Friday, January 21, 2011
Image by afagen via FlickrKeith Olbermann Ends Contract With MSNBC
Keith Olbermann and MSNBC have ended their contract, according to a statement from MSNBC. The last episode of "Countdown" will air this evening, Friday, January 21.
Lawrence O'Donnell's show will be moved to 8 PM; while "The Ed Show" with Ed Schultz will air at 10 PM.
MSNBC's statement reads as follows:
MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC's success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
F.B.I. and Police Arrest TK in Massive Mob Crackdown - NYTimes.com
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM
In a blanket assault against seven mob families in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island, the F.B.I. and local authorities began arresting more than 100 people on Thursday on charges including murder, racketeering and extortion, people briefed on the arrests said.
The sweep began before dawn and the targets ranged from small-time book makers and crime-family functionaries to a number of senior mob figures and several corrupt union officials, according to several people briefed on the arrests. Among those arrested or sought, some of the people said, were more than two dozen made members of New York’s five crime families and the families in New Jersey and New England, along with dozens of their associates.
Several of of the men arrested, the people who had been briefed said, were charged with murders — some dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. Others were charged with selections from a full menu of mob crimes: racketeering, extortion, loan-sharking and gambling, as well as labor-racketeering crimes in two sectors that officials say remain under the mob’s sway: the construction industry and the waterfront.
The arrests were based on more than a dozen unrelated indictments handed up in federal courts in four jurisdictions, several of the people said. Taken together, the arrests appeared to be the largest such sweep of organized crime figures ever conducted by federal authorities.
The charges were expected to be announced by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. at a news conference Thursday morning in Brooklyn, where the charges against many of defendants were lodged, the people briefed on the arrests said.
Those who talked about the case did so on the condition of anonymity because the official announcement had not yet been made and because some court papers remained sealed. Most of the arrests were completed by 8 a.m. — a mammoth undertaking involving the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies, along with the United States attorneys’ offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Newark and Providence, R.I.
The cases were also investigated by the New York Police Department, the New Jersey State Police, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States. Labor Department’s Office of Labor Racketeering, the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor and several other agencies.
The decision to announce the arrests in Brooklyn and Mr. Holder’s planned presence at the news conference would seem to underscore the importance of the case to the Justice Department.
The arrests came at a time when several federal, state and local law enforcement officials have expressed some concern about a resurgence of organized crime’s influence in some quarters after two decades of decline.
An impressive string of victories over the mob began in 1991 with the defection of the Luchese family’s acting boss, Alphonse D’Arco, who proved to be a devastating witness. Later that year, Salvatore Gravano, the Gambino family underboss, defected, and his testimony secured the conviction of John J. Gotti.
With the cooperation of those two men, a trickle of significant defections grew into a torrent, weakening the culture of omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, and thus the foundation of organized crime itself.
The subsequent loosening of the mob’s grip on several industries and unions led to proclamations about the mob’s decline and some refocusing of law enforcement resources. Those resources directed at organized crime were further reduced after the 9/11 attacks.
Prosecutors in Brooklyn and the F.B.I. nonetheless waged a campaigbn over the last decade that decimated the Bonanno crime family . But the relative health of crime families tends to run in cycles, with some ascendant and some on the decline.
The more-powerful Genovese family, for example, which has found its strength in labor racketeering and construction and some more-sophisticated schemes, remains powerful, as do the Gambino and Luchese families, law enforcement officials have said. .
And in recent years, after the period of some declining focus, officials and union monitors say the mob remains stubbornly entrenched in a number of major construction unions — including locals representing carpenters, concrete workers and operating engineers — as well as on the waterfront.
- Murdering for a Mob Family, Then Decimating It in Court (nytimes.com)
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Group: Scalia, Thomas had Citizens United conflict - Jeanne Cummings - POLITICO.com
To mark Friday’s anniversary of a court decision that allowed corporations to sink millions into politics, Common Cause, a reform group, is asking the Department of Justice to investigate alleged conflicts of interest involving two Supreme Court justices – in hopes of forcing the court to vacate the 5-4 ruling.
Common Cause officials and at least one legal expert acknowledged the difficulty of getting the landmark case overturned in this way. But in a document to be submitted to the department Thursday, Common Cause President Bob Edgar cites appearances by Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Antonin Scalia at retreats sponsored by Koch Industries, a corporation run by two major Republican donors who helped finance some of the new GOP groups founded after the ruling.
“It appears both justices have participated in political strategy sessions, perhaps while the case was pending, with corporate leaders whose political aims were advanced by the decision,” the Common Cause petition asserts.
In addition, Common Cause argues that Thomas should have recused himself because his wife was the founder of Liberty Central, a conservative group funded with a small group of anonymous donors who endorsed candidates in about a dozen 2010 races.
It’s unknown whether those donors are corporations or individuals, but Virginia Thomas said publicly that she’d accept corporate money in light of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Mary Boyle, Common Cause’s spokeswoman, called the strategy “a long shot” but said, “Just the mention of Scalia and Thomas in Koch Brothers materials raises questions about the impartiality of both justices.”
According to Boyle, “until these questions are resolved through a formal investigation, public debate over allegations of bias and conflicts of interest will serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Citizens United decision and erode public confidence in the integrity of our nation’s highest court.
Reformers also hope to stir debate about ruling next week by staging a counter-event and a rally outside a Palm Beach hotel where Charles Koch is hosting a semi-annual retreat that will focus on politics and policy.
In a September invitation to the event unearthed by Think Progress, a liberal activist group, Koch said: “We cannot rely on politicians to do so, so it is up to us to combat what is now the greatest assault on American freedom and prosperity in our lifetimes.”
He also boasted that at the summer 2010 meeting in Aspen, “our group heard plans to activate citizens against the threat of government over-spending and to change the balance of power in Congress this November. In response, participants committed to an unprecedented level of support.”
Among the groups lending a hand was American for Prosperity, a Koch-backed group, which spent more than a million dollars airing attack ads against Democrats in the midterms.
On a page summing up next week’s meeting, Koch notes that past retreats “have featured such notable leaders as Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas” among other conservative talk show and political leaders.
“We believe it is inappropriate for a Supreme Court judge to be ‘featured’ at or attend closed-door strategy meetings with political donors, corporate CEOs, candidates and political officials, and thereby lend the prestige of their position to the political goals of that event,” Common Cause argues in its petition.
“A reasonable person would question the impartiality of Justices Thomas and Scalia in the Citizens United case based on their attendance at political strategy meetings sponsored by a corporation that raises and spends millions to defeat Democrats and elect Republicans,” it added.
Although Supreme Court justices are not bound by the same codes of conduct as federal judges, those rules were used as a model to provide guidance to the High Court.
Common Cause wants the justice department to investigate the connections between the justices and the Koch organizations to determine if conflicts – or the appearance of them – exist. If the department were to make such a finding, it could then ask the Supreme Court to vacate the ruling.
But Rick Hasen, a visiting election law expert at University of California Irvine law school, said the DOJ appeal isn’t likely to succeed.
“Justice Scalia has refused to recuse himself from cases involving a far closer relationship,” he said, adding that there is not evidence that the justices participated in strategy sessions about the case.
“I am a big critic of the Citizens United case. I would love to see it reversed,” said Hasen. “But this approach seems both unlikely to yield the desired result of seeing the case overturned and appears to be an unwarranted attack on the ethics of the Justices.”
Voices From South Korea: China, Friend or Foe?
- China heads off US questions on human rights (guardian.co.uk)
- Gates warns on N Korea missiles (bbc.co.uk)
- China's Hu Jintao's visit: South Korea is worried Obama will cave on North ... - Christian Science Monitor (news.google.com)
Jared Loughner Caught on Tape: FBI Reviews Surveillance Video from Tucson Shooting - ABC News
- Giffords' husband thought she was dead (msnbc.msn.com)
Image via WikipediaTucson Shooting Caught on Video - NYTimes.com
TUCSON — The chief investigator for the sheriff’s department here has for the first time publicly described the brief and gory video clip from a store security camera that shows a gunman not only shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords just above the eyebrow at a range of three feet, but then using his 9-millimeter pistol to gun down others near her at a similarly close range.
The video, according to Richard Kastigar, the investigative and operational bureau chief of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, also reveals that Judge John M. Roll appears to have died while helping to save the life of Ronald Barber, a Giffords employees. Mr. Barber, who was near Ms. Giffords when he was shot twice, has left the hospital.
Mr. Kastigar said Tuesday that the video shows Ms. Giffords standing with her back a few inches from a wall when she was shot by the gunman, who approached in “a hurried fashion” with the gun at his side and then raised it and fired a single bullet above her eye at a range of no more than two or three feet.
Jared L. Loughner, 22, has been arrested in the shootings. In the video, the pistol “is down near his right side, but it is visibly out from where he was keeping it, presumably under his clothing, and then he raises it and fires,” Mr. Kastigar said. “It happens in a matter of seconds.”
The gunman “was very deliberate in my estimation, very calculated,” said Mr. Kastigar, who viewed the video as part of the extensive investigation by the Sheriff’s Department that involves close to 250 people. About 200 F.B.I. agents and analysts are also on the case. The video, he said, is now in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Describing the video, Mr. Kastigar said the judge was “intentionally trying to help Mr. Barber,” adding, “It’s very clear to me the judge was thinking of his fellow human more than himself.”
The judge guides Mr. Barber to the ground, shields him with his body, and then tries to push himself and Mr. Barber away from the gunman, who was no more than three to four feet away as he fired, Mr. Kastigar said.
“He pushes Mr. Barber with his right hand and guides him with his left hand. The judge was on top of him and is covering up Mr. Barber, literally lying on top of him, and his back was exposed,” Mr. Kastigar said.
The judge was shot in the back. Ms. Giffords remains in the hospital in serious condition, and doctors said Tuesday that she continued to improve.
In his first interview since the shooting, Capt. Mark E. Kelly, the husband of Ms. Giffords, said he had heard news reports that erroneously said she was dead. “And I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down,” Captain Kelly, an astronaut, said on ABC’s “20/20,” broadcast Tuesday. He later learned at the hospital that she was still fighting for her life.
More than a dozen video clips, from cameras at the scene and the hard drive of a security system at the Safeway supermarket at the mall where the shootings occurred on Jan. 8, provide other new information about the minutes before the shootings, which left 6 dead and 13 wounded. Some were described in an article on The Washington Post’s Web site on Tuesday.
When a deputy sheriff arrived minutes after the shooting and took control of Mr. Loughner, who was being held down by two people, the deputy removed a set of earplugs from Mr. Loughner. Minutes earlier, a surveillance photo also shows Mr. Loughner inside the Safeway talking to a clerk and “pointing to his ears because he’s telling the individual that he can’t hear what she’s saying because he’s got earplugs in,” Mr. Kastigar said.
He said about 15 minutes elapsed between the time Mr. Loughner arrived by cab at the Safeway — and had to go inside to get change to pay the driver — and when the shooting started at 10:10 a.m.
The crucial video showing the shooting of Ms. Giffords, Judge Roll and Mr. Barber lasts only about five seconds before the gunman steps out of the frame.
At the start of the clip, it shows the “suspect coming from just outside of the frame of the video toward the parking lot,” Mr. Kastigar said. “He goes around a table set up for part of that gathering and walks up to Gabby and shoots her directly in the forehead.” It was not clear from this video, he said, if Ms. Giffords realized what was happening.
The gunman “then turns to his left and indiscriminately shoots at people sitting in chairs along the wall,” he said. The video does not show those people being shot, he said. But quickly the gunman is back in the video, which shows him turning to his right and shooting Mr. Barber, who had been with Judge Roll “standing side by side with the table to their backs.”
- 5 seconds of horror: Video details Arizona shootings (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Giffords's husband: I thought she had died (politico.com)
- U.S. Cites Evidence of Assassination Plot - NYTimes.com (armwoodnews.com)
- Caught on Tape: Tucson Video Captures Murder, Heroism (abcnews.go.com)
Image via WikipediaCNN Poll: Palin unfavorable rating at all time high – CNN Political Ticker - CNN.com Blogs
Washington (CNN) - A new national poll indicates that 56 percent of all Americans have an unfavorable view of Sarah Palin, an all-time high for the former Alaska governor. That 56 percent unfavorable figure is up seven points from just before the midterm elections, according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Wednesday morning.
Thirty-eight percent of people questioned in the poll say they have a favorable view of the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, down two points from October.
The poll was conducted following a difficult two week stretch for Palin, who is considering a run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Palin was in the spotlight following the Jan. 8 shootings at a "Congress on Your Corner" event at a Tucson, Arizona supermarket, which left six people dead and 13 wounded. Authorities believe Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously wounded as the target of the mass shootings. A 22-year-old suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, is in custody.
Following the shootings critics suggested Palin's at-times charged political rhetoric and use of a graphic featuring crosshairs may have contributed to the shooter's motivations. The graphic was part of a website that Palin put up last year, during the divisive debate over health care reform, to highlight 20 congressional districts won by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, where Democratic representatives were voting in favor of the legislation.
According to the survey, Palin's unfavorable rating is up 10 points among women, compared to just three points among men, and among independent voters, her unfavorable rating has grown a whopping 14 points.
Does the dip in Palin's favorable ratings have anything to do with her website?
"Probably not directly, but the public may have been turned off by her reaction to the controversy surrounding that website," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Poll results released earlier this week show that most Americans do not blame her website for the shootings in Arizona. But women and independents - two groups that tend to prefer civility and bipartisanship - may have disliked her combative reaction to suggestions that the website was involved."
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Jan. 14-16, with 1,014 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
- Sarah Palin Unfavorability Rating Reaches Record High: Poll (huffingtonpost.com)
- Brendan Nyhan: Sarah Palin's poll numbers get even worse (huffingtonpost.com)
- Palin Unfavorable Rating at New High (politicalwire.com)
Monday, January 17, 2011
Tunisia Names Unity Government - NYTimes.com
TUNIS — The interim government of Tunisia struggled Monday to contain a new wave of protests as the prime minister announced a unity coalition cabinet with members of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s ruling party in the most significant posts.
Later, in an extraordinary public announcement, the interior minister, Ahmed Friaa, went on television to announce that 78 protesters and other civilians had died and 94 had been injured in clashes with security forces before Mr. Ben Ali stepped down, The Associated Press reported.
The news of the new government drew an immediate popular response. More than a thousand demonstrators swelled into the streets of downtown chanting for the complete eradication of the old ruling party and demanding their freedom. “Citizens and martyrs, the government is still the same!” they chanted.
Soldiers stationed around the city initially attempted to contain the crowd with rifle shots in the air and water cannons. But when the crowd surged toward the headquarters of the interior ministry, the police — widely blamed for much of the recent violence here — let loose with tear gas, flooding the central Bourguiba Avenue with noxious fumes once again.
Smaller protests regrouped and continued. “Long live the people, long live the military,” the protestors chanted, reflecting the popular conviction that the military has stepped in to protect the people from marauding police officers, some still loyal to Mr. Ben Ali.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a close ally of Mr. Ben Ali, announced that the new unity government negotiated with the recognized opposition parties would include ministers of the interior, state, finance and defense taken from the old ruling party. Leaders of the recognized opposition parties assumed lesser posts. Najib Chebbi, the founder of the biggest and most credible recognized opposition party, the Progressive Democratic Party, was made minister of regional development.
The Communist and Islamist parties, which have been outlawed, were excluded from the talks and the unity government. And their officials bitterly denounced the new coalition.
A spokesman for the biggest opposition party officials defended the deal, arguing that they had rid the cabinet of the former members with the most responsibility for the corruption and brutality of the former government. He argued that Tunisia faced a choice between Somalia-like chaos, a new strongman emerging as a savior, or making do with the current government until it could manage to hold free elections within a few months.
Though protesters chanted for the ruling party to be driven out altogether, in reality, after more than 50 years of one-party rule, there are few people outside the ruling party with the experience and expertise to steer the government.
Military tanks and security forces are still a heavy presence in Tunis, although cafes and businesses began to reopen on Monday, and life returned to the streets. The security forces allowed the demonstrations to build for a few hours, but then fired shots into the air, followed by occasional blasts from a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
After the former government’s swift and ruthless attacks on any unauthorized public gathering, however, the protesters seemed to revel in the relatively gentle response. “A shower,” one man said in French, his suit and overcoat soaking wet. A man in red shoes danced in the puddles in front of the chanting crowd.
About 12:30 p.m., the protesters surged toward the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, and the police evidently decided to bring the demonstrations to an end. It was unclear whether the police acted alone or in concert with the military’s troops, who appeared to be at the other end of the crowd.
Protesters chanted about the power of the people and called for free and transparent elections.
In announcing the official death toll for the month of protests, Mr. Friaa said members of the security forces also had been killed, but he did not say how many. And he said that 85 police stations, 13 town halls, 43 banks, 11 factories and 66 stores or shopping centers had been damaged in the violence, The A.P. reported.
There were also new signs that others in the Arab world may be seeking to emulate the Tunisian example. A young Egyptian set himself on fire outside Parliament in Cairo, imitating the Tunisian in the town of Sidi Bouzid whose self-immolation a month ago set off the wave of protests that ousted Mr. Ben Ali. Another man tried to set himself on fire in Mauritania on Monday.
In Algeria, four men set themselves on fire in the last week.
Image via WikipediaWikiLeaks: the latest developments | World news | guardian.co.uk
Whistleblower Rudolf Elmer hands over Swiss bank documents, Dutch media publishes Afghan cables and more of today's WikiLeaks news and views
Rudolf Elmer in Mauritius: Photograph: Rene Soobaroyen for the Guardian
2.17pm: There is some scepticism in the comments and it is probably worth pointing out that, for the moment, only Elmer knows what is on the CDs. WikiLeaks presumably won't until its people have had a look at them. So despite this morning's events at the Frontline Club, which prove if nothing else that Assange is still in business, we don't really know how dramatic or not their contents will be.
12.36pm: The press conference to hand over the Swiss banking data - containing the offshore account details of 2,000 prominent people and companies - is now over, but here is a summary of some of Assange's later answers.
• Assange says he wants to go the "safe route" and have professionals look at the Elmer CDs; he also says WikiLeaks has found "sources need to be protected before the information is passed out to others."
• He says some journalists can be opportunists who "twist and hype up the material and distort the historical record" so WikiLeaks makes "primary source documents available so honest journalists rise high and dishonest journalists struggle."
• He is also asked about the embassy cables release. Assange says 2.3% has been released and the process will continue over the coming months.
• Assange says WikiLeaks has had more legal threats from banks "than any other organisations". (Update Elmer said of the Swiss banking system: "I started pulling on the tail of a mouse and it became a fire-breathing dragon.")
12.16pm: Elmer holds up the two CDs of data he is to hand over to WikiLeaks. He says his relationship is not with Assange but with WikiLeaks ("I'll say it again. WikiLeaks," he says) and his intention is not to reveal individual's names but to get the information looked at. Elmer also adds that he is taking full responsibility for the data. Assange is asked when the information will be released - he says it depends how long it takes to deal with, that the organisation is "attending to other matters".
Assange says he won't be taking questions on his own legal process as it is Elmer's press conference – and the Swiss whistleblower himself has a court date this week.
12.12pm: Interesting: Assange says he does not know if Elmer is WikiLeaks' source or not. He says WikiLeaks is structured in such a way to make that impossible to know.
12.11pm: Assange is now talking: he is explaining how Julius Baer, Elmer's former bank, tried to use a US court in 2008 to take down the WikiLeaks.org domain. He said it was then WikiLeaks realised that the techniques it had developed to deal with Chinese censorship would be needed for operating in western countries too.
The bank lost their injunction on first ammendment (freedom of speech) grounds with WikiLeaks supported in the case by US campaigners and media organisations, Assange tells the conference. He compares this to what he calls the "McCarthyist" state of play today.
12.03pm: Esther Addley tweets that Assange has arrived at the Elmer press conference and is fighting through banks of cameras to get to the microphone.
11.50am: The Elmer press conference is underway at the Frontline Club in London. You can watch it streaming on Frontline's website or its ustream channel.
11.30am: Good morning. Here are the latest WikiLeaks developments:
• Swiss banking whistleblower Rudolf Elmer is in London today, where he intends to give WikiLeaks the "offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous" ahead of trial later this week in Switzerland. From the Observer's story yesterday:
British and American individuals and companies are among the offshore clients whose details will be contained on CDs presented to WikiLeaks at the Frontline Club in London. Those involved include, Elmer tells the Observer, "approximately 40 politicians".
Elmer, who after his press conference will return to Switzerland from exile in Mauritius to face trial, is a former chief operating officer in the Cayman Islands and employee of the powerful Julius Baer bank, which accuses him of stealing the information
• Julian Assange has said it is "no coincidence" he gave cables from the US's embassy in The Hague to two Dutch media organisations. Dutch MPs are about to vote on whether to participate in a Nato police training mission in Afghanistan. Assange said: "If there is relevant material, it has to come out before they do."
One story to come out so far is that Dutch civil servants urged US officials to pressure former Labour party leader Wouter Bos to support a continued military mission in Afghanistan. "They complain 'he just doesn't get it'," the cables says of the Dutch officials attitude to Bos.
The US ambassador, Hartog Levin, suggests following tactic for the Pittsburgh G20 summit in her cable back to Washington (pdf):
A pull-aside for Bos by a senior USG official such as NSA General Jones at the Pittsburgh Summit would be beneficial. It would make Bos aware of how important we view international leadership -- measured by a country's actions across the board. A pull-aside would also demonstrate to Prime Minister Balkenende our support for his efforts to get Cabinet approval of continued Dutch deployment
If you can read Dutch (or skip the Dutch and read the English quotes) RTL has a page on the Netherlands and the G20, with pdfs of relevant cables.
• Question: what links Muammar Gaddafi and Teresa Scanlan, winner of Miss America 2011? The answer is they both made strong statements over the weekend against WikiLeaks.
Gaddafi blamed the Tunisia uprising on cables written by "ambassadors in order to create chaos". In answer to a question on WikiLeaks at the pageant, Scanlan, who (more conventionally) also played the piano and wore a bikini, said the release of the cables "was actually based on espionage, and when it comes to the security of our nation, we have to focus on security first and then people's right to know."
• Here is a link to Friday's WikiLeaks blog.
Opinion: Bipartisan case for national service - Eric Tanenblatt - POLITICO.com
You wouldn’t think that new Republican Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Sam Brownback of Kansas would have much in common with the Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. But all three have made volunteer “days of service” a centerpiece of their inaugurations.
They are asking citizens to join them in feeding the hungry, assisting the jobless and helping their neighbors in a host of other ways. They join a growing number of governors and mayors who are rediscovering the untapped power of citizen service.
These inaugural service events are not ceremonial gestures. They remind us that citizen service crosses all boundaries — and has always been at the heart of what it means to be an American.
America’s story is the story of volunteers. Since the early days of our nation, volunteers have helped us meet our greatest challenges: patriots who fought for our founding ideals, women who reached for the ballot, civil rights foot soldiers who risked their lives for equality, firefighters who rushed into burning towers, ordinary citizens who came to the aid of a disaster stricken coast.
Last year, in the middle of the Great Recession, approximately 63.4 million Americans volunteered in some way in their communities – the largest increase since 2003. That’s 63.4 million citizens from all backgrounds and walks of life tilting toward problems instead of running away from them.
But America faces tough challenges requiring a new generation of service and service leaders.
National service, as embodied in the three major programs of the Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and Learn and Serve America – engages millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds in addressing issues of poverty, illiteracy, disasters, public safety, independent living and more throughout the country.
One the crucial ingredient of this federal program’s success has been its support across the political spectrum. In fact, in a spirit of bipartisanship rarely seen in Washington these days, it took Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), working with leaders in the House, just weeks to rally the votes and pass the Serve America Act in 2009.
I am a lifelong Republican — let me give you three reasons why this modest investment in service is consistent with conservative principles and has a powerful catalytic effect on citizen empowerment.
First, national service recognizes that the best solutions come from outside Washington. It invests in citizens to solve problems, tapping the energy and ingenuity of our greatest resource — the American people. In the long run, this is likely to reduce reliance on government.
Second, an investment in national service is a good deal for taxpayers. AmeriCorps was built to be a public-private partnership. It leverages substantial private investment – more than $375 million in non-federal funds each year — to fund such programs as Teach for America and Habitat for Humanity.
Third, while the primary purpose of national service is to get things done for people in need, it has important side benefits. One is the transforming effect it has on those who serve – exposing them to society’s problems, bringing people from different races and backgrounds together, empowering them to act and often putting them onto a lifelong path of civic engagement.
The modern service movement is built on these principles, shared by people of every political persuasion and all walks of life.
We salute Deal, Brownback and Patrick for leading the way. We hope that their actions send a signal that will spread and carry forward through this year and beyond.
We can — and should — have a robust debate about the role and size of government. But in the course of that debate, we should recognize that there are important areas, like volunteer service, where we can find common ground.
Eric Tanenblatt is vice chairman of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. He is the senior managing director at McKenna Long and Aldridge LLP