Category: RTM News Reel Written by Kevin Bohn, CNN
Washington (CNN) -- As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama this year had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House: To show that he understands the economy is still struggling and that he will do more to help the unemployed find jobs, and to portray a different side of himself than what was seen on Inauguration Day -- one willing to reach out to the other party.
While the president did offer some new proposals -- including increasing the minimum wage and guaranteeing preschool -- many of the ideas he pushed were repeating what he had previously offered but went nowhere in divided Washington. And we saw a president trying to expand the use of executive power to help push his agenda.
Here are five things we learned Tuesday night:
1. It's still the economy, stupid
It very well could have been a campaign speech given last year -- the president talking about the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, at least four references to protecting the middle class, the need to reignite "the true engine of America's economic growth."
With the recovery still weak, unemployment at 7.9% and the nation's growth rate shrinking the last three months of 2012, the president and his team know much of his legacy may be dependent on helping reignite the economy. The president pushed for 15 manufacturing hubs to help spur high tech job growth.
With $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect on March 1, Obama pushed for a replacement of them because some economists warn they could lead to a recession. However, he did not give any ground on what he would accept as an alternative -- setting up the next major fiscal fight with Republicans.
53% of those watching speech give Obama thumbs up
2. Mr. Bipartisan?
Facing hundreds of members of the opposing party, Obama took a decidedly different approach than he did in his aggressive inaugural address.
"They do expect us to put the nation's interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all," the president said early on in the address.
He even praised some Republicans -- he pointed to how Sen. John McCain, his 2008 opponent, worked with then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned Independent, on climate change. He mentioned his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, and said we should try his idea of tying the minimum wage to the cost of living.
While he talked about how chances are good for bipartisan approaches on tax and immigration reform, Republicans can be expected to say they haven't seen a different approach so far from the president on many key issues: He wants more tax revenues and more government spending on his priorities, which are non-starters among Republicans.
Fifty-three percent of those surveyed in a CNN/ORC instant poll of speech-watchers said they did not believe the address would lead to bipartisan cooperation while 39% said they thought it would.
3. Show me the money
Proposals he floated would make high-quality preschool available to every child, provide tax credits for businesses to hire and invest, promote more scientific research and development, further shift cars and trucks away from gasoline, and invest in infrastructure. "Nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime." he said. "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."
But White House officials refuse to put a price tag on the programs -- or to reveal how, in fact, they would be paid for. They promised more details when the White House's budget proposal is released in a few weeks.
4. If they won't, I will
The president demonstrated clearly how he plans to aggressively use executive actions to push policy if Congress thwarts him and he announced action on climate change and cybersecurity.
"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," he said. "I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
After efforts dealing with cybersecurity failed to pass Congress, the president signed an executive order to increase information-sharing and to help the private sector develop standards. These moves came after the president last month approved 23 executive actions dealing with gun control.
Obama also used the speech to make his base happy by emphasizing such liberal priorities as climate change and equal treatment and benefits for gay Americans as well as announcing a bipartisan commission to improve the voting system and pushing for a hike in the minimum wage.
5. Even presidents can't control the news
While the White House tried to build up suspense around what the president would say, as soon as news broke Tuesday afternoon that accused cop-killer Christopher Dorner was believed to be holed up in a cabin in the California mountains, much of the media immediately switched gears.
What would have been hours of coverage of what was expected from the speech, what Obama's message might be and discussion of his agenda did not happen.
Would this be another split-screen State of the Union similar to when networks flashed news of the verdict in O.J. Simpson's civil trial during Bill Clinton's 1997 address?
That did not happen this time but as soon as Obama wrapped up most news organizations quickly updated viewers on the Dorner story.
But the president might have gotten an unintended benefit from the other story of the day -- interest in Dorner might have helped boost the audience for the address.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 11:21
Category: RTM News Reel Written by Roz Edward, National Content Director
"While such a sale is certainly a hypothetical possibility, it's not one we intend to explore," Ray Buckley, the board chairman of the Democrats' National Voter File Co-op, said in the statement.
ProPublica reported earlier this week that the co-op was looking into whether credit card companies, retailers such as Target, or other commercial interests might be interested in buying their data. The state parties collect voters' names, addresses and party registrations from public records, but also gather their own records about voters' political opinions and other data.
The co-op, formed by state Democratic chairs in 2011, started off by selling its voter data to approved groups like the NAACP. But the group had begun looking for potential clients, including for-profit corporations, according to the co-op's marketing expert, as well as a member of the co-op's governing board.
Although there were no firm plans to sell the data for commercial uses, Drew Brighton of TargetSmart Communications, which helps administer and market the co-op's data, told ProPublica that he was planning to make the rounds with corporate prospects.
Brighton told ProPublica that credit card companies and other firms in other industries might be interested in the Democrats' data for direct marketing purposes.
Ken Martin, a member of the National Voter File Co-op's governing board and party chairman in Minnesota, also told ProPublica that the co-op would be reaching out to potential corporate clients, and that "everything is on the table, nothing's off the table" in terms of potential data sales.
After ProPublica reported these comments this week, a number of Democrats said they opposed the idea of selling voter data commercially.
Doing so "would be a devastating breach of trust," Jim Pugh, a Democratic data analyst who worked for the 2008 Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee, tweeted on Wednesday. Pugh argued that if Democrats sold voter data, voters would stop responding to calls and knocks on their doors, disrupting the whole model of political outreach.
Many party chairs remained silent on the issue, but Oregon Democrats said they would not sell their voter data commercially. "I can't imagine us doing it," party chairwoman Meredith Wood Smith told The Oregonian on Tuesday. "The money is not worth it."
"Essentially the data is gathered for the purpose of assisting the Democratic Party and winning elections, and that's how it should be used," Frank Dixon, who is running unopposed to be the Oregon party's next chairman, told The Oregonian.
Martin, the co-op board member and Minnesota party chair, said in a public radio interview on Wednesday that his state's Democrats were unlikely to sell their data for commercial uses.
"There are many state parties out there, unlike Minnesota, that actually need the revenue [from selling voter data] to help maintain their files," he said. "We're not in that position; it's not as much of a necessity for us to sell our data."
But Martin said that Minnesota Democrats would consider different data marketing options — and reiterated that nothing was off the table. "For us it really has to be more than just about money," he said. "It has to be selling it to corporations that are using it for either voter education, issue advocacy, or some purpose that our party supports, and it has to be sold to a company that is like-minded in values."
During the radio interview about ProPublica's story, Martin said that no state Democratic parties were currently selling their data for commercial purposes. But he said corporations were eager to acquire information about voters' political leanings.
"There's certainly other private firms and consulting firms that already do collect political data and then sell that out to corporations, and the question is, as you said, whether other state parties, whether Democrats or Republicans, actually participate in that," he said.
In his statement on the co-op's plans, co-op Chairman Buckley maintained that Democrats had never considered selling their data commercially.
"The State Parties' goal is to sell proprietary IDs to progressive allies, non-profits and research institutions. No one has been thinking of selling data to for-profit corporations (except for some in the media)," the statement read.
Buckley, who is also the chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party and the head of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
Brighton did not respond to requests for comment, but in a Wednesday interview on the website TechPresident, acknowledged hearing complaints about selling data to corporations.
"I did get a few emails from people that know me, asking: 'Are you really doing this? It seems pretty risky,'" Brighton said. "And I said: 'No, we're not doing this yet, but we basically said in our effort to represent the co-op, we're looking at all the potential areas where they want to market their data.'"
"If someone's knocking on your door and saying: 'I'm volunteering for this purpose,' they might see it as a bait and switch," he told TechPresident. "Maybe it's a bad idea. Maybe we won't do it. Based on the feedback from [ProPublica's] article, we probably won't."
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 16:52
Category: RTM News Reel Written by Hada Messia, CNN
Rome (CNN) -- The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, surprised the world Monday by saying he will resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."
It's the first time a pope has resigned in nearly 600 years.
"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," the pope said, according to the Vatican.
After Benedict's resignation becomes effective on February 28, cardinals will meet to choose a new leader for the church.
Pope explains why he's resigning Pope Benedict to resign 2005: Pope Benedict XVI gives first Mass 2005: Pope Benedict XVI gives first Mass
"Before Easter, we will have the new pope," the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said at a news conference.
The decision was not impulsive, he said.
"It's not a decision he has just improvised," Lombardi said. "It's a decision he has pondered over."
After his resignation, Benedict, 85, will probably retire to a monastery and devote himself to a life of reflection and prayer, he said.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said the decision "shocked and surprised everyone."
"Yet, on reflection, I am sure that many will recognise it to be a decision of great courage and characteristic clarity of mind and action," he said.
Benedict -- born Joseph Ratzinger -- will not be involved in choosing a new pope or in guiding the church after his resignation, Lombardi said.
Benedict was elected pope in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II, the third-longest-serving leader of the Catholic Church.
He has served during a time in which the church is declining in his native Europe but expanding in Africa and Latin America.
His papacy also has been marked with a series of scandals and controversies, including hundreds of new allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
Ratzinger was born on April 16, 1927, in Marktl Am Inn, Bavaria, a heavily Catholic region of Germany.
He spent his adolescent years in Traunstein, near the Austrian border, during the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
Ratzinger wrote in his memoirs that school officials enrolled him in the Hitler Youth movement against his will when in 1941, when he was 14.
He said he was allowed to leave the organization because he was studying for the priesthood, but was drafted into the army in 1943. He served with an anti-aircraft unit until he deserted in the waning days of WW II.
After the war, he resumed his theological studies and was ordained in 1951. He received his doctorate in theology two years later and taught dogma and theology at German universities for several years.
In 1962, he served as a consultant during the pivotal Vatican II council to Cardinal Frings, a reformer who was the archbishop of Cologne, Germany.
As a young priest, Ratzinger was on the progressive side of theological debates, but began to shift right after the student revolutions of 1968, CNN Vatican analyst John Allen Jr. said.
In his book "Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith," Allen says Ratzinger is a shy and gentle person whose former students spoke of him as a well-prepared and caring professor.
Pope Paul VI named him archbishop of Munich in 1977 and promoted him to cardinal the next month. Ratzinger served as archbishop of Munich until 1981, when he was nominated by John Paul II to be the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he held until his election as pope.
He became dean of the College of Cardinals in November 2002 and in that role called the cardinals to Rome for the conclave that elected him the 265th pope.
In his initial appearance as pope, he told the crowd in St. Peter's Square that he would serve as "a simple and humble worker in the vineyards of the Lord."
He is the sixth German to serve as pope and the first since the 11th century.
The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415. He did so to end a civil war within the church in which more than one man claimed to be pope.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 12:06
Category: RTM News Reel Written by Roz Edward, National Content Director
For the past four decades, federal officials and civil rights lawyers have wielded a potent legal weapon in the fight against housing discrimination. Even when they couldn't prove that practices of landlords, lenders or governments were racially motivated, they could win cases by showing minorities had suffered disproportionate harm.
The Obama administration has used the principle of "disparate impact" to reach record settlements with banks accused of discriminatory lending and to confront localities whose housing policies limited opportunities for black and Latino renters. A senior official recently said that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is pursuing more than two dozen cases based on the theory.
Those cases, and others brought by civil rights groups and other agencies, could soon be halted in their tracks. For the second time in two years, the Supreme Court is poised to review a case that challenges whether the concept of "disparate impact" can be used to enforce the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and HUD, the agency charged with enforcing the housing law, have repeatedly declined ProPublica's interview requests. But Sara Pratt, HUD's chief of enforcement, bluntly told attendees at a recent conference on housing issues that the disparate impact standard is essential for deterring housing bias because the days of "pants-down discrimination" have ended.
"Landlords, housing professionals, zoning and planning boards, have learned to stop talking about it," Pratt declared. "What they haven't learned is to stop doing it."
Over the past year, Obama administration officials have become increasingly concerned that the high court is preparing to strike down the use of the disparate impact standard in housing cases. In an attempt to dissuade the justices from intervening, the Obama administration is preparing to release a long-stalled federal rule this month that enshrines "disparate impact" in the regulations for enforcing the federal housing law.
The move comes as the Supreme Court, led by its conservative majority, appears set to curtail affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act, two other tent poles of the civil rights movement.
Disparate Impact, A Lynchpin of Enforcement
The principle of disparate impact is not directly mentioned in the landmark Fair Housing Act but has been accepted over a period of 40 years by a series of federal judges who have ruled on housing cases.
Housing advocates have been urging HUD to adopt the regulation for years. Because the Supreme Court has long deferred to an agency's regulations when interpreting the law, Alan Jenkins, executive director of the nonprofit The Opportunity Agenda in New York City, said it "could be the deciding factor, not only in what disparate impact means, but whether it exists after going before the Supreme Court."
In 2011, federal officials persuaded the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a case accepted for review by the Supreme Court that questioned whether the principle could be applied in housing cases. "We were afraid we might lose disparate impact in the Supreme Court because there wasn't a regulation," said Pratt, who also led fair housing enforcement during the Clinton administration.
If the court strikes down disparate impact, it would largely limit civil rights lawsuits against landlords, homeowners or governments to those rare cases in which it could be proven that governments or businesses had an explicit intent to discriminate.
"If the court overturns disparate impact," said Florence Roisman, a fair housing scholar at the Indiana University School of Law. "It is going to gut the statute."
Release of the regulation sometime this month will set a tone for President Obama's second term and several scholars said it would be among the most important civil rights regulations to come out of HUD in at least a decade. But its release may be too late to influence the high court's ruling.
Key Battles in Countrywide, Katrina Cases
Even without the regulation, the Obama administration has aggressively pursued disparate impact cases.
Under President Obama, the Justice Department created a unit to focus on discriminatory behavior in the banking industry and has used disparate impact to win massive settlements.
In one such case, the Justice Department found that Countrywide — a now-defunct mortgage company purchased by Bank of America — charged black and Latino borrowers higher rates and fees than white applicants with similar credit histories. It also discovered that black and Latino borrowers who qualified for prime loans were more than twice as likely to be steered to subprime loans as similar white borrowers.
Countrywide issued no official policy telling loan officers to discriminate. But it did give them discretion to steer well-qualified buyers into less favorable loans. In what Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez called "discrimination with a smile," that authority was used largely on loan applications from African Americans and Latinos. Bank of America could not produce a legitimate business practice to explain the discriminatory results, a defense against an action brought under the disparate impact standard. The bank settled with the Justice Department for $335 million in 2011 — a record in a residential lending case. It did not acknowledge wrongdoing.
In another major case, a private fair housing group and later the federal government used the disparate impact standard to challenge policies adopted by St. Bernard's Parish, La., after Hurricane Katrina.
As residents of largely black New Orleans sought to find housing in St. Bernard's, a predominantly white enclave just across the border, the parish passed a law that prohibited homeowners from renting to anyone who was not a "blood relative" unless they received a permit from local authorities.
Since 93 percent of the homeowners in the parish were white, the government argued that the laws aimed at restricting rental housing would have disproportionately prevented people of color from moving in.
"Do you think St. Bernard's parish was really trying to keep black people out?" Pratt asked at the housing issues conference. As heads began to nod, she asked, "Does anyone have any evidence?"
The administration, which has seen the fight over disparate impact building for several years, promised early in Obama's first term that it would issue a regulation.
Advocates cheered. Then they waited. And waited.
Mondale Warns Against Supreme Court Decision
By 2011, a case that had been winding its way through the lower courts landed at the Supreme Court.
A group of landlords had sued St. Paul claiming that its stepped up property code enforcement violated the Fair Housing Act because it reduced the availability of low-income rental units and had a disparate impact on black residents.
Since the landlords were essentially arguing that the anti-discrimination laws gave them a right to not maintain apartments in black areas, the city of St. Paul fought the suit.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled the landlords had made a valid disparate impact claim, prompting St. Paul to appeal, arguing that the Fair Housing Act required proof of discriminatory intent and not simply discriminatory results.
A week after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in November 2011, HUD finally released a proposed regulation, which set a single standard for proving violations of the Fair Housing Act. The proposed rule codifies within federal regulations the ban on practices that have discriminatory effects unless they can be shown to serve a legitimate purpose for business or government.
Although all 11 appellate courts that have ruled on the issue have held that the Fair Housing Act allows disparate impact claims, the Justice Department and housing advocates feared the conservative majority on the Supreme Court would not agree.
Minnesota native son former Vice President Walter Mondale, who helped write the 1968 law, urged St. Paul's mayor to withdraw the case. According to news accounts, Mondale called disparate impact the only means of effectively enforcing laws against housing discrimination and asked the city not to risk a "Supreme Court decision that ruins the act."
The Justice Department agreed not to intervene in two unrelated lawsuits against the city, a move now under investigation by congressional Republicans who say the administration offered the concession to persuade St. Paul to drop the disparate impact suit.
St. Paul acquiesced, and in February 2012 the parties took the rare step of withdrawing the case from the Supreme Court's docket.
The Fight From Big Business
Meanwhile, lobbyists for the influential banking, lending, and insurance industries launched a broad campaign against the draft rule.
Robert Detlefsen, vice president of public policy for the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, said his organization, which represents home insurers, opposes the regulation because it would place an unfair burden on companies to prove that policies that harm one group more than another are not discriminatory.
Businesses should not be penalized "because of a statistical disparity," Detlefsen said. "As long as it could be shown that there was no intent to discriminate racially or ethnically, there should be no controversy."
The American Bankers Association, the National Multi Housing Council and the Mortgage Bankers Association either declined or did not respond to interview requests from ProPublica.
The business community's pushback seemed to work.
"The proposal was on the table last year at this time. As you got into July and August, the White House just let it be known that 'We just can't do it in this political season,'" said Robert Schwemm, a constitutional law and civil rights scholar at the University of Kentucky Law School. "Just to rattle off the groups that have decided to oppose it is to list some of the most powerful groups in Washington, even with a Democratic administration.
"The Obama administration delayed, delayed, delayed."
Pratt acknowledged as much during her presentation. "The industry doesn't like it. They are scared of it," she said. "Disparate impact is incredibly controversial politically. It is not controversial legally."
With Obama fighting his final re-election battles in October, the Supreme Court signaled that it might take up the issue again. The Court asked the U.S. Solicitor General to submit the government's stance on disparate impact in a case involving the New Jersey township of Mount Holly. It has not yet decided to hear the case.
An Eleventh-Hour Effort
At issue is the town's efforts to redevelop a predominantly black area it considered blighted. The town bought and destroyed most of the homes in the neighborhood but has not built the new housing. Former and current residents sued, saying the town's actions had a disparate impact on African Americans.
After a court ruled the plaintiffs had a valid disparate impact claim, Mount Holly appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing as St. Paul had that Congress did not write disparate impact into the fair housing statute and therefore did not intend to allow it to be used as a legal standard.
Mount Holly's appeal did not shake the regulation loose — to the dismay of some observers. "It is enormously important that HUD promulgate this statute," said Roisman. "Frankly, I think it is unconscionable that HUD hasn't done it in the last four years — they should have done it long before that." Most scholars interviewed for this story believe that Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito would strike down disparate impact, but are less sure about the stances of Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. One of them would have to join the Court's liberal block if disparate impact were to survive.
Scalia indicated in a previous case involving employment that he was open to an argument that disparate impact in any arena violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution. However, Scalia, who was an administrative law scholar before becoming a constitutional law scholar, has also said he believes in deference to agency regulations.
But several legal scholars pointed out that the Court's track record under Chief Justice Roberts provides little certainty that it will follow that precedent.
john a. powell, a civil rights scholar at the University of California, Berkeley Law School, said the Supreme Court would not normally take a case such as this one where the lower courts are unanimous in their interpretation of the law. But powell, who spells his name without capital letters, said this court has shown an eagerness to dismantle civil rights protections even when case law is well established — one reason for concern that HUD's new regulations may not stand.
"If [the Supreme Court] is going to ignore the circuits and decades of precedents from the federal courts, I don't know that it is going to be turned around by the regulation of an agency," powell said. "It is not waiting on controversy in the lower courts, which is the normal case. If it strikes down disparate impact that would be a huge change, but the Court is rewriting issues around civil rights and race."
The administration's 11th-hour release of the regulation may have served mostly to rally the opposition. Detlefsen said his group did not file briefs opposing disparate impact in the St. Paul case, but likely will if the Court takes up the Mount Holly case. "The regulation has gotten the attention of a lot of people in the insurance industry," he said. "Absolutely."
Civil rights advocates are watching, too.
"The search for racists is for the most part a fool's errand. There is no way in a court of law to prove or know what is in someone's hearts or minds," Damon Hewitt, an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said at the housing conference. "The preoccupation with disregarding racially disparate impact means people are willing to accept racial disparities and then say there is nothing the law should do about it."
Keep up with our investigations by following us on Facebook and Twitter, or read more about the Fair Housing Act, and how the government betrayed a landmark civil rights law.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 16:36
Category: RTM News Reel Written by Katherine Wojtecki and Greg Botelho, CNN
Chicago (CNN) -- A day after 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was laid to rest -- and 11 days after she was shot to death on the streets of Chicago -- police are questioning two people in relation to her slaying, a police spokeswoman said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called Hadiya's family on Sunday morning to tell them about the development in the investigation, said Chicago police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton.
No one has been arrested or charged yet in Hadiya's death, which occurred a week after she performed at President Barack Obama's second inauguration.
She was an honor student and band majorette at King College Prep School when a man shot her at a park in what her godfather, Damon Stuart, described as an "ideal community" on Chicago's South Side.
Police have told CNN affiliates that the teenager had no gang affiliation and likely was not the intended target.
Hadiya's performance at last month's inauguration and her death coming as the gun control debate brewed in Washington made her slaying a national story. She also was a standout student who urged friends to stay away from gangs.
The killing -- which occurred in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood near the Obamas' Chicago home -- drew the first couple's attention. First lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral Saturday, and her husband wrote a note to Hadiya's family that was printed on the funeral program: "We know that no words from us can soothe the pain, but rest assured that we are praying for you, and that we will continue to work as hard as we can to end this senseless violence."
Her slaying -- the 42nd in the city this year -- also highlighted the problem of gun violence in Chicago. More than 500 people were fatally shot in 2012.
Last Updated on Monday, 11 February 2013 11:46
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