January 26, 2012


Center for American Progress Accused of Anti Semitism | Obama AdministrationThe Center for American Progress (CAP), a leftist think tank with close ties to billionaire George Soros the Obama administration, is under fire for alleged anti-Semitism. A number of Jewish organizations are in a back-and-forth with the group, as critics claim that CAP staff members have a history of using anti-Israel language.
The Washington Post has more regarding what, exactly, sparked these groups’ concerns:
Among the points of contention are Twitter posts by one CAP writer on his personal account referring to “Israel-firsters.” Some experts say the phrase has roots in the anti-Semitic charge that American Jews are more loyal to a foreign country, Israel, than to the United States. In another case, a staffer described a U.S. senator as showing more fealty to the prime U.S. pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, than to his own constituents. The first writer has since left the staff.
But the critics also point to writings on the CAP Web site, where staffers have suggested that AIPAC was pushing the United States toward war with Iran and likened Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to the policies of the segregated American South.
The author of the “Israel-firster” tweets was Zaid Jilani, who is described as a “Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.” Jilani has reportedly left the organization in recent days to accept a new job outside of CAP.
Center for American Progress Accused of Anti Semitism | Obama AdministrationAccording to the Jerusalem Post, the group’s Middle East Progress Director Matt Duss, wrote back in 2010 that “the entire Israeli occupation” of the Gaza Strip is “a moral abomination.“ He compared this ”abomination” to the Jim Crow South in the United States. He wrote:
Greater international attention and sympathy to the plight of Palestinians suffering under the Israeli-Egyptian- (and U.S.) enforced siege of Hamas-ruled Gaza is precisely what Israeli authorities were hoping to avoid. [...]
Like segregation in the American South, the siege of Gaza (and the entire Israeli occupation, for that matter) is a moral abomination that should be intolerable to anyone claiming progressive values. It’s sad that it should require the deaths of non-Palestinians to finally shake the international community from apathy and inaction, but, as with the tragic murders of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner, if it contributes to ending the situation then that’s a positive outcome.
In August, there was also a ThinkProgress post by Eli Clifton entitled, “AIPAC’s Iran Strategy On Sanctions Mirrors Run-Up To Iraq War Tactics” that drew concern. The post concluded, “It would appear that AIPAC is now using the same escalating measures against Iran that were used before the invasion of Iraq.” While critics reacted, CAP responded, via an update on the same post, saying, “we are not reporting on whether AIPAC lobbied for the Iraq war.”
Center for American Progress Accused of Anti Semitism | Obama AdministrationAs CAP has worked to temper criticism, some alleged internal discussion and new social media policy at the think tank seem to indicate a recognition that these statements and comments are, indeed, problematic. The Jerusalem Post reports:
The Jerusalem Post exclusively obtained an e-mail in January in which [Faiz Shakir, editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress] described Jilani’s words charging supporters of Israel with dual-loyalty as “terrible anti-Semitic language.”
As a result of the alleged Judeophobia at CAP, the Jerusalem Post has learned from a Democratic Party source that CAP has introduced a new social media policy to monitor and prevent prejudicial writings. CAP declined to confirm the existence of the new policy.
Alana Goodman, the assistant online editor of Commentary, wrote an article in the New York Post on Thursday that claims Shakir met for coffee with Obama just six days after CAP was accused of anti-Semitism. This, at the least, seems to corroborate the close-knit nature that exists between the think tank and the administration.
At a time when President Obama is working diligently to court the Jewish vote and following questions over how strongly the administration truly supports Israel, these developments are troubling.
Last week, Jarrod Bernstein, the White House liaison with the Jewish community, met with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to discuss worries over CAP’s perceived anti-Israeli sentiment (the Center has said that the CAP writers “are guilty of dangerous political libels resonating with historic and toxic anti-Jewish prejudices.”).
Center for American Progress Accused of Anti Semitism | Obama Administration
During their discussion, Bernstein apparently called the situation “troubling” and, according to the Post, said “that [the attitude toward Israel at the think tank] is not this administration.” Cooper dubbed the language “corrosive and unacceptable.”
The Anti-Defamation League chimed in as well, with national director Abraham Foxman calling statements from some CAP staffers “anti-Semitic and borderline anti-Semitic.”
In a response to the original Washington Post piece, CAP wrote:
We have a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism. We have written critically about its continuing use in contemporary political debates, and we take any allegation of anti-Semitism extremely seriously. A very small number of tweets on the personal accounts of ThinkProgress staff were inappropriate, and the authors have publicly apologized for using objectionable language. That language never appeared in any CAP or ThinkProgress publication, and we have taken steps to ensure that all CAP staff maintain the highest standards in their communications even in their personal social media accounts.
While some CAP supporters agree with this defense and claiming that CAP has always been mainstream and pro-Israel, critics aren’t satisfied. Considering the group’s close relations with the Obama administration, this controversy isn’t likely to simmer in the immediate.
It’s important to note the strong ties that CAP has to Soros as well. According to the philanthropist’s web site, “George Soros was an initial donor to the Center for American Progress and he continues to support the organization through the Open Society Foundations.” He has given millions of dollars to both create and sustain the liberal think tank. We have reported on Soros’ contributions to the liberal Jewish group J Street in the past as well.


USDA Releases New Plant Hardiness Map
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (Image: USDA)
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an updated guide for the color-coded map of planting zones often seen on the back of seed packets. Half of the cities included on the guide are now in warmer zones, which many are saying reflects global warming.
The headline used by the Associated Press was “New map for what to plant reflects global warming”.
But AP reports later in the article that USDA spokeswoman Kim Kaplan, who was on the team that created the map, didn’t want the new zones on the to be associated with global warming. AP reports Kaplan as saying even though some areas of the country are now in warmer zones, the map “is simply not a good instrument” to be used to support global climate change. Kaplan says this is because the map is based on the coldest days of the year, not average temperatures.
On the flip side, AP goes on to report David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University, as saying that the map clearly reflects global warming:
The revised map “gives us a clear picture of the ‘new normal’ and will be an essential tool for gardeners, farmers and natural resource managers as they begin to cope with rapid climate change,” Wolfe said in an email.
According to USDA’s press release, which does not mention the words “global warming” or “climate change,” this update to the plant hardiness zone map comes two decades after the last update in 1990. The new version of the map includes 13 zones, with the addition for the first time of zones 12 (50-60 degrees F) and 13 (60-70 degrees F). Each zone is a 10-degree Fahrenheit band, further divided into A and B 5-degree Fahrenheit zones.
AP points out that entire states, such as Ohio, Nebraska and Texas, are now in warmer zones. Here are some examples AP uses to show the changes in zones:
For example, Des Moines used to be in zone 5a, meaning the lowest temperature on average was between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees. Now it’s 5b, which has a lowest temperature of 10 to 15 degrees below zero. Jerry Holub, manager of a Des Monies plant nursery, said folks there might now be able to safely grow passion flowers.
Griffin, Ga., used to be in zone 7b, where the coldest day would average between 5 and 10 degrees. But the city is now in zone 8a, averaging a coldest day of 10 to 15 degrees. So growing bay laurel becomes possible. It wasn’t recommended on the old map.
The new guide also uses better weather data and offers more interactive technology. For example, gardeners using the online version can enter their ZIP code and get the exact average coldest temperature.
Also, for the first time, calculations include more detailed factors such as prevailing winds, the presence of nearby bodies of water, the slope of the land, and the way cities are hotter than suburbs and rural areas.
The press release states that the new map is generally one 5-degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous map throughout much of the United States. This is mostly a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period; the new map uses data measured at weather stations during the 30-year period 1976-2005. In contrast, the 1990 map was based on temperature data from only a 13-year period of 1974-1986.
The Associated Press contributed to this report

36 Obama aides owe $833,000 in back taxes

Pete Souza / White House (Obama addresses his White House staff, file)
Pete Souza / White House (Obama addresses his White House staff, file)
How embarrassing this must be for President Obama, whose major speech theme so far this campaign season has been that every single American, no matter how rich, should pay their "fair share" of taxes.
Because how unfair -- indeed, un-American -- it is for an office worker like, say, Warren Buffet's secretary to dutifully pay her taxes, while some well-to-do people with better educations and higher incomes end up paying a much smaller tax rate.
Or, worse, skipping their taxes altogether.
A new report just out from the Internal Revenue Service reveals that 36 of President Obama's executive office staff owe the country $833,970 in back taxes. These people working for Mr. Fair Share apparently haven't paid any share, let alone their fair share.
Previous reports have shown how well-paid Obama's White House staff is, with 457 aides pulling down more than $37 million last year. That's up seven workers and nearly $4 million from the Bush administration's last year.
Nearly one-third of Obama's aides make more than $100,000 with 21 being paid the top White House salary of $172,200, each. 
The IRS' 2010 delinquent tax revelations come as part of a required annual agency report on federal employees' tax compliance. Turns out, an awful lot of folks being paid by taxpayers are not paying their own income taxes.
The report finds that thousands of federal employees owe the country more than $3.4 billion in back taxes. That's up 3% in the past year.
That scale of delinquency could annoy voters, hard-pressed by their own costs, fears and stubbornly high unemployment despite Joe Biden's many promises.
The tax offenders include employees of the U.S. Senate who help write the laws imposed on everyone else. They owe $2.1 million. Workers in the House of Representatives owe $8.5 million, Department of Education employees owe $4.3 million and over at Homeland Security, 4,697 workers owe about $37 million. Active duty military members owe more than $100 million.
The Treasury Department, where Obama nominee Tim Geithner had to pay up $42,000 in his own back taxes before being confirmed as secretary, has 1,181 other employees with delinquent taxes totaling $9.3 million.
As usual, the Postal Service, with more than 600,000 workers, has the most offenders (25,640), who also owe the most -- almost $270 million. Veterans Affairs has 11,659 workers owing the IRS $151 million while the Energy Department that was so quick to dish out more than $500 million to the Solyndra folks has 322 employees owing $5 million.
The country's chief law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice, has 2,069 employees who are nearly $17 million behind in taxes. Like Operation Fast and Furious, Attorney General Eric Holder has apparently missed them too.
As with ordinary people, the IRS attempts to negotiate back-tax payment plans with all delinquents, whose names cannot be released. But according to current federal law, the only federal employees who can be fired for not paying taxes are IRS workers.


While in Davos for the World Economic Forum, billionaire currency speculator and philanthropist George Soros took the time to sit down for a Reuters’ interview with Chrystia Freeland.
During the interview, Soros explains why there wouldn’t be much difference for Wall Street between President Obama and Mitt Romney. He also tells Chrystia Freeland why his billionaire counterparts see him as a “traitor to his class.”
“You were a very early supporter of President Barack Obama. What report card do you give him now?” Freeland asks.
“I think I’m not the only one who’s been slightly disappointed and I continue to support him, actually, in view of the alternative,” Soros replies.
“The Republicans or any particular Republican?”
“Well, look, either you’ll have an extremist conservative — be it Gingrich or Santorum — in which case I think it would make a big difference which of the two comes in,” Soros said.
“If it’s between Obama and Romney, there is all that much difference – except for the crowd that they bring with them. Romney would have to take Gingrich or Santorum as a Vice President and you’ll probably have some pretty extreme candidates for the Supreme Court. So that’s the downside.”
“And the other side, the Obama administration, is a bit exhausted, so it’s not all that strong. So it won’t be that great a difference and I think there won’t be a great deal of enthusiasm on either side of the battleground. It’ll be more civilized than the previous elections have been.”
“Or,” Soros adds, “you’ll have an extremist candidate then I think there’ll be a lot of emotion on both sides.”
The conversation then turns from discussing the possible Republican presidential nominee, to what Freeland believes is the major difference between former governor Romney and President Obama: the taxation of the “one percent.”
“That is the big difference,” Soros says, “And that has led my hedge fund community to abandon Obama in favor of any Republican because they don’t like to be taxed. I personally believe that when it comes to policy, you shouldn’t be pursuing self-interest, but the public interest. And I think that the income differentials are too wide and ought to be narrowed.”
“Are you one of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’ in the view of your fellow hedge fund billionaires to be making this sort of argument?” Freeland asked.
“Well, I suppose so,” Soros says with a smile. “I’m a traitor to my class”
See the ReutersTV interview:
Two points should be made:
First, the term “useful idiot,” as Freeland notes, is commonly attributed to the Communist dictator Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It’s normally used to describe Communist sympathizers in the West: “useful” because they advance Communist ideology, “idiots” because they contribute to their own downfall.
Did Freeland just accuse George Soros of sympathizing with Communist ideology — and he agreed?
Secondly, many critics doubt the sincerity of Soros’ “concern” with “income inequality.” In fact, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh claims that it’s all part of a self-preserving fa├žade:
“Why? Why are all these rich guys all of a sudden so liberal? Buffett, Gates.” Folks, there’s a simple answer: The filthy rich will SAY they are liberal — they will do things in public that reflect that they might be liberal — to keep the peasants with the pitchforks away from ‘em.
It’s all a game! Have you ever heard of a family called the Kennedys? Have you ever heard of a family called the Rockefellers? Every filthy rich individual or family must spout, support, do (in public) liberal stuff. It is how they convince people that their wealth is justified and is untouchable. It is a protection mechanism. It is to keep the Occupy Wall Street crowd off of their front yards and instead on the front yards of people that work at AIG. That’s all it is. And these filthy rich people who claim publicly and do in public liberal things are simply engaged in 100% acts of public relations. It accomplishes two things. It keeps the hordes away from you.
When the president comes up and suggests that the rich aren’t paying their fair share, they never say it about Buffett. Why? ‘Cause he says it about himself. “Yeah, Warren Buffett, he gets it! That’s absolutely right. Bill Gates, he gets it.” So, they’re left alone. The hordes, the peasants with the pitchforks never seek them out. The second thing that happens is that in many cases they end up being loved for it. The Kennedys were loved because it was thought that all they cared about was the poor, and the Kennedys never used their own money to fix any of this stuff. No liberal ever does. They always use everybody else’s. But that’s why they do this stuff. It’s pure public relations. It also justifies earning more. All you have to do is say, “I’m not paying enough!”

Bill Clinton's drive to increase homeownership went way too far

Posted by: Peter Coy on February 27, 2008
bill clinton.jpgAdd President Clinton to the long list of people who deserve a share of the blame for the housing bubble and bust. A recently re-exposed document shows that his administration went to ridiculous lengths to increase the national homeownership rate. It promoted paper-thin downpayments and pushed for ways to get lenders to give mortgage loans to first-time buyers with shaky financing and incomes. It’s clear now that the erosion of lending standards pushed prices up by increasing demand, and later led to waves of defaults by people who never should have bought a home in the first place.
President Bush continued the practices because they dovetailed with his Ownership Society goals, and of course Congress was strongly behind the push. But Clinton and his administration must shoulder some of the blame.
In writing this blog entry, I’m following the lead of Joseph R. Mason, who is a finance professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and a consultant at Criterion Economics. Here is a link to a piece that he wrote on Feb. 26.
The Clinton-era document that Mason cites—“The National Homeownership Strategy: Partners in the American Dream”—was hiding in plain sight
on the website of the Department of Housing & Urban Development until last year, when according to Mason it was removed (probably because the housing bust made it seem embarrassing to the department). Mason credits Joshua Rosner of Graham Fisher & Co. with saving a copy of it before it was expunged.
The National Homeownership Strategy began in 1994 when Clinton directed HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros to come up with a plan, and Cisneros convened what HUD called a "historic meeting" of private and public housing-industry organizations in August 1994. The group eventually produced a plan, of which Mason sent me a PDF of Chapter 4, the one that argues for creative measures to promote homeownership.
The very worst idea in the plan, which fortunately never gained approval, was to let first-time homebuyers freely tap their IRA and 401(k) retirement-savings plans with no penalty to scrounge up a downpayment. That, HUD estimated, would have "benefited" 600,000 families in the first five years.
Plenty of other ideas in the plan did become reality, though. Knowing what we know now about the housing bust, the earnest language in the document seems faintly ridiculous. Here's an excerpt. Read it closely and you can see the seeds of disaster being planted:
For many potential homebuyers, the lack of cash available to accumulate the required downpayment and closing costs is the major impediment to purchasing a home. Other households do not have sufficient available income to to make the monthly payments on mortgages financed at market interest rates for standard loan terms. Financing strategies, fueled by the creativity and resources of the private and public sectors, should address both of these financial barriers to homeownership.
Note the praise for "creativity." That kind of creativity in stretching boundaries we could use less of. Mason puts it well: "It strikes me as reckless to promote home sales to individuals in such constrained financial predicaments."

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://blogs.businessweek.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/9456.1387713364