| February 10, 2016
Hillary Clinton Pays a Lot in Taxes. She's Proposing to Pay Even More.
As his presidency neared its end, George W. Bush unveiled his plans for life after the White House. "I'll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol' coffers," the multi-millionaire told Robert Draper, adding, "I don't know what my dad gets - it's more than 50-75" thousand dollars a speech, and "Clinton's making a lot of money."
As it turns out, both Bill and Hillary Clinton have been making a lot money. But while Bush gets up to $175,000 for his behind-closed-doors speeches to groups like the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America, the similarities end there. As a share of their earnings, the Clintons give much more to charity and pay much more in taxes. And if candidate Hillary Clinton gets her way, she and Bill will be paying even more.
As the issue of Secretary Clinton's speaking fees heated up after this week's Democratic debate with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, CNN documented the windfall:
Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, combined to earn more than $153 million in paid speeches from 2001 until Hillary Clinton launched her presidential campaign last spring, a CNN analysis shows.
In total, the two gave 729 speeches from February 2001 until May, receiving an average payday of $210,795 for each address. The two also reported at least $7.7 million for at least 39 speeches to big banks, including Goldman Sachs and UBS, with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic 2016 front-runner, collecting at least $1.8 million for at least eight speeches to big banks.
To be sure, those audiences and those dollar figures don't present the greatest optics for Hillary Clinton. But more context, which CNN itself reported last year, tells a somewhat different story. Unlike most wealthy Americans (and wealthy presidential candidates, "she and her husband paid an effective federal tax rate of 35.7 percent and a combined federal, state, and local effective rate of 45.8 percent last year."
In a lengthy statement and on her campaign website, Clinton detailed that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, paid more than $43 million in federal taxes from 2007 to 2014, over $13 million in state taxes and donated nearly $15 million to charity over the same period.
As it turns out, the Clintons have now released 38 years of tax returns going back to Bill's first campaigns in Arkansas. And the contrast with the GOP's last presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, is quite stark. Romney released just two years of returns. Romney, who fortune was valued a quarter-billion dollars back in 2008, summed up his last decade of payment to Uncle Sam this way four years ago:
"Every year, I've paid at least 13 percent, and if you add, in addition, the amount that goes to charity, why the number gets well above 20 percent."
Remember, too, that Romney and every one of the 2016 Republican candidates would dramatically cut the Clintons' tax bill. One person who wouldn't is Hillary Clinton herself. While the GOP field promises to slash the top income tax rates, eliminate the estate tax and even (like Marco Rubio) end capital gains and dividend taxes, Clinton would increase them all.
For starters, Hillary has proposed a 4 percent surcharge on incomes (including investment income) over $5 million a year. She backs the Buffett Rule, which requires those earning above $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent to Uncle Sam. Like Bernie Sanders, Clinton has long supported ending the "carried interest exemption" that allows hedge fund managers and private equity investors (like Mitt Romney) to pay the much lower capitals gains rate (20 percent) rather than the income tax rate (as high as 39.6 percent) on their annual earnings. Just as important for those on Wall Street, Hillary would change the treatment of capital gains, where still-low tax rates are one of the biggest factors behind America's record-high levels of income inequality. For individuals earning over $411,500 a year ($464,850 for families), capital gains on investment income would be taxed at the same rate as earned income (39.6 percent). For this top 0.5 percent of taxpayers, rates would decline each year, until reaching 20 percent for investments held six years or longer.
Candidate Hillary Clinton, it is clear, is determined to raise President Hillary Clinton's tax bill to the IRS.
Now, you can argue that Hillary's practice of extracting large sums of cash from the financial sector is indefensible. (At best, as Paul Waldman suggests, Hillary could make the boastful claim that "I'm worth it.) But if nothing else, she might start by borrowing from Bill's script. As he put it in 2004:
"You might remember that when I was in office, on occasion, the Republicans were kind of mean to me. But soon as I got out and made money, I began part of the most important group in the world to them. It was amazing. I never thought I'd be so well cared for by the president and the Republicans in Congress. I almost sent them a thank-you note for my tax cuts - until I realized that the rest of you were paying for the bill for it, and then I thought better of it."
As her tax proposals show, Hillary Clinton is willing to put her money where her mouth is.
| February 8, 2016
Marco Rubio is No Moderate
In the years before he became legendary for delivering the thirstiest State of the Union response ever, Florida Senator Marco Rubio was peddling another legend. On his path to becoming speaker of the Florida House, Rubio often told Sunshine State audiences he was "the son of exiles" forced to flee their beloved island of Cuba after the "thug" Fidel Castro took power. As it turned out, Rubio's parents didn't come to America to escape terror and persecution from the Castro regime after it toppled dictator Fulgencio Battista in 1959. Instead, they arrived in 1956 as immigrants seeking opportunity, not exiles running for their lives.
Now, a new myth--Marco the Moderate--is enveloping the 2016 White House hopeful in the wake of his surprisingly strong third-place showing in last week's Iowa caucus. "In doing so," Politico's Glenn Thrush gushed, "he established himself as (in the eyes of many party elders and himself) the Republican with the most potential crossover appeal in a general election." After weeks of growing panic about Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, David Brooks rejoiced that "the amazing surge for Marco Rubio shows that the Republican electorate has not gone collectively insane." Rubio, Reuters declared, "emerged as the champion of the battered Republican establishment," and made a strong case that "supporters of other moderate, establishment candidates such as former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Ohio governor John Kasich should throw their support, and their money, behind him."
As it turns out, there's only one problem with the Marco the Moderate Myth: it simply isn't true.
As a quick glance at his past record and proposals for the future shows, Marco Rubio is a reactionary ideologue whose extremism has only increased during his short tenure in the Senate. A man who now opposes access to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Senator Rubio also followed John McCain's well-worn path in condemning his own immigration reform bill. A one-man wrecking ball who single-handedly cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their health insurance plans, the ersatz moderate is a reckless foreign policy adventurer committed to sabotaging the nuclear deal with Iran and dramatically increasing U.S. defense spending. And at a time of record income inequality, President Rubio would take on trillions in new debt to deliver a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy. Nevertheless, Mr. Moderate is demanding a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution even as he refuses to raise the debt ceiling.
So when Marco Rubio asks "are you ready for a New American Century?" he apparently means the 15th century. Consider, for example, his views on abortion. As ThinkProgress recently explained:
In 2013, Rubio co-sponsored a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks but allowing for exceptions in the case of rape and incest. But he has since moved to the right and last year, co-sponsored a similar bill which did not allow for any exceptions.
Just how far right became apparent during the first GOP presidential debate last August. After Fox News host Megan Kelly informed the candidates that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan had called rape and incest exemptions "preposterous" and said "they discriminate against an entire class of human beings," Senator Rubio offered this novel--and truly preposterous--constitutional theory:
"I've advocated passing a law that says that all human life, at every stage of its development, is worthy of protection--in fact, I believe that law already exists. It's called the Constitution of the United States."
If that disturbing interpretation sounds familiar, you've been paying attention. Only Rubio's Republican rival Mike Huckabee agreed, proclaiming the same night that to "ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child's Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law."
To appreciate just how extreme Rubio's position is, remember that the GOP's 2008 nominee (John McCain) and 2012 choice (Mitt Romney) expressed their support for the rape and incest exemptions. Rubio's belief in the immaculate constitutionality of fetal personhood contradicts the last several Republican party platforms, too:
Faithful to the "self-evident" truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children.
While Marco Rubio apparently believes the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses already apply to fetuses, living LGBT Americans are another matter. It's not just that Rubio opposes the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision making marriage equality the law of the land. He rejects over 50 years of Supreme Court precedent behind it:
"I don't believe any case law is settled law. Any future Supreme Court can change it, and ultimately, I will appoint Supreme Court justices that will interpret the Constitution as originally constructed," Rubio told Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press" Dec. 13. "I don't think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage."
In Rubio's Mad Libs version of the Constitution, the establishment clause of the First Amendment has been comically rewritten as well. As he explained in November to David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN):
"We are clearly called in the Bible to adhere to our civil authorities. But that conflicts with also our requirement to adhere to God's rules. So when those two come in conflict, God's rules always win."
And to be sure, in Republican primary states like Iowa, God's rules do always win. That's why the one-time champion of comprehensive immigration reform had to have a conversion on the road to Des Moines.
Rubio, you'll recall, labored for two years to help craft the Senate bill creating a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. As Rush Limbaugh pointed out in December, "Marco Rubio was part of the Gang of Eight trying to secure amnesty and wishes he wasn't." Fellow right-wing radio host Mark Levin complained, too, warning "such unprincipled ambition has not and will not go unnoticed by conservatives."
Which is why Marco Rubio, like John McCain 8 years before, pulled a 180-degree turn in time for the start of the 2016 election cycle. By the middle of 2013, Rubio was already reassuring Hugh Hewitt he would vote against his own bill. Now, he uses the same excuse ("the people want the borders secured first") John McCain offered in January 2008. As he explained in this mea culpa to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last year, Marco Rubio learned his lesson:
"You have 10 or 12 million people in this country, many of whom have lived here for longer than a decade, have not otherwise violated our law other than immigration laws, I get all that," Rubio said. "But what I've learned is you can't even have a conversation about that until people believe and know, not just believe but it's proven to them that future illegal immigration will be controlled."
(If by "controlled" Rubio means net zero illegal immigration in the United States, we've already passed that point. As the Center for Migration Studies reported in January, "the number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008" while "the total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003.")
No doubt, Marco Rubio's right-wing pandering on immigration is pathetic. But his plans for the federal budget and the American economy are downright dangerous.
To understand the mine field Rubio is laying out for Americans, it is helpful to begin with his January USA Today op-ed calling for convention of states to amend the Constitution and restore limited government." Among the myriad disasters his Tea Party fantasy would necessarily entail for the United States, one is the most comically catastrophic of all. As it turns out, to achieve the balanced budget he demands, President Rubio would have to slash federal spending by up to $21 trillion--that is, by more than 40 percent--over the next decade.
The math behind the instantaneous Rubio Recession of 2017 is pretty straight forward. In its most recent 10 year forecast released last month, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated federal spending at $51.4 trillion. During the same 2017 to 2026 time span, total tax revenues are forecast at $42.0 trillion. On its current path, then, the federal government will run up about $9.4 trillion in new deficits in the coming ten years.
But as he has demanded repeatedly, Senator Rubio once again called a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. As he put it in his call for a constitutional convention:
This method of amending our Constitution has become necessary today because of Washington's refusal to place restrictions on itself. The amendment process must be approached with caution, which is why I believe the agenda should be limited to ideas that reduce the size and scope of the federal government, such as imposing term limits on Congress and the Supreme Court and forcing fiscal responsibility through a balanced budget requirement.
To put it another way, Senator Rubio wants to be sure that President Rubio can't run any deficits at all. Sadly, Senator Rubio has already promised a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy that will drain up $12 trillion in revenue from the U.S. Treasury over a decade. And that means that altogether, President Rubio will have to tighten Uncle Sam's belt by $19 trillion.
Now, in his defense, Rubio has claimed that his tax cuts pay for themselves, as this exchange with CNBC's John Harwood shows:
RUBIO: Well, within the ten-year window, my plan begins to create a surplus. The second point I'd make to people is, you can't tax your way into a stable budget.
HARWOOD: Wait, your plan creates a surplus because of the dynamic effect?
As Alex Trebek of TV game show Jeopardy would say, "Ooh, sorry. That's not right."
The conservative-friendly Tax Foundation claimed that Rubio's scheme would cost Uncle Sam $6 trillion over 10 years, but only $2.4 trillion using its magical "dynamic scoring" model. After snorting that pixie dust, Rubio like his GOP rivals fantasizes that the massive economic growth triggered by lower tax rates will produce a revenue avalanche for Washington. But based on the calamitous real world experience of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, most analysts think Rubio and his Republican colleagues are delusional. Just how delusional?
A new Citizens for Tax Justice analysis of Marco Rubio's tax plan reveals that it would add $11.8 trillion to the national debt over a decade. More than a third of Rubio's tax cuts would go to the best-off 1 percent of Americans.
Now, whether you believe President Rubio will have to erase erase $9.4, $11.8, $15.4, $21.4 trillion or any number containing 12 zeroes in deficits over a decade, the task is an impossible one. As Jonathan Chait explained in "Why Rubionomics Is Even Crazier Than You Think":
Over the next decade, Washington is projected to collect $41.6 trillion in revenue under current policies. Rubio would reduce that to about $30 trillion. Rubio proposes to increase the defense budget -- but, for the sake of generosity, let us assume he merely keeps the budget at the current levels he decries as "setting ourselves up for danger." He likewise promises not to touch benefits for current or near-retirees, leaving those programs unavailable for cuts over that time. According to figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, expenditures on defense, Medicare, Social Security, and mandatory interest payments on the national debt will total $30.7 trillion over that period -- and that's without accounting for any other functions of the federal government at all. So Medicaid, veterans' health insurance, transportation, border security, and education, not to mention the entire federal anti-poverty budget other than Medicare and Social Security, would have to go. Oh, and Rubio has also called for an amendment to the Constitution requiring a balanced budget every year.
And two more things. First, those spending reductions of almost $19 trillion are so gigantic, ThinkProgress pointed out when a balanced budget amendment was being kicked around Congress four year ago, they would produce an economic calamity on the scale of the Great Depression:
If the 2012 budget were balanced through spending cuts, those cuts would total about $1.5 trillion in 2012 alone, the analysis estimates. Those cuts would throw about 15 million more people out of work, double the unemployment rate from 9 percent to approximately 18 percent, and cause the economy to shrink by about 17 percent instead of growing by an expected 2 percent.
And under President Rubio, the pain would start immediately. That's because as far back as 2011, Senator Marco Rubio insisted he would never support another increase in the debt ceiling. That March, the new freshman Senator from Florida didn't just demand a balanced budget amendment. As he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, "Why I Won't Vote to Raise the Debt Limit":
"I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid."
All of which means President Rubio's promised New American Century must feature either a cataclysmic contraction or a sovereign default by the United States--or both. After all, as future House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) explained in 2011, "You can't not raise the debt ceiling." His predecessor, John Boehner (R-OH) agreed:
"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy. Remember, the American people on Election Day said, 'we want to cut spending and we want to create jobs.' And you can't create jobs if you default on the federal debt."
Rubio's debt problems don't end there. The Florida freshman hasn't merely called for rolling back the $1 trillion in "sequestration" cuts to defense spending over the next decade. Regurgitating the same talking points about the size of the U.S. military that were the cause of Mitt Romney's embarrassment in 2012, Rubio has proposed even larger defense outlays in the future.
So to find savings to offset the staggering cost of his tax cut payday for plutocrats, President Rubio will look to gut the usual suspects: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. With America's population over age 65 forecast to grow from around 50 million today to roughly 85 million over the next thirty years, Rubio's guiding principle is "I'm against anything that is bad for my mother." Other people's mothers and fathers are a different story. In addition to raising the retirement age and cutting benefits for future Social Security recipients, Senator Rubio has endorsed a Medicare "premium support" system along the lines the CBO repeatedly forecast would dramatically shift health care costs to future seniors.
Then there's Obamacare. Like the Romney/Ryan ticket four years ago (and just about every GOP scheme for the last 25 years), Rubio has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its replacement with tax credits for individuals to purchase "consumer-centric" plans. The Medicaid expansion now adopted by 31 states would be rolled back, with the remaining funds divvied up as block grants to the states. The result of Rubio's "free market option" would be millions of Americans left uninsured and millions more underinsured.
To achieve his kamikaze mission, Senator Rubio has been willing--and able--to do serious harm to the American people. As Congress reached the brink of government shutdown and debt ceiling default in the summer and fall of 2013. Rubio announced he was willing to kill the patient. Publishing "Shut Down ObamaCare, Not Government" in Red State that July, Rubio warned that the Affordable Care Act will "lead to America's decline, because it emulates what other nations have tried." Then he repeated his inverted extortion argument from Bizarro Republican America that has drawn only derision and laughs in the real one:
Defunding ObamaCare is a critical first step to preventing all this, and this September, we need the American people to stand with us in demanding that not another cent be spent on implementing ObamaCare. At that point, the President will have a decision to make: sign it and keep the government open, or veto it and shut down the government.
In response to Rubio's childish tantrum and infantile logic, Paul Krugman recalled Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union address description of Southern slave interests threatening secession if Northerners voted in Lincoln's party:
That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!"
When it comes to Americans' insurance plans. Marco Rubio has no problem with that.
Despite the fact that President Bush's Medicare Part D prescription drug program continues to use an almost identical mechanism, Rubio and other Republicans quickly targeted the Obamacare "risk corridors" they deemed a "bailout" for destruction. And they succeeded. In the last budget agreement, Rubio and company secured $2.5 trillion in funding cuts to the insurers (most of them co-ops) whose premium receipts did not keep up with the claims they paid out. The result was that Uncle Sam only paid the 12 cents on the dollar they were owed under the risk corridor program. That, along with their actuarial shortfalls, led to the market withdrawal or outright failure of over a dozen private insurers, including Oregon-based Moda. Ultimately, several hundred thousand people needed to select new coverage. As Charles Gaba of ACASignups put it two weeks ago:
Congratulations, Marco Rubio! You may have just helped kill a PRIVATE insurance carrier!
It's all in a day's work for Mr. Moderate. In November, young Mr. Rubio piggy-backed on Donald Trump's proposal to prohibit Muslims from entering the United States by declaring that the government should close "whatever facility is being used -- it's not just a mosque -- any facility that's being used to radicalize and inspire attacks against the United States, should be a place that we look at." This week, Rubio denounced President Obama's speech at a Baltimore area mosque by criticizing "this constant pitting people against each other -- that I can't stand that." In December, would-be President Rubio slammed the landmark international climate agreement in Paris as an "unfunny joke." Then in January, he offered one of his own, laughing at the massive blizzard that killed 30 in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. It's no wonder Paul Krugman couldn't help but get snarky about the emerging conventional wisdom about Rubio's performance in Iowa:
Let me add that someone horrifying also came in third. Marco Rubio may seem less radical than Cruz or Trump, but his substantive policy positions are for incredibly hawkish foreign policy, wildly regressive tax policy, kicking tens of millions of people off health insurance, and destroying the environment. Other than that, he's a moderate.
Of course, you don't have to take Krugman's word for it--or mine--that the supposedly mainstream, establishment Marco Rubio is a poster child for the worst excesses of the radical right. As Rush Limbaugh explained to his listeners on Tuesday, "Rubio Is not an establishment moderate."
Accepting the Republican Party's nomination for President in 1964, the godfather of modern conservatism Barry Goldwater famously declared, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Fifty-two years later, the mythmakers on the right are apparently turning Goldwater's formula on its head for Marco Rubio.
Moderation in the pursuit of extremism is no vice.
| February 5, 2016
The Two Certainties of Health Care Reform
As Iowans prepared to caucus this week, a battle royal was playing out in each political party. But while Republicans argued over Donald Trump's conservative credentials and Ted Cruz's temperament, Democrats were having a heated debate over actual public policy. At its heart is the future of health care reform in the United States and which alternative--the "evolutionary" incrementalism of the "pragmatic" Hillary Clinton or the single-payer "revolution" of the "idealistic" Bernie Sanders--offers the best path forward both on the merits and on the politics. And as the Iowa vote approaches, the "wonk wars" among academics, analysts and pundits has produced a surprising amount of ill-will between the rival camps.
In response, I have this simple plea to all those of good faith, regardless of the candidate they support: Keep your eyes on the prize.
Six years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, that prize remains health care that is universal, continuous and more affordable. Despite the indisputable success of Obamacare in reducing the ranks of the uninsured below 10 percent, roughly 29 million people (including undocumented immigrants) still lack coverage. "Universal" means all United States citizens and (at least) all documented immigrants should have insurance. And that insurance should be continuous, with coverage available without interruption even as one's family situation, employment status, income level and age change. Though necessary, these goals are not sufficient. At over 17 percent of the entire U.S. economy, health care must become more affordable for both America and Americans.
Remember that six years after then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared, "I think the slogan will be 'repeal and replace,' 'repeal and replace,'" it is certain that the still TBD Republican alternative will swell the ranks of the uninsured and put the cost of coverage beyond the grasp of millions more. Remember, too, that eight years ago then-Senator Barack Obama opposed the individual insurance mandate and endorsed a single-payer solution as his preferred strategy if he was starting over from scratch. And in 2016 as in the hotly contested 2008 Democratic primaries, there is little reason to think that Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton won't come together to support their party's presidential nominee and his or her health care program.
But there's also every reason to believe that the health care plans of the next Democratic President will change from their current incarnations. As the experience of the United States and every major industrialized nation around the world shows, there are two certainties of health care reform. First, "fixing the system" isn't a milestone, but a continuous, never-ending process. Second, that process inevitably requires rate-setting. That is, regardless of who pays insurers, hospitals, physicians, clinics and drug companies, in one way or another the government will determine how much.
Continue reading at Daily Kos.
| February 4, 2016
Before Flint, FBI Feared Terrorists Would Poison Water Supplies
With Tuesday's announcement that the FBI will join the expanding investigation, anyone who doubted the seriousness of the poisoning of the Flint, Michigan water supply should now recognize their error. After all, until the administration of Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his emergency manager in Flint knowingly jeopardized the health of thousands, the FBI feared Al Qaeda terrorists would do the same thing.
As the Detroit Free Press reported:
Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, told the Free Press Monday that federal prosecutors are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, EPA's Office of Inspector General, and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
The office of U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said Jan. 5 that it was assisting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a Flint drinking water investigation, but at that time, Balaya would not say whether the investigation was civil or criminal.
Back in 2002, there was no doubt that the FBI's investigations were very much criminal in nature. As Carl Cameron reported for Fox News on July 30 of that year:
Federal officials have arrested two Al Qaeda terror suspects in the U.S. with documents in their possession about how to poison the country's water supplies, Fox News has learned.
The first case involves James Ujaama, 36, who surrendered to the FBI last week in Denver. Sources say they found documents about water poisoning among several other terrorism-related documents in his Denver residence...Another former member of the mosque is also now in custody and suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. His name is Semi Osman and he too is accused of having documents about poisoning water supplies in his possession when he was arrested.
On February 11, 2003, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about Al Qaeda terror threats within the United States that his agency was taking very seriously:
"Poisoning food and water supplies also may be an attractive tactic in the future. Although technologically challenging, a successful attempt might cause thousands of casualties, sow fear among the US population, and undermine public confidence in the food and water supply."
As it turns out, fears of terrorist attacks on American water supplies pre-dated the September 11 attacks. In October 2003, MSNBC examined the early warnings in a report titled, "U.S. water supply vulnerable":
In January of 2001 an urgent fax lit up the machines in the offices of water authorities in major cities around the country screaming about a letter the FBI intercepted from a terrorist group that indicated they "intend to disrupt water operations in 28 US cities." The fax said the FBI believed the threat was from a "credible, well known source, with an organizational structure capable of carrying out such a threat."
"Some people panicked...when they got that fax," says [Peter] Beering, who also wears the hat of Terrorism Preparedness Coordinator for Indianapolis. "It all depended on how much work they'd previously done with regard to security."
The letter was later determined to be a hoax. But to succeed, as the Indianapolis Water Company's Beering explained, terrorists "just have to make you believe the water is contaminated."
If the public suddenly lost confidence in the integrity of the water system, he said, there would be a domino effect. A panic run on bottled water and alternative water supplies.
A question he has asked to officials of various water authorities: "Are you prepared to empty a five, ten, fifteen million gallon...reservoir to prove to the public that it's safe to drink?"
U.S. law enforcement was wrestling with that dilemma long before Al Qaeda appeared on the scene. In 1972, authorities in Chicago arrested Allan Schwander and Stephen Pera over their plot to release a host of pathogens into the air and water supplies in the Windy City. In 1984, the Rajaneeshee cult in Oregon put salmonella in the food of several nearby restaurants and also considered (and rejected) "a much worse plan of attack: poisoning the local water supply and crashing a plane loaded with bombs into the county courthouse." Twelve years later, the New York Times recounted on March 6, 1998:
Members of an Illinois white-supremacist group planned to assassinate a lawyer who has battled hate groups, bomb the lawyer's Southern Poverty Law Center and public buildings, kill a judge, rob banks and poison water supplies, an F.B.I. agent testified today at a Federal court hearing.
After the May 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed Osama Bin Laden, U.S. intelligence revealed an Al Qaeda "playbook" amounting to a "strategic guide for how to attack the U.S." Infrastructure targets including water supplies were at the top of the list:
In the past, al Qaeda planned for attacks on water supplies have included an interest in mining dams and in poisoning water supply. Intelligence experts have also have found what appears to be information about safe houses around the world and about al Qaeda leadership.
In October 2013, Reuters announced, the FBI was once again "investigating possible threats to the water supply systems in Wichita, Kansas, and several other Midwestern cities that are as yet unsubstantiated, a spokeswoman said on Friday."
Ultimately, none of those terrorist attacks never came to pass. The nightmare of thousands of Americans killed and perhaps hundreds of thousands sickened by terrorist tampering with our water supplies has not yet materialized. To date, none of the usual domestic terror suspects--not Al Qaeda, not ISIS, not white supremacists, neither supposed militia members nor "lone wolves" of any stripe--has come to close.
Until now. In Flint. And the culprits putting American lives at risk weren't "radical Islamic terrorists" or "sovereign citizens," but Republican Governor Rick Snyder and his allies' radical ideology of de facto government sabotage.
| February 2, 2016
Charles Koch, Papa John and Political Correctness at the University of Louisville
After "amnesty" and "protecting religious freedom for Muslim Americans," few terms provoke conservative fury like "political correctness." It's no surprise that so many Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans are turning to Donald Trump's brand of "testicular fortitude" in denouncing it.
What is even less surprising is a recent dust-up over supposed political correctness at the publicly-funded University of Louisville. There, a handful of professors at the Brandeis School of Law protested an overwhelming faculty vote in favor of "a resolution declaring the school a compassion institution, in partnership with the larger initiative to brand Louisville as a compassionate city." Yet even as they decried that the law school had "veered to a partisan agenda" and thus is "no longer neutral," the University of Louisville business school was putting the finishing touches on the new John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise. And behind its mission "to engage in teaching and research that explores the role of free enterprise and entrepreneurship in advancing society" is a $6 million donation made possible by Republican donor "Papa John" Schnatter and the Charles Koch Foundation.
To better understand how political correctness is in the eye--and bank account--of the beholder, a little background is in order. In 2011, Louisville, Kentucky signed the "Compassion Charter," a project initiated by religion scholar Karen Armstrong in 2008 to "supply resources, information and communication platforms to help create and support compassionate communities, institutions, and networks of all types that are dedicated to becoming compassionate presences in the world." In 2014, Louisville was recognized as a Model Compassionate City for the third year in a row. Ultimately, the faculty board at U of L's Louis D. Brandeis School of Law voted 26-2 in favor of joining the dozens of businesses and organizations supporting Mayor Greg Fischer's civic initiative.
But not before professors Luke Milligan and Russell Weaver took to the op-ed pages to denounce the school's "partisan agenda." Milligan denounced the move as "divisive":
Unfortunately, this long run of institutional neutrality seems headed for an abrupt end. Promotional materials for the law school now proclaim its institutional commitment to "progressive values" and "social justice." Incoming students and faculty are told that, when it comes to the big issues of the day, the law school takes the "progressive" side.
The plan, in short, is to give the state-funded law school an "ideological brand." (The Interim dean says it will help fundraising and student recruitment.) In 2014, the law faculty voted -- over strong objection -- to commit the institution to "social justice." Now we're at it again, seeking to brand ourselves "the nation's first compassionate law school."
For his part, Student Bar Association president Rudy Ellis was surprised by "the amount of questions and ridiculous theories that people have thrown at me over the past week." Ellis, who described himself as "conservative-minded" lamented:
"I never would have imagined in a million years that us signing up for a citywide campaign on compassion would spark that."
Especially during a year when Charles Koch and John Schnatter just gave $18 million to the business schools at the Blue Grass State's University of Louisville and University of Kentucky. As the Courier-Ledger reported, the new John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise will be housed in the Gatton College of Business and Economics at Kentucky. That institute is being established just months after the opening of the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise in Louisville. Its director will be Stephen Gohmann, BB&T Professor of Free Enterprise at the University of Louisville and is a member of the Bluegrass Institute Board of Scholars. Gohmann, whose Bluegrass Institute seeks to "advance freedom and prosperity by promoting free‐market capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties," promised that politics won't be one of the ingredients in Papa John's home for free enterprise:
Gohmann said the term "free enterprise" means engaging in business with "minimal" interference from the government.
"When you have government intervention, often times you might have incentives to get the government to give you certain favors. And so, free enterprise allows people to just trade value for value," said Gohmann, whose title is BB&T Professor of Free Enterprise. "It's not a conservative or liberal thing; it's just an examination of how markets work more effectively."
By now, the good people of Kentucky and all of America should be very familiar with how the Koch Brothers and Papa John Schnatter believe "markets work more effectively." The Kochs, after all, have already poured $400 million into the 2016 election. And between 2005 and 2014, the libertarian sugar daddies behind the Tea Party movement spent $109 million on 361 different campuses. Of that, $23.4 million came in 2014 alone. As Jane Mayer recently documented in her new book, Dark Money:
[Koch advisor George Pearson] suggested that libertarians needed to mobilize youthful cadres by influencing academia in new ways. Traditional gifts to universities, he warned, didn't guarantee enough ideological control. Instead, he advocated funding private institutes within prestigious universities, where influence over hiring decisions and other forms of control could be exerted by donors while hiding the radicalism of their aims.
As for Schnatter, the pizza magnate already known for threatening to raise prices over the Affordable Care Act and for franchisees engaged in wage theft among other illicit labor practices, has never made a secret about his politics. In 2012, Papa John held a closed-door fundraiser for Mitt Romney at his massive estate. Romney praised the lavish setting as a testament to free enterprise:
"What a home this is, what grounds these are, the pool, the golf course, you know if a Democrat were here he'd look around and say no one should live like this," said Romney, as the crowd began to laugh. "Republicans come here and say everyone should live like this, all right."
Now, no one needs a tour of John Schnatter's house to learn that lesson. All they need to do is pop over to his new center at the Louisville B-school campus the public already paid for. On April 14, the speaker at the John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise was one John H. Schnatter. There, he will deliver a presentation titled, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. Better Business."
"Papa John's would not be here without my great grandfather's courage to come to a society where free markets and private enterprise give hard working people the chance to create successful businesses."
The other driving forces behind Papa John's success include a strong work ethic, focusing on what you do best, always striving to be better, and treating everyone in the workplace with dignity and respect.
God forbid he use the word "compassion." That would be politically incorrect.
| January 28, 2016
Memo to Justice Kennedy: Studies Show Pregnancy, Not Abortion, Creates Depression Risk for Women
Within the next six months, the United States Supreme Court may well overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling which recognized a woman's right to choose an abortion. In Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, the Court will decide whether the state of Texas has placed an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion services by requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and by mandating that clinic facilities must meet the same standards as hospitals.
Whatever the decision in the majority opinion, it is virtually certain that the SCOTUS swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy will write it. And that will be more than a little ironic. After all, Justice Kennedy has emerged as a one-man undue burden on Americans' reproductive rights, banning so-called "partial birth" abortion procedures in 2007 because of his personal belief that "some women come to regret their choice." As it turns out, recent studies show that pregnancy and birth--and not a mythical "post-abortion syndrome"--present the real depression risk for women.
That's the word from the United States Preventive Services Task Force. As the New York Times reported:
Women should be screened for depression during pregnancy and after giving birth, an influential government-appointed health panel said Tuesday, the first time it has recommended screening for maternal mental illness.
The recommendation, expected to galvanize many more health providers to provide screening, comes in the wake of new evidence that maternal mental illness is more common than previously thought; that many cases of what has been called postpartum depression actually start during pregnancy; and that left untreated, these mood disorders can be detrimental to the well-being of children.
It also follows growing efforts by states, medical organizations and health advocates to help women experiencing these symptoms -- an estimated one in seven postpartum mothers, some experts say.
The panel's recommendation comes just six months after the U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health published research showing that "more than 95 percent of participants reported that ending a pregnancy was the right decision for them." As ThinkProgress explained in July 2015, "Feelings of relief outweighed any negative emotions, even three years after the procedure":
Researchers examined both women who had first-trimester abortions and women who had procedures after that point (which are often characterized as "late-term abortions"). When it came to women's emotions following the abortion, or their opinions about whether or not it was the right choice, they didn't find any meaningful difference between the two groups.
These findings contradict the notion that women experience negative mental health effects after ending a pregnancy, as well as the idea that later abortions are more psychologically traumatic.
Contradict the notion, that is, that Anthony Kennedy put at the center of his 2007 majority opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. Reversing the Court's position on so-called partial birth abortion just seven years after it struck down a similar Nebraska law, Kennedy swept away Justice Breyer's previous exception for "for the preservation of the...health of the mother." Derisively referring to physicians as "abortion doctors" and with callous disregard for the health of American women, Kennedy in the 5-4 majority opinion decreed that father knows best. (His 2000 dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart used the incendiary term "abortionist" no fewer than 13 times.) As the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus recalled:
"Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," Kennedy intoned. This is one of those sentences about women's essential natures that are invariably followed by an explanation of why the right at stake needs to be limited. For the woman's own good, of course.
Kennedy continues: "While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained." No reliable data? No problem!
The State has "ethical and moral concerns that justify a special prohibition," Kennedy argued, because "it is self-evident that a mother who comes to regret her choice to abort must struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when she learns" the details of the abortion procedure.
As Marcus suggests, Kennedy's mantra of "no data, no problem" was never justifiable as a matter of either law or science, and to be sure, is no longer operative. Unfortunately, that came too late for the reproductive rights of American women.
As it turns out, the three-year longitudinal study published by NIH is just the latest in a mountain of research definitely debunking the "postabortion traumatic stress syndrome" myth that Kennedy codified in law. The new findings are a follow up to the "Turnaway Study" being conducted by the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) think-tank at the University of California, San Francisco. That project has been "following nearly 1,000 women who sought abortions in 21 different states."
The findings build on previous data from the ongoing Turnaway Study that's supported the same conclusions about mental health and abortion. In 2013, the researchers published the results from interviews conducted just one week after women had an abortion; at that point, too, the vast majority of women said they felt it was the right choice for them. The most common emotion they reported was relief.
In 2008, researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated 20 years of studies on the topic and reached a clear conclusion. As Robert Blum, the lead researcher put it, "The best research does not support the existence of a 'post-abortion syndrome' similar to post-traumatic stress disorder." Two years later, another study thoroughly demolished 2009 "research" which posited a link between abortion and subsequent mental health problems for women. Julia Steinberg of the University of California at San Francisco and Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute found that:
The findings of a 2009 study by Priscilla Coleman et al--which claimed that women who had reported an abortion were at an increased risk of several anxiety, mood and substance use disorders, compared with women who had never had an abortion--are not replicable.
Steinberg and Finer's analysis, just published online in Social Science & Medicine, examined the same dataset as Coleman et al. (the National Comorbidity Survey) and found that in every case, the proportions of women experiencing mental health problems reported by Coleman were much larger, sometimes more than five times as large, as Steinberg and Finer's results. The Coleman findings were also inconsistent with several other published studies using the same dataset and sample.
"We were unable to reproduce the most basic tabulations of Coleman and colleagues," Steinberg noted, concluding, "This suggests that their results are substantially inflated." And the Coleman findings, Steinberg pointed out, "were logically inconsistent with other published research."
Like the massive study from Johns Hopkins two years ago. That research reviewed 21 studies involving 150,000 women. The team's systematic analysis of the highest quality studies in terms of methodology showed "few, if any, differences between women who had abortions and their respective comparison groups in terms of mental health." In contrast, only the studies with "studies with the most flawed methodology" found any negative long-term, mental health impact.
Nevertheless, Republicans in Congress and in the states continue to advance paternalistic abortion restrictions that ignore both the overwhelming consensus of scientists and the free speech rights of physicians. The party that declares its commitment to protecting "the doctor-patient relationship" instead mandates that physicians lie to their patients about what they know and what they don't know. Such government-ordered medical malpractice include state laws requiring medically unnecessary and shockingly invasive ultrasound procedures, mandating that doctors tell patients about mythical links to breast cancer and depression, preventing family planning providers from informing women about serious fetal genetic diseases and providing legal protections for not doing so. Other states laws have been telemedicine to discuss abortion procedures or to remotely administer drugs like RU-486. And in states like Iowa, conservative lawmakers are seeking to make so-called "abortion regret" grounds for civil action against providers:
Under the legislation, a patient could sue a doctor within ten years of terminating a pregnancy, even after signing a form acknowledging informed consent. In addition to suing for physical injury, a patient could sue for emotional distress, which would include a negative emotional or mental reaction, grief, anxiety, or worry.
The bill significantly increases the risk doctors face in providing abortion care in a couple of important ways. First and foremost, it creates an entirely separate legal claim related only to abortions, despite the fact that any patient injured during an abortion can already sue for medical malpractice. Second, it increases to at least ten years the amount of time a patient has to sue, and allows a claim to proceed even if a patient acknowledges that the risks associated with the procedure were explained.
Remember, that's coming from a Republican Party that routinely denounces "junk science" and the "jackpot justice" of malpractice lawsuits because, as President George W. Bush famously put it, "Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country." Besides, Justice Anthony Kennedy notwithstanding, those loving OB/GYNs are telling us, the real threat to women's emotional and mental health isn't abortion, but pregnancy.