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Report: 42 percent of new Medicaid signups are immigrants, their children

Report: 42 percent of new Medicaid signups are immigrants, their children

Report: 42 percent of new Medicaid signups are immigrants, their children

 By Susan Ferrechio

Immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up more than 40 percent of new Medicaid recipients at a cost of $4.6 billion, according to an analysis of government data.

The Center for Immigration Studies, a low-immigration advocacy group, released a report early Thursday that found both legal and illegal immigrants and their minor children made up 42 percent of Medicaid growth from 2011 to last year.

“The high rate and significant growth in Medicaid associated with immigrants is mainly the result of a legal immigration system that admits large numbers of immigrants with relatively low-levels of education, many of whom end up poor and uninsured,” the report says. "This fact, coupled with the extensive supports we provide to low-income residents, unavoidably creates very significant costs for taxpayers.”

 
U.S. Education: The Bad, Part II

U.S. Education: The Bad, Part II

By Azadeh Aalai, Ph.D.

Systemic racism continues to persist in educational institutions, to the detriment of minorities, and black Americans in particular.

Other problematic truths revealed in the report included the underperformance of blacks in comparison to their white counterparts in schools, inequities regarding test scores, dropout and graduation rates, and as already mentioned, rates of disciplines and suspensions (not only in preschool).

Perhaps an equally compelling truth is that over 50 years after the groundbreaking Brown versus Board of Education ruling that officially ended the legitimacy of segregation based on race in schools, today black and Hispanic kids are attending schools that are more segregated now than they were during the civil rights era. Philips (2010) reflects:

Schools remain highly unequal, both in terms of money, and qualified teachers and curriculum. Unequal education leads to a diminished access to colleges and future jobs. Non-white schools are segregated by poverty as well as race. These ‘chocolate’ low-income public schools are where most of the nation’s drop-outs occur, leading to large numbers of virtually unemployable young people of color struggling to survive in a very troubled economy.

The importance of being well educated in our society today cannot be overstated. It is a cliché, but ultimately one of the most basic truths—knowledge is power. Education has the power to be transformative, to pull communities out of poverty, to enlighten and motivate and compel and cure; the list of benefits that come from a quality education goes on and on. Moreover, in the face of the realities of trying to make a living in America today, being credentialed, having a degree—regardless of the underlying quality of the education it represents—is also essential.

 
How Obama Endangered Us All With Stuxnet

How Obama Endangered Us All With Stuxnet

The cybersabotage campaign on Iran’s nuclear facilities didn’t just damage centrifuges. It undermined digital security everywhere.

A few months after President Obama took office in 2009, he announced that securing the nation's critical infrastructure -- its power generators, its dams, its airports, and its trading floors -- was a top priority for his administration. Intruders had already probed the electrical grid, and Obama made it clear the status quo around unsecured systems was unacceptable. A year later, however, a sophisticated digital weapon was discovered on computers in Iran that was designed to attack a uranium enrichment plant near the town of Natanz. The virus, dubbed Stuxnet, would eventually be identified by journalists and security experts as a U.S.-engineered attack.  

Stuxnet was unprecedented in that it was the first malicious code found in the wild that was built not to steal data, but to physically destroy equipment controlled by the computers it infected—in this case, the cylindrical centrifuges Iran uses to enrich uranium gas.

Much has been said about Stuxnet in the years since its discovery. But little of that talk has focused on how use of the digital weapon undermined Obama’s stated priority of protecting critical infrastructure, placed that vulnerable infrastructure in the crosshairs of retaliatory attacks, and illuminated our country’s often-contradictory policies on cyberwarfare and critical infrastructure security.

Even less has been said about Stuxnet’s use of five so-called “zero-day” exploits to spread itself and the troubling security implications of the government's stockpile of zero-days -- malicious code designed to attack previously-unknown vulnerabilities in computer software.

Because a zero-day vulnerability is unknown, there is no patch available yet to fix it and no signatures available to detect exploit code built to attack it. Hackers and cyber criminals uncover these vulnerabilities and develop zero-day exploits to gain entry to susceptible systems and slip a virus or Trojan horse onto them, like a burglar using a crowbar to pry open a window and slip into a house. But organizations like the NSA and the U.S. military also use them to hack into systems for surveillance purposes, and even for sabotage, such as the case with the centrifuges in Iran.  

Generally when security researchers uncover zero-day vulnerabilities in software, they disclose them to the vendor to be fixed; to do otherwise would leave critical infrastructure systems and other computers open to attack from criminal hackers, corporate spies and foreign intelligence agencies. But when the NSA uncovers a zero-day vulnerability, it has traditionally kept the information secret in order to exploit the security hole in the systems of adversaries. In doing so, it leaves critical systems in the U.S—government computers and other systems that control the electric grid and the financial sector—vulnerable to attack.

It's a government model that relies on keeping everyone vulnerable so that a targeted few can be hacked—the equivalent of withholding vaccination from an entire population so that a select few can be infected with a strategic biological virus.

It's also a policy that pits the NSA’s offensive practices against the Department of Homeland Security's defensive ones, since it's the latter's job to help secure critical infrastructure. That’s more than just poor policy. It’s a combination that could someday lead to disaster.

 
FBI’s ‘suicide note’ to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. revealed 50 years later

The full letter, kept at the National Archives in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

 
Bush family rewrites its legacy at pivotal time

Bush family rewrites its legacy at pivotal time

Bush family rewrites its legacy at pivotal time

By Rebecca Berg

George W. Bush unveiled two new portraits of his father this week.

One, a painting, is the latest in George W. Bush’s body of artistic work, which has included portraits of world leaders and animals. The second is his new biography of his father, “41.”

What the two works have in common is that they are less informative than evocative, casting a deliberately rosy glow over the two presidents Bush at a pivotal moment for the family.

A third Bush soon could look to make his mark on the presidency: Jeb, a former Florida governor and George W. Bush’s younger brother. For Jeb Bush, his last name could be at once his greatest advantage and his weightiest baggage should he make a bid for the White House.

Jeb Bush has admitted he is considering launching a presidential bid. While promoting his book, George W. Bush put the odds of Jeb running at 50-50.

Still, George W. Bush insists his brother’s future was not a factor in the publication date of his father’s biography, which is light on policy and heavy on the emotional connection and history between father and son.

Both Democrats and Republicans could find themselves voting to support or reject political dynasties in the coming presidential election. Republicans such as Rand Paul have already sought to tie Hillary Clinton to the worst of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Were Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush to face off in a general election, the discussion might be neutralized.

Voters also might sense that less time has passed since the end of George W. Bush’s second term than the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency, and Hillary would be vying to be the first female president. Thus, they may weigh the heirs to the two legacies unevenly.

Public approval of George W. Bush has rebounded since his presidency, but not at the level of his father or Bill Clinton. In June, Gallup polled the favorability among those former presidents still alive, and found that Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush each rated highly, in the low 60s. By contrast, favorability for George W. Bush was just 53 percent — about the same as Jimmy Carter.

 
Congress to vote on Keystone pipeline in high-stakes challenge to Obama

Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin discuss the vote with reporters in Washington.

Congress to vote on Keystone pipeline in high-stakes challenge to Obama

Paul Lewis in Washington

Senate and House of Representatives schedule votes to support controversial pipeline, hours after president announced historic emissions deal with China

Both chambers of the US Congress will vote on a bill to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the coming days, in what could amount to an immediate challenge to Barack Obama’s efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.

The decision by Democratic leaders in the Senate to schedule a vote for Tuesday next week on the Keystone legislation was taken after the party’s Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu, spent Wednesday afternoon engaged in a high-stakes bid to force the vote.

Landrieu, a longtime critic of Obama’s energy policy, is locked in a tight re-election battle against Republican congressman Bill Cassidy, which will be resolved in a runoff on 6 December, after neither managed to gain the 50% required for an outright victory in the midterms last week.

Less than 24 hours after Obama announced a deal with China to limit and reduce carbon emissions, Landrieu took the Senate floor to call for unanimous consent for a vote on her bill to approve the pipeline.

In the end, the Senate and the House of Representatives scheduled votes to support Keystone XL, which would transport crude oil from Canada to the Gulf coast in Texas. The House vote, which will almost certainly pass, will take place on Thursday.

Keystone has been a political hot potato for the Obama administration, which has repeatedly delayed a decision over approval of the pipe. It is not clear whether Obama would give the project his consent.

But renewed pressure over the pipeline, which has become a proxy in the political battle over climate change in the US, was the last thing the White House wanted on the day it announced its agreement with China, which previously had only ever pledged to reduce the rapid rate of growth in its emissions. China said on Wednesday it would cap its output by 2030, and also promised to increase its use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030.

Keystone’s backers argue that its construction will not increase carbon emissions, because if the project is vetoed Canadian oil would instead be transported to China.

 
Rand Paul’s Greatest Weakness

Rand Paul’s Greatest Weakness

It's himself.

And so it is that we confront the equally puzzling case of Rand Paul, who has made a mockery of political science with one career resurrection after another since exploding onto the scene in 2010.

Aqua Buddha? Please. Plagiarism? You gotta do better than that. Racially controversial comments, writings or staff? You’d think so, but no.

Now, with a likely Paul presidential run mere months away, Democrats and Republicans are asking the same question and debating among themselves what will be the political silver bullet that finally brings him down.

For some, there is a die-hard belief that it will be policy inconsistencies that finally stop Kentucky’s Keith. Others, looking at the Bluegrass State’s laws, believe it will be process.

And there is a popular school of thought that the person who will beat Rand Paul is Rand Paul.

..................................

There are two common threads running among Democrats and Republicans who want to beat Paul. The first is a shared sense of exasperation, the kind of furious disbelief expressed by teenage protagonists after they’ve shot the machete-wielding intruder 78 times and he keeps getting up. The other is a belief that time and attention will finally bring their monster down.

Conversations about Paul with Republican strategists and insiders follow the same pattern: (1) Paul is doing amazing things to broaden the appeal and resurrect the brand of the Republican Party; (2) he sure knows how to draw attention to the things he wants to talk about, and he’s done a great job of mending fences and establishing new relationships within the establishment; and (3) there’s no way someone with his past views and positions wins the Republican presidential nomination.

 
Hollywood is hurrying Obama off the stage—and getting ready for Hillary

No Kleenex in Tinseltown

By TODD S. PURDUM

Hollywood is hurrying Obama off the stage—and getting ready for a 2016 slugfest.

Here in the land of swimming pools and movie stars—and one of the Democratic Party’s most reliable A.T.M.s—the reaction of Hollywood’s big donors to the party’s crushing midterm losses has been a kind of Kubler-Ross progression of grief, with denial giving way not just to depression but a grim determination to give even more money to hold onto the White House in 2016.

“I think the mood out here is doubling down,” said one longtime political adviser to several prominent movie industry executives. “This raises the stakes for 2016. You’re talking about generational change on the Supreme Court alone, and all the Senate seats in states more favorable to us.”

By any estimate, residents of Zip Code 90210 and environs gave or raised millions of dollars to Democratic candidates in the last midterm electoral cycle, with entertainment figures like DreamWorks Animation’s c.e.o. Jeffrey Katzenberg leading the way. Katzenberg beat the bushes for Democratic candidates across the country, making a particular push for the failed Kentucky Senate campaign of Alison Lundergan Grimes—calling prospective donors early on a Sunday morning, one of them recalled, to make sure they had maxed out in giving to her campaign.

If the extent of the Democratic losses—from Capitol Hill to blue-state statehouses – came as a shock to donors here, the fact of them was hardly a surprise.

“In a post-Nate Silver world, a lot of Hollywood donors are very hip to the trend lines,” said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic strategist who works for Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. “And the obvious one is midterms are tougher for the Democrats for a whole lot of reasons than the presidential, and I think most people accept that and see a real opportunity for 2016.”

Or as another longtime California Democratic activist now serving in the Obama administration said, “From what I can tell, most people are licking their wounds by getting ready for Hillary.”

It’s long been the case that you’re nobody in Hollywood without a personal political consultant on retainer to help guide your giving and policy positions. An informal canvass by Politico of half a dozen of the most prominent and experienced such sherpas—all speaking not for attribution so as not to overshadow their bosses, who all declined to talk at all—revealed a broad consensus: Don’t get mad, get even.

 
The Republican Obsession With 'Restoring' America

The Republican Obsession With 'Restoring' America

Peter Beinart

Why so many conservatives have nostalgia for an era that wasn't all that golden

Next January, just in time for a potential presidential bid, Marco Rubio will publish a book. It’s called American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone.

Call me a killjoy, but I don’t think Senator Rubio can make good on his subtitle. Creating “economic opportunity for everyone” is hard enough in a country of 316 million. Restoring it is a metaphysical impossibility. To restore something, it must have existed before. And never in its history has America offered “economic opportunity for everyone,” not even in the Edenic days of President Reagan.

Why would Rubio make such an absurd promise? Because conservatives love the word “restore.” In 2007, when he was planning his own presidential bid, Mike Huckabee wrote a book subtitled 12 Steps to Restoring America’s Greatness. (It’s available for one cent on Amazon.) In 2010, Glenn Beck organized a rally on the National Mall entitled “Restoring Honor.” In 2012, Mitt Romney’s supporters established a Super PAC called, paradoxically, “Restore Our Future.” Later that year, the Republican platform promised the “Restoring of the American Dream” and the “Restoration of Constitutional Government.” This June, Ted Cruz pledged to “Restore the Great Confident Roar of America.”

.................................

When President Obama invokes America’s past, for instance, he’s less apt to celebrate previous eras than to celebrate the people in those eras who struggled to overcome its injustices. That’s why he talks so much about the civil-rights, women’s-rights, and labor movements. Conservatives, by contrast, want to conserve. Their problem is that they can’t call for conserving things as they are, since that would mean expressing satisfaction with Obama’s America. So they call for restoring the virtues that existed in some prelapsarian America: before the Progressive Era, before the New Deal, before the 1960s, or at least before Obama.

 
The 2014 election was very bad for Democrats. It was almost even worse.

The 2014 election was very bad for Democrats. It was almost even worse.

As bad as things were for Democrats on Nov. 4, it appears they could have been even worse. Witness: A new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The poll shows that 19 percent of Republican voters made up their minds in the final week of the campaign. By comparison, nearly one-third — 31 percent — of Democratic voters say they decided in the final seven days of the campaign (including 10 percent on Election Day).

To put that in perspective, consider that the generic ballot favored Republicans 52 to 47. If you extrapolate those late-deciders onto those numbers, around 10 percentage points worth of the GOP's 52 percent of voters would have decided to vote Republican in the closing days, while 14.5 points of the Democrats' 47 percent held out that long — including about five points until the final day.

Before those late deciders ... well ... decided, the GOP would have led by about nine or 10 points on the generic ballot, at least according to this poll.
 
China Is Financing Putin’s Aggression

China Is Financing Putin’s Aggression

Russia’s economy is tanking, but Putin is sending long-range bombers on sorties in the Gulf of Mexico and combat troops into Ukraine—thanks to billions in new energy deals from Beijing.

President Obama may say China can be America’s “partner,” as he did Monday in Beijing, but the Chinese calculate their interests differently. The real partnership is between the Dragon and the Bear.

On Sunday in Beijing, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom signed a contract to sell gas from western Siberia to China’s own state energy giant, China National Petroleum Corp.

The Gazprom-CNPC deal is not the only major recent Russia-China energy deal. Last October, state-owned Rosneft, Russia’s biggest oil producer, gave CNPC an equity stake in an oil field in eastern Siberia. This May, Gazprom and CNPC inked a 30-year, $400 billion gas pact, another landmark arrangement in what AFP has described as a rapidly expanding “energy alliance.”

And this week CNPC agreed to buy 10 percent of Vankorneft, a Rosneft subsidiary, which operates the lucrative Vankor oil field. As the Financial Times noted in September, the deal “represents a stunning change in strategy.” In the past, Russia brought in a foreign energy company only if it needed technology. For Vankor, Russia has all the expertise it requires, as the field is already in production. In short, it looks as if Russian President Vladimir Putin sold a stake to China because he needed cash quickly.

At the moment, the Russian economy is deteriorating fast. Last year, Russia’s gross domestic product underperformed all expectations, growing only 1.3 percent. This year, the country will manage only 0.2 percent growth, according to the IMF. With the price of oil dropping to three-year lows and the Saudis apparently driving oil down, Russia’s economy is heading for a severe—and probably prolonged—contraction.

 
Debts Canceled by Bankruptcy Still Mar Consumer Credit Scores

Bernadette Gatling said she has lost job opportunities because employers viewed her credit report, which included voided debts.

Debts Canceled by Bankruptcy Still Mar Consumer Credit Scores

In the netherworld of consumer debt, there are zombies: bills that cannot be killed even by declaring personal bankruptcy.

Tens of thousands of Americans who went through bankruptcy are still haunted by debts long after — sometimes as long as a decade after — federal judges have extinguished the bills in court.

The problem, state and federal officials suspect, is that some of the nation’s biggest banks ignore bankruptcy court discharges, which render the debts void. Paying no heed to the courts, the banks keep the debts alive on credit reports, essentially forcing borrowers to make payments on bills that they do not legally owe.

The practice — a subtle but powerful tactic that effectively holds the credit report hostage until borrowers pay — potentially breathes new life into the pools of bad debt that are bought by financial firms.

Now lawyers with the United States Trustee Program, an arm of the Justice Department, are investigating JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial, formerly known as GE Capital Retail Finance, suspecting the banks of violating federal bankruptcy law by ignoring the discharge injunction, say people briefed on the investigations.

The banks say that they comply with all federal laws in their collection and sale of debt.

Still, federal judges have started to raise alarms that some banks are threatening the foundations of bankruptcy.

Judge Robert D. Drain of the federal bankruptcy court in White Plains said in one opinion that debt buyers know that a bank “will refuse to correct the credit report to reflect the obligor’s bankruptcy discharge, which means that the debtor will feel significant added pressure to obtain a ‘clean’ report by paying the debt,” according to court documents.

For the debt buyers and the banks, the people briefed on the investigations said, it is a mutually beneficial arrangement: The banks typically send along any payments that they receive from borrowers to the debt buyers, which in turn, are more willing to buy portfolios of soured debts — including many that will wind up voided in bankruptcy — from the banks.

At the center of the investigation, the people briefed on it said, is the way banks report debts to the credit reporting agencies. Once a borrower voids a debt in bankruptcy, creditors are required to update credit reports to reflect that the debt is no longer owed, removing any notation of “past due” or “charged off.”

But the banks routinely fail to do that, according to the people briefed on the investigation, as well as interviews with more than three dozen borrowers who have discharged debts in bankruptcy and a review of bankruptcy records in seven states.

The errors are not clerical mistakes, but debt-collection tactics, current and former bankruptcy judges suspect. The banks refuse to fix the mistakes, the borrowers say, unless they pay for the purged debts. And many borrowers end up paying, given that they have so much at stake — the tarnished credit reports showing they still owe a debt can cost them a new loan, housing or a job. The Vogts, a couple in Denver, for example, paid JPMorgan $2,582 on a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy because they needed a clean credit report to get a mortgage.

There are many more who make payments on debts that they no longer legally owe, but never alert anyone because they do not realize the practice is illegal or cannot afford to litigate.

 
Did the Author of Obamacare Admit It’s Evil?

Did the Author of Obamacare Admit It’s Evil?

By Jonathan Chait

Earlier this week, the Daily Caller found videos of economist Jonathan Gruber, who helped write the Affordable Care Act, committing gaffes. Conservatives have responded with wild anger at what they take to be a confession that the hated law was designed to fool the public. Gruber “said that lack of transparency was a major part of getting ObamaCare passed, and that it was written in such a way as to take advantage of ‘the stupidity of the American voter,’” cries Fox News. The right-wing media is treating Gruber’s comments as a “scandal” and even proposing possible hearings in Congress. The furor over Gruber’s comments is based mostly on a simple misunderstanding, but there is enough truth in conservative claims about what he said to draw the mainstream media into the outrage.

2. The stupidity of the American voter. Here is where Gruber’s comment most rankles. “Stupidity” is unfair. Ignorance is a more accurate term. Very few people understand economics and public policy. This is especially true of Obamacare — most Americans are unaware of the law’s basic functions or even whether their state is participating.

Since people know so little about public policy in general and health-care policy in particular, they tend to have incoherent views. In health care and other areas, they want to enjoy generous benefits while paying low taxes and don’t know enough details to reconcile those irreconcilable preferences. Gruber’s error here is that, by describing this as “stupidity” rather than a “lack of knowledge,” he moves from lamenting an unfortunate problem both parties must work around to condescending to the public in an unattractive way.

 
Obama and Net Neutrality: he president we've been waiting for

obama computer

Obama's stand on net neutrality finally feels like the president we've been waiting for

Lawrence Lessig

It may have taken six years, but does the president’s sudden willingness to do the right thing finally signal a liberal, liberated, post-political Obama?

Barack Obama delivered on his promise to make a stand for a free and open internet: by declaring his support for network neutrality this week, he has finally put the weight of his administration behind a position he had originally – and strongly – campaigned for. Now, after six years of posturing, will he get something done?

Network neutrality is a regulatory commitment to preserving the architectural principles upon which the internet was founded, guaranteeing that no content or application could be discriminated against by a network owner. It was guaranteed because the technology of the internet didn’t have the capacity to do anything else – the ability to discriminate was not in its code.

But over the last decade, technologists have developed new code that makes it increasingly simple for network owners to pick and choose the content and applications they want to favor, or to block or slow the content and applications they oppose. And armed with these new anti-neutrality tools, it could be Comcast or AT&T that decides what the future of the internet will be, not the innovators and users who have built it so far. Without the rules of network neutrality, they would use the power their own code provides, as any corporation would, to maximize their profits, regardless of the effect on internet innovation.

The puzzle in the president’s move, however, has little to do with the substance. Network neutrality is the right policy. It cuts across the left and right among internet activists. But does the president’s willingness to take up this issue now signal a newly liberated, post-political Obama? Or is this the beginning of a fight for executive authority against a clunky and captured “independent” agency – the Federal Communications Commission?

 
Secret talks and a personal letter: how the US-China climate deal was done

john kerry xi jinping

Secret talks and a personal letter: how the US-China climate deal was done

Suzanne Goldenberg

The climate deal announced on Wednesday between the world’s two biggest carbon polluters was struck after a personal letter from Barack Obama, and nine months of intensive diplomacy. But American and Chinese officials had been in search of an agreement – through official meetings and back-channel negotiations – since the days when George Bush was president.

The plan unveiled in Beijing by Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, commits the two countries to ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, and could spur other big polluters to similar efforts.

After years of mistrust, the deal began to coalesce last spring after Obama sent a personal letter to Xi suggesting the two countries start to move in tandem to cut carbon pollution, the White House said.

The immediate inspiration for the letter arose from a visit to Beijing by John Kerry, the US secretary of state. Kerry, who had a strong environmental record when he was a senator, raised climate change to a top priority after taking over at State. He floated the idea of setting joint targets in his meetings with Chinese officials, a senior administration official said.

“The idea was first hatched in a bilateral visit that Secretary Kerry had in early February, where he broached it with the Chinese,” the official said. “And when the Chinese side seemed potentially receptive, we followed up with that letter from President Obama to President Xi.”

What came next was a flurry of diplomatic meetings – including a pivotal encounter on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in September between Obama and the Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, who has charge of climate and energy.

........................................

By early November, officials were parsing the language of an eventual announcement – a process that evidently went down to the wire, in the official’s account.

“We were here the week before last and had intensive discussions about what our respective targets would look like, and then finally were able to negotiate a text which was finalised late yesterday.”

By the time it reached that crunch point, however, US and Chinese officials had spent the better part of two years trying to overcome their mutual suspicion – and nearly a decade in on-off negotiations for a two-way climate deal.

After the disaster of the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, when Obama was on the receiving end of a pointed diplomatic snub from Chinese officials, the two countries began to put in the hard work needed to repair the relationship.

As those familiar with United Nations climate negotiations recognised, there was no other way. China and America between them are responsible for 45% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Unless they were serious about cutting carbon pollution, there was no hope of fighting climate change.

The primacy of the US-Chinese relationship was familiar to a number of highly placed officials in the Obama administration.

Beginning in late 2007, when George Bush was president, a group of leading Republicans and Democrats led two secretive missions to China to try to secure a bilateral climate agreement.

The initiative included John Holdren, now the White House science adviser, and culminated in a meeting at a luxury hotel at the Great Wall of China in July 2008.

It also produced a draft agreement in March 2009, two months after Obama took office, but it was never signed. Obama’s hopes of passing a climate law died in Congress.

After his re-election, however, Obama recommitted to fighting climate change, and again took up pursuit of the China deal.

“At the beginning of the second term the president recognised that he had to both take domestic action to have credibility but also to begin bilateral negotiations with China to actually bend down the global emissions curve,” said Paul Bledsoe, a climate change official under Bill Clinton. “From the moment of his re-election, this process began. This is essentially the culmination of two years of effort, recognising that until Chinese emissions begin to decline, global emissions cannot decline. That is just the reality of the problem.”

 
Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

rakoff_1_12014.jpg

Why Innocent People Plead Guilty

Jed S. Rakoff

The criminal justice system in the United States today bears little relationship to what the Founding Fathers contemplated, what the movies and television portray, or what the average American believes.

To the Founding Fathers, the critical element in the system was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny. As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The Constitution further guarantees that at the trial, the accused will have the assistance of counsel, who can confront and cross-examine his accusers and present evidence on the accused’s behalf. He may be convicted only if an impartial jury of his peers is unanimously of the view that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and so states, publicly, in its verdict.

The drama inherent in these guarantees is regularly portrayed in movies and television programs as an open battle played out in public before a judge and jury. But this is all a mirage. In actuality, our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.

In 2013, while 8 percent of all federal criminal charges were dismissed (either because of a mistake in fact or law or because the defendant had decided to cooperate), more than 97 percent of the remainder were resolved through plea bargains, and fewer than 3 percent went to trial. The plea bargains largely determined the sentences imposed.

 
Urban Outfitters called out for selling ‘sexist’ Hillary Clinton nutcracker

Urban Outfitters offends with a Hillary Clinton Nutcracker political gag gift.

Urban Outfitters called out for selling ‘sexist’ Hillary Clinton nutcracker

BY Victoria Taylor

The retailer was criticized for bringing back the gag gift, which first made the rounds during the 2008 election cycle, and putting a $60 price tag on it.

The novelty item, which first raised eyebrows during the 2008 election cycle, is exactly what it sounds like — a nutcracker with “stainless steel thighs” that “cracks (the) toughest nut” and is shaped like Clinton, complete with a pantsuit.

 
Elizabeth Drew: Why the Republicans Won

Why the Republicans Won

Elizabeth Drew

It’s actually not all that stunning for the party out of power to make sizeable gains in the sixth year of a president’s time in office, even after the president has won a smashing reelection victory two years earlier. As of now, the Republicans will have picked up seven to nine Senate seats in the 2014 midterms. But it happened to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, when the Democrats gained thirteen Senate seats, and it happened to Ronald Reagan in 1986, when the Democrats picked up eight seats. In fact the average mid-term loss of Senate seats for the party of a second-term president is nearly six seats. So what was all the commotion about?

There was the widespread surprise over the scale of the Republican sweep, not just in the Senate but also the House, where with 250 seats they have the largest majority since 1929; and in the governorships and state legislatures—where they set an all-time record of control of two-thirds of state legislative bodies. The victories at lower levels of government give them many long-term advantages, including significantly greater opportunities to draw electoral districts and groom future leaders.

But the shock was mainly caused because, purely and simply, the polls were wrong across the board. They overestimated Democratic turnout by almost twice as much as they underestimated it in 2012. (Midterm elections are notoriously hard to poll.) In fact the turnout this year—just 36.6 percent of eligible voters—was the lowest since 1942, when many Americans went off to war. David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report termed it an “epic turnout collapse.” The Democrats’ much-vaunted turnout operation worked extremely well in 2008 and 2012, when there was an appealing, to millions even exciting, candidate at the head of the ticket. An unpopular president cannot work the same magic.

Nor did the Democrats have a persuasive message to sell. They had no message at all. They feared any association with Obama, which included mentioning his achievements, and they worried that any boasting about the improvement in the economy since he took office would make them appear out of touch, since the recovery’s positive effects have done little to improve the situation of much of the middle class. The unwillingness to tout the benefits of the Affordable Care Act despite its clear success was a major missed opportunity: exit polls showed that people listed health care as the second reason they voted for a Democratic candidate.

The result of all their inhibitions was that the Democrats had no brand, stood for nothing, offered the voters nothing. Other than trying to instill fear of their opponents, they gave the voters scant reason to turn out or vote for them. The Democrats’ inability to claim ownership of even their more popular issues was all the more obvious when four states that elected Republicans to the Senate—Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Alaska—also approved ballot initiatives calling for an increase in the minimum wage. This is not to suggest that the Republicans offered substance: their predominant campaign theme was to tie their opponent to Obama. In all, 2014 was one of the least edifying elections in memory.

 
Why Wall Street Loves Hillary

Why Wall Street Loves Hillary

She's trying to sound populist, but the banks are ready to shower her campaign with cash.

An odd thing happened last month when, stumping just before the midterms, Hillary Clinton came in close proximity to the woman who has sometimes been described as the conscience of the Democratic Party. Speaking at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston as she did her part to try to rescue the failing gubernatorial campaign of Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Clinton paid deference to Senator Elizabeth Warren, the anti-Wall Street firebrand who has accused Clinton of pandering to the big banks, and who was sitting right there listening. “I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve it,” Clinton said to cheers. But then, awkwardly, she appeared to try to out-Warren Warren—and perhaps build a bridge too far to the left—by uttering words she clearly did not believe: “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said, erroneously echoing a meme Warren made famous during an August 2011 speech at a home in Andover, Massachusetts. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics? That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.”

The right went wild. See? Hillary Clinton has finally shown her hand. After having sat out the financial crisis and all the economic turmoil that has followed in the past six years—and with good reason, since for most of that time she was tending to the nation’s diplomacy as secretary of state—she is proving to be an anti-Wall Street populist too, and as much a socialist as her former boss, President Obama.

But here’s the strange thing: Down on Wall Street they don’t believe it for a minute. While the finance industry does genuinely hate Warren, the big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.

Although Hillary Clinton has made no formal announcement of her candidacy, the consensus on Wall Street is that she is running—and running hard—and that her national organization is quickly falling into place behind the scenes. That all makes her attractive. Wall Street, above all, loves a winner, especially one who is not likely to tamper too radically with its vast money pot.

 
Rookies Prepare for Life at Bottom of Congress’s Food Chain

Rookies Prepare for Life at Bottom of Congress’s Food Chain

Ruben Gallego arrived here Sunday night, crashed on a friend’s air mattress and went apartment-hunting Monday morning, only to discover it costs $1,900 to rent a 400-square-foot studio on Capitol Hill. He spent that afternoon working from his laptop on the second floor of a Dunkin’ Donuts, talking on his cellphone while pacing about in his stocking feet.

Such is the humbling life of a newly elected member of Congress.

Mr. Gallego, 34, who grew up poor in Chicago, worked his way through Harvard cleaning bathrooms and later fought as a Marine reservist in Iraq, is now Representative-elect Gallego, an Arizona Democrat and one of 58 House newcomers suddenly confronting life in Washington. On Wednesday, they will descend on Capitol Hill for a congressional rite of passage: freshman orientation.

With 41 Republicans and 17 Democrats, including 11 women, five African-Americans, three Hispanics and two Asian-Americans, the House freshman class of 2015 is a slice of America. There are 11 veterans, two pastors, a Virginia Volvo dealer who was President Obama’s ambassador to Switzerland, a former C.I.A. operative from Texas who worked undercover in Pakistan, and a Long Island lawyer who succeeds Eric Cantor as Congress’s sole Jewish Republican.

They are about to learn that going to Congress is a lot like going to college.

There are housing arrangements to make (“I look forward to talking to other freshmen to see if there is anyone I can room with,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida), friendships to cultivate and new rules to learn. There is a pecking order, rooted in seniority: In the lottery for office space, freshmen pick last.

And there are class elections.

“I’m running for ‘the elected’ — it’s the one where you sit with the leadership,” said Mimi Walters, a California Republican, searching for the name of the Elected Leadership Committee, which controls decisions for the Republican caucus. “I’ve been sending letters to everyone, to freshman class members, to have them vote for me.”

There is no instruction manual for serving in Congress, but Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and House majority leader, did send his newly elected Republican colleagues a 125-page spiral-bound document called “Hit the Ground Running.” It offers advice on everything, including hiring a chief of staff and opening district offices, and it has a helpful list of orientation “dos and don’ts.”

As in: “Do think about what committees you are interested in.” But: “Don’t talk to the press about committee assignments.”

Too late! Ms. Walters has already confessed she is gunning for a spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee, though she knows it is a long shot for a freshman. “Why not shoot for the stars?” she said.

 
Democrats face hefty to-do list in final weeks of Senate majority

Harry Reid

Democrats face hefty to-do list in final weeks of Senate majority

Paul Lewis in Washington

Isis, Ebola and NSA reform all make the list – but most important will be nominees the White House wants approved before Republicans take the Senate

The final weeks of Democratic control of the Senate will begin on Wednesday ahead of packed legislative agenda likely to range from funding military operations in Iraq and Syria, tackling the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and rewriting the laws that govern the National Security Agency.

But the most contentious issue Democrats need to deal with in the five weeks they have left in the majority is the list of more than 150 judicial and executive nominees that the White House is desperate to see approved.

Both the Senate and Republican-controlled House of Representatives reconvene on Wednesday after midterm elections that reshaped the political landscape in Washington, extending the GOP’s power on Capitol Hill to both chambers in Congress.

Republicans do not take control of the Senate, however, until January, with the clock ticking on Democratic control of the lame-duck session.

Barack Obama’s administration has expressed deep frustration over the backlog in nominees and the outgoing Democratic majority leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, is under pressure to push through as many appointments as possible before the party relinquishes power. Among the nominees awaiting approval are 16 proposed federal district court judges, more than 30 ambassadors waiting to be posted to countries such as Vietnam and the Bahamas and a slew of mid-level administration appointees.

 
Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet

Ahead of the landing, Rosetta took a number of images of Philae during its daring descent. This view shows the lander's consert antennae deployed. It also shows three lander feet and the Rolis descent camera boom

Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. 

By Jonathan O'Callaghan and Ellie Zolfagharifard for MailOnline

After a daring seven-hour descent, the probe has made space history by becoming the first ever craft to land on a comet.

In an emotional speech, Esa director general Jean-Jacques Dordain said: 'It's a big step for human civilisation.'

Rosetta's probe, Philae, has successfully landed on its comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Pictured is the mission control team in Darmstadt, Germany celebrating immediately after the announcement 

Scientists hope data from the probe will help reveal how the solar system was first created 4.5 billion years ago.

The confirmation of the landing was relayed via Rosetta to Earth and picked up simultaneously by a ground station in Malargüe, Argentina and Madrid, Spain, before being confirmed in Darmstadt.

'After more than 10 years travelling through space, we're now making the best ever scientific analysis of one of the oldest remnants of our solar system,' added Alvaro Giménez, Esa's director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

'Decades of preparation have paved the way for today's success, ensuring that Rosetta continues to be a game-changer in cometary science and space exploration.'

Rosetta has chased comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko through space for more than ten years in what has been described as 'the sexiest, most fantastic mission ever'. 

After a four billion mile (6.5 billion km) journey, the probe this morning successfully released Philae from its grip to land on the comet.

'We are extremely relieved to be safely on the surface of the comet, especially given the extra challenge of the comet's unusual shape and unexpectedly hazardous surface,' says Stephan Ulamec, Philae Lander Manager at the DLR German Aerospace Center.

There are a number of things that could go wrong with the mission. For instance, Rosetta might not release Philae at the right spot if the thrusters are activated at the wrong time. Jets of gas spewing from the comet could also cause problems during the descent. Pictured is an overview of potential problems facing Philae

 
The tricky Obama-Clinton handoff begins

The tricky Obama-Clinton handoff begins

As the presumptive Democratic front-runner in 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton has many of the same goals as President Obama, starting with reassembling and reenergizing the coalition responsible for Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.

But if she becomes the nominee, Clinton will have to unlink herself from Obama while positioning herself to inherit the bloc of young people and minorities that helped put Obama in the White House.

“Young people want to be inspired by someone and something,” said Stephanie Cutter, a partner at the Democratic consulting firm Precision Strategies and Obama’s deputy campaign manager in 2012. “The president can and will help energize them over the next two years, but he’s not on the ballot in 2016. The next nominee must also reach and inspire them.”

The poor showing by Democrats in last week’s midterm elections has forced Obama to reboot his second-term agenda and try to restore the Democrats to political health — as his star as party leader begins to fade and Clinton’s is on the rise.

Over time, the interests of the country’s two leading Democrats will not always align.

 
Gallup: Dems plunge to record low

Nancy Pelosi (left) and Harry Reid are pictured. | Getty

Gallup: Dems plunge to record low

Favorability for the Democrats has hit a record low as things go from bad to worse for the party after significant midterm losses, according to a new poll.

Only 36 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic party, a 6-percentage-point drop from before the midterms, the Gallup poll released Wednesday found. With the GOP standing with 42 percent favorability, it is the first time since 2011 the GOP has had a higher rating than the Democrats.

The favorability rating for Democrats is the party’s lowest since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.

“After the 2012 election, many political analysts focused on the GOP’s ‘image problem’,” the polling firm said. “Now, it is the Democrats who appear to have the more battered image. Their favorability rating has never been lower, and they are reeling from defeats that cost them control of the U.S. Senate and strengthened the Republican House majority to levels likely not seen in 90 years.

 
Ted Cruz is leading the charge against Obamacare. But no one's following.

Ted Cruz is shown. | Getty

An army of one

By David Nather

Ted Cruz is leading the charge against Obamacare. But no one's following.

Ted Cruz is still ready to use any means necessary to repeal Obamacare.

But even his fellow conservatives aren’t all jumping on board – a sign that the Republican repeal or bust movement is struggling while Obamacare continues to enroll millions of people with health insurance.

While Cruz wants to use a draconian budget measure to repeal Obamacare with just 51 votes in the Senate, he looks to be increasingly out on a limb. Utah Republican Mike Lee, a leader in the conservative movement, isn’t sold on the so-called budget reconciliation procedure to gut the law. Rand Paul says he’s for repeal but is hedging on exactly how to do it.

Mitch McConnell, who may enjoy a 54 vote Senate Republican majority by January, won’t commit to using the simple majority vote to kill Obamacare. And none of the Republican 2016 presidential candidates are pushing hard for the more radical Senate procedures to repeal the health care law.

Interviews with a wide range of key figures in the Senate and within the conservative movement show that while the party may be united rhetorically on repealing Obamacare, Republicans are surprisingly squishy on exactly how to do it.

The most popular response is to say, “yes, I’m for repeal,” but without saying how. Paul spokesman Brian Darling says the Kentucky senator “is committed one hundred percent to a full repeal,” but added that “using regular order or reconciliation or both is an inside the beltway fight.” And Steve Daines, the newly elected senator from Montana, said through a spokesman only that he “supports fully repealing Obamacare” and “will closely examine how to most effectively achieve that goal.”

 
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