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Hillary's Email, Hillary's Truth

Huffington Post News - 53 min 13 sec ago

The State Department issues a report -- and Rick hears echoes...

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

We'd Do Anything For Vets, Except Support Them In Politics

Huffington Post News - 1 hour 24 min ago

"Can I have your attention," a woman in a fluorescent yellow shirt called out at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C. "We have some very special guests coming through. They are veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you help us cheer them on?"



Within minutes, dozens of my fellow bleary-eyed travelers on a Sunday morning packed a nearby gate to cheer on the aged warriors as they came off the plane from North Dakota, in town for Memorial Day events. "They'll get a tour of the monuments, a special ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, everything," a yellow-shirted man sporting a black Vietnam Veteran, Special Forces hat told me. More cheers erupted as Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." blared from a nearby speaker. "We've been doing this for ten years!" a younger woman with the same honorflight.org shirt with an American flag beamed. And like all the others there, I was proud to be an American.



But I can't say that I'm as proud of how our veterans have been treated in the political arena, something that gets considerably less notice. It seems every year, fewer and fewer of the candidates that win political office (much less get nominated) have military experience. I remember shaking hands and chatting with former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey at our college's commencement address, proud to have met this veteran who won so much glory. His resume mattered once, but later that year, the Nebraska voters didn't feel the same way, stopping his political comeback.

None of the presidential or vice-presidential nominees from 2012 were veterans. How many of the 2016 candidates could say the same thing?

Being ignored at the ballot box is nothing compared to how they are treated by those assigned to protect them after their service. Remember when a laptop was stolen, the biggest data breach ever at that time, with names and personal information for so many veterans was lost? The laptop was recovered, but lost in that story was that the computer had been taken home so someone could put in a little extra work denying a whole bunch of claims for PTSD for veterans.

The treatment veterans received from Veterans Administration hospitals was equally bad. But now there's a proposal to privatize the VA. I can agree with privatization for a number of things, but profits should never been made on the backs of those who sacrificed so much to protect our country, giving up earnings as home to make so little abroad. Many need so much expensive work from their injuries. How much are they going to be required to pay?

I'm sure you're thinking "We'd never do that to veterans! Not when so many love them!" But who thought veterans would get such poor treatment in other ways? Their groups, like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and VoteVets.org are hammered for the positions they take, instead of getting a little credit for who the members are and how they serve. Even near where I live, a proposed site for rehabilitating veterans was blocked and only remote sites are being considered for this well-meaning project.

So this Memorial Day, find a way to honor the veterans with parades, visits to monuments and national parks where they are featured, and put a flower next to a gravesite of a fallen hero. And let's spend the other 364 days in the year fighting just as hard for them as they have for us!

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Donald Trump Blows Off Bernie Sanders Debate, Sparks 'Chicken' Meme

Huffington Post News - 5 hours 30 min ago

Donald Trump is being relentlessly mocked on Twitter for backing out of a debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).


The #ChickenTrump hashtag started trending soon after the billionaire businessman revealed he wouldn't be discussing policy issues with the Democratic presidential candidate.


The presumptive GOP presidential nominee is depicted as farmyard foul in many of the hilarious images, gifs and short video clips that are going viral. 


Here are some of the best:



#ChickenTrump or Donald Cluck? pic.twitter.com/7XZUoHQMgC

— Tay Jayne (@tayversusworld) May 27, 2016



To be honest, @realDonaldTrump was always scared of @BernieSanders! #ChickenTrump you #FeelTheBERN! pic.twitter.com/CJLc4bz7FM

— Xavier Pérez (@DOUBTMYPROGRESS) May 27, 2016



#ChickenTrump calls a press conference pic.twitter.com/WdcA3Xm9t5

— biglittlechris (@biglittlechris) May 27, 2016



Here's a .GIF for #ChickenTrumphttps://t.co/5B1xkVyupI pic.twitter.com/QKn095cTod

— Jim Swift (@JSwiftTWS) May 27, 2016



Looks like #ChickenTrump got scared of another debate & ran home to hide.@ChickenTrumppic.twitter.com/Or9JgbFcEj

— STOP Trumpnado (@Trumpnado2016) May 27, 2016



#ChickenTrump and the Chicken Killer. ;-) cc @RealDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/5rHK1MznIG

— Lisa Pease (@lisapease) May 27, 2016



#ChickenTrump afraid to debate Colonel Sanders. #BernieTrumpDebate pic.twitter.com/Bu8acteeE1

— allison (@bluelighttv) May 27, 2016



You have made a big mistake #ChickenTrump pic.twitter.com/X4xiyHgQB2

— Milanoost (@MilanEast) May 27, 2016



Even @realDonaldTrump supporters feel let down by their Dear Leader aka #ChickenTrump. pic.twitter.com/ro2m24HbPP

— ¡Viva Bernie! (@BilblyBob) May 27, 2016



#BernieTrumpDebate #chickentrump ?#REVOLT2Vote #BernieOrBust #FeelTheBern pic.twitter.com/bfLaP6X3Tu

— noupsell (@noupsell) May 26, 2016



Prev record was 100k tweet views in 24 hrs
Thx 2 #ChickenTrump 2nite I had 137k views in 3 hrs #FBImWithHer helped pic.twitter.com/E8oGC7xSBY

— Zach Haller (@zachhaller) May 28, 2016



Once again, the world sees #ChickenTrump 's true colors...weird orange with a little fluffy yellow belly. pic.twitter.com/zrQEAH4rXN

— Half Koala (@GreenMyHouz) May 28, 2016



Brave Sir Donald ran away... #ChickenTrump pic.twitter.com/042o7GG1uc

— TheFOO (@PolitiBunny) May 27, 2016


Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Bill Maher And Bernie Sanders Take Down 'Chicken' Donald Trump

Huffington Post News - 6 hours 28 min ago




Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is desperate to debate Donald Trump.


The Democratic presidential candidate told Bill Maher on "Real Time" Friday night that he'd have "loved" to discuss policy issues with the real estate mogul.


He even clenched his fists in anticipation of the televised scrap. But he was left disappointed after The Donald flip-flopped over the issue at least four times, before eventually pulling out.


"Mr. Macho chickened out," said Maher, prompting Sanders to challenge the presumptive GOP presidential nominee once again.





"Trump claims to be a real tough guy, pushes people around," Sanders said. "Hey Donald, come on up, let's have a debate about the future of America."


Maher's interview with Sanders covered multiple issues, including some people's perception that he's a hardcore socialist -- which he insisted he isn't.


But it soon circled back to Trump, who Sanders said was difficult to strategize against because of his lies and apparent unaccountability.



Trump is a pathological liar, and would be a real threat to the world if he becomes president. - @BernieSanders #FeelTheBern #RealTime

— Real Time (@RealTimers) May 28, 2016



Bernie's in the house! We invited Hillary and Trump, but Trump's a whiney little bitch, and Hillary couldn't open the email. - @billmaher

— Real Time (@RealTimers) May 28, 2016


"I have a lot of Republican colleagues and friends who I disagree with," Sanders said. "They're not crazy. They're honest people." 


Sanders called Trump "a pathological liar." "I don't mean to be malicious, but it's just the damn truth," he added. "He would be not only be an embarrassment, but a real danger to this entire world if he would become president."


Check the interview out in the clip above.


Also on the show, Maher called on people to continue using the #WhinyLittleBitch hashtag when talking about Trump on social media -- in order to brand him "like he brands everybody else." The #ChickenTrump hashtag also surfaced on the show's Twitter account.


Watch that clip here:



Watch @BillMaher call out #WhinyLittleBitch Donald Trump in tonight's #RealTime monologue. #ChickenTrumphttps://t.co/bkByF7fMbZ

— Real Time (@RealTimers) May 28, 2016


 


Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Anti-Trump Protest In San Diego Ends In Fights, Arrests

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 11:41pm


A Donald Trump rally in San Diego resulted in clashes Friday night between anti-Trump protesters, Trump supporters and police, leading to dozens of arrests.



Video of a punch being thrown, as police move in pic.twitter.com/XQDW4XXc3S

— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) May 27, 2016


Thousands of people converged at the San Diego Convention Center, where the presumptive Republican presidential candidate was speaking. As Trump supporters left the venue around 5 p.m., protesters confronted them. 



Battle of the flags after #SDTrumpRally. Supporters yelling USA at protestors #MakeAmericaGreatAgain #NBC7 pic.twitter.com/cYaWcqhgjH

— Omari Fleming (@OmariNBCSD) May 27, 2016




Police body-checking people with their batons & arresting protesters sitting down pic.twitter.com/nOhDxgheTr

— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) May 28, 2016



Watch: Protesters outside Trump rally start to attack SD police officers, who hit back. pic.twitter.com/4bSZHVQAck

— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) May 27, 2016


Police with batons drawn moved to separate the two sides and hold a barrier, which protesters breached. After some people threw bottles and began fighting, police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and ordered everyone to disperse. It then became a misdemeanor to remain in the area, and police had cleared it by about an hour later.



Massive line of police keeps Trump protesters moving forward in Sam Diego pic.twitter.com/t8JRFqgyq2

— Kayla Epstein (@KaylaEpstein) May 28, 2016



Police in full riot gear telling demonstrators to move. Post Donald Trump Rally in San Diego. pic.twitter.com/uAw7ErgI5C

— Luis Cruz (@NewsCruz) May 28, 2016



They are not #kidding around in #SanDiego after #TrumpRally with #protesters @FOXLA #BREAKING #BreakingNews pic.twitter.com/7PKTNGlZU6

— christina gonzalez (@cgfox11) May 28, 2016


Officials said 18 people had "received medical attention at the area," according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The San Diego Police Department reported 35 arrests.


The SDPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 



Plainclothes police chase a protester, things getting tense out here pic.twitter.com/gw8MYOmZzz

— Union-Tribune Ideas (@sdutIdeas) May 27, 2016


Police hit some protesters with little balls containing pepper spray, according to reports. Police have not yet confirmed they used the chemical irritant.



This is what officers are shooting at protesters. Balls filled with pepper spray burn eyes, make it hard to breathe. pic.twitter.com/UoM4T2GzdB

— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) May 28, 2016



Police make good on warning, detain protesters and shoot pepper spray balls. pic.twitter.com/HcmKmsptwk

— Jacob Rascon (@Jacobnbc) May 28, 2016



Cops using tear gas and pepper spray, pushing protestors south. pic.twitter.com/TNOso0ZsHx

— AM 760 KFMB (@760kfmb) May 28, 2016



Officers equipped with pepper spray. #TrumpRally pic.twitter.com/57XIz86Z5u

— Debbi Baker (@Debbi_Baker) May 28, 2016


Trump weighed in on the clashes and police response on Twitter.



.@SanDiegoPD- Fantastic job on handling the thugs who tried to disrupt our very peaceful and well attended rally. Greatly appreciated!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2016


Trump’s proposal to build a wall to keep out immigrants carries additional significance in San Diego, an increasingly bicultural city on the U.S.-Mexico border. Many protesters brandished Mexican flags, condemning Trump’s positions on immigration and race.


Trump supporters and protesters have clashed regularly, and often violently, during his presidential campaign stops -- most recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where police threw smoke grenades at protesters.


Trump’s San Diego rally was one of several campaign stops in California ahead of the state’s June 7 primary.


UPDATE: 12:40 a.m. -- This article has been updated to reflect the number of arrests announced by police.


Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

California Looking Less Like A Sure Thing For Hillary Clinton

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 10:30pm

On Wednesday, after days of looking, Karen Furia, 65, finally found what she was searching for: a “Hillary” bumper sticker, at a Clinton campaign rally in Salinas, Calif.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Loose Nuke: Trump, the Nuclear Threat and a Memorial Day for Earth

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 10:08pm




Donald Trump and his reckless refusal to disavow using nuclear weapons is a threat to all life on earth. It's that simple.

Ask yourself, would there be any more Memorial Days if no one is left to mourn? No. If all human life is extinguished in a nuclear holocaust, there could be no more Memorial Days as memory itself would be no more.

I think it is time to bring back the famous "Daisy" ad run by Lyndon B. Johnson in his 1964 political ad against Barry Goldwater, portraying Goldwater as a "reckless cowboy who will destroy your children in a nuclear holocaust."

Trump is that reckless cowboy and then some.

Trump has repeatedly refused to disavow using nuclear weapons, even refusing to rule out using them in Europe. Instead of nuclear nonproliferation he has advocated a nuclear-armed Japan and a nuclear armed South Korea, threatening the fragile security of that region of the world.

But even more than the reckless cowboy image of the "Daisy" ad, nuclearism is the ultimate offense to God as creator. The world's religious leaders have come out unambiguously that nuclear weapons are completely immoral because they have the capacity to end God's creation.

We as religious leaders have been making this argument for a long time now.

In the work Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War I showed that it was in the 1980s that faith communities began to take the lead in anti-nuclear protests throughout the United States. Beginning with the American Catholic Bishop's powerful pastoral letter, "The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response," and building momentum with the support of many protestant denominations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and other faith groups including the Buddhist Soka Gakkai International, a movement emerged in which rejection of the development, trade and use of nuclear weapons became a central conviction across faith traditions.

Although the 1990s saw a relative decline in anti-nuclear protest, after the attacks of September 11, 2001 the topic re-emerged as a central concern for faith communities. Muslim voices joined the opposition to nuclear weapons in June 2000 as the "Joint Nuclear Reduction/Disarmament Statement" by religious and military leaders was issued in Washington D.C. At the release of the statement, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of North America noted, "we must say to ourselves first and then to the world that we want a total and universal ban on the possession and production of nuclear weapons" and argued for Islamic support of this view.

These faith communities' denunciation of nuclear weapons is so strong and far reaching that I have made the argument that nuclear opposition is one of the most widely shared convictions across faith traditions.

Hubris, however, is the arrogance to think you know better than God, and Trump's cavalier attitude toward not only nuclear nonproliferation but even the use of nuclear weapons is hubris.

Ask yourself, on this Memorial Day, if earth will ever see another opportunity to mourn our losses in war, or will a nuclear holocaust take that away.

Will the future of earth only be an irradiated rock without any creature to care about the loss?

There are no Memorial Days without humans to mourn.

-- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

Categories: Political News and Opinion

Friday Talking Points -- Paul Ryan, Democrat?

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 9:48pm

Has Paul Ryan become so disaffected with Donald Trump that he quietly changed political parties, when no one was looking? The Washington Post, in an unrelated story, ran a photo of Orrin Hatch standing next to Ryan with the caption (emphasis added):


Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), (L), is flanked by House Speaker Ryan (D-WI), (R), while signing the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act of 2016, on Capitol Hill May 18, 2016 in Washington, DC


Note that "(D-WI)" in there [the "(R)" which follows it stands for "right," and not "Republican," we should add]. The truly odd thing is that this page hasn't been corrected yet (as of this writing), and it's been up for over a full day.


So when did Paul Ryan secretly become a Democrat? Heh. OK, we know it was just a typo, but still, it's fun to think about, right?


The actual article this amusing photo caption appeared in showed plainly how closed one Republican's mind truly is. A newspaper printed a statement from Hatch that said, in part, "I recently met with Chief Judge Merrick Garland," but that the meeting didn't change his mind on obstructing him in the Senate. The only problem? The meeting hadn't even taken place yet. Orrin Hatch can see the future! Or something. What's really going to be hilarious about the whole Supreme Court nomination fight is when every single Republican who is now blathering on about how the next president deserves to fill the vacancy has to completely flip-flop in a hasty rush to confirm Garland during the lame-duck period -- to deny Hillary Clinton a Supreme Court pick. See, we can predict the future too! We foresee a swamp of hypocrisy awaiting Senate Republicans, which they will fall smack into, the day after the election.


What else? Our introduction is going to be pretty short, since so much of this week's news belongs in the awards section, we should note. Ken Starr, nemesis to Bill Clinton, got a big demotion at his cushy university job this week -- which certainly will put a smile on the face of every Democrat who remembers the 1990s.


It seems even some Republicans are getting seriously annoyed with their fellow party members using the Bible as a political bludgeon, as the House GOP deals with a growing divide within them over the subject of LGBT rights. In a closed-door meeting called by Paul Ryan, freshman Rick Allen of Georgia "read Bible versus calling for the death of homosexuals to argue that a vote in favor of an anti-discrimination amendment was akin to a sin."


Ryan called the meeting in an attempt to deal with the growing number of defections on the issue. Last week a vote was held open on a LGBT amendment so that Republicans could be coaxed into changing their votes. Seven of them still wound up voting for the bill. This week, a similar bill got a whopping 43 Republican votes. The problem for Ryan is obviously getting worse fast. This was the atmosphere for Allen's remarks, which were not exactly welcomed by some Republicans:


Another Republican lawmaker was so upset by Allen's remarks that he stormed out of the room. "A lot of members were clearly uncomfortable and upset," one Republican aide told The Hill.


"It was f---ing ridiculous," an unnamed lawmaker remarked.


Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent went on record to criticize Allen's stunt.


"I thought the comments were wildly out of bounds and especially inappropriate given that this was supposed to be a prayer," Dent, who was among the 43 Republicans who voted in support of LGBT rights, told The Washington Post. "I believe it's imperative for the Republican Party to make an affirmative statement on nondiscrimination for the LGBT community and deal with religious liberty."


Now maybe they know what it feels like when a sanctimonious politician uses religion as an attack in the political arena. You could almost hear secularists saying "Welcome to the club!" in the background.


In marijuana news, Republican House member Dana Rohrabacher became the first sitting congressman in three decades to admit illegal (by the federal laws he helps legislate) marijuana usage. And, apparently, it worked wonders:


Two weeks ago, Rohrabacher said, he tried a topical wax-based marijuana treatment. That night, it was "the first time in a year and a half that I had a decent night's sleep because the arthritis pain was gone," Rohrabacher said.


To his credit, the very conservative Rohrabacher has been working across the aisle with some Democrats to -- piece by piece -- dismantle the federal War On Weed.


Speaking of the federal War On Weed, statistics show that federal trafficking convictions are way down -- starting (oddly enough) right when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational use. Up to 2011, roughly six million people a year were sentenced under federal law, but this has now fallen to below four million. That's still far too many, but the trend is encouraging.


Recreational weed is also now legal within Washington D.C., which is the only explanation we can come up with for some grade-A idiocy in the Daily Caller this week. All Washington was abuzz with the rumor that Barack Obama had settled on a house to move into after he leaves office. The Daily Caller quickly took the opportunity to point out that the house was (gasp!) less than 1,100 feet from the Islamic Center of Washington. Somebody get the smelling salts, because conservatives are all a-swoon!


The Washington Post, helpfully, then turned the Daily Caller's logic on its head, by pointing out all the various (and nefarious) liberal bastions that were within 1,100 feet of the home office of the Daily Caller itself. The list is hilarious, including such gems as "Aljazeera (!!)" and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Why, the Daily Caller is in serious danger of being influenced by the NAACP, the NEA, the AFL-CIO, and the Human Rights Campaign! In fact, also in their neighborhood is (Are you sitting down, Daily Caller staffers? We wouldn't want any swooning injuries, of course...) none other than the American Islamic Congress.


Pass the smelling salts!


 



While the group isn't technically a Democrat, we're bending the rules for the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award this week, because it's such a great idea.


Billed as the successor to the Occupy Wall Street movement, a new organization was announced this week -- one that could wind up being a lot more effective than a bunch of people occupying a park ever was. The Washington Post had the full story:


Capitalizing on populist anger toward Wall Street, a coalition of more than 20 labor unions and activist groups on Tuesday launched a new campaign to reform the financial industry.


The group, Take On Wall Street, plans to combine the efforts of some of the Democratic Party's biggest traditional backers, from the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO to the Communications Workers of America. The group says it will aim to turn the public's lingering anger at the financial sector into policy initiatives that could change the way that Wall Street works.


Among its biggest targets will be doing away with a law that allows private equity managers to pay lower taxes through something known as the "carried interest loophole." These managers receive a share of profits for any gains they create for their clients, and this income is treated as long-term capital gains and taxed at a lower rate.


. . .


Unlike previous anti-Wall Street campaigns such as Occupy Wall Street, the new group hopes to organize a campaign that will span state houses and as well as the halls of Congress, potentially forecasting a big fight on financial reform in 2017.


"We are going to make this an issue in congressional races. No one will be able to run from this," said Richard L. Trumka, president of the labor union AFL-CIO. People are saying "that they are fed up with Wall Street writing the rules."


In addition to the issue of carried interest, the group expects to galvanize support for breaking up the big banks and reviving a version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented the combination of commercial and investment banks. It is also expected to push for a transaction tax, which would force some Wall Street traders, particularly high-frequency traders, to pay a fee every time they buy or sell a stock or bond.


Their timing couldn't have been better, really. Because that sounds an awful lot like the platform Bernie Sanders is running on. Maybe Take On Wall Street can actually achieve some solid results that neither Occupy Wall Street nor Bernie Sanders has been able to. It certainly could be a great place for Sanders supporters to rally, once Clinton wraps up the nomination in a little over a week.


Sanders aside, though, this sounds like a serious effort to build a populist organization, and the Left has always been lacking in such support organizations to further their agenda. The Right has an infrastructure of think tanks and policy advocacy groups that reaches back decades, so it is indeed good to see someone trying to do the same thing for progressive causes. Take On Wall Street is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, and we wish them well and lots of future success.


[You can support Take On Wall Street by going to their new webpage and signing their petition.]


 



We certainly had a lot of candidates this week for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. The State Department released their Inspector General's report on Hillary Clinton's private email server, which didn't have any wild new information that wasn't previously known, but was notable for its scathing language. Our guess is it won't help or hurt Clinton much with voters, who have probably already largely made up their minds on what to think about Clinton's emails. The F.B.I. report might do some real damage (whenever it comes out), but the I.G. report didn't seem to have any real bombshell qualities to it.


A Transportation Security Administration top official was forced out of the job, after $90,000 in unjustified bonuses was revealed. But it's not exactly a political job, so we don't think it qualifies for the MDDOTW award. Likewise non-partisan but also very disappointing was the news that the National Park Service is now considering selling off "naming rights" to the highest corporate bidders. This is just flat-out an obscenity, folks. Don't believe me? From the story:


Superintendents could "accept" gifts of $100,000 or up to $5 million with certification, training and other conditions, the policy states. They won't be able to solicit money directly -- that's prohibited for federal employees.


But Reinbold said that "we want superintendents to get more engaged" in the fundraising process, being in the room when outside fundraising groups meet with prospective donors, for example, and acting as experts.


The Park Service is commemorating its 100th year with a $350 million fundraising campaign that for the first time allowed large banners in the parks featuring donors' corporate logos.


Thankfully, some people are fighting back. Because the idea is, once again, an obscenity and an outrage.


"You could use Old Faithful to pitch Viagra," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog group that's trying to rally the park community to fight the plan. "Or the Lincoln Memorial to plug hemorrhoid cream. Or Victoria's Secret to plug the Statue of Liberty."


Every park-loving citizen should immediately register their own outrage, since this is an idea which must be denounced from the mountaintops, obviously.


But back to politics. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was certainly the "Democratic Lighting Rod Of The Week" this week, as some are pushing for her ouster as Democratic Party chair, partly to smooth things over at the nominating convention. As "one unnamed pro-Clinton Democratic senator" put it: "I don't see how [Debbie Wasserman Schultz] can continue to the election. How can she open the convention? Sanders supporters would go nuts." This same anonymous source also revealed: "There have been a lot of meetings over the past 48 hours about what color plate do we deliver Debbie Wasserman Schultz's head on."


Ouch. This is in the same week that Bernie Sanders endorsed her opponent (in her House re-election primary). Just to rub salt in the wound, Wasserman Schultz received the unwanted endorsement from Karl Rove's super PAC, as well as the Tea Party Express:


Debbie Wasserman Schultz has played a critical role over the past several years in the massive Republican gains we have achieved at the state level, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and in the U.S. Senate.


Yikes. All around, it's been a pretty brutal week for Wasserman Schultz.


But there are two better candidates for the MDDOTW award this week, sadly. The first isn't actually a Democratic organization, so reluctantly we've decided not to bend the rules. Even so, the US PIRG organization certainly deserves slamming this week. The group, founded by Ralph Nader to act in the public's best interest (the acronym stands for "Public Interest Research Group"), strongly came out against President Obama's new overtime rules last week. They want an exemption for non-profit groups to force their employees to work over 40 hours a week for low wages, it seems:


Organizations like ours rely on small donations from individuals to pay the bills. We can't expect those individuals to double the amount they donate. Rather, to cover higher staffing costs forced upon us under the rule, we will be forced to hire fewer staff and limit the hours those staff can work -- all while the well-funded special interests that we're up against will simply spend more.


This is nothing more than scaremongering. Public interest groups are always going to be outspent by corporations. It is a sad excuse for overworking the staff. Here's the thing: people are free to volunteer to work for a non-profit, if they so choose. Anyone who does not -- anyone who gets paid for the work -- actually needs that money to live on. Period. So limiting their time to 40 hours a week or else paying them overtime is actually the right thing to do -- especially for an organization that prides itself (from its own mission statement) that it: "stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being." The hypocrisy is pretty ugly on this one, folks.


But we've saved the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week for a man who made a monumentally stupid and insensitive comment this week. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald -- a person who was brought in because the V.A. was in crisis over waiting times, mind you -- replied in an interview: "When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what's important? What's important is: what's your satisfaction with the experience?"


This is beyond cringeworthy. Especially as the article also helpfully points out:


Disney, it turns out, does collect and analyze extensive waiting time data, which it considers core to its overall customer experience. The company has a system that manages the information.


Once again: the previous head of the V.A. had to step down because of the waiting time scandal. Dealing with the scandal was job one for the incoming chief. After failing to adequately do so, to be this dismissive of veterans waiting long periods to see a doctor is insulting (and that's the most polite word we could come up with).


Eric Shinseki had to step down for ignoring the wait times. But even he never insulted the people waiting in such a fashion. It's time for Robert McDonald to step down as well, because he obviously doesn't have his priorities straight.


[Contact Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on his official contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


 



Volume 393 (5/27/16)


This week, we're devoting all out talking points to Donald Trump. This could, in fact, become a regular occurrence for the next few months. Trump is an absolute peripatetic gold mine of things to ridicule, flitting from one to the next with the greatest of ease. Since he provides so much fodder, at times the best thing to do is just devote all the talking points to him. Which we will now proceed to do.


 



   Bye-bye!


Going... going... gone!


"Weren't we all, right about now, supposed to be seeing conservatives boldly giving the voters another choice than Donald Trump? Remember that? It was just a few weeks ago that 'Never Trump!' was the rallying cry of establishment Republicans and conservative true-believers, who were (led by the intrepid Bill Kristol) supposed to mount a third-party bid so that conservative voters would have someone they could vote for (while also voting for all the Republicans down the ballot). A few weeks later, and Trump has wrapped up the delegates he needs for the nomination, Republican politicians are falling all over themselves to board the Trump train, and the 'Never Trump!' folks have quietly disappeared, after every single person they begged to run for president turned them down flat. These people obviously couldn't organize their way out of a paper bag -- no wonder Trump thought the Republican establishment was such a pushover!"


 



   Rubio gets on board


Surely there's room for Little Marco?


"I see Marco Rubio suppressed his own bile and is now openly supporting Trump -- after spending months warning America that Trump was a dangerous person to be anywhere near the nuclear launch button. Rubio could even run for re-election in the Senate, now that he's dropped out of the presidential race, but he shows no interest in doing so. Because of this, he would be perfectly positioned to continue to denounce Trump in the strongest terms, since he doesn't have to be worried about what the voters think. Instead, he just stuck his head so far up Trump's rear end that he bumped into Chris Christie. It's really kind of sad to see the death of all self-respect in so many Republicans, isn't it?"


 



   The holdouts feel the heat


Of course, not boarding the Trump train has its own blowback.


"So I guess New Mexico's governor is out of the running for Trump's veep shortlist, eh? Susana Martinez was seen by some as being the perfect demographic choice for any Republican presidential candidate, since she is a Latina woman -- precisely what the party would need to shore up their already dismal support in those two groups. But by not backing Trump (and refusing to show up at a Trump rally in her state), she got badmouthed in a big way. Trump not only said she's 'not doing the job' of governor, he half-jokingly threatened to run for New Mexico governor himself. That's got to be every Republican's nightmare, at this point."


 



   Seriously?


Art imitating life imitating art. Or something.


"I never thought Fox News could be too in the tank for any Republican, but apparently they just managed to do so. They aired a charming show called 'Meet The Trumps' (boy, you just can't make this stuff up, can you?) which was so sycophantic that conservatives were ridiculing it on Twitter. One even likened it to Pravda, which is about as insulting as it gets for anyone who lived through the Cold War. Looks like Fox is totally in the tank for Trump, although even they probably should dial it back a bit if they've reached Pravda-like levels."


 



   How can you tell Trump is lying?


Anyone with half a brain could see that this was never going to happen. That leaves a lot of the mainstream media out, obviously.


"Bernie Sanders trolled Donald Trump this week, challenging him to a one-on-one debate before California's primary. Trump immediately said he'd gladly debate Bernie. Of course, like so many off-the-cuff things Trump says, this turned out to be a big fat lie. First Trump tried to back away from his promise by holding the television networks hostage for $10 million in charity money (for "women's issues," hilariously enough), and then when a few networks actually took a bite of that apple, Trump decided he just wasn't interested in debating Bernie. It's gotten to the point where there are just too many 'Trump Tells Whopper Of A Lie' headlines -- it'd now be easier if the media instead ran the occasional 'Trump Actually Tells Truth!' stories instead."


 



   His lips are moving, that's how!


Add this one to the list of "Things that would have destroyed any normal politician's chances of being elected, but had no effect on Trump whatsoever." Way, way down there at the end (it's a long list!).


"The last time Trump skipped a debate, he also used the 'let's raise money for charity' dodge, when he was supposed to have raised (in his own words) 'six million dollars' for veterans. The Washington Post decided to look into his claims, months later. Turns out Trump didn't raise anywhere near what he said he had (big surprise -- Trump lies about money all the time), and that Trump had never actually donated the one million dollars out of his own pocket that he promised that night. So he used and exploited veterans as political props, and then stiffed them at the end of the night. Any other presidential candidate who did something this odious would be finished, it's worth pointing out. After Trump heard the Post was digging into the story, he called up a veterans group's head late at night and quickly arranged for the million-dollar donation. How low can Trump go, one wonders. Promising but not delivering money to veterans' groups is about as low and despicable an act as can be imagined -- but there's plenty of time left before the election, so he'll most likely manage to go even lower before it's all over."


 



   A hopeful sign


We saved this one for last, because if true it certainly could be a gigantic ray of hope for Democrats.


"There's a story making the rounds that hasn't gotten much attention outside the Beltway, but really deserves to. Donald Trump is apparently very disdainful of the 'ground troops' necessary in any presidential election. He's apparently planning on running his general election campaign much the same way he ran in the primaries -- lots of tweeting, lots of call-in interviews on cable news, but little-to-no actual 'get out the vote' efforts at all. Now, Democrats are already much, much better at this sort of thing than Republicans (see: Obama's two victories), but the news that Trump isn't even interested in attempting a get-out-the-vote ground-troops effort is delightful news indeed for Democrats everywhere. Not only should this provide a landslide for Hillary Clinton, it could mean taking control of the Senate or even -- say it softly -- the House in November, as well. So I'd like to publicly address Donald Trump, and point out to him that get-out-the-vote efforts are not manly and were dreamed up by some elitist liberal Democrat. Probably Rosie O'Donnell, in fact. Therefore, he should denounce the practice and announce he won't spend a thin dime on such wimpiness in his own campaign."


 


Chris Weigant blogs at:



Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com


All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank


 

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Weekend Roundup: The 'Apology' That Matters Is to Never Again Use Nuclear Weapons

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 8:09pm

This week, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, incinerated and vaporized by American nuclear bombs 71 years ago. For the U.S., as with Japan's own wartime atrocities that still deeply rankle the emotions of its Asian neighbors, the profound apology that matters is not about the past but the future. It is about taking convincing actions today that ensure what happened in the past never happens again. That future-oriented apology remains lacking all around.

Writing from Tokyo, Ryan Takeshita is not looking for an apology or blame, for which he says Japan's own actions are not exempt. He proposes that, "talking about war as a general evil while not naming a particular country depoliticizes the issue. This approach may be helpful if it encourages the leaders of the world to stop pointing fingers and instead work together as a team for world peace and nuclear non-proliferation." These GIFs show Hiroshima then and now.

Historian Gar Alperovitz argues that, seven decades after the American bombing, the record is clear: the use of nuclear weapons did not lead to Japan's surrender and was not necessary. Rather, the Japanese military feared above all the imminent invasion of the Soviet Red Army. He also cites key U.S. military commanders at the time, such as Admiral William Leahy, who abhorred the decision. "'It is my opinion,'" he quotes Leahy as saying, "'that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. ... My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.'"

Writing from Beijing, Zhang Zhixin says Obama's visit to Hiroshima sends the wrong message to China. In his view, it allows Japanese conservatives to play the "victim" card and fortifies Japan's role as the front line state in containing China's rise. Coming on the heels of Obama's visit to Vietnam, where he lifted the embargo on arms sales, the Chinese have cause to worry that mending one old war wound is portending a new one. As Sam Roggeveen writes from Australia, though Obama said his action was not aimed at China, "Precisely no one, including the Chinese, believes this. So what was achieved by maintaining this fiction?"

Former French defense minister Paul Quilès calls for President Obama to convene "a multilateral nuclear disarmament process" in the wake of his Hiroshima visit. His worry is shared by many others concerned that a new arms race is underway as all nuclear powers -- the U.S., China, Russia, India, France, Pakistan and Great Britain -- are competitively upgrading their arsenals. MIT's Max Tegmark and Frank Wilczek point out the "trillion dollar question" -- the amount the U.S. is now spending on modernizing its nuclear forces -- none of the presidential candidates are addressing.

Writing from Istanbul, WorldPost Middle East Correspondent Sophia Jones reports on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's frustration that no leader of the advanced nations, except Angela Merkel, attended this week's humanitarian aid summit. She also reports on the civilians trapped in Fallujah, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are trying to take back the city from the self-proclaimed Islamic State. This video of a "sea cemetery" commemorating the deaths of Syrian refugees fleeing the war movingly highlights the ongoing human tragedy. The former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, was at the Istanbul summit in his role as U.N. special envoy for global education. He writes that a new fund -- "Education Can't Wait" -- has been set up to help educate children whose forced exile often lasts years in which they receive no schooling. In this week's "Forgotten Fact," we look at how Libya is saving migrants at sea only to trap them in dire conditions on land.

Oxford's Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna see anxiety gripping the world as war, refugees, inequality and falling wages dominate the headlines. Yet, they argue, the "age of discovery" in science and technology promises a new renaissance if everyone shares the benefits. Taking up the issue from the standpoint of Mark Zuckerberg's "Free Basics" offer to Africa, John-Paul Iwuoha asks: "If Facebook's intention is to make Internet access more affordable and available to more people on the continent, how come it doesn't have any data centers in Africa? Why isn't it investing in physical infrastructure and technologies that will bring down the cost of Internet data in Africa?"

Writing from Istanbul, Kaya Genc thinks the new prime minister under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Binali Yıldırım, may prompt a new turn in Turkey's foreign policy as he seeks to increase the number of the country's friends and decrease the number of its enemies. Genc also says Yıldırım will likely be "the last prime minister" as Erdogan consolidates executive power. Mohammad Taqi reflects on the recent killing of the Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour inside Pakistan. "Pakistan cannot have its jihadist cake and eat it too," he writes. "It either controls the Taliban and is responsible for their deadly actions or should act against them. Letting its soil serve as a bridgehead against Afghanistan and then crying foul when it is called out for it cannot go on forever." The U.S. Army War College's Ehsan Ahari explores how Islamophobia breeds extremism, bidding up the stereotypes and hatred on both sides.

Writing for HuffPost Italy, Roberto Sommella regards the election results in Austria -- in which the Green Party candidate defeated the anti-immigrant Freedom party candidate by a smidgen of the vote -- as a "sigh of relief." The real test for Europe will come from the Brexit vote next month, he says. Writing from Berlin, Alex Gorlach sees the Austria vote as an "appetizer" of what's next in upcoming referendums and elections in Great Britain, France the United States and Germany -- all societies highly polarized between different visions of their own identity. Christian Durr raises another challenge coming Germany's way: the wall of debt that will have to be paid down through current income in the future by a shrinking population. "Successful German businesses would rather invest abroad than in an aging Germany," he writes. "As a result, fewer jobs and less value are created at home. Only the rich can afford a shrinking society."

In a video interview, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis makes the case for a "yes" vote in the upcoming Swiss referendum on basic income. Because of job displacement by robots, he envisions an "endowment" for all citizens that shares the wealth created by the new technologies -- a public "trust fund" with dividends paid to all. In this haunting photo essay titled "Memory of a Future," French photographer Laurent Kronental captures portraits of the elderly residents living in the huge, concrete "grands ensembles" housing estates around Paris that were built as a modernist experiment after World War II.

HuffPost "Talk Nerdy To Me" host Karah Preiss speaks with Caltech's Rana Adhikari about how one day we will be able to hear the rumble of the first microsecond of the "Big Bang" through gravitational waves. Siddhartha Mukherjee worries about the eugenic "fantasy of perfection" in a Zocalo discussion about his new book "The Gene: An Intimate History." Finally, our Singularity series looks at how all economic activities in the future might be fragmented into free agent tasks much like Uber today.





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Categories: Political News and Opinion

The Menace of Arbitrary Power and the Duty of Judicial Engagement: A Further Reply to Greg Weiner

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 8:08pm

There is no question of more pressing and fundamental importance to modern American constitutional law: Is it proper for judges to broadly and systematically defer to the mere will of government officials when those officials seek to deprive private citizens of what is rightfully theirs? Over the course of several exchanges, it has become apparent that Professor Greg Weiner and I answer that question very differently. Our differing answers are downstream from underlying disagreements about the Constitution's substantive mission and the role of the federal judiciary in furthering that mission.

To summarize: Weiner believes that the Constitution is a majoritarian document--that, under the Constitution (to borrow Judge Robert Bork's language), "in wide areas of life majorities are entitled to rule, if they wish, simply because they are majorities." Thus, Weiner advocates judicial restraint--judicial deference to the will of legislative and executive branch officials when their actions are challenged in court, unless their actions are clearly in conflict with the Constitution. In contrast, I believe that the Constitution is primarily designed to protect individual rights--that, under the Constitution, any exercise of government power over private citizens needs to be justified by a constitutionally proper end of government. Thus, I advocate judicial engagement--genuinely impartial, evidence-based judicial inquiry into whether the government's actions are truly calculated to achieve a constitutionally proper end of government, without deference to government officials' beliefs, desires or unsupported factual assertions.

In spite of our fundamentally differing views, I always enjoy my exchanges with Weiner, and it is a testament to Weiner's fair-mindedness that, in his most recent reply to me, he offers a capsule summary of my understanding of the Constitution and my approach to constitutional decision-making that I can enthusiastically endorse. In his most recent reply to me, he writes:

Bernick's model of judicial engagement, in which duly elected legislatures must go before unelected judges and affirmatively defend restrictions on liberty--or, stated in the converse, in which unelected judges operate on a presumption against laws passed by duly elected legislatures--seems to make of the Constitution a series of locked doors through which majorities must pass to attain an outcome. Judges hold one of the keys.

Exactly! Yes, the Constitution consists in a "series of locked doors through which majorities must pass to attain an outcome." Yes, judicial engagement requires "duly elected legislatures" to "go before unelected judges and affirmatively defend restrictions on liberty." What Weiner seems to regard as bugs in my constitutional vision and my proposed judicial approach, I regard as salutary features--features which ought to recommend judicial engagement to constitutional conservatives.

Those who dedicated their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to casting off a long-established government and creating a new one understood that governments are unique institutions. Governments claim unique authority--the power not only to compel individuals, against their will, to act (or forbear from acting), but to do so legitimately.

What could possibly legitimate such a claim? One need only read what those who drafted and ratified the Constitution wrote and said about the proper ends of government. James Wilson, perhaps the leading political theorist among the Framers, summed up the consensus view when he wrote that a government that is not designed to "secure and enlarge the natural rights of its members" is "not a government of the legitimate kind." Recalling John Locke, who regarded arbitrary government--under which force can be initiated at the mere will of the holders of political power--as the worst of all evils, James Madison wrote in Federalist 51 that "[i]n a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature." It is precisely to safeguard natural rights against arbitrary power that the Constitution erects (borrowing Weiner's image) a "series of locked doors" through which majorities must make their way.

Hard though it may be to say it, our constitutional jurisprudence at present places Americans under arbitrary government power in "wide areas of life." This state of affairs is in large part the product of institutionalized judicial abdication. Outside of a few limited contexts, assertions of government power over individuals receive the benefit of an effectively irrebuttable presumption of constitutionality when they are challenged in court, thanks to the so-called "rational-basis test"--a doctrine that has been described by the Supreme Court in terms that, taken literally, would render a successful constitutional challenge epistemologically impossible. Immunity doctrines fashioned by the Supreme Court out of whole cloth insulate government officials against civil liability for rights-violations. Administrative law doctrines fashioned by the Supreme Court out of whole cloth require judges to broadly defer to regulators at federal executive agencies when ordinary citizens challenge their efforts to micro-manage ever-broadening swaths of American life. The list of judge-made doctrines of deference goes on and on.

But to hear Weiner tell it, the primary threat to our constitutional order at present is judicial usurpation of the political branches' authority. In the piece that prompted our most recent exchange, Weiner drew upon a recent article in which Professor Mark Tushnet argued that progressives should abandon "defensive-crouch liberal constitutionalism" and use the courts as instruments of their political values. Weiner challenged conservative and libertarian proponents of judicial engagement to respond to Tushnet.

In my reply to Weiner, I pointed out that proponents of judicial engagement can demonstrate that Tushnet's approach as institutionally illegitimate because his approach rests upon the premise that judicial decision-making is inherently political, driven by judges' idiosyncratic values. I contended that no judge who acts upon that premise can discharge their duty to give effect to "This Constitution" as a fixed, objectively ascertainable rule of law. I further argued that judicial engagement is uniquely capable of equipping judges to do their duty and maintain the rule of law established by the Constitution. Weiner has yet to explain why he believes that judicial restraint, which has demonstrably failed to preserve constitutionally limited government in the past, is capable of doing so today. The case for engagement as a superior means of enforcing the Constitution's limits on government power remains unanswered.

Weiner has, however, raised an additional objection to judicial engagement, contending that it cannot be squared with the conception of the judicial role articulated by Alexander Hamilton. In his canonical defense of the duty of judicial review in Federalist 78, Hamilton writes that judges are to hold void legislative decisions that they find to be at "irreconcilable variance" with the Constitution. Writes Weiner, "the modifier 'irreconcilable' suggests that judges are not simply to deliver decrees reflecting their judgment as to constitutionality, and still less that they are to start with a presumption against certain laws." Professor John McGinnis, without taking sides in the debate between Weiner and myself, raises the question whether judicial restraint or judicial engagement can be derived from the Constitution's original meaning.

I believe that Weiner is correct that Hamilton's "irreconcilable variance" language suggests an expectation on his part that judges would apply a presumption of constitutionality. One can detect in Federalist 78 the marks of what Professor McGinnis has termed the "duty of clarity"--a perceived obligation to invalidate acts of government only if they manifestly contradicted the Constitution's meaning.

But Weiner does not appear to recognize that the duty of clarity bears a stronger resemblance to judicial engagement than modern rational-basis review does to either approach. McGinnis distinguishes the duty of clarity from the sweepingly deferential "clear-error rule" articulated by Harvard law professor James Bradley Thayer, who argued (in one of the most influential articles in the history of American constitutional law) that judges should only strike down congressional statutes if their unconstitutionality is "so clear that it is not open to rational question." The duty of clarity, by contrast, entails only a relatively soft, rebuttable presumption of constitutionality. Modern rational-basis review is arguably even more deferential than the clear-error rule and it is our constitutional default across the board. I would be interested to hear how Weiner believes certain decisions that I have condemned as examples of judicial abdication--Bradwell v. Illinois, Buck v. Bell, Wickard v. Filburn, Kelo v. New London and NFIB v. Sebelius--as well as other decisions that I have praised as examples of judicial engagement--Pierce v. Society of Sisters, Loving v. Virginia, Texas v. Johnson, District of Columbia v. Heller and Citizens United v. F.E.C.--would fare under the duty of clarity.

More importantly, I believe that systematic deference to the government in constitutional cases is inconsistent with the Constitution's specific commands, whatever Hamilton, Thayer or anyone else may have thought. While I can only offer a preliminary defense of this position here, I acknowledge the importance of developing a comprehensive defense in the future, as well as the need for proponents of judicial engagement to show (as McGinnis says) that engagement "flow[s] from the Constitution."

Consider first Article III, which authorizes "The judicial Power." Professor Philip Hamburger has demonstrated that this language incorporates a duty of independent judgment. The duty of independent judgment, understood as a duty to interpret and give effect to the law of the land without influence from either internal or external will, has its roots in English law but became especially pronounced in America. The importance of independent judgment is highlighted in state constitutions, in numerous Founding-era judicial opinions and in the 1787 Constitution itself, which creates a separate judicial branch, vests "The judicial Power of the United States" exclusively and in "one Supreme Court, and in Such inferior Courts as the Congress may . . . ordain and establish" and guarantees judges life tenure during good behavior, as well as undiminished salaries.

Any systematic deference to the mere will of government officials would require a departure from the duty of independent judgment. Genuinely independent judgment requires treating both parties in a constitutional case as presumptive equals; recognizing that one party is seeking to impose its will upon the other; and requiring the party seeking to impose its will upon the other to demonstrate that its actions are consistent with the law of the land.

Further, any systematic deference would require judges to deprive litigants of due process of law. The Constitution's guarantees of due process require impartial adjudication. A judge who understands him or herself to be obliged to take the side of the most powerful of parties--the government--is necessarily partial to the government. When the government deprives a citizen of their life, liberty, or property as a consequence of partial judgment, citizens are deprived of what is rightfully theirs without the truly adjudicative proceeding to which they are entitled.

Our Constitution is informed by an understanding of the destructive character of arbitrary power that was derived from the experience of living under a government that claimed the authority to bind "the colonies and people of America . . . in all cases whatsoever." This understanding is all too often absent from discussions of political theory. When government officials (to borrow Weiner's language) "attain" "outcomes" that are driven by mere will, the fallopian tubes of the "socially inadequate" may be severed, homes may be bulldozed, terminally-ill patients may be prevented from procuring potentially life-saving medicines and would-be entrepreneurs may die in poverty. That is why the Constitution requires officials in the legislative and executive branches of government to make their way through so many locked doors before they may assert power over their fellow Americans. That is why it leaves the key to the final door in the hands of officials who have "neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment," with instructions not to open the door except under certain conditions. The call for judicial engagement is nothing more or less than a call for judges to act as responsible custodians of the key.


For more constitutional commentary, tune into the Institute for Justice's Short Circuit podcast, presented by IJ's Center for Judicial Engagement

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Trump's Energy Policy: Take America Back to 1940

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:59pm

Yesterday afternoon I endured the live stream of Donald Trump's "energy policy" speech from the stage at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in North Dakota. Of course, Trump's speech was not a speech on comprehensive energy policy at all, but more of his now typical pandering to the audience in front of him by stringing together slogans lifted directly from conservative orthodoxy. Between his usual sophomoric insults and name calling, he set out a long list of executive actions he would supposedly take to implement his "policy".

Unfortunately, his speech contained no substance, even while calling for an "America First" policy which called for our country to slip back into a dark past of polluted water, fouled air, and deadly work conditions. By Trumperizing the McCain/Palin campaign's "Drill, Baby, Drill" slogan from 2008, his ramblings were nothing more than a caricature of what has already been proven to be a short sighted and certainly unwise approach to energy policy. One need only recall the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010 to understand the danger of unbridled and unregulated pursuit of hydrocarbons.

During his rambling soliloquy, Trump promised to open all federal lands to oil and gas exploration, including the offshore on both coasts as well as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. He proposed renewing the Keystone XL pipeline, but with the caveat that the US government get a kickback for approving it. His only reference to renewable energy was to claim that wind turbines kill a "million birds a year" as well as "hundreds of eagles". He also declared that he was going to single-handedly save the coal industry and reopen closed mines, on which he blamed the President and Hillary Clinton for said closings.

I'll be blunt about this spectacle from North Dakota. No serious person would mistake Trump's recitation of simplistic slogans and riffing about his latest political enemies as representing anything close to actual policy. It was stupid. Childish. Uninformed. Amateurish. Embarrassing. Pandering. Even those of us in the oil and gas industry know that Trump's declarations are not only unachievable, but are truly absurd. He's going to save coal mining jobs by reopening uneconomic mines. Obama and Hillary are to blame for low oil and gas prices, though they are actually caused by unbelievably effective innovations in drilling and completion technologies that have caused a huge glut of new oil production. His priorities are clean air and clean water, accomplished by unilaterally repealing clean air and clean water legislation. Listening to Trump's supposed polices is like reading an article in the Onion.

On the face, Trump is not a serious candidate. Some believe he's "bold and independent", some adore him as an unapologetic reformer, and some believe that he is saying what they are thinking. None of those impressions of Trump are accurately depicted. Trump has proven over and over that he is playing US voters for chumps, appealing to the worst of their predisposed bigotry and ignorance. Trump's energy speech confirms that conclusion, and represents no actual policy declaration whatsoever.

One thing, though, is clear...Trump should change his campaign slogan from "Make America Great Again" to "Take America Back to 1940". That's actually what his declarations actually propose.

And that is not progress.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Libya Is Saving Migrants At Sea Only To Trap Them In Dire Conditions On Land

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:24pm


Libyan forces intercepted over 2,000 migrants trying to flee by boat this week, as European leaders offered the country’s fragile new administration more help to turn back migrant boats.


Among them were four boats crammed with 500 people headed to Europe, including three children and eight pregnant women, that were intercepted by Libyan coastguards on Tuesday. They are now destined for Libya’s network of overcrowded, squalid detention centers, where human rights groups say violence is rampant and detention can stretch on indefinitely.


Libya's efforts are potentially saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea, but they risk solving one problem by creating another.



European measures to stem the flow of migrants and refugees have left thousands stranded on the frontiers of wealthy nations, including in overcrowded camps in Greece, Italy and France’s Calais.  


Libya -- the main gateway for African migrants trying to reach Europe -- could become the next bottleneck of the refugee crisis, creating a dire humanitarian situation in one of the world’s most unstable countries.


A Deadly Route

The passage from Libya to the shores of Europe -- the closest of which is the Italian island of Lampedusa -- is particularly dangerous.


At least 100 people, and possibly several times that, are believed to have drowned in migrant shipwrecks off the Libyan coast this week. Over 14,000 others were hauled to safety by European forces patrolling the area.



Yet another deadly shipwreck - Italy navy says migrant boat flipped, five dead https://t.co/tADxJrADCI pic.twitter.com/TcZ9WWbQeL

— Steve Scherer (@SchererSteve) May 25, 2016


This stretch of the Mediterranean is a longer and more treacherous journey than the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, which had emerged in 2015 as the main passage to Europe before nations shut their borders and made a deal to return migrants to Turkey earlier this year.


Since then, refugee experts have warned that desperate migrants might rush back to Libya, which became a human trafficking hub amid the chaos that followed Moammar Gaddafi’s ouster in 2011.


While the number of migrants sailing from Libya and Egypt has surged in recent weeks (and there have been some reports of Syrians setting sail from Libya) experts say that, so far, this appears to be a normal seasonal fluctuation due to better weather, rather than evidence of a broader shift in route.



#opSophia the @Armada_esp frigate #ReinaSofia now rescuing these #migrants spotted by #SW3Merlin3 aircraft... pic.twitter.com/TZOngzwF7v

— EUNAVFOR MED OHQ (@EUNAVFORMED_OHQ) May 26, 2016


In fact, the death toll of migrants at sea has dropped so far this year compared to the same period in 2015, according to International Organization for Migration spokesman Joel Millman. He credits the efforts in Greece, and to a limited extent in Libya, to manage migration flows. “It looks like there is more of a coast guard presence now [in Libya], but it’s just starting,” Millman told The WorldPost.


Fortress Europe

As summer approaches, European leaders are eager to pre-empt any renewed surge of migration from Libya.


“European governments are desperate to stop boats departing from Libya,” said Judith Sunderland, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division.


The arrival of over 1 million refugees and migrants to Europe in 2015 was “deeply traumatic” for European politicians, she said. “There is a sense that they have to stop the migrant flows or the whole European project will fall apart.”



European leaders have also spied a long-awaited opportunity to work with authorities inside Libya.


Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya’s government and military have split into rival factions, with militias and extremist groups like the Islamic State filling the power vacuum. Human traffickers have also exploited the chaos to funnel people fleeing wars and destitution in Africa and the Middle East through Libya, often subjecting them to immense cruelty along the way.


The international community has set its hopes on a new UN-backed government, with the U.S. and Italy pressing for troops and arms to back up the fledgling administration. Even so, the government is currently confined to the Libyan capital of Tripoli, and has struggled to secure the support of Libya’s warring factions.



The EU naval mission in the Mediterranean Sea currently brings migrants rescued at sea to European shores, where their asylum claims can be processed.


NATO and the European Union have recently floated the possibility of helping patrol Libya's shores. British officials told The Guardian that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is pressing for EU ships to help Libyans turn back migrants. “He thinks we should be looking to return people to where they set off from,” a government source told the newspaper.


Human rights groups say international law prohibits countries from sending migrants back to places where they might be in danger, like Libya, and any such policy could face legal challenges.


“A lot of people are saying: ‘Send everyone back to Libya,’ but behind closed doors they recognize they legally cannot do that,” Sunderland says.


One alternative is for the international community to help Libya patrol its own coast to stop migrants leaving in the first place. The EU this week announced it would train the Libyan coastguard and navy to combat refugee smuggling after a request from the Tripoli-based Libyan National Unity government. 



Even if successful, there are two potential pitfalls to this approach, according to Sunderland. If the mission focuses on border enforcement, rather than search and rescue, this could restrict the number of lives it is able to save.


The second problem is what happens to migrants returned to Libya.


'It Would Be Better To Die'

Libya locks up undocumented migrants in a network of some 20 immigrant detention centers, where inmates report being coerced into hard labor, beaten by guards, and cramped into tiny cells with little food or water and barely any ventilation or sanitation.


At least 3,332 migrants, including 222 women and eight children, are being held in eight of the centers that were visited by the International Medical Corps earlier this month, according to UNHCR.


“I would do anything not to go to prison here,” a 20-year-old Nigerian, Mobo, told IRIN News in Libya’s Misrata after being caught by coastguards in a migrant boat. “It would be better to die than go there."



Illegal migrants are not criminals, they are the victims. Detention conditions must be according to int'l standards pic.twitter.com/cmle4gqIUo

— Martin Kobler (@KoblerSRSG) May 19, 2016


Above: UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler visited the Abu-Saleem Detention Centre, where 450 migrants are held, in Tripoli on May 19.


Between 700,000 and 1 million migrants live in Libya, according to IOM estimates, mostly from African countries struggling with poverty and conflict, including Niger, Sudan, Nigeria and Gambia.


Many of them came to the country in search of work, only to end up boarding unseaworthy boats to Europe so they could flee conflict between militias, kidnapping by trafficking gangs and detention by authorities. 


Some migrants are shocked by the conditions in Libya when they arrive, often after a harrowing and lengthy journey through war zones and the Sahara desert.


Others are captured and held in makeshift detention centers by the plethora of militias that have splintered Libya into mini-fiefdoms, forcing them into slave labor or extorting their families.


One Gambian man who bribed his way out of Libyan jail five times and eventually made it to Italy has set up a Facebook page warning fellow migrants to avoid the north African country. “They have every right to try to come to Europe, just like I did, but traveling through Libya is just too hazardous,” he told the BBC.





Going Home?

The IOM has recently stepped up a voluntary repatriation program for migrants in Libya who want to return to their countries, following improved cooperation from Libyan authorities and African embassies.


Since July 2014, IOM has helped repatriate 2,469 stranded migrants in Libya -- 1,007 of them since January this year, according to IOM figures. The organization has recently set up repatriation flights to Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali and Niger. It also provides returning migrants with grants and other forms of support to help them find work back home.


“It’s not an easy decision to go back home,” Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s top official in Libya, acknowledged. “The situation is so hard, after you lose your hope, your money and end up in detention.”


Human rights groups stress that it is vital the returns be truly voluntary, especially as they are being offered to people trapped in desperate conditions. IOM says it takes many precautions -- interviewing migrants privately in jail and providing them with opportunity to back out until the last moment.


International organizations like UNHCR and IOM have urged the Libyan government to provide alternatives to detention for migrants, including open centers for migrants, or integrating them into society.



At the very least, detained migrants should have their basic rights respected, and vulnerable people like children, pregnant women and the disabled must be freed, UN and IOM officials say.


But many migrants from war-torn countries cannot safely return home. Aid groups have urged European leaders to set up safe, legal passages for refugees to reach Europe so they won’t have to languish in jail or risk death at sea.


Until then, stopping boats in the Mediterranean will only shift the crisis southward. “You will have an increasing number of people stranded and incarcerated in appalling and abusive detention centers, in a country in the midst of civil war,” Sunderland warns. 


Every week, we bring you one overlooked aspect of stories that made news in recent days. Did you notice the media forgot all about another story’s basic facts? Tweet @TheWorldPost or let us know on our Facebook page.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Hold The Cellphone — That Cancer Study Isn’t What You Think

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:10pm


Look, the government has not found that your cellphone gives you cancer, as many headlines on Friday would have you believe. 


A two-year, $25 million study conducted by the National Toxicology Program found an increase in brain tumors among male rats that were constantly exposed to the same radiation that's emitted from mobile phones.


Some news outlets have gone into panic mode, implying that this proves a causal relationship between cellphone radiation and cancer in humans. That's not the case, so please breathe out.


But ... the study offers plenty of reason to take precautions.


Researchers at the National Toxicology Program, a federal interagency effort, found that a small percentage of male rats (2 to 3 percent) that were chronically exposed to radio-frequency radiation wound up with rare cancerous tumor formations in their hearts and brains. "Chronically exposed" meant nine hours a day, seven days a week, for two years. Fewer lesions were found in female rats.


Although we can't say yet that those results would be the same among humans, the fact that radio-frequency radiation has been linked to tumor growth at all turns some of the U.S. government's long-held beliefs about cellphones upside-down. The Food and Drug Administration website, for instance, reassured us on a page last updated in 2015 that there was "no evidence linking cell phone use with the risk of brain tumors."


"What's important about this study is that previously we had government officials saying that cell radiation cannot have a biological impact except through the heating of tissue," Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer Reports, told The Huffington Post. "This study shows that’s just not true."


To put it another way, the days of just not worrying at all are over. As Scientific American points out, 90 percent of Americans use cellphones regularly.



Does this mean you should stop using cell? No. But we need to wake up from this notion that there is no biological effect.
Michael Hansen of Consumer Reports


The researchers at the National Toxicology Program sounded the alarm: "Given the widespread global usage of mobile communications among users of all ages, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to RFR [radio-frequency radiation] could have broad implications for public health."


The latest study is also groundbreaking in that previous studies haven't found evidence of tumor formation in any animal after similar radiation tests. This is the longest and most comprehensive such study to date, Scientific American reports.


While it may be too soon to panic, the findings certainly warrant a lot more research, and quickly.


"Does this mean you should stop using cell? No. But we need to wake up from this notion that there is no biological effect from this radiation," Hansen said. "That notion is gone now."


If you're like us and you're a little nervous, you can take precautions. Hansen said that exposure to the radiation drops off significantly with distance, so try to use hands-free devices or video calls, and don't carry your phone in your pocket or your bra.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

No, This Major Greek Lender Isn't Changing Its Tune On Austerity

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 7:06pm


Three International Monetary Fund economists appeared Thursday to call on governments to reconsider the value of austerity and openness to foreign capital.


The article, simply entitled, “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” is making waves precisely because it came from an institution considered one of neoliberalism’s chief salesmen.


Neoliberalism refers to the re-emergence of classically “liberal” ideas about capitalism in Western academic and public policy circles in the 1970s and 1980s. The school of thought holds that sustainable economic growth is best achieved by reducing many forms of government intervention in the economy. In practice, that means encouraging the privatization of previously public services, the reduction of budget deficits and the opening up of economies to international competition and investment.


Neoliberalism has been the guiding philosophy behind the reforms the IMF has imposed on the nations it lends to -- including Greece, where an intractable debt crisis has shaken Europe at its foundation.


Now, the ideology is a hot topic in the U.S. presidential race, with populist candidates in both parties -- Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) -- capitalizing on a public backlash against neoliberal policies.


(For those feeling the Bern, neoliberalism is a fancier way of saying what the Vermont senator often calls “establishment economics.”)


Bernie supporters in particular will find a lot to like in the IMF researchers’ new paper.


Its authors, Jonathan Ostry, Prakash Loungani and Davide Furceri, offer a damning indictment of two key tenets of the neoliberal agenda: fiscal consolidation, commonly known as “austerity,” and the free flow of capital between different countries. Surveying global data, they decide that the two policies produce “increased inequality” that ultimately “hurts the level and sustainability of growth.”



I think it’s good that the IMF research department is recognizing what I have been writing about for more than 15 years.
Mark Weisbrot, the Center for Economic and Policy Research


The paper suggests a possible change of heart from the lender, especially after the intense controversy over austerity in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent global recession. The authors’ idea -- that austerity depresses demand and, implicitly, risks trapping countries in the very cycles of contraction and debt accumulation they seek to avoid -- is by now conventional wisdom among progressive economists in the U.S. and Europe.


“I think it’s good that the IMF research department is recognizing what I have been writing about for more than 15 years,” said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.


But experts warn that it is easy to overstate the significance of a paper from a few IMF researchers. The research does not represent an official change in philosophy at the powerful lender, to say nothing of an about-face in the terms of the loans it issues.


Peter Doyle, an economist and former senior manager at the IMF who resigned from the lender in protest in 2012 over its handling of Greece, dismissed the paper as nothing more than “what three guys at the IMF think.”


“This has no broad sanction. It has no status,” he said. “Three different guys might have produced a different article.”



The liberal commentariat in the U.S. and Europe applaud them, and then the IMF goes back to doing something else behind closed doors.
Peter Doyle, former IMF official


Even if one considers it significant that the IMF is even funding this kind of research, it is aimed at the wrong countries, according to Doyle. The paper’s advice is directed at developed nations, to which the IMF does not lend directly and over which it therefore has little influence.


“Any person looking at this would say, ‘Who cares what the IMF says about the U.S.?’ But people care very greatly what it says about Greece, Iraq, Malawi -- these places where it holds real clout,” he said. “Perhaps it would be better to devote itself to that than to this self-congratulating stuff.”


Doyle speculates that the IMF is comfortable permitting researchers to take a progressive stance on countries where its words matter little, in the hopes of “playing into this public relations thing.”


“The liberal commentariat in the U.S. and Europe applaud them, and then the IMF goes back to doing something else behind closed doors,” Doyle said.


Indeed, IMF economists have produced other work in recent years that has also delighted progressives.


A June 2015 paper by IMF economists recognized a link between reducing economic inequality and promoting growth. And an October 2015 paper argued that reducing the gender pay gap was a key part of easing overall income inequality.


Meanwhile, the institution’s lending arm has either actively promoted, or failed to prevent, austerity policies that have kept countries like Greece trapped in a vicious cycle of deflation and debt.


For example, after demanding earlier this month that Germany and other European nations provide Greece with significant debt relief, the IMF settled on Wednesday for just assurances from those countries that they'd consider helping Greece in 2018.


“That is the problem: The research does not change the policies,” Weisbrot said. “They should withdraw support from the austerity that is preventing Greece from recovering.”

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Ginsburg Says Supreme Court 'A Paler Place' Without Her Dear Friend Scalia

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 6:52pm

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was once asked how in the world he and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with such clashing ideologies, could remain such good buddies.


As Ginsburg recalled Thursday, Scalia responded, "I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. Some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can’t separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don’t want to be a judge. At least not a judge on a multimember panel."


The memory was one of many Ginsburg reflected on while speaking at the annual Second Circuit Judicial Conference in New York. She described her dear friend as a "man of many talents, a jurist of captivating brilliance, high spirits, and quick wit, possessed of a rare talent for making even the most somber judge smile."



Prior to discussing her opposition to the Supreme Court operating with only eight justices, which it has done since Scalia's death in February, Ginsburg dug through her "treasure trove of memories" about her former colleague.


On a June morning in 1996, Ginsburg was preparing to leave the court to attend the Second Circuit Judicial Conference at Lake George when Scalia entered, holding an opinion draft. Ginsburg said Scalia tossed the pages onto her desk and said, "Ruth, this is the penultimate draft of my dissent in the Virginia Military Institute case. It’s not yet in shape to circulate to the court, but I want to give you as much time as I can to answer it."


Ginsburg said she read the dissent -- a "zinger" that took her to task on things both large and small -- while on the plane to Albany. "Among the disdainful footnotes: 'The Court refers to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. There is no University of Virginia at Charlottesville, there is only the University of Virginia,'" she told the conference. 


Ginsburg said she spent the weekend crafting appropriate responses and ended up with an improved final draft "thanks to Justice Scalia’s searing criticism."



Another "indelible memory," Ginsburg said, was Dec. 12, 2000, the day of the Supreme Court's landmark 5-4 decision in the Bush v. Gore case that effectively solidified the outcome of that year's presidential election. As was typical, Ginsburg and Scalia found themselves on the opposite sides of the vote.  


"The court did the right thing, he had no doubt," Ginsburg said. "I strongly disagreed and explained why in a dissenting opinion. Around 9 p.m., the telephone, my direct line, rang. It was Justice Scalia. He didn’t say, 'Get over it.' Instead, he asked, 'Ruth, why are you still at the court? Go home and take a hot bath.' Good advice I promptly followed."


Though Ginsburg clearly has many fond memories of her late friend, she said one of her favorites was his response to a question in 1993, when President Bill Clinton was trying to decide who to nominate to the Supreme Court after Justice Byron White retired.


As Ginsburg tells it, "Scalia was asked: 'If you were stranded on a desert island with your new court colleague, who would you prefer, Larry Tribe or Mario Cuomo?' Scalia answered quickly and distinctly: 'Ruth Bader Ginsburg.' Within days, the president chose me."


"I miss the challenges and the laughter he provoked, his pungent, eminently quotable opinions, so clearly stated that his words rarely slipped from the reader’s grasp, the roses he brought me on my birthday, the chance to appear with him once more as supernumeraries at the opera," Ginsburg said. "The court is a paler place without him."

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

Royal Oak-based Vectorform chosen Endeavor entrepreneur - Crain's Detroit Business

Berkley Information from Google News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 6:13pm


Crain's Detroit Business

Royal Oak-based Vectorform chosen Endeavor entrepreneur
Crain's Detroit Business
Photo by DTE Energy Vectorform and DTE Energy introduced a virtual reality simulation for training field employees. Royal Oak-based Vectorform, a digital product and experience inventor, was selected as an Endeavor entrepreneur Friday at the Endeavor ...

Categories: Berkley Area News

Berkley students celebrate Memorial Day with ceremony - WXYZ

Berkley Information from Google News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 6:07pm


WXYZ

Berkley students celebrate Memorial Day with ceremony
WXYZ
It's the biggest event of the year according to some local fifth graders, as the Rodgers Elementary Annual Memorial Day Ceremony & Parade was held in Berkley on Friday. WXYZ. Show Caption Hide Caption. Previous Next. BERKLEY, Mich. (WXYZ) - It's the ...

and more »

Categories: Berkley Area News

The Funny Business of Farm Credit

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 5:57pm

In May of 1998 we held a conference dedicated to two Government-sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) - Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In my statement to that assembly, I noted that both corporations had been enjoying good times, but cautioned that one of the unintended consequences of fat profits over a long period is the tendency of both government and private corporations to start believing in the fantasy of ever-rising profits. GSEs often escape the accountability that Congress or regulatory agencies should impose.

Recent hearings in the U.S. House and Senate have provided some much needed oversight on another GSE―the Farm Credit System (FCS).

The Farm Credit System was the first GSE to be established by the United States in 1916. Unlike Fannie and Freddie, the Farm Credit System can make direct loans to farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture. However, as The Wall Street Journal reported back in 1985: "the Farm Credit System would lend money to anyone. Herbert Ashton, an Indiana fruit farmer, recalls being wined and dined at a local country club by bankers from his local [farm credit] system bank who extolled the virtues of inflation and offered to lend him $1 million on the spot. 'I turned it down,' he recalls. 'But they sounded like a soap testimonial. They were giving money to whoever passed their way, and they didn't ask too many questions.'"

Not surprisingly, The Farm Credit System was also the first GSE to be bailed out by taxpayers at a cost of $4 billion when the farm economy collapsed in 1987.

The Farm Credit System reported a net income of $4.7 billion and assets of $283 billion in 2014. It gets its huge funding capital from the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corporation which sells bonds on securities markets. It receives exemptions from Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform and pays only a small percentage of state and local taxes. With these facts in mind, the FCS has veered off course from the mission Congress originally intended for it to do―"...to make loans for the production and marketing of agricultural products." The FCS's lending practices are less focused on serving the credit needs of new farmers and ranchers, but instead lending today focuses on large farmers, agribusinesses, utilities and even businesses having nothing to do with farming!

For example, in 2004 twenty-five percent of new FCS loans went to owners of small farms and ranches while seventy-five percent went to owners of large farms. In 2014, less than 14 percent of new FCS loans went to owners of small farms and ranches, while over 86 percent went to owners of large farms. On their website, FCS addresses the open question of whether or not they exist to just serve farmers and ranchers by elaborating: "The System's mission is to serve all types of agricultural producers who have a basis for rural credit, as well as others who help ensure that agriculture and rural America are economically successful. This includes farm-related businesses, rural homeowners, rural infrastructure providers, including electric, telecommunications, water and waste, as well as other rural service providers." This open-ended description leaves a lot of wiggle room about who FCS chooses to lend to―which is problematic.

Providing loans to large corporations, to non-farm enterprises and to wealthy individuals and families for a variety of non-farm investments goes well beyond what the Farm Credit System was set up to do. Some eye-opening examples follow:

  • In October 2013 - CoBank, a93 billion Farm Credit System bank, loaned725 million to Verizon to help finance its acquisition of Vodafone -a London-based telecom giant. At a June 25, 2014 hearing, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) told Jill Long Thompson, Chairman and CEO of the Farm Credit Administration, "I have been a supporter of the Farm Credit System. But, it is pretty hard for me to explain--I can't explain why you are financing a merger deal with Verizon, or the Farm Credit System is."


  • In April 2015 - CoBank participated in a300 million unsecured term loan to Black Hills Corp., a vertically integrated energy company with natural gas and electric utility operations in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.


  • In January 2015, Greenstone Farm Credit Services ACA/FLCA joined with several large commercial banks in providing "a five-year750 million revolving line of credit" to Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., a national restaurant chain.


  • In 2007, Farm Credit of the Virginias loaned the Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyard34 million to increase the winery's output and construct luxury homes on the estate.


Former Farm Credit Administration Chairman and CEO Leland A. Strom pointed out that Farm Credit System associations "have developed very efficient marketing programs for farmers and ranchers involved in commodity-type agriculture (from corn and soybean production to livestock, for example) in addition to an "ongoing and impressive" effort at "education and outreach to these farmers and their children." But he warned, the Farm Credit System was not providing the same level of service to those who "farm and market their products directly to consumers, local restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc., in what many call the Local Foods System."

The Farm Credit System needs congressional oversight of its operations and lending. In addition to regular congressional oversight―the recent hearings were the first in over a decade―Congress should also consider new legislation that would make the FCS subject to Dodd-Frank, require FCS to increase lending to young, beginning and small farmers and ranchers and limit lending to non-farm corporations and non-farm activities.

Small farmers, let your member of Congress know what you think.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

The EU's Hard Choice: Climate Change or National Politics

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 5:46pm

Last year's Paris Climate Agreement at COP21 marked a paradigm shift in the international response to climate change. Skeptics argue the targets aren't ambitious enough, but few can deny that COP21, thanks in part to Europe's leadership, achieved the first multilateral climate agreement since the Kyoto Protocol.

In April 2016, with Earth Day as a backdrop, 175 parties accounting for 94% of global emissions reconvened to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. But only 15 countries--mainly small island nations like Maldives, Fiji, Samoa, Palau and Tuvalu--formally ratified. They represent a minuscule 0.4% of global carbon emissions.

Ratification represents a serious hurdle to climate treaties. The Kyoto Protocol required more than seven years to come into force. For the Paris Agreement to come into effect, at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions need to ratify.

However, the fate of the Paris Climate Agreement largely rests in the hands of the big four emitters--China, US, EU and Russia. According to the World Resource Institute's Paris Agreement Tracker, in order to reach the 55% emissions thresholds, ratification by at least one of these four is essential. Without it, the Paris Agreement just doesn't mathematically work.

Which of these four big emitters can we count on to ratify? In the COP21 afterglow, ratification felt like a sure thing, but now cracks are beginning to show. For the US, the hope is to ratify by not defining the Agreement as legally-binding, but this robs the accord of its potency. Regardless, a partisan Congress that's already obstructing President Obama's Supreme Court nomination will be an obstacle. And if Donald Trump--who now polls ahead of Hillary Clinton and has disavowed support for climate change--wins the presidency, it could mean the US tries to renegotiate the Paris Agreement for more favourable terms.

China, who accounts for 20% of global emissions and has already signalled its intent to ratify before COP22, would clearly raise expectations for an early start to the Paris Agreement. But it would also be out of character for China who hasn't played a leadership role in climate negotiations and has tended to protect its economic interests over environmental concerns. Russia has never been a first mover on climate change issues.

That leaves the European Union. Given its climate change leadership and heavy investment into a low-carbon economy, the EU is a natural cornerstone of the Paris Agreement. There's no lack in ambition from the EU either. A recent communications release highlights the European Commission's urgency to ratify. Indeed, Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission Vice-President for Energy, has indicated the EU's desire "to be in the first wave of ratifying countries."

But can the EU still be part of the first wave? Because it represents 28 different member states in the emissions reduction plan submitted at COP21, the EU faces the enormous task of dividing the burden among states while trying to keep them unified. At the same time, economic and political circumstances are driving some EU states to pursue their own interests or defer to their own national approval process.

The EU's balancing act has traditionally been an economic one. It's had to weigh each state's unique energy production mix against longer-term, EU-wide climate change ambitions. For example, where nuclear power accounts for 75% of energy in France, coal comprises nearly 85% of Polish power generation. Poland has typically backed domestic labour interests--the coal industry provides roughly 100,000 jobs--over EU climate policies, even vetoing the EU's Low Carbon 2050 Roadmap and the Doha Amendment under its new president, Andrzej Duda.

But while there are solutions to economic problems, the political climate is now the bigger worry for the EU. In June, the UK votes on Brexit, a near-existential referendum that will determine its membership in the EU. Considering the UK accounts for 13% share of EU emissions and is set to hold the EU presidency next year, the electoral result carries significant implications. "Referendums like Brexit expose the EU to the risk of becoming the next Australia on climate change, who ended up doing a hard reverse on its climate commitments and carbon tax," said Cary Krosinsky, Lecturer at Yale College.

Less obvious is how the EU reconciles its COP21 climate pledge with the domestic parliamentary decision-making process. France, for instance, advocates for expedited EU ratification with national-level discussions to follow, but Italy wants national parliamentary discussions before agreeing to support EU ratification. The Belgian legislative process, as Ian Duncan, MP to the Scottish Parliament, comments, requires an arduous approval process by seven independent national and regional parliaments. And many EU states have just begun developing their own national energy and climate plans. So, it's reasonable to assume that some states hold off on EU ratification until they understand exactly what it means for them.

The EU needs to move quickly before ratification devolves into a conflict of national interests. According to Artur Runge-Metzger, climate change head for the European Commission, the Commission is even exploring ways to go around Poland if necessary. "As one member state is not ready, there is a discussion that we need to have at the political level in terms of how to take the whole element. In reality, I think that in the past we have seen pieces of legislation where not all member states did their own ratification."

If these intra-EU issues weaken efforts to ratify the Paris Agreement, some states will proceed on their own but at the loss of a unified Europe. Of course, there will be early adopters. France was the first EU state to ratify on May 17, and others including the UK are adopting stronger national climate policies like carbon price floors to compensate for shortfalls at the EU level. But there will also be climate laggards who offsetting this progress.

If laggards like Poland do hamstring the process, the EU needs to consider forcing through ratification on a top-down basis so that it continues to push the climate change policy agenda forward. Critics insist this top-down approach widens the democratic deficit. But, with the EU focused on the refugee crisis and the economy, allowing national parliaments to delay or undermine ratification will jeopardize the EU's role. It may even downgrade the EU to observer status at COP22 in November, depriving the summit of a negotiating leader and large-bloc signatory.

Of the four large emitters, the EU represents the best opportunity to support the 55 countries, 55% of global emissions milestone. If the EU is to preserve its influence and policy coherence, it needs to overcome its internal conflicts and remain the cornerstone of the Paris Climate Agreement.

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Categories: Political News and Opinion

DNC Chair Says No Contested Convention

Huffington Post News - Fri, 05/27/2016 - 5:30pm

To listen to the media, Democrats are poised to face as chaotic a convention in 2016 as the GOP. Bernie Sanders has pledged to take his fight all the way to the party's June gathering even if the California primary clinches the nomination for Hillary Clinton. Are both parties headed for a showdown?

The answer is no.

Speaking on The Costa Report, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said the notion of a contested convention is yet another figment of the mainstream media - similar to the conjuring of superdelegates. It turns out, there's no such thing as a superdelegate. DNC rules allow for two types of delegates: pledged or unpledged. According to Schultz, only 15 percent of the delegates charged with determining the party's nominee fall under the unpledged category. These delegates are represented by "(Democratic) members of Congress, former party chairs and leaders, sitting governors." Wasserman Schultz describes them as leaders "who have been in the trenches, who have helped build this party, and who fight for Democratic Party values every single day." In other words, serious, working Democrats. Nothing "super" about that.

Likewise, the term 'contested convention' is another media-manufactured fiction. Wasserman Schultz claims that there's no danger of some candidate "swooping in" at the last minute. "All that would be happening here - if both candidates stay in the race until the convention - is that our primary would continue, and the normal process would play out... that's the process. There's nothing 'contested' about it." While she admits it is desirable for the party to have a presumptive nominee going into the convention, the DNC Chair noted it's not unusual for the race to extend longer. In 2008, the delegate count between Clinton and Obama was much closer than it is between the current finalists, causing Clinton to bow out later than expected. Owing to Sanders present deficit, and the fact that only 11 primaries remain, Wasserman Schultz is confident the Democratic Party will come together behind a single nominee shortly. But if either candidate has not acquired the number of pledged and unpledged delegates to win the party's nomination, the primary process will continue at the convention.

But this scenario isn't going to happen.

Even Sanders - who presently trails Clinton by hundreds of delegates - is coming to terms with the math. This month at the National Press Club Sanders confessed "that it is admittedly - and I do not deny it for a second - a tough road to climb. But it is not an impossible road to climb. And we intend to fight for every vote in front of us, and every delegate remaining." Though Sanders' ambition may be admirable, without more votes or delegates than his rival, he would be reduced to the argument that he is the strongest Democratic candidate to beat Donald Trump. And that would be insufficient for pledged and unpledged (so-called superdelegates) to turn their back on the voice of the majority.

Whether it's a "contested" convention, or the idea of "superdelegates," 2016 is fast shaping up to be the year of inflammatory buzzwords, accusations, and misdirection by candidates and the media alike. And to think we aren't even out of the primaries yet...

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Categories: Political News and Opinion