shame for people in Congress to pull money out of the consumer’s pockets.”

Without a strong push from outside advocates and attention from lawmakers, an extension will be a challenge. And homeowners abused by banks throughout the mortgage process would suffer a final nightmare courtesy of the Internal Revenue Service. “Of all the tax changes likely to expire,” Rep. Brad Miller said, “this is the one that causes me the most concern.”

David Dayen is a writer for FDL News Desk, at Firedoglake.com.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why People Cave in to Extremist Ideas That Were Once Unthinkable


What was once radical and taboo have arrived as fixtures in American society.

Photo Credit: Gwoeii/ Shutterstock.com

Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal. Here are several examples from the last couple of days illustrating that same dynamic; none seems overwhelmingly significant on its own, but that’s the point:

After Dick Cheney criticized John McCain this weekend for having chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, this was McCain’s retort:
Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.
Isn’t it amazing that the first sentence there (“I respect the vice president”) can precede the next one (“He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not”) without any notice or controversy? I realize insincere expressions of respect are rote ritualism among American political elites, but still, McCain’s statement amounts to this pronouncement: Dick Cheney authorized torture — he is a torturer — and I respect him. How can that be an acceptable sentiment to express? Of course, it’s even more notable that political officials whom everyone knows authorized torture are walking around free, respected and prosperous, completely shielded from all criminal accountability. “Torture” has been permanently transformed from an unspeakable taboo into a garden-variety political controversy, where it shall long remain.

Equally remarkable is this Op-Ed from The Los Angeles Times over the weekend, condemning President Obama’s kill lists and secret assassinations:
Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution’s guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law.

Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations. . . .
But if the United States is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. Even minimal judicial oversight might make the president and his advisors think twice about whether an American citizen poses such an “imminent” danger that he must be executed without a trial.
Isn’t it amazing that a newspaper editorial even has to say: you know, the President isn’t really supposed to have the power to act as judge, jury and executioner and order American citizens assassinated with no transparency or due process? And isn’t it even more amazing that the current President has actually seized and exercised this power with very little controversy? Recall that when The New York Times first confirmed Obama’s targeting of citizens for assassinations in 2010, it noted, citing “officials,” that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” No longer. That presidential power — literally the most tyrannical power a political leader can seize — is also now a barely noticed fixture of our political culture.

Meanwhile, we have this, from the Associated Press yesterday:

Remember when John Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness” program – which was “to use data mining technologies to sift through personal transactions in electronic data to find patterns and associations connected to terrorist threats and activities”: basically create real-time surveillance of everyone – was too extreme and menacing even for an America still at its peak of post-9/11 hysteria? Yet here we have the NYPD — more than a decade removed from 9/11 — announcing a very similar program in very similar terms, and it’s almost impossible to envision any real controversy.

Similarly, in the AP’s sentence above describing the supposed targets of this new NYPD surveillance program: what, exactly, is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t that an incredibly Orwellian term given that, by definition, it can include anyone and everyone? In practice, it will almost certainly mean: all Muslims, plus anyone who engages in any activism that opposes prevailing power factions. That’s how the American Surveillance State is always used. Still, the undesirability of mass, “all-seeing,” indiscriminate surveillance regime was a given — a view, in sum, that the East German Stasi was a bad idea that we would not want to replicate on American soil — yet now, there is almost no limit on the level of state surveillance we tolerate.

In The New York Times yesterday, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about the very moving and burdensome plight of America’s drone pilots who, sitting in front of a “computer console [] in the Syracuse suburbs,” extinguish people’s lives thousands of miles away by launching missiles at them. The bulk of the article is devoted to eliciting sympathy and admiration for these noble warriors, but when doing so, she unwittingly describes America’s future with domestic surveillance drones:
Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of theEast German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. . . . ”You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
That’s the level of detailed monitoring that drone surveillance enables. Numerous attributes of surveillance drones — their ability to hover in the same place for long periods of time, their ability to remain stealthy, their increasingly cheap cost and tiny size — enable surveillance of a breadth, duration and invasiveness unlike other types of surveillance instruments, such as police helicopters or satellites. Recall that one new type of drone already in use by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — the Gorgon Stare, named after the “mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them” — is “able to scan an area the size of a small town” and “the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity”; boasted one U.S. General: “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

There is zero question that this drone surveillance is coming to American soil. It already has spawned a vast industry that is quickly securing formal approval for the proliferation of these surveillance weapons. There’s some growing though still marginal opposition among both the independent left and the more libertarian-leaning precincts on the right, but at the moment, that trans-ideological coalition is easily outgunned by the combination of drone industry lobbyists and Surveillance State fanatics. The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.

* * * * *

Whatever one thinks of the RT network, Alyona Minkovski, a host of a show on that network, is an excellent journalist and interviewer. Last night was her last show — she’s leaving to work on a Huffington Post video show — and I was on last night, along with Jane Hamsher, discussing several domestic police state issues related to the topics discussed here:

* * * * *
Over the weekend, in the column I wrote hailing the Internet’s capacity to detect falsehoods and myths better than traditional journalism, I made reference to the “mass panic” caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” Numerous people — in comments, via email and elsewhere — objected by arguing that no such panic was ever documented. Journalism Professor W. Joseph Campbell makes the case here that this is nothing more than urban myth. He suggests that the widespread propagation of this myth on the Internet undermines my argument because it shows how the Internet can spread rather than combat falsehoods (Dan Drezner makes a related argument here), but (at least with regard to Campbell’s argument) I’d say the opposite is true. Leaving aside that this “mass panic” myth was widely believed long before the Internet was widely used, I was quickly exposed to, and persuaded by, the likely mythical nature of my claim as a result of the interactive process of Internet journalism which I praised.

UPDATE: In Mother Jones, Adam Serwer argues that “Congress is finally standing up to President Barack Obama on targeted killing” — specifically that they “are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it’s legal to kill American terror suspects overseas.” Notably, this push is coming from Republican Senators, while leading Democrats such as Dianne Feinstein are attempting to impede these efforts to bring basic accountability and transparency to this most radical power. Note the debate here: not whether the President should have the power to order Americans executed without due process, but simply whether he should have to account to Congress for what he does and what the legal framework is that he believes authorizes this.

UPDATE II: Via BuzzFeed and Spencer Ackerman, here is the logo for the U.S. Navy’s executive offices for its drone planes:

Why do they hate us?

Glenn Greenwald is a constitutional law attorney and a regular contributor to Salon. He is the author of four books, most recently "With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful."