January 21, 2014 archive

Citizens United: Four Years Later

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

 photo Corporate-vote_zps9e1fa673.png It has been four years since the Supreme Court handed down it ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission holding that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions.

Ian Vandewalker, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, explains the consequences he ruling has made of unlimited spending by corporations and unions, leading to an explosion of outside money in elections.

Certainly, big donors seem to believe their donations can buy influence. Thanks to Citizens United, outside spending skyrocketed in 2012 to more than $1 billion, including $400 million from dark money groups that don’t disclose their donors.

Legislators targeted by the outside negative ads are concerned. Some have used the specter of massive outside spending to argue that they need more direct contributions for their re-election campaigns in order to ‘weaken’ the influence of outside money. Eight states have increased the dollar amounts that donors can give directly to candidates, and similar legislation has advanced in several others. Alabama eliminated its $500 limit on corporate donations, allowing corporations to give unlimited amounts of money directly to candidates. Limits in other states, like Florida, are now several times higher.

Now the same justices whose Citizens United ruling created the outside expenditure quandary are arguing that it necessitates weakening limits on direct contributions. In oral argument for McCutcheon v. FEC, a case challenging limits on the total amount individuals can donate directly to all federal candidates, the court’s conservative justices seem to contradict the reasoning they used to justify their 2010 decision. Justice Scalia said there is no real distinction between the gratitude a candidate would feel toward a contributor on the one hand and a major independent spender on the other. He added, “The thing is, you can’t give [unlimited contributions] to the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, but you can start your own PAC… . I’m not sure that that’s a benefit to our political system.”

There is movement toward removing big money from politics, as John Nichols of The Nation notes, and putting democracy back in the hands of the voters. There has been a movement to amend the constitution that is gaining ground:

Sixteen American states have formally demanded that Congress to recognize that the Constitution must be amended in order to re-establish the basic American premise that “money is property and not speech, and [that] the Congress of the United States, state legislatures and local legislative bodies should have the authority to regulate political contributions and expenditures…” [..]

Support for an amendment now stretches from coast to coast, with backing (in the form of legislative resolutions or statewide referendum results) from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia. The District of Columbia is also supportive of the move to amend, as are roughly 500 municipalities, from Liberty, Maine, to Los Angeles, California – where 77 percent of voters backed a May, 2013, referendum instructing elected representatives to seek an amendment establishing that “there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings.” [..]

The groundbreaking work by national groups such as Public Citizen, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Move to Amend, in conjunction with grassroots coalitions that are now active from northern Alaska to the tip of the Florida Keys, is far more dramatic than most of the initiatives you’ll see from the Democratic or Republican parties-which don’t do much but fund-raise-and various and sundry groupings on the right and left. [..]

Free Speech for People highlights the fact that dozens of Republican legislators have backed calls for an amendment to overturn not just the Citizens United ruling but other barriers to the regulation of money in politics. With backing from third-party and independent legislators, as well, the passage of the state resolutions highlights what the group refers to as “a growing trans-partisan movement…calling for the US Supreme Court’s misguided decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) to be overturned, through one or more amendments to the US Constitution.”

Send a message to your state legislators asking them to give voters a chance to directly instruct Congress to pass a constitutional amendment!

West Virginia Dirty Water

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Nearly two weeks ago a chemical spill at a storage facility for Freedom Industries contaminated the water supply of over 300,000 West Virginians with  4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol which is used to “treat” coal supplies before they are shipped for burning. The plant is located just two miles up river from a water treatment plant. People were warned to not drink the water, but not before it sickened hundreds flooding emergency rooms complaining of nausea, vomiting, some dizziness, headaches, diarrhoea, reddening skin, itches and rashes,

The water has been declared safe, but the CDC has issued a warning to pregnant women to not drink the water. Now to protect themselves from liability, the Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy on Friday. However, as Raw Story calls it, this is just a legal shell game

And in a brazen legal gambit, the owner of Freedom Industries has also created a shell company to provide financing to his bankrupt firm, which may allow him to retain much of the assets of the firm if and when it is dissolved in bankruptcy. [..]

The name of the owner of Freedom Industries, J. Clifford Forrest, also appears as an officer in a newly-formed firm – Mountaineer Funding LLC – which Freedom Industries named as the source of debtor-in-possession financing of up to $5 million. In a bankruptcy, the debtor in possession financier is typically placed at the head of the line of creditors making a claim on the assets of the firm. If a bankruptcy judge allows the financing to go forward, Mountaineer – and Forrest – might be expected to scoop up most of the assets of the bankrupt firm without any legal liability for the catastrophic environmental damages wrought by it.

MSNBC’s “All In” host Chris Hayes laid out just how this works for the owner and screws the citizens who suffered damages

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This is Change?

US withholding Fisa court orders on NSA bulk collection of Americans’ data

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Tuesday 21 January 2014 13.16 EST

US attorney Preet Bharara of the southern district of New York informed the ACLU in a Friday letter that the government would not turn over “certain other” records from a secret surveillance court, which are being “withheld in full” from a Freedom of Information Act suit the civil liberties group filed to shed light on bulk surveillance activities performed under the Patriot Act.

The decision to keep some of the records secret, in the thick of Edward Snowden’s revelations, has raised suspicions within the ACLU that the government continues to hide bulk surveillance activities from the public, despite US president Barack Obama’s Friday concession that controversial National Security Agency programs have “never been subject to vigorous public debate”.

In his letter, written on the day Obama gave a long-awaited speech on surveillance that pledged additional transparency, Bhahara said that Friday’s release will be the last disclosure under the terms of the ACLU’s lawsuit.

“As discussed by telephone this morning, the government in fact has processed all of the remaining FISC Orders responsive to the FOIA request in this case that relate to bulk collection, regardless of whether the order contains any additions and/or adjustments to the implementation procedures, minimization procedures, and/or reporting requirements set out in other FISC orders,” the US attorney wrote.

“The government cannot specify the total number of documents withheld in full from this final set of responsive documents because the number itself is classified.”

Alexander Abdo, an ACLU attorney, noted that the government’s bulk surveillance disclosures have yet to include, among other efforts, a reported CIA program to collect international money transfers in bulk, revealed in November by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

“It appears that the government is concealing the existence of other bulk collection programs under the Patriot Act, such as the CIA’s reported collection of our financial records,” Abdo said.

“In other words, on the same day that President Obama recognized the need for a vigorous debate about bulk collection, the government appears to be hiding the ball. We can’t have the public debate that President Obama wants without the facts that his agencies are hiding.”

Who Will Stand Up And Salute?

Reading the (weak) tea leaves it appears Obama has said all he intends to say about the illegal NSA spying in last Friday’s hectoring (and boring) lecture.

So what will Obama talk about in the State of the Union address next week.  The smart money says there will be two main themes he will attempt to conflate to confuse the country which has turned sharply against his Administration and the Democratic Party.

One theme is income inequality.  Well good for him except that it’s highly unlikely after 6 years of policy specifically designed to increase it he has any meaningful remedies to suggest (to say nothing of their political viability).

The other theme is the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership and that dear readers is a stone cold loser, not simply because it’s bad economic policy and a naked power grab by the Executive at the expense of Congress and the Courts, but the more voters learn about it the more they hate it and justifiably so.

And it’s not just here in the US.  The reason we don’t have an agreement today is that the vast majority of our proposed partners can see that it’s a terrible deal for them and the United States Trade Representative is arrogantly refusing to negotiate compromise, prefering instead threats, intimidation, and blackmail.

Obama: Give me fast track trade

By Amie Parnes, The Hill

01/21/14 06:00 AM EST

No House Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill, however, and Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the Ways and Means Committee ranking member, and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), the panel’s former chairman, have both criticized it. They said the legislation doesn’t give enough leverage and power to Congress during trade negotiations.

The Democratic opposition makes it highly unlikely the trade promotion authority bill, in its current form at least, will go anywhere.

Senior congressional aides expect trade to be a part of Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address, since the White House has made clear that the trade bill is a priority and the TPP trade pact is a core part of the administration’s overall jobs agenda, in terms of increasing exports and opening markets.

“This is a priority of the president’s,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters last week. “It’s part of a broad approach to expanding exports and, you know, creating more opportunities for our businesses to grow. And we’re going to continue to push for it.”

People Pressure Is Making Fast Tracking the TPP Politically Toxic

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Truthout

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 10:36

Leaks are sinking the TPP like the Titanic on its way to the bottom of the ocean. Ron Kirk, the former US Trade Rep said they were keeping it secret because the more people knew, the less they would like the TPP and it would become so unpopular it could never become law.

This week, Wikileaks released the Environmental Chapter.  The bottom line – there is no enforcement to protect the environment. The TPP is worse than President George W. Bush’s trade deals.  Environmental groups are saying the TPP is unacceptable.

When Fast Track was introduced there was a backlash, according to public reports, of angry Democrats. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Huffington Post: “I’m a little disappointed that something’s dropped that was never discussed with Democrats in the House. As I understand it, it wasn’t actually discussed with Democrats in the Senate.”

Five members of the Senate Finance Committee told US Trade Representative Mike Froman they will not support the Baucus Fast Track bill because Congress needs to be involved throughout the process not just in an up or down vote after it is completed.

Baucus says he will not be holding a mark-up of the bill because of the divisions on the Finance Committee. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) who will be taking Baucus’ place told Politico there was “broad frustration” with the lack of transparency. And. Majority Leader Reid said that he may not even bring the bill to the Senate Floor if it passes out of committee.

As bad as the senate sounds for the administration, the House is even worse.  Opposition has been building in recent months with Democrats and Republicans writing President Obama opposing Fast Track.

They could not find a Democratic co-sponsor and now Politico reports, that Speaker Boehner says he will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote unless 50 Democrats support it.

The president’s TPA month is off to a bad start, so he has to make a big pitch in his upcoming State of the Union on January 28.  If he doesn’t, it is a sign he has given up and is distancing himself from defeat. He’s not only going to have to persuade almost every Republican to support him (that would be a first for his presidency), he’s going to have to convince every Democrat who has not taken a position, and change the minds of many who have already publicly said they oppose Fast Track.

The problem is Members of Congress know that if they get on the wrong side of corporate trade agreements, it will hurt them politically.

Members of Congress have seen the research that shows 90% of Americans will see their income go down from the TPP while the wealthiest get wealthier.  Why would any Member of Congress want to sign on to something like that – especially in an election year.

Under the Baucus-Camp Fast Track the president is also able to draft extensive implementing legislation to bring US law into compliance with the agreement. It is up to the president to decide what changes in laws or new laws are needed to comply with the TPP. Congress is not able to mark-up or amend the language of these bills.  And, these can be very significant laws.  For example, provisions like “Buy American” or “Buy Local” can be repealed as a restraint on trade. In all of these cases under Fast Track the president becomes the Congress and drafts legislation, totally destroying the checks and balances of the three branches of government.

Over at Naked Capialism a regular poster named Clive has done a translation from the original Japanese of a report by Fisco, “a financial analyst services provider” based in Japan.

It’s no longer publically available on their website but Clive thinks it’s merely been put behind a subscriber paywall.  There is a screen capture available from Excite if you happen to read Japanese, which I do not.

While I’ll not vouch for Clive’s translating abilities I think his analysis is spot on and I’m not the only one.  Joe Firestone (letsgetitdone from New Economic Perspectives) was also quite impressed and calls it a “very good post.”

Japan to US: You Can’t Railroad the Trans-Pacific Partnership

by Clive, Naked Capitalism

Posted on January 20, 2014

I would argue that Japan is ground-zero for TPP. Japan was a latecomer to the TPP party, the invitation being extended because without Japan, which is still after countless lost decades the world’s third biggest economy with a GDP almost 10 times the size of, for example, Malaysia. Without Japan, any resultant TPP would be a doughnut with a Japan-shaped hole in the middle.

(W)hen, a fortnight after the official releases from the Singapore TPP negotiation round, off the record briefings started to appear I planned to translate these after the holiday season. Fisco is a financial analyst services provider in Japan and on the 24th December 2013 they put out a toughly worded assessment of where TPP was likely to go next in terms of Japan’s participation. The article didn’t cite official sources directly, but from my experience with the Japanese media, it was pretty obviously drawing on officials speaking off the record. In the US you typically get such articles prefaced by “Washington insiders say…”, “Obama aides report…” or “One source added that the president has…”. Here in the UK, the line “Sources close to the Prime Minister…” has become such a cliché for the Prime Minister’s press office that one wonders why journalists bother with the subterfuge. In Japan, readers don’t get their intelligence insulted with such banter. If a source is on the record, they are named. If it’s off the record, information simply is reported source-less.

Diplomacy is just a nice word for cross-border politicking. And that is the nub of why, certainly as far as Japan is concerned and I’d venture too the other countries involved, the TPP talks are stalling. The deal is being worked on by politicians. These politicians have constituencies and need their constituents’ votes. Now, politicians the world over – and certainly Japan is no exception to this rule – can and do throw one set of voters under the bus if it means that another, larger, group of voters might provide support in return. TPP requires (or at least, the current US position requires) that Japanese agriculture takes a hit because the subsidies it receives are to be removed. To the LDP (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party) in Tokyo, rural votes lost in Chiba prefecture because rice growers’ incomes drop might be made up for in Okinawa if the move of the resented US base there is expedited. Or at least if the crash-prone Osprey aircraft are removed. But who is Tokyo talking to at the TPP negotiations? The Office of the United States Trade Representative. What can Michael Froman bring to the table? Signed copies of Timothy Geithner’s memoirs?

This highlights a deeper malaise for the US. Due to its mismanagement of the South East Asia geopolitical arena, it doesn’t have much to offer either Japan or the other TPP countries. Japan would certainly appreciate some US muscle directed towards China over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute. A bit of US help in dealing with North Korea wouldn’t go amiss either. Yet the US can deliver on none of these things. It certainly wouldn’t want to risk the overspill from any goading of China. And even lower impact offerings like the Okinawa base aren’t in the USTR’s gift.

Even if the US had better goodies to offer Japan to sweeten the TPP pill it is asking it to swallow (and it’s a little short on tempting morsels in this regard) U.S. Trade Representative Froman is not in a position to offer them without State Department assistance.

All of which shows that the TPP is nothing more than a grubby political gambit. Economists like to dress up their theories in scientific costume, presenting them as somehow evidence-based and provable in a measurable, repeatable way. Yves has – literally and figuratively – written the book on this subject as it is covered in ECONNED.

Economists promoting the provisions of the TPP are caught in a bind. If the economic theory underpinning the TPP is self-evidently valid beyond all doubt, it doesn’t need to be “sold” to any of the participating countries. They’d only have to look at the unequivocal evidence of the merit and validity of the theory before making the logical decision to enact the TPP.

If the TPP is on the other hand merely the US government doing the bidding of one of its main vested interests and biggest group of political donors (the multinational corporations) and asking the respondent TPP countries in the Pacific Rim to go against their own vested interests (such as subsidised agricultural producers or State Owned Enterprises) then the US will have to buy off the politicians in those countries with some political favours. Only the State Department can really wheel and deal in those areas. The Office of the United States Trade Representative will need to call in the State Department to lubricate the negotiations – and in doing so dispel any notion this is anything to do with strategic economics.

The mask will slip and the true nature of the TPP will be revealed – which for me will always be that the TPP is only crass political payback by Obama for services rendered. Chief amongst those are the services supplied by the multinationals: significant campaign donations.


Completely Inadequate and Unsatisfactory

Obama Lectures Those Outraged by NSA Surveillance Programs in Speech Announcing Reforms

By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake

Friday January 17, 2014 2:40 pm

The president delivered a speech on changes his administration would support to National Security Agency programs and policies, but what most stood out was not the announced reforms. It was how the speech focused on him and what he had done and how it seemed like he was lecturing Americans who have been outraged by what they have learned about massive government surveillance in the past six months.

President Barack Obama seemed deeply offended that anyone would think he had done an inadequate job or had enabled surveillance state policies.

Like Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Obama took shots at journalists who had reported on documents released by Snowden, suggesting what had emerged over the past months consisted of “crude characterizations.” And, adding, “Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me – and hopefully the American people – some clear direction for change.”

Twenty minutes later, when Obama finally arrived at the part where he outlined the reforms he supports-what he was willing to support to placate civil liberties advocates while at the same time avoiding a “backlash from national security agencies,” Americans would have been forgiven for feeling their president had just scolded them for being concerned about government surveillance run amok. It was abundantly clear that Obama wished he did not have to be there at the Justice Department giving this speech.

This reform was couched in extremely disingenuous statements about how the administration has declassified information. All documents declassified by the government since Snowden’s disclosures were not released because Obama voluntarily wanted to give the public access but because the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a lawsuit and a court was going to order the information to be released.

Obama NSA Speech: Pretty Words, No Real Change

By: Peter Van Buren, Firedog Lake

Saturday January 18, 2014 11:06 am

Bottom Line Up Front: The details of Obama’s most recent speech about “changes” to the NSA’s surveillance practices reveal that sadly little of substance will change. A few cosmetic touchups, some nice words, issues tossed into the pit of Congress to fade away in partisan rancor, and high hopes that the issue will slip away from the public eye as “fixed.” Not word one about how absent Edward Snowden’s historic disclosures the president would not even be offering this lip service, happy to allow the tumor of spying to continue to grow in secret as he had done for the last six years of his presidency.

These are for all intents and purposes just throwaways. Obama knows as well as anyone that a hyper-partisan Congress, already divided on what if anything should be done with the NSA, heading into elections, will never act on these issues. Obama can take the high road and deflect any criticism from his progressive base by pointing a finger at Congress. Democrats can blame Republicans and vice-versa, so everyone wins in the calculus of Washington.

For the record, even Obama’s Congressional changes are limp. Having private companies instead of the NSA hold data for the NSA to search? What kind of practical change would result from that? A public advocate in the FISA court? A possible, but how many, what staff and resources, what actual role would they play, under what rules of disclosure by the government would they function? The adversarial judicial process that otherwise fuels our legal system, prosecutors and defense attorneys, rules to compel disclosure, cross examination and so forth would not exist as new FISA-only “advocate” rules are created in a pseudo-parallel system. And since the whole process would remain highly-classified, no one outside the government would ever know if such advocates indeed played any role in protecting our privacy.

What was not even mentioned by Obama is sadly the largest category of all. The list could fill dozens of pages, but the use of National Security Letters without judicial oversight is one of the most significant omissions. In 2012 the FBI used 15,229 National Security Letters to gather information on Americans. In addition, not a word was mentioned about pulling back the NSA’s breaking into the Internet backbone, accessing the key Google, Yahoo, Microsoft servers, the NSA use of malware to spy on computers, the NSA’s exploitation of software bugs, the NSA’s efforts to weaken encryption that puts our data at risk to ease the burden on the Agency of decoding things, the use of offensive cyberattacks, indiscriminate gathering of data in general contrary to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against General Warrants and on and on and on and on, at least until the next revelations from Edward Snowden reveal even more NSA tricks being played on innocent Americans.

But the mother of all omissions from the Obama speech is this one: there is no proof that all of the spying and surveillance, at the sake of our basic Constitutional rights, has resulted in the purported aim of keeping us safe. The White House’s own review panel on NSA surveillance said they discovered no evidence that the bulk collection of telephone call records thwarted any terrorist attacks.

The Democrats Who Want a War

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

These are the 16 Democrats who are supporting a senate bill that if passed could undermine the current negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program but commits the United States to a war should Israel decide to attack Iran:

Sen. Begich, Mark [D-AK]; Sen. Bennet, Michael F. [D-CO]; Sen. Blumenthal, Richard [D-CT]; Sen. Booker, Cory A. [D-NJ]; Sen. Cardin, Benjamin L. [D-MD]; Sen. Casey, Robert P., Jr. [D-PA]; Sen. Coons, Christopher A. [D-DE]; Sen. Donnelly, Joe [D-IN]; Sen. Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [D-NY]; Sen. Hagan, Kay [D-NC]; Sen. Landrieu, Mary L. [D-LA]; Sen. Manchin, Joe, III [D-WV]; Sen. Menendez, Robert [D-NJ]; Sen. Pryor, Mark L. [D-AR]; Sen. Schumer, Charles E. [D-NY]; and Sen. Warner, Mark R. [D-VA].

It’s clear why there are 43 Republicans since opposition to this administration is their default position, even start another Middle East War, but Democrats supporting for no other reason than cuddling up to  the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is pushing hard for these new sanctions and the commitment to support an Israeli strike on Iran.

On Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, forcefully voiced her opposition on the senate floor

“I sincerely believe the P5+1 negotiations with Iran would end and, with it, the best opportunity in more than 30 years to make a major change in Iranian behavior,” Feinstein argued, if the bill passes and sustains the promised Presidential veto.

The California Democrat also argued that passing the bill will embolden hard-liners in Tehran who want to see talks fail and demonstrate to American partners and the Iranians that if the U.S. can’t live up to the first-step agreement in passing a new round of sanctions – the U.S. agreed that it would not impose new sanctions while a final deal is worked out – then “it will never lift sanctions after a final agreement is reached” and thus scuttle this historic opportunity for a deal with Iran. She said later:

   I deeply believe that a vote for this legislation will cause negotiations to collapse. The United States, not Iran, then becomes the party that risks fracturing the international coalition that has enabled our sanctions to succeed in the first place.

   It says to the U.K., China, Russia, France, and Germany that our country cannot be trusted to stand behind our diplomatic commitments. That is a very big statement.

“Above all,” Feinstein said, if the bill passes, the Iranians “will argue that the United States is not interested in nuclear diplomacy” and instead “we are interested in regime change.”

Last night, Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC’s All In, called out the Democratic sponsors of the bill accusing them of political cowardice and betraying the president due to the influence of the AIPAC.

Noting that Senate Dems were scheduled to meet with President Obama Wednesday night, Hayes said that if he were the president, he would ask these 16 co-sponsors, “Why are you trying to get us into another war? And why are you sabotaging my presidency to do it?” [..]

Focusing particularly on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Cory Booker, both of whom are believed to have presidential ambitions, Hayes next appealed to these senators’ political self-interest, noting that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry came to regret their early support of the war in Iraq. “[I]f we end up in a war with Iran,” Hayes warns, “the public will hate it – rightly – and it will be seen as a disaster, and you will be condemned by history and public opinion for your role in bringing it about.”

So far Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democratic leadership have held the line that there will be no vote and as The Washington Posts‘s Greg Sargent notes there is has been little push from the Democratic sponsors of the bill to bring it to the floor. As of Tuesday, one of the co-sponsors, Sen. Blumenthal (D-CT), has publicly stated that he is having second thoughts about the agreement with the announcement of an agreement on inspections.

“At the moment, there’s no rush to put the bill on the floor,” says this Senator, who asked for anonymity to be candid about the real state of play on the measure. “I’m not aware of any deadline in anyone’s head.” [..]

And there is clearly more movement behind the scenes. The Senator who spoke to me today allowed it could become “harder” for the pro-bill forces to demand a vote down the line, in the weeks and months ahead, if negotiations are proceeding with Iran.

Pres. Obama met Wednesday night with the Senate Democrats to discuss legislative strategy and the issue of Iran sanctions

On Wednesday evening, Obama delivered a “strong message” that the Senate must continue to hold off on new sanctions while negotiations continue and a six-month interim agreement is implemented, a source briefed on the meeting said. The source added that the back and forth on Iran was “not contentious.”

“The president did speak passionately about a way to seize this opportunity that we have,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) after the meeting. “If Iran isn’t willing in the end to make the decisions necessary to make it work, he’ll be ready to sign a bill to tighten those sanctions. But we’ve got to give this six months.”

Merkley described the general mood as “quite supportive” of Obama’s position, even with powerful Senate Democrats in the room pressing for new sanctions.

Besides the 10 chairs of the Senate committees, who have already come out against the bill and Senators Merkley, Blumenthal and Chris Murohy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced their opposition Tuesday.

Take action to stop this diplomacy killing sanction bill once and for all.  Send a letter and make a call to your Senators’ offices here.

On This Day In History January 21

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 21 is the 21st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 344 days remaining until the end of the year (345 in leap years).

On this day in 1911, the first Monte Carlo Rally takes place.

The Monte Carlo Rally (officially Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo) is a rallying event organised each year by the Automobile Club de Monaco who also organises the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix and the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique . The rally takes place along the French Riviera in the Principality of Monaco and southeast France.

From its inception in 1911 by Prince Albert I, this rally, under difficult and demanding conditions, was an important means of testing the latest improvements and innovations to automobiles. Winning the rally gave the car a great deal of credibility and publicity. The 1966 event was the most controversial in the history of the Rally. The first four finishers driving three Mini-Coopers, Timo Makinen, Rauno Aaltonen and Paddy Hopkirk, and Roger Clark‘s 4th-placed Ford Cortina “were excluded for having iodine vapour, single filament bulbs in their standard headlamps instead of double-filament dipping bulbs.”  This elevated Pauli Toivonen (Citroen ID) into first place overall. The controversy that followed damaged the credibility of the event. The headline in Motor Sport: “The Monte Carlo Fiasco.”

From 1973 to 2008 the rally was held in January as the first event of the FIA World Rally Championship, but since 2009 it has been the opening round of the Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) programme. As recently as 1991, competitors were able to choose their starting points from approximately five venues roughly equidistant from Monte Carlo (one of Monaco’s administrative areas) itself. With often varying conditions at each starting point, typically comprising dry tarmac, wet tarmac, snow, and ice, sometimes all in a single stage of the rally. This places a big emphasis on tyre choices, as a driver has to balance the need for grip on ice and snow with the need for grip on dry tarmac. For the driver, this is often a difficult choice as the tyres that work well on snow and ice normally perform badly on dry tarmac.

The Automobile Club de Monaco confirmed on 19 July 2010 that the 79th Monte-Carlo Rally would form the opening round of the new Intercontinental Rally Challenge season. To mark the centenary event, the Automobile Club de Monaco have also confirmed that Glasgow, Barcelona, Warsaw and Marrakesh has been selected as start points for the rally.

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