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30 января 2013, 00:12

Marco Rubio Slays Rush Limbaugh

WASHINGTON -- Marco Rubio's plan to appear on conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh's radio show Tuesday had seemed, a day before, like a bad idea. Limbaugh had bashed the bipartisan immigration reform plan released Monday by the Florida Republican senator and others, labeling it "amnesty." Yet there were early clues in Limbaugh's show on Tuesday that he might not go as hard on Rubio as it appeared he would Monday. Limbaugh, reviled by the left but still very influential on the right, denied saying that he and Fox News would have to halt the new push for immigration reform. "I didn't say that. Did you hear me say that? I'm going to call on Fox News and others to join me in defeating this plan? I don't recall saying that," Limbaugh said. Let's go to the videotape. Here's Limbaugh on Monday: "My guess is going to be that after we listen to some of the sound bites of, say, Senator Schumer and Senator McCain and Senator Menendez, some of the others on this bipartisan group announcing immigration reform today, my guess is that it's gonna sound very close to exactly what we were told in 1986 with the first amnesty. I'll bet you we hear that if we do this, we'll never have to do it again. We've got to do this 'cause it's out of control. We've gotta do this, secure the border, and so forth ... I don't know that there's any stopping this. It's up to me and Fox News, and I don't think Fox News is that invested in this. I don't think there's any Republican opposition to this of any majority consequence or size. We'll have to wait and see and find out." When Rubio appeared on Limbaugh's show, the talk show host's first question regarding immigration reform was, "Why are we doing this?" That was about as combative as it got. The rest of the interview turned into Limbaugh saying that President Obama doesn't care about border security, and Rubio using that line to try to pin the president down into supporting the framework that he and several other senators laid out on Monday. Rubio also emphasized that border security, workplace enforcement and visa exit tracking are the first priority, and then something can be done about the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. It was a high-stakes interview. Rubio had done effective outreach to media figures on the right last week, before the bipartisan group of senators of which he is a part revealed their plan. But the interview with Limbaugh, who wields enormous influence over the conservative grassroots and by extension many political figures on the right, was the first potential trouble spot for Rubio after the rollout of the plan. It probably could not have gone better. Limbaugh's focusing of his criticism on Obama took the same line of reasoning that Mark Levin, another nationally syndicated conservative talk show host, began to follow last week when Rubio came on his show. Simply put, talk radio needs a bad guy. They need to rail against something in the immigration fight. Making Obama the amnesty representative allows the talk radio crowd to view Rubio as the leader of the enforcement and law and order effort. They can push against the White House, and if there is some sense by the time Congress votes on a piece of legislation that Rubio has led a successful fight against a pro-amnesty contingent on the left to retain real measures guaranteeing greater border security, workplace enforcement and visa exit tracking, then any revolt among conservative House members might be muted. "It's going to be Barack Obama who undermines this," Limbaugh said after Rubio had finished the interview and hung up the phone. "It's Barack Obama who's going to undercut the primary objective that all of these eight senators say is imperative to them, and that is border security first." So, by that logic, Limbaugh is essentially ok with the five-page outline released yesterday by Rubio and the other senators, and sees his job now not as defeating any bill, but as defeating the president's effort to undermine the Senate initiative. Limbaugh in league with Chuck Schumer, the New York Democratic senator? Limbaugh may not see it that way, but that is where the logic of his argument leads to. During the interview, Rubio argued that he was "confident that given a fair chance I can convince most Americans, including Americans of Hispanic descent, that limited government, that free enterprise, is better for them, and better for their upward mobility, than big government is." "That's the reason why they came here," he said. Limbaugh questioned whether immigrants still come for work and opportunity, or whether it's now about getting government benefits. "It is a challenge," Rubio said. "We have a real fight on our hands to convince the American people that limited government and free enterprise is the right thing for our future." Limbaugh was effusive in his praise for Rubio as the interview concluded. "What you are doing is admirable and noteworthy. You are recognizing reality," Limbaugh told Rubio. "My concern is the president wants to change the reality. My concern is the president wants people to believe something that isn't true, is, and that is that you guys are not being truthful what you say, that you really don't want an improved life for Hispanics, that you really are still racist. He's not going to give that up. Look how far he's gotten with this so far." "You have a difficult job ahead of you because you are meeting everybody honestly and forthrightly halfway. You're seeking compromise. Obama is seeking political victory. Obama doesn't care about enforcing existing law so people say, 'Why will he enforce anything that's new?'" Limbaugh said. Rubio also gave a nod to Limbaugh listeners who might still be uncomfortable with where he's trying to go on the issue. "I know this is a tough issue. I do. I know people are uncomfortable about it. It doesn't feel right in some instances to you know allow people who have come here undocumented to be able to stay," Rubio said. "I know that some people are uncomfortable with that notion. I know this is a tough issue to work through. But I would just say this to you. If this country goes downhill, there's nowhere else in the world. There's nothing else. There's no replacement for it. There's no alternative for America. It's either us or no one." That sent a thrill up Limbaugh's leg. He sent Rubio off with a blessing that sounded like a conferral of the Reagan mantle on the 41-year-old senator's shoulders, and might as well have been a benediction to go out and take the GOP nomination for president in 2016. "Senator, it wasn't that long ago where your message was what this country was," Limbaugh said. "It wasn't that long ago where your message was a winner, where your message defined this country. And I wish you all the best in reviving it. The country really does hinge on it, I think." Limbaugh wasn't done raving about Rubio. When he came back from the commercial break, he yelled into the microphone with excitement. "Is that guy good or what? That was impressive. He stays on point. He stays on message and he believes it. You can tell that he didn't need notes, that he didn't have to consult anything, no prompter. It's in his heart, and he's lived it to boot!" Limbaugh said. "And I'll say this too: here is a guy who does not fear talk radio. He embraced it. He is not at all intimidated or afraid. He wasn't afraid of what would be said about him coming on this program. Kudos all around."

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27 января 2013, 04:51

Ian Bremmer: Derek Jeter Should Stick to Baseball: Challenges at Davos

Are you there, Ian? It's me, Shinzo Abe. The last night of Davos made for some good stories and some good insights. But nothing quite like this morning. At 6:30am, I get a call. My alarm was set for 7:00 (and I was thinking about pushing it back), so I groggily shrug it off and ignore the call. Then my phone rings again. Turns out Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is doing a special closed session meeting for about 10 people. He'll be calling in by satellite at 7:15am. The Japanese want me to attend, provided I can make it. I ask for a car and get in the shower. When I'm dressed and ready to go, it turns out... there are no cars available at immediate notice. Nor at the front desk of my hotel. The meeting is two miles away in the Congress Centre, which would usually make for a lovely morning walk in the snow. Not today. It transforms into a two mile power-jog in the snow, equipped with boots, suit, overcoat, and -- of course -- my fur-ball hat. I usually complain that there's no gym in my hotel, so I can't get in my regular 5k run -- not today. I made it to Abe with five minutes to spare.‬ Eric Cantor's candor I attended U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) speech last night. A funny moment: midway through his speech about the potential for government shutdown, someone inadvertently flicks the lights off. I duly yelled "sequester!"... Just couldn't help myself. Cantor gave a refreshingly solid, bipartisan account of the Washington political dynamic in his actual analysis. This is something that doesn't happen enough -- a strong political player spearheading the effort on one side of an argument fluidly and candidly outlining the other side's position. Despite his allegiances he strayed from the party line talking points, properly laying out both sides to give the bipartisan audience the necessary context. When it comes to this skill, British Foreign Minister William Hague is among the best I've ever personally seen do it. But last night, Cantor was right up there. The crowd of 60 (roughly two-thirds Republicans among the Americans in the room) was accordingly impressed. A little more on the substance of our speeches. I had started my talk with a theme I've hashed out that I call "the good, the bad and the ugly." It's a reference to the three global trends that matter most in the world today: China rising, the Middle East exploding, and Europe muddling through. Here's the idea: today, China's rise is 'the good." Chinese economic growth has made the region more dynamic and has anchored global growth -- and the global bounce back from the financial crisis. The Middle East exploding is surely "the bad", as we see no resolution to the Arab Spring or deeper consolidation of democracy (or even dictatorships for that matter). Europe's muddling through? Hey, it's not eurozone collapse. But it certainly ain't pretty. It's just ugly. But how will this develop over the next few years? The Middle East will still be 'the bad,' as it's only getting worse. But the other two will flip: we'll start to see Europe emerge from its crisis in much sounder shape. It will be "the good." Meanwhile, China's rise will become increasingly ugly -- especially for its neighbors and the West -- as its growth leads to regional tensions that will inexorably drag the United States in. So those are the major three trends; if you're interested, check out my blog post on this subject. As soon as I'd finished, Cantor didn't miss a beat. He jumped up and said he would do the exact same thing for his speech -- a good, bad, and ugly account of Washington budget politics. Cantor's good news: the observation that it will be much easier to define and fix the problems in the United States compared to Europe. The bad? How far apart the two sides are on the issue. And the ugly is the incredibly poor approach from both sides as they choose not to compromise. @iambremmer and I spoke at the NYSE #WEF dinner last nite. Rep Eric Cantor offered his remarks too. It looks like we are headed to sequester— Nouriel Roubini (@Nouriel) January 26, 2013 Enjoyed our discussion with King Abdullah II regarding the U.S.-Jordanpartnership. #WEF— Eric Cantor (@GOPLeader) January 25, 2013 Bunting for climate change Surprise! Derek Jeter was here in Davos; PepsiCo flew him out to talk climate change and raise awareness. Jeter said: "Regardless of how you feel about it, it's something that needs to be addressed because we're seeing more and more natural disasters each year, it seems like. Something has to be causing it." Despite going unmentioned in the last debate between Obama and Romney, climate change became a central theme of Obama's Second Inaugural Address on Monday. He said: "We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) January 21, 2013 Here's where I stand on climate change, given the G-Zero state of the world today, where we're witnessing a hemorrhaging of international coordination and the increasing inability to respond to global challenges. Big ticket summits and conferences simply don't work -- there are too many players at the table at starkly different stages of development. This isn't about good and evil, here--it's about logical priorities. If climate change had come to the fore during the West's industrial revolution, would we have been in a place to put growth on hold for the sake of the environment? It would be a far more difficult sell. Climate change is a threat of staggering proportions; countries like China and India recognize that and would love to rectify it. (And China would surely like some cleaner air too). But even more pressing for them is the focus on pulling citizens out of poverty, and scaling up their economies in order to develop into the very kind of society that would prioritize the environment, human rights, and rule of law. The perspective in emerging economies? You had your turn to grow. It's only fair we get ours now. There have been a lot of publicity stunts to bring attention to climate change. But surely the only thing less effective than global climate summits is having Derek Jeter tackle the issue. As he's speaking, the only pressing question on anyone's mind is the status of that left ankle and whether he'll be ready for Opening Day. In the States today, we can much more afford to take a stand -- but we can't even get out of our own way on the issue, let alone effectively rally robust international support. It just goes to show how daunting the challenge is. What kind of solution do we need going forward? If global summits don't work, we need to go sub-global. Find like-minded partners and enact piecemeal solutions. The great can't be the enemy of the good. When you're facing a nasty good pitcher, don't swing for the fences; 'small ball' is best. I asked my students: "How many more failed global climate summits do we need to have before we stop having them?" Answer: 7 #probablyclose— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 19, 2013 *Here are the WEF's top ten quotes from the last day of Davos. John Zhao, CEO of Hony Capital, said: "Reform is not just a Chinese task; it is a global task." In the same vein as the climate change discussion above, I think you could take that thought a step further: 'Reform is a global task...that the Chinese aren't yet ready to help out with.' "The fiscal cliff is a self-fulfilling prophecy." -Trevor Manuel, Minister of the National Planning Commission of South Africa. Actually, at my company Eurasia Group, our call was just the opposite. We saw the fiscal cliff as "a self-denying prophecy"-- the more it loomed, the more urgent deal-making would become. It wasn't pretty in the least, but they got it done. It's true of the current state of Washington politics in general: they can dodge the most frightening downsides, but they can't provide lofty, blockbuster compromise and legislation, either. The upside and downside are bounded. That's it from me today; tune in for my Davos wrap-up on Monday. Send everyone from Davos to Burning Man instead and vice-versa. Age of Enlightenment follows.— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) January 26, 2013 Ian Bremmer is writing a Davos Diary exclusively for Huffington Post; this was post #5. His final post will offer his takeaways from Davos on 28 January, 2013.

27 января 2013, 03:09

John Pavley: Not Worried About Big Brother or Big Government

I personally do not believe the U.S. Government is controlled by shadowy figures lurking behind a smoke smoke screen of faux democracy. If anything, the political and social events of the last few years are evidence that no one is ultimately "in control" and that every player, from the President to the Speaker to captains of industry, is each equally frustrated. If the United States were a software program, it's clearly poorly maintained with many hasty hacks working around several buggy components. However, I have friends who see smoke screens everywhere. One of my friends is convinced that the proverbial jackbooted thugs with ATF and FBI badges are going to take his guns away. While he is otherwise a normal family man he see ominous signs where I can't find them. He's talked this way for over 10 years. His paranoia has nothing to do with Obama or the attention the media pays to lunatic murderers. From the first day I met him he tried to clue me into the plot of a bad Hollywood movie where he is the hero and the rest of us are fools. Another friend of mine is very technical and a wannabe member of Anonymous. In most respects he is completely normal: He has great tech job and a great family. He is absolutely sure the CIA and the NSA are listening to his phone conversations and reading his email, text messages, and Facebook posts. He tweets random links just to throw the bad guys off. Like my gun-owning friend he too has been acting this way for more than a decade. If he takes a liking to you, he will pull you aside, in a public place, cover his mouth to thwart lip reading cameras, and explain how every keystroke we type is logged into a secret government cloud for nefarious purposes. This behavior has been going on long enough that it clearly has nothing to do with cyber-surveillance, The Matrix, or over zealous prosecutors throwing the book at idealistic hacktivists. While these guys seem to represent two very different extremes they do share a common thread (beside a form of tightly focused mania). Guns and computers are powerful tools. In the right hands they level the playing field for individuals and make it more difficult for an organized group of bullies to boss us around. In the wrong hands, or in misguided, immature, or emotionally unstable hands, both guns and computers are powerful weapons, creating tragedies. I do not believe either of my friends, the gun nut or the cyber nut, have ever misused their favorite tools. I'm going to presume them innocent. I do try to calm them down and to point out how they are both very actively looking for trouble. I've told each the same story from my past: One summer while I was home from college I worked at McDonalds in Stamford. I worked until closing, mopping the floor and giving the local police the leftover hamburgers and fries. At around 2:00 a.m. I would start my 45 minute walk back home to Springdale. I had to walk though some rough neighborhoods on my way to the well manicured suburbs but never experienced trouble. It takes more than one college kid to clean up a fast food restaurant. There was this other guy who worked same hours I did, was about my age, and walked most of the same way. This guy always got into trouble. He got jumped. He was followed. He was bullied. Luckily, he was a trained martial artist. He frequently had to use his skills to fend off attackers. One day he quit. He explained to me that it was just too dangerous to walk through Stamford at night. I drew a different lesson. It's too dangerous to be a martial artist at night. He had a "tool" and it was too much fun not to use it as a "weapon." He didn't walk fast, he looked tough guys in the eye, he didn't cross the street when he spied a drug deal going down. Maybe I am blaming the victim but I really believe he brought this all on himself. Yes, he didn't start trouble. Yet because he thought he could handle trouble he didn't take the rational steps I took to avoid trouble. There is an argument that gun control or restrictions on the free flow of information only harms law abiding citizens. The criminals, shooters, and cyber thieves, will get their hands on guns and hacking tools anyway, as they disregard laws without compunction. That's clearly true about the criminals. But we need mostly to protect ourselves from ourselves. The gun nut, who is a model citizen, really doesn't need many guns to exercise his second amendment rights. The cyber nut, who always returns library books, really doesn't need tools to control botnets. They certainly don't need armor piercing bullets or strong crypto. They are both going to get themselves in trouble. They will piss off the wrong people and get into a fight for no other reason that it's kinda cool to use your weapons for a just cause (the trap of righteous indignation). When I imply my friends will draw the attention of the wrong people, I don't mean the government, the shadow government, Anonymous, or the Illuminati. I mean other guys like them only more crazy. Gun nuts with bigger agendas or cyber nuts looking for credit cards and social security numbers. Or they will get their family members in trouble. No matter how many locks you put on your gun safe or how many characters in your passwords, your kids always seem to circumvent your safeguards. Kids are natural hackers. This is why I'm an advocate for both sensible gun safety and sensible intellectual property laws. And before you start yelling at me how any compromise in principles leads to a slippery slope remember that an argument is a rhetorical tool used to win a contest of words. "Slippery slope" is a tool and when it's misused, it becomes a fallacy. If you are truly worried about the big brother or big government stealing our constitutional rights, words are, and will continue to be, our best and most powerful weapons that keep us free. In a war of words there is no collateral damage, and in the end everyone gets to walk away and play again another day.

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22 января 2013, 01:22

Undocumented Immigrants Call For Action At Inauguration

WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform activists came to the National Mall on Monday with a slightly different attitude than other revelers. They, like everyone else, were excited to be there and happy for the president to be starting another term. They were thankful to him for a policy implemented last year that gives some undocumented young people deferred action so they can work and remain in the country for at least two years. But the 120 people from the immigration advocacy group Casa de Maryland who gathered near the Washington Monument want more. For many, their attendance was part celebratory, part a call for action. "What do we want?" asked Ricardo Campos, an undocumented 23-year-old from El Salvador, his voice growing hoarse from yelling. "Immigration reform!" the others replied. "When do we want it?" he asked. "Now!" The group first gathered by the Farragut North metro stop, where a band had set up shop to play for tips. They gathered around and the band began to play "La Bamba" with some modified lyrics -- adding "Obama" and "immigration reform, we want it now." Some of the Dreamers handed out blue flyers that called for reform as other Inauguration-goers streamed out of the station. They then walked to the Mall in a large cluster, many wearing red hats that said "Casa de Maryland." About half were Dreamers -- young undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the Dream Act -- while others were their families and friends. They chanted "Si se puede!" as they walked. Obama has promised to fight hard for immigration reform in his second term, after an election with record Latino turnout, mostly for him. He echoed that statement in his speech on Monday. "Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country," he said, as the Casa de Maryland group cheered. Many members of the group worked last year toward the president's reelection. Campos said it was difficult to rally Latino voters who supported Obama in 2008, but who weren't sure they wanted to support him again after he broke a campaign promise to push for immigration reform in his first term. Although the economy and jobs rank at the top of the list for most Latino voters, immigration is found in many polls to be an important, often personal issue, and a rallying one. "Many Latinos said, 'We don't believe in him anymore,'" Campos said. "We made those people believe again in him." Other Dreamers at the Inauguration said they expect Obama to respond to his election victory among Latino voters by following through on the vow for immigration reform he made again in his 2012 campaign. "The Latino community had a huge impact on his reelection. We are here to remind him he has to fulfill his promise," said Claudia Quinonez, 18, who came to the United States in 2006 from Bolivia and is now undocumented. She applied for deferred action, but has not yet heard back. Despite gains for immigrants during the past four years, there have been major disappointments in the Obama administration's enforcement decisions, such as expanding deportation to record levels. Gustavo Andrade, the organizing director for Casa de Maryland, said the group also wants to press Obama to stop deporting non-criminals with families, as well as other people deemed low-priority by the government who are sometimes removed anyway. "We want an end to the unjust deportations that are tearing families apart," he said. Andrade came to the United States as a child on a visa, but was undocumented -- a "Dreamer before the Dream Act," he said -- for a while before getting a green card and then eventually becoming a citizen in 2008. He said Monday was also about looking back at the victories of last year. "We're not here to celebrate Barack Obama's victory only," he said, "we're here to celebrate the victory of the people who all came together as Latinos, African Americans, Asians, gay, straight, who came to show the world what kind of people we want to be."

21 января 2013, 04:42

Karen Shepard: Democracy Means Getting Off the Couch

In our best moments, we Americans aspire to be the City upon a Hill -- not the imperious, narcissistic City upon a Hill claiming God-given rights to assert global hegemony, but rather the humble, ever-evolving City upon a Hill, spreading hope with our democratic experiment. Recently, however, it feels like we're the City of Apoplectic People Yelling at Each Other and Stockpiling Weapons. Upon a Hill. And that's how the plutocrats like it. In 1961, eleven days before his inauguration, John F. Kennedy said:The eyes of all people are truly upon us -- and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill -- constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities. He proposed specific qualities he and other elected officials must strive to embody to maintain this great trust: Courage -- judgment -- integrity -- dedication... [and here's the kicker] with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim [italics mine], but devoted solely to serving the public good and the national interest. Wow. That sounds pretty good right about now. (And even better if you listen to that wicked awesome Massachusetts accent!) Note that in this soaring expression of our democracy's ideals, JFK did NOT recommend elected officials be "devoted solely to serving the corporate good and the private moneyed interest." Which brings us back to Americans yelling at one another and stockpiling weapons. There's a reason "Orwellian" is a word and it's not just because "Blairian" doesn't sound good. While you were in English class reading Eric Blair, aka George Orwell's 1984 as a terrifying cautionary tale about what happens when there is too much power in the hands of too few, the kid next to you was reading it as an instruction manual. And one of the most effective techniques in 1984: A Step-by-Step Guide for Oligarchs! is "distract the Proles." Whenever Ann Coulter goes on a diatribe, it is not just red meat for the Right, it is a red herring for the Left. The ensuing outrage pulls another thread from the fabric of our nation's soul. Other tactics Orwell warns against and/or suggests are historical revisionism (too much regulation caused our economy to collapse!) 24/7 propaganda (a certain cable news network), and perpetual war: Eastasia, Eurasia, Afghanistan, Iraq, "Terror," and most effective of all, Red and Blue. The ceaseless reminders of our differences in the Not United States have not only kept us distracted and on edge, they have served to squelch meaningful dialogue. The weather was once the least controversial topic possible, the go-to icebreaker with strangers. But then, because a few fossil fuel executives had a kabillion dollars, it became not-okay to mention that daffodils were coming up in December because that might offend someone. Currently, the gun lobby is taking a turn at stirring the pot. But something is going wrong. It is not working as it has in the past. Maybe it's because Occupy Wall Street held the curtain up longer than ever before. Maybe it's because Mitt Romney kept opening the curtain himself by mistake. Maybe it's because, after Newtown, a nation's shared anguish and grief exposed manufactured outrage for the hollow experience it is. Officials "at every level" are still bought and paid for, as you know if you've watched any episode of Bill Moyers ever. We the People must ultimately address this if we are to renew our democracy and again aspire "to be as a city upon a hill." We must refuse to be polarized. We must not permit ourselves to be cowed but must also resist being smug or self-righteous. We must speak respectfully and listen carefully. We must recognize that there's a very good chance your fellow citizen enjoys internet cat videos just as much as you do. We managed to elect a president in 2008 who was not the first choice of the moneyed interests. We managed to re-elect him in 2012. And against all odds, this president seems to possess that rare combination of qualities JFK called for: courage, judgment, integrity, dedication. Six days before his second inauguration, regarding proposed gun control legislation, President Obama said: This will be difficult. There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty -- not because that's true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves. And behind the scenes, they'll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever. ... I will put everything I've got into this -- and so will Joe -- but I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it. This is the flip side of democracy's coin. This is the moral courage we celebrate on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This is Obama's "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." I'm pretty sure it means that instead of simply signing petitions or Liking One Million Moms 4 Gun Control, I'm going to need to march. The privilege of living in a true democracy, the City upon a Hill, might just mean I have to get up off the couch.

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18 января 2013, 21:48

Mary Crescenzo: How to Be Your Own Consumer Advocate in Pursuit of Products and Services Promised, Speak to the Supervisor, and Still Be Nice

Have you ever gotten nowhere over the phone with a manager, consumer relations person, or an automated help-line and just given up? When you get the urge to hang up and accept defeat when trying to find out why the product you bought has not arrived or is defective, why the service that was done was not done correctly, completely or not at all, take a breath and know that you are not alone. For the most part, products and services live up to their mission and expectations, but some do not. For me, products and services that are either not fulfilled, don't live up to what is promised, or even carry fine print that no one can actually see or understand must be addressed. I am not a professional consumer advocate, nor do I have a degree in consumer affairs. Still, I have found products and services that don't live up to what they or their company's claim and have I found ways to have those companies live up to their products and services. Just like you, I have better things to do than to sit on the phone for hours, press prompts, listen to bland music, and wait and wait and wait until someone (or an automated voice) asks me a million questions that often don't offer a real solution. It's simple. Hard earned money deserves what it pays for. As the years have gone by, the more problems with products and services I've encountered, the more I've tried to be creative and find a solution along Consumer Road instead of arriving at a dead end. How did my Mighty Mouse attitude start? When I was a five years old, my mother took me for my first dental check-up before I began elementary school. She was one of those people, I later found out, who had a deep fear of dentists, but she was wise enough to know that it was important for me to see one regularly and was able to hide her fears from me. As I sat carefully in the chair, just before that cone-like apparatus moved towards my cheek to shoot its radiation, the dentist's assistant placed an adult-sized cardboard x-ray square in my mouth (since there were no more child-sized squares in stock). I gagged due to the size of the film and jumped off the chair, somewhat startled. When the dentist saw this, he yelled, "If you don't get back into that chair, I am not going to sign your dental note!" To my own surprise, I stood up tall and replied in a tiny but determined voice, "You're not the only dentist in the Bronx!" My mother was aghast, but smiled as she marched me out of the office. I guess that's when it all began. Since then, I have always been the first to praise products that I love to those I know, but I am also quick to report to my friends and the company itself when a product or services is a disappointment. Before I even begin my consumer quest, I assess the problem and line up the facts. Then, I get ready to make contact, take notes, be nice, but never give up. I make sure I set aside at least an hour to complete this task. I don't want to rush and not get it all said and done. Fortunately, companies have after-business-hours and on line pursuits can be done at any time. I am always polite and always keep a dated log of my conversation. If possible, I will email the company if I can't get the problem solved over the phone and reference the phone call in the email. On-line chats with companies can be helpful, but those long lists of Frequently Asked Questions that are headlined by asking something like, "Does this list solve your problem?" usually are not. If you call and you get an automated voice asking you a million questions that you know you will be asked again by a real person for security purposes, just mumble into the phone and the robotic voice will eventually say something like, "Alright, I'll connect you to a representative." Sometimes all you have to say is "representative" as soon as the voice begins to speak and you will be forwarded to a live person. Before you start the conversation, be sure you have the person's name on the other end of the line. If that person can't seem to solve your problem, ask to speak with the supervisor. If he or she tries to avoid your request to speak to the person her or she answers to, say, "I understand and appreciate that you do not have the authority to solve this problem for me, so I would like to speak to someone who does." If the reply is that the supervisor is not in at that moment, ask them for the supervisor's name, location (city, state, and even country since services reps. can be located all over the world) and the supervisor's extension or ID. This will help you pinpoint the supervisor by first name when you call back. At this point, the person on the line may hang up on you. Yet, if you have their name, you can report their actions along with the date and time of day you called. Sometimes the phone number of a company seems impossible to obtain, even from that company's website. Use a search engine with one keyword as the name of the company and the other as phone number. Within a few tries, you will be able to find (excluding sponsored sites) a free site that offers just this kind of information. I got really good at this advocacy a few years ago when I hired Home Depot at Home Services to install Hardie Plank Siding and gutters on our home. By the time the job was completed (it's still not totally completed; there is a flashing issue that was overlooked but under contact in black and white that I am still in the process of trying to rectify), I could have been hired as a project quality control manager. I know more about siding and gutters than I ever wanted to; I could read and understand the specs by the manufacture of the product they were using; I could see where they were trying to cut corners, not living up to those specs; and I could request that the work be done right. I also became proficient in contacting those higher-ups at the company until someone would listen. Armed with a log an inch-thick of email correspondences with Home Depot at Home Services, most of the problems were solved, but there's still that flashing issue all these years later. There was no reason for me to be the watch dog on site, juggling all of the problems, trying to make sure the contract was being honored with care, concern and integrity in the face and follow-up of every error that took place. What became a day-to-day inspection at the job is not the job of the consumer, but sometimes it has to be in order to get thing done. It would only be fair to mention what you can do before buying a product or service to lessen the chance of that follow-up for something you are not satisfied with. Ask people you know if they are familiar with a company, product or service and how they feel about these purchases. Research groups like Angie's List, a consumer advocacy resource for services-for-hire, or organizations like Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, an independent, non-profit testing and information organization serving only consumers. On Angie's List, a "subscription-based, consumer-focused service" with a complaint resolution division, you can praise or pan a service-for-hire for other members to see, from doctors to garage door replacements. Since 1939, Consumer Reports has "empowered consumers to protect themselves" through its not-for-profit pursuit of unscrupulous manufacturers, false advertising, and its forum for readers. In your pre-purchase stage, be aware that some companies or sites, unlike the two mentioned above, pay people to praise products, so be careful that the positive review you are reading doesn't turn out to be one that money could buy. If I'm not making a face-to-face purchase, I'd rather speak with someone for an order rather than order on-line because I have questions and follow up questions, and I want them answered before I put my money down. Especially when you are buying something over the phone, like phone service, or signing up for credit card offer, you can prepare yourself by making a long list of questions so you don't forget them in amidst all of the technical quick-talk on what's offered and how it's warranted. When the person you area speaking with seems to want to move on and make the sale, I sometimes say, "I hope you don't mind all of my questions. Think of me as the customer making up for all the questions others have never asked." I want to know when the promotional offer will expire, and if and when it does, when in time I can call back to see if there are any other promotions to keep me with the company. What can they offer me besides what they just did to close the sale?" I received a $300 cash gift card within minutes after I made that statement just before sounding like I was thinking of hanging up. Lastly, I ask, "Can you please put in simple, brief terms all of the fine print that is difficult for anyone to understand?" If I have the fine print in front of me, I ask about anything that is not clear. Once it is offered on record as part of my deal, I may wait a day, mull over the terms and conditions, and make comparisons before calling back and moving forward on the deal. But let's get back to that moment when a product or service goes wrong. You're angry and frustrated that a company is giving you the run-around or has not lived up to all that you expect and deserve. Without facts and paper work to back you up, you just can't go trashing a company. The truth, it is said, is the ultimate defense. If you do voice the facts of your experience, be sure you stick to the matters at hand, what you have proof of, and keep your tone a respectable and not libelous one. A consumer recently made a valid public complaint about a construction company's work, and in doing so, also accused the company of theft of personal items. This was brought to court by the contractor and he won against the theft accusations and the person who made them since the judge agreed that these unsubstantiated statements had hurt his business. So, express what you know as fact, state your opinion as such, but don't say anything you can't back up. The realm of social media and the web is another place where voices of consumers can be heard. Websites such as The Consumerist (a subsidiary of Consumer Reports) and others help costumers to voice their experiences. You can share your experiences on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and sites specifically made to gather positive and negative complaints in the social media universe. YouTube has numerous consumers and media reports discussing bad experiences with even the biggest companies, including Home Depot at Home Services, and other product giants. There are even petition sites where you can start a do-it-your-self petition on a practice that urks you by a company you have used and have others with similar experiences sign on for strength in numbers. Will my issue with Home Depot Home Services be resolved? Will your issue with that company you are disappointed with be rectified? Business is the backbone of our economy, and companies deserve accolades when they live up to a brand's products and services as promised. Of course, many companies reach out to make a consumer happy. Still, others have clearly shown not to have their customers' best interests in mind. Above all, a company should stand by its mission and promises, products and services, for all of its consumers, keeping in mind that profit isn't everything. Doing right by the consumer is. So, the next time the cold light of product or service disappointment chills the warm afterglow that comes with a purchase, grab your phone, computer, and even a pad and pen, and be nice but determined to start your quest for quality on the road to consumer power. Hang in there!

18 января 2013, 03:07

Rich Rubino: The People's Inauguration: A Drunken, Raucous Mess!

Thousands of ordinary Americans made the long journey from the frontier to Washington to see their hero, Andrew Jackson, sworn into office. Some had traveled as much as 500 miles to get to the nation's Capital for the March 4, 1829 occasion. They were coarse, uneducated and unsophisticated. For many, Washington was the first city they had ever seen. Most had little money to rent hotel rooms, many choosing to sleep on the floor at nearby inns. Many others chose to set up camp as they might do on the frontier. They had few changes of clothing with them, and most arrived from the frontier muddied and unwashed. Above all, they came to the ceremony because they felt that their vote for Jackson gave them the right to witness his Inauguration and to perhaps shake his hand and wish him well. There were between 20,000 and 30,000 attendees at the Inauguration. Despite their ragged look, most dressed up in their best attire for the events, many sporting beaver-skin hats. This was the first time in U.S. history that a commoner, a man of very humble origins, was elected President, unseating the Harvard Educated aristocrat, John Quincy Adams. The visiting crowd was uproariously excited about Andrew Jackson, an ordinary man who shared a similar upbringing to themselves, and who had been elected President as the "tribune of the people." Inaugural events prior to Andrew Jackson's Inauguration had been relatively subdued occasions. After the Inaugural Address, a select group of invitees would retreat to the Executive Mansion (know today as The White House) for coffee and tea to meet the president and congratulate him. Attendees of these events were primarily from patrician backgrounds as were the first six Presidents: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams. Outside of George Washington, they graduated from the likes of Harvard, William and Mary, and Princeton (known then as the College of New Jersey). Washington, for his part, attended William and Mary to become proficient in the vocation of surveying. Andrew Jackson, just like his loyal adherents, lacked a patrician pedigree and formal education. His supporters were of a different ilk than the elite supporters of the aristocratic Presidents of the past. They were "ordinary folk," many from the growing number of frontiersmen who up until this election were not allowed to vote. This all changed however a few years prior to the 1828 election due to the fact that many states were now allowing non-property owners the right to vote. These new voters propelled Jackson to a landslide victory over Adams, and set the stage for a different kind of Inaugural Day. After delivering the Inaugural Address at the front of the Capitol Building, President Jackson rode through the primitive streets of Washington to the Executive Mansion. The Inaugural crowd of enthusiastic revelers, boisterously yelling "Hurrah for Jackson!," made their journey to the Executive Mansion on foot, some arriving at the Executive Mansion even before the President arrived. A small post-Inaugural reception had been planned at the Executive Mansion for President Jackson's friends, campaign workers and loyal supporters. As a huge crowd of ardent Jackson partisans arrived on foot at the Executive Mansion, it was evident that there might be a problem. Upon someone announcing that ice cream and orange rum punch was being served in the Executive Mansion, within moments excited Jackson supporters overran the already crowded Mansion. As the crown stormed through the first floor of the building, rum spilled everywhere and thousands of dollars of china accidentally went crashing to the floor. Those vying to shake the president's hand, knocked over furniture and anything else in their way to get to the president. Others jumped up onto tables, chairs and sofas in their muddy frontier boots to get a better look at Jackson. Adding to the dysfunctional situation, the crowd became increasingly inebriated on the orange rum punch, causing the event to devolve quickly into an unruly mob of obnoxious drunkards. As the large crowd pressed toward the president, the president began fearing that he might be suffocated from the disorderly and unruly mob, and subsequently fled the Mansion through a first floor window, seeking refuge in a nearby hotel. There was great concern for the floor of the Executive Mansion. Staff members, upon hearing the floor creaking loudly from the large volume of rowdy supporters moving about, were concerned that the floor would actually collapse. Legend has it that just before dusk, Mansion employees devised a clever method to relocate the crowd, the essence of which was to relocate the ice cream and orange rum punch from the interior of the Executive Mansion to the front lawn. This plan actually worked. Seeking more punch, the crowd exited the Executive Mansion and took-up positions on the lawn. Many of the "guests" leaving the Mansion grabbed souvenirs as they egressed through windows, as the doors were impassable due to the large number of revelers standing in, around and about the doorways. This was the first, and likely the last, out-of-control, raucous Presidential Inaugural Reception. Nothing even remotely similar to this has occurred in any of the subsequent Inaugurations. There were comparisons made by eyewitnesses that the raucous crowd resembled the barbarians who invaded Rome. U.S. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, a critic of Jackson, remarked, "I never saw such a crowd here, and they really seem to think that the country is rescued from some dreadful danger." Jackson's Inaugural event is symbolically significant in that it represents the inclusion of the ordinary man in the governance system of the United States. It was the beginning of a subtle shift in power away from the aristocratic elites of the establishment to the people of the frontier states. Finally, the ascendancy of Jackson gave true meaning to the phase "We the People." Perhaps Author Margaret Smith, also an attendee of the day's events, described best what happened when she explained: "It was the People's day, and the People's President, and the People would rule."

18 января 2013, 02:57

Rev. Al Sharpton: Prior to Inauguration and MLK Day, Let's Nullify All Talk of Nullification

On Monday, all roads will lead to the nation's capital for the inauguration of the President of the United States for a second term. Historic and symbolic for a multitude of reasons, this inauguration also lands on the same day we honor our greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Later this year, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of his remarkable 'I Have A Dream' speech. And yet here we are, getting ready to honor Dr. King on this national holiday, on the day of President Obama's inauguration, and we hear talk of nullification. We see vitriolic actions and brazen language by some elected officials simply because the president has lawfully decided to put the well-being and safety of Americans before politics. Dr. King had warned of a governor whose lips drip with the words of 'interposition and nullification.' In 2013, looks like we need to heed his warnings yet again. This past Wednesday, President Obama revealed 23 executive orders on gun policy reform based on recommendations given to him from VP Biden following his meetings with hundreds of groups after the tragic shooting in Newtown, CT. These common sense proposals -- some of which have helped reduce gun violence in other countries -- include tangible things like a comprehensive universal background check system. The fact that we currently do not have a uniform background check system should trouble everyone, including responsible gun owners. Nobody is discarding the 2nd Amendment; nor is anyone working outside the bounds of the law. At the end of the day, in a civilized society, we can no longer allow military-type assault rifles and high-capacity magazines to get into the hands of those who would inflict harm on our fellow innocent neighbors. You have the right to bear arms, but you do not have the right to kill our babies. Even before President Obama discussed these executive order, the attacks by some began pouring in. And following his announcement, things have gone from bad to despicable. Congressman Steve Stockman of Texas has stated that he will 'defund the White House,' Wyoming State Rep. Kendell Kroeker introduced legislation that would allow the state to jail federal law enforcement officers if they force a gun ban, and Texas State Rep. Steve Toth wants his state's police officers to be able to do the same if there's a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But the most dangerous talk we've heard yet is from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky who speaks of 'nullifying' the president's executive orders. It is precisely this sort of anti-government hysteria that not only disrespects the office of the presidency and our rule of law, but also incites the radicals on the fringe. There's no place for such rhetoric when the president has been completely transparent and has been working within the bounds of the law. Buzz words like 'nullify' are designed to do one thing and one thing only -- create hate and division just as they did during the days of Dr. King. As we move forward with the president's executive orders and with his second term in office, it's vital that the rest of us highlight and immediately denounce the sort of dangerous language that Sen. Rand Paul is using. It has no place in our democracy where our president is simply doing what he was elected to do: helping us move forward. On Monday we will celebrate his inauguration and we will pay homage to the legacy of Dr. King. It's tragic that 50 years later, we are still unfortunately dealing with those who speak of 'nullification.' It's important to remember that this is what it's about; it's not about anybody's liberty allegedly being infringed upon, but instead about people who would like to 'nullify' anything this president does. This is why we must keep fighting for progress. I thank God for individuals like Gov. Andrew Cuomo in NY who rushed and signed legislation enacting the toughest gun laws in the country. We haven't always agreed on everything, but I must respect the fact that Gov. Cuomo took this bold first step in NY. Despite our previous differences, we can come to the table as one when it involves the safety of society. If only those yelling things like nullification now could learn to do the same. Country before self-aggrandizement. As they continue to yell, we must continue to push onward. Despite the divisive dialogue that has no place in our national conversation, we will proceed with the right focus, and the correct vision. As the great Dr. King once stated: 'We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.'

13 января 2013, 23:41

Don McNay: What Washington Can Learn From a Kentucky Gun Range

"I thought if I could touch this place or feel it This brokenness inside me might start healing Out here it's like I'm someone else I thought that maybe I could find myself" -Miranda Lambert The vast majority of my financial and structured settlement clients live in rural areas. Early in my career, I noticed a distinct husband and wife pattern. The man would do all the talking. Then, the woman would make the ultimate financial decisions. That little bit of knowledge has taken me a long way. When I compete for large accounts, I am usually matched against other "big city folks." They spend all their time talking to the husband. I find out what the wife is thinking about. Since I respect and listen to the person who actually calls the shots, I normally get the business. Most of my friends and family are strong-willed, independent thinkers. Strong-willed people just seem to find each other, even if we can't agree on what we should have for dinner. The Garth Brooks line, "Sometimes we fight just so we can make up," seems to be a prerequisite for my inner circle. That my oldest daughter, Gena Bigler, is a very strong-willed, independent-thinking, pro-gun feminist does not surprise me in the least. She grew up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky surrounded by strong role models and doesn't need anyone to give her talking points on what to say or how to think. Woe to those who put Gena in a convenient stereotype or demographic. It doesn't work. Thus, it was a fascinating interaction when my friend Joe Nocera, opinion columnist for the New York Times, came to my home state of Kentucky. We got together for breakfast, and he noted that he wanted to try shooting a gun. He had never shot one in his life. Neither had I. Fortunately, Gena, who started shooting at age eight, was available as Joe's guide to the world of guns and target shooting. You can read about their day at the gun range in Joe's column, "How to Shoot a Gun." Unlike the normal slogan shouting and name calling, Joe captures an intelligent and well-balanced conversation that gives some innovative insights into issues surrounding gun control. Why can't anyone in Washington do what Gena and Joe did? Have an intelligent and well-mannered conversation. Washington has not caught on to what is happening in the rest of the country. There seems to be an unending quest to put labels on groups of people. Politicians talk about "the woman's vote" or "Christian conservatives" as if every demographic group had one leader who told them how to think and act. It doesn't work like that. People can't be conveniently labeled. More and more, social media and unlimited information are allowing people to think for themselves. I'm a populist-leaning Democrat, but have a big following amongst Tea Party members. I was opposed to the Wall Street bailouts from day one and remain opposed to this day. It wasn't about ideology or what elected officials wanted. It was being outraged and crying out to do what is right. No matter whom my allies were on that particular issue. We need leaders who do that. Talking points continue to rule all in Washington. Check out the political talk shows. When you see someone sent from one political party or another, their job is to stick to a script. I usually hit the mute button when they come on. A couple of years ago, Chris Matthews had a guest on Hardball who compared a Democrat to former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. It became clear that the guy didn't know who Neville Chamberlain was. No matter how many times Matthews asked him, the guy kept repeating his memorized slogan over and over again. Somewhere in Washington, we need people to reasonably hash out their differences. I quote Miranda Lambert's song, "The House That Built Me." Joe was born in Rhode Island and lives in New York City. Gena was born in Kentucky and, outside of a year as a Vista volunteer in a Vermont spouse abuse center, has lived there her entire life. The houses that made them were as different as you can find. But they were able to talk things through in Lexington, Kentucky. As I learned in my financial career, the person who makes the most noise is usually not the decision maker. If Washington stops yelling slogans and assuming that people think as a bloc, they may find that the American people are decision makers -- who may have ideas and solutions that don't boil down into slogans. But may make great conversation at the gun range. Don McNay from Richmond Kentucky is the best selling author of four books, including Life Lessons From the Lottery: Protecting Your Money in a Scary World.

03 января 2013, 02:57

HUFFPOST HILL - Obama And Boehner Are Never Ever Ever Getting Back Together

The fiscal cliff is behind us and Congress must now find a way to avert the slightly less disastrous ... um ... fiscal log flume? Al Jazeera is set to acquire the struggling cable news outlet Current TV, but liberals shouldn't hold out hope that BBC will revive Air America. And it was reported that Hillary Clinton somehow left the hospital without being discharged, leading us to wonder whether she can go up and down a carpet without moving and is able to be caught but not thrown. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 : BOEHNER BREAKS UP WITH OBAMA - So unless the president appears below the Speaker's Balcony in the pouring rain yelling "John, I will give you D.C. abortion!" as loud as he possibly can, their working relationship appears to be dunzo. The Hill: "Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is signaling that at least one thing will change about his leadership during the 113th Congress: he's telling Republicans he is done with private, one-on-one negotiations with President Obama. During both 2011 and 2012, the Speaker spent weeks shuttling between the Capitol and the White House for meetings with the president in the hopes of striking a grand bargain on the deficit. Those efforts ended in failure, leaving Boehner feeling burned by Obama and, at times, isolated within his conference. In closed-door meetings since leaving the 'fiscal cliff' talks two weeks ago, lawmakers and aides say the Speaker has indicated he is abandoning that approach for good and will return fully to the normal legislative process in 2013 -- seeking to pass bills through the House that can then be adopted, amended or reconciled by the Senate. 'He is recommitting himself and the House to what we've done, which is working through regular order and letting the House work its will,' an aide to the Speaker told The Hill." [The Hill] HOUSE TO VOTE ON SANDY AID - Things got bad today. John Boehner didn't fly over the devastated coastline in Air Force One or talk about the wild times he had on the Shore in college... but still, things got bad. Jen Bendery: "It was just Wednesday morning that lawmakers were lining up on the House floor to slam House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for delaying a vote on a relief package for Hurricane Sandy victims until the next Congress, with some Republicans even vowing to vote against Boehner for House speaker over the matter. But by Wednesday afternoon, many of those same lawmakers were all smiles after leaving a meeting with Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who promised them votes as soon as Friday on a relief package. The House is now planning to hold two votes to get a Sandy relief package out the door: the first one, on Friday morning, will be for $9 billion for flood insurance. The second will be on Jan. 15, the first full day of business in the next Congress, and will include $51 billion to help rebuild the regions of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that were decimated by the hurricane in October. Together, the bills equal the current $60 billion bill pending in the House." [HuffPost] Boehner's [under]statement: "Getting critical aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy should be the first priority in the new Congress, and that was reaffirmed today with members of the New York and New Jersey delegations." During a press conference today, New Jersey governor Chris Christie ripped into Boehner like a Code Pink protester. "There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," he said. "Last night the House of Representatives failed that most basic test of public service, and they did so with callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state." Christie said he had called Boehner four times last night but did not receive a reply, adding that "There is no reason for me to believe anything [Republican House leadership] tell[s] me." Yowza. [HuffPost's Sabrina Siddiqui and Luke Johnson] Prior to his meeting with the speaker, Rep. Peter King was so incensed you'd think the speaker wanted to build a mosque in the Longworth Cafeteria. Amanda Terkel: Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) is going after his fellow House Republicans after party leaders pulled a Hurricane Sandy relief bill from a floor vote on Tuesday, saying that New York and New Jersey residents should stop giving these lawmakers political contributions. 'I'm saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds,' he said in an interview on Fox News. 'Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.'...King also raised the possibility that he would vote against reelecting House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to his leadership post in the 113th Congress, saying, 'My world turned upside-down last night, so I'm holding every vote in abeyance for now.'" [HuffPost] @sabrinasiddiqui: Reps. King and Grimm both say they will vote for Boehner for Speaker tomorrow following their meeting with him. OMG CREEPING SHARIA: AL JAZEERA TO BUY CURRENT TV - We're not sure if this provides Keith Olbermann another opportunity to be fired but we suspect that'll be hammered out in the negotiations. NYT: "Al Jazeera is putting the final touches on a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore and his business partners seven years ago. If the deal is completed, Current will provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms. Current is available in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service. Rather than simply use Current to distribute its English-language channel, called Al Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera will create a new channel based in New York, according to people with knowledge of the deal negotiations. The channel may be called Al Jazeera America. Roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English." [NYT] DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - The fiscal cliff deal cut more than $100 million from food stamps to prevent a spike in milk prices. The legislation reduced the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program's nutrition education efforts for fiscal 2013 from $395 million to $285 million to offset the cost of preserving the USDA's Milk Income Loss Contract, which protects dairy farmers from price fluctuations. The cut doesn't affect SNAP benefits, and it's a small amount of money considering the government will spend more than $80 billion on food stamps this year, but nutrition education experts aren't exactly thrilled. "This funding cut to the program undermines and weakens a critical component of our nationwide efforts to address promote healthy eating and prevent chronic disease just as investments to prevent obesity and promote healthy eating are beginning to show results," Matthew Marsom, an executive with the Public Health Institute, said of the nutrition education program. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.) said in a statement to a farm industry publication that the Milk Income Loss Contract is an important safety net for farmers. "Without further legislative action, the MILC program would have expired and dairy price supports would have dramatically risen, saddling our dairy market with major uncertainty and causing consumer prices to skyrocket." You win this round, milk cliff! Does somebody keep forwarding you this newsletter? Get your own copy. It's free! Sign up here. Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to [email protected] Follow us on Twitter - @HuffPostHill THE TIME CONGRESS RESEMBLED AN UNHOLY FUSION OF 'JERSEY SHORE' AND 'MASTERPIECE THEATRE' - Politico has a great behind-the-scenes look at the fiscal cliff fight that reminds us that brandy glasses aren't the only things hurled into hearths: "House Speaker John Boehner couldn't hold back when he spotted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the White House lobby last Friday. It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a 'dictatorship' in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal. 'Go f-- yourself,' Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present. Reid, a bit startled, replied: 'What are you talking about?' Boehner repeated: 'Go f-- yourself.'... Just hours before the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill, Reid called Obama and told the president he had serious concerns. Reid figured Democrats could get a more favorable agreement if they waited. When Reid saw an offer that Obama had considered pitching to McConnell on Sunday, which included provisions opposed by Senate Democrats, the majority leader crumpled up the document and tossed it into the burning fireplace of his Capitol office." [Politico] According to sources with knowledge of the fire episode, Reid frequently keeps his fire going and is fond of feeding a variety of proposals to it. Then there was the time Boehner spoke to the president like an early Bond villain. National Journal: "The president was a gracious host when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Boehner, McConnell, and Pelosi trooped down to the White House on Friday, Nov. 16... But the lack of specifics troubled the speaker. It had taken nine days to stage the meeting: Was Obama taking a slow walk through the calendar to get more leverage at the end of the year? Toward the end of the meeting, Obama said, 'By the way, I'm not going to sign anything that doesn't have a debt limit increase in it.' 'Well, Mr. President, everything you want in life comes with a price,' the speaker replied. Obama did not look thrilled." [National Journal] No amount of Merlot can quell the anger of Boehner: "House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) yelled at a member of his own caucus on Tuesday night, after lawmakers from New Jersey and New York repeatedly pressed him to bring the Superstorm Sandy relief bill to the floor for a vote. Boehner had a heated exchange with Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), one of the members urging the House Republican leadership to bring up the Sandy legislation, according to fellow Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) 'I was chasing the Speaker all over the House floor last night, trying to talk to him and his staff,' King said on CNN on Wednesday morning, '... He actually yelled at Congressman LoBiondo, saying, "I'm not meeting with you people."'" [HuffPost] @hotlinedan: Pathway to the 17 R votes against Boehner: every NJ (6) & NY (6) member + 4 kicked off cmtes + Gohmert. Won't happen but the math exists. HILLARY CLINTON GOES FOR A STROLL, STILL HOSPITALIZED - Reuters: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left New York-Presbyterian hospital on Wednesday and was driven away with her husband, Bill, and daughter, Chelsea, and an aide, a Reuters photographer witnessed. It was unclear where she was going or whether she had been discharged from the hospital, where she had been admitted for treatment of a blood clot behind her right ear. A hospital spokeswoman directed all questions about Clinton, 65, to the State Department, which had no immediate comment. Earlier Wednesday, a State Department spokeswoman said Clinton, who had not been seen in public since December 7, had been talking with her staff by telephone and receiving memos." [Reuters] Hipster Bill Clinton makes his debut in the photo accompanying this article. CONSERVATIVES TARGETING THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT BECAUSE OF COURSE - Ryan Reilly's debut for HuffPost: "The state of New Hampshire and the Justice Department agree that the state shouldn't have to seek permission from the federal government before making changes to its voting laws. But a conservative group that doesn't think any state should be subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain jurisdictions to pre-clear any such changes, is trying to block New Hampshire's so-called bailout, alleging it's all part of a scheme to trick the Supreme Court. The Center for Individual Rights filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit last month to attempt to block New Hampshire from getting out of Section 5, alleging the 10 New Hampshire towns or townships covered by the provision aren't entitled to a bailout under the law." [HuffPost] BROVERNOR SCOTT BROWN? - Boston Herald: "Republicans close to the departing U.S. senator said he's itching to go back to Washington to replace John Kerry, but Democrats are buzzing more about a potential Brown gubernatorial campaign in 2014. It may be tempting for Brown to run in a special election against a vulnerable Rep. Edward J. Markey, but he should reject the easy play and go for the job that really matters -- running the state of Massachusetts... And Brown's prospects of getting elected governor look to be much brighter than in another Senate race later this year. By 2014, Democrats also will be seriously weakened by a series of scandals and screwups under Gov. Deval Patrick, with several Democratic top lawmakers tainted or even on trial in the Probation Department patronage affair. Brown would be a perfect choice to clean up Beacon Hill and get Democrats and Republicans to actually work together -- much the way former Gov. William Weld and even former Gov. Mitt Romney did." [Boston Herald] Brown took his first swipe at Ed Markey today, questioning his Massachusetts residency on a Boston radio show. Brown, who famously hallucinated meetings with kings, said that he's never seen the congressman aboard a DCA --> BOS flight (maybe he misremembered meeting with Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg in line for the bathroom?). "I'll tell you what, they're making it awfully tempting. You got Ed Markey; does he even live here anymore?" Brown told WTKK-FM. "You've got to check the travel records. I've come back and forth every weekend, almost, for three years, and I see, you know, most of the delegation, and I have never seen Ed on the airplane, ever." [Boston Globe] CONGRESS STILL WORKING: MANAGES TO SCREW POOR PEOPLE - Dave Jamieson: "Many of the nation's poorest workers were looking forward to a modest pay hike on New Year's Day, when 10 states implemented higher minimum wages. In the end, those workers' increased earnings may have lasted all of a few hours. The deal approved by the House of Representatives late Tuesday to avert the so-called 'fiscal cliff' did not include an extension of the payroll tax holiday, effectively hiking by 2 percent workers' payroll tax contributions which help pay for Social Security. For many minimum wage workers who are receiving a wage increase this year, the higher payroll tax will offset much or all of the potential gains they anticipated in the new year." [HuffPost] We forgot to never forget: "Blame it on the fiscal cliff, blame it on Christmas, blame it on our ability to forget, but the national discussion about gun control has once again ebbed. Mentions of the term 'gun control' on television, in newspapers, and in online media are down to pre-Sandy Hook levels, according to the Nexis database." [Politico] BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - New year's resolutions, demonstrated by cats. TAKE A BITE OUT OF THE WHITE HOUSE: - HuffPost DC: "Feeling sweet on D.C. these days? Or just want to take a bite out of Congress? Chocolate Chocolate, a well-loved chocolate store in the nation's capital, has been putting out chocolate versions of D.C. landmarks like the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the White House (that one's in white chocolate) for some two decades now.'" [HuffPost] COMFORT FOOD - Short film about a guy who started holding up life-affirming signs on K Street and other D.C. locales. [http://bit.ly/Zbfenk] - Thought "This is 40" was a bit ponderous? You'll enjoy "This is 1."[http://huff.to/12TNiEt] - Behold the blood-curdling screams of the mangoats. [http://chzb.gr/12MoTR7] - Helicopter crashes on a Brazilian beach. Somehow, no one was hurt. [http://bit.ly/UjgsGG] - Twenty-four hours with New York City's pothole fillers. [http://bit.ly/VtFPqb] - Just a kitten being a kitten. [http://bit.ly/UF7LZM] - Believe it or not, you'll learn a thing or two from "Top 10 Reasons Why We Know the Earth is Round." [http://bit.ly/Rnkm4d] TWITTERAMA @stefanjbecket: He can smoke in his office RT @eliotnelson: Why does John Boehner want to be speaker? I'm still not clear on this. @timothypmurphy: Either he was speaking figuratively, or Peter KIng is actually a mayfly. MT @hillhulse: Rep. King says anger at spkr was 'lifetime' ago. @nachofiesta: "No, YOU go fuck yourself, John Boehner." - shorter Chris Christie ON TAP TOMORROW 8:00 am: It's the first day of the 113th Congress and naturally Joe Donnelly and Mazie Hirono won't even be sworn in before they attend their first fundraiser. The senators-elect are joined by Harry Reid and Patty Murray for a DSCC briefing. [Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave NW] Got something to add? Send tips/quotes/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to Eliot Nelson ([email protected]), Ryan Grim ([email protected]) or Arthur Delaney ([email protected]). Follow us on Twitter @HuffPostHill (twitter.com/HuffPostHill). Sign up here: http://huff.to/an2k2e