Posts Tagged ‘Top Stories

25
Apr
10

Mitt Romney: GOP Big Gun for 2012

NEWS
Mitt Romney: GOP Big Gun for 2012

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The report has analyst Teddy Davis saying Mitt Romney is “the big gun” because he has money and name recognition, and the GOP has a history of choosing the previous “runner-up.” Romney has been campaigning for other Republicans around the country and built a lot of good will. Davis says “Romney is considered the front-runner. Sarah Palin is the big question mark, as to whether she will run or not.

Newly-elected GOP Sen. Scott Brown is unlikely to run, even though he has become an overnight star with his win in Massachusetts. Davis points out that Brown is not pro-Life, which would hurt him in GOP primaries.
President Barack Obama’s prospective 2012 Republican rivals are investing heavily in the Internet, looking to cut into what was an overwhelming advantage for Obama in the 2008 campaign.

Through the first three months of the year, the political groups started by Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee have spent a total of nearly $600,000 building their web operations, according to reports filed this month with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

The online competition has taken a variety of forms. Palin has hired the two young founders of a fan site that zealously defends her honor and upbraids her critics. Pawlenty has hired online consultants from the 2008 presidential campaigns of Romney and Ron Paul. Gingrich has developed a sophisticated in-house micro-targeting operation. And Huckabee has deployed volunteers to man social networks.

And, though each potential candidate insists the efforts – online and otherwise – are intended to boost conservatives headed into the 2010 midterm elections, their web operations suggest a keen awareness of the Internet’s importance for organizing, messaging and raising money – and certainly could help lay the groundwork for their own prospective bids in 2012.

“Anyone thinking about running for president – or even local dog catcher – needs to have an effective online strategy from day one, because it will be the most determining factor of early-, mid- and possibly late support,” said David All, an online political consultant who founded the blog TechRepublican.com, which tracks the use of Internet applications by Republican candidates and groups.

It’s not enough to simply have grassroots energy on the web, All says, because it takes infrastructure to channel online enthusiasm into engagement – and donations. “You have to be willing to put resources into online politics to do it right,” he said.

The biggest investment in online operations belongs to Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whose losing 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination had the most advanced online operation in the field, and Gingrich, the former GOP House Speaker from Georgia who flirted with running in 2008 and is already hinting about 2012.

Gingrich’s political group, American Solutions for Winning the Future has a major fundraising advantage over the others, because – as a so-called 527 group – it can accept unlimited contributions from people and corporations.

The groups started by Palin, Romney, Huckabee and Pawlenty, on the other hand, are federal leadership political action committees subject to contribution limits of $5,000 per-person-per-year and barred from taking corporate cash. They are, however able to give donations to candidates (which 527s are barred from doing), though such donations typically constitute only a fraction of expenditures.

American Solutions has used its cash advantage to fund a $600,000-a-year online operation. It includes outside contractors specializing in building membership lists and donor rolls through targeted web ads and building databases, such as ACF Solutions (which received $28,000 in the first quarter, according to an American Solutions IRS filing), and a three-person in-house team that has built a sophisticated micro-targeting system that breaks down the group’s email list into issue interests, level of engagement, congressional districts and zip codes.

“One of the things we’re really big on here at American Solutions is sending the right message to the right people,” said Tim Cameron, the group’s director of digital operations. “We put a lot of money into our back-end infrastructure.”

Though neither PACs nor 527s are permitted to spend their cash or assets directly on a presidential campaign, or any other type of campaign (by their chairmen or chairwomen), for that matter, they are often used to build staffs that can quickly transfer to campaigns payrolls, as well as donor or e-mail lists that can be rented, swapped or purchased by a presidential campaign.

Romney’s leadership PAC, Free & Strong America, spent nearly $264,000 in the first three months of the year on Web services, consulting, fundraising and data management, according to its FEC filings.

The lion’s share of that – $185,500 – went to Targeted Victory, the Alexandria, Va.-based firm headed partly by former Republican National Committee official Zac Moffatt, who runs Romney’s Web operation.

“His mission is to ensure that the PAC is constantly engaging and expanding its community online,” said Free & Strong America spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, who — like many employees and consultants paid by the PAC – worked on Romney’s 2008 campaign.

But a key member of Romney’s vaunted 2008 online team, Mindy Finn, signed on to work for the PAC chaired by Pawlenty, Freedom First, which has drawn praise from the tech community for its hires and use of the Internet.

Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor who’s not as well-known as some of the other prospective 2012 candidates, has deployed technology in innovative ways to close the gap, including hosting a Facebook town hall this month that drew 1,100 people.

“We put a high premium on new media and online outreach,” said Freedom First spokesman Alex Conant.

In the first quarter, FEC records show Freedom First spent about $103,000 on its Web operation, almost one-third of which went to a firm run by Finn and Patrick Ruffini. An additional $37,000 went to a California firm called Terra Eclipse, which built the website for Paul’s tech-savvy 2008 presidential run, while $5,000 went to the firm of Pat Hynes and Liz Mair, which did outreach to conservative bloggers for McCain’s presidential bid and the RNC, respectively.

To All, the TechRepublican.com blogger, Palin is an example of unfulfilled online potential.

“It would be fun to see her use that potential to its fullest,” he said, but, he added, “it’s pretty clear to me that there are people who are making decisions about what Sarah Palin does online who probably don’t have a deep understanding of the interactive channel.”

For example, All pointed out that, after Palin resigned as Alaska governor, she terminated a Twitter account with a so-called handle identifying her as governor, which had thousands of followers and started assembling a following from scratch using a new account with the handle @SarahPalinUSA.

“All she had to do was go in and change her user name and setting, and she could have kept all her supporters,” All said.

But Rebecca Mansour, who helps run Palin’s Internet operation, said Palin had to hand over her previous Twitter account to the state of Alaska because it was “regarded as state property,” so she couldn’t merely convert it to keep her followers.

Nonetheless, Palin’s new Twitter feed has nearly 135,000 followers – more than the accounts maintained by Romney, Pawlenty and Huckabee combined (though Gingrich’s is in a category by itself with 1.3 million followers), while Palin’s 1.5 million friends on Facebook laps the field many times over.

Though Palin’s leadership political action committee Sarah PAC boasts upward of 200,000 addresses on its e-mail list, Palin’s online operation centers more than the others on Twitter and Facebook, which require less overhead but don’t allow for as much data collection – a crucial consideration for fundraising.

In all, Sarah PAC spent less than $52,000 on its online operations in the first three months of the year.

To help manage online content, Sarah PAC late last year began paying Mansour and Joseph Russo, political neophytes who had started a blog called Conservatives4Palin, which became extremely popular among Palin supporters for its impassioned defenses of the former governor and attacks onmedia outlets deemed unfair to her.

Mansour, 36, a former screenwriter from Los Angeles, and Russo, a 23-year-old New Jersey resident, left the blog last summer and formed separate consulting firms, which have received a combined $46,000 in payments from Sarah PAC, according to FEC records.

“The idea online is to be able to get [Palin’s] messages out to as many of her supporters as possible,” said Sarah PAC Treasurer Tim Crawford.

The technical work of maintaining Sarah PAC’s website and online donation interface is being done by an Austin, Texas, firm called Upstream Communications, which ran Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign website and has received $88,000 from the PAC. Upstream took over from an online company run by Becki Donatelli, who had raised money online for the presidential campaign of Palin presidential running mate Sen. John McCain, but who reportedly butted heads with Palin’s Alaska inner circle.

Huckabee’s Huck PAC, meanwhile, spent only $31,000 on Web-related operations in the first quarter. But its executive director, J. Hogan Gidley, said the PAC offsets its relatively modest cash flow by deputizing a volunteer in every state to run a state-specific account for it on Facebook, Twitter and Ning, a smaller social-networking site popular with grass-roots political activists.

“Our strategy means a broad nationwide net of supporters and fewer resources required for day-to-day operations,” he said.

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23
Apr
10

Scott Brown rules out 2012 presidential bid

NEWS
Scott Brown rules out 2012 presidential bid

Friday, April 23, 2010

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on Friday ruled out a presidential run in 2012.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today” show, Brown ruled out running for president in 2012. Asked about Palin, he said, “Yeah, I think she’s qualified. Sure.” Will he support her if she decides to run for president? “Well, I’m going to support Gov. Romney and I’m going to see who’s out there in the field and then make my decision.”

As the NBC piece notes, Brown could be a key player in the coming weeks in Congress as Democrats seek GOP votes on financial regulation legislation and immigration. Brown, whose victory was celebrated by some in the Tea Party movement, voted for a Democratic jobs bills earlier this year. He’s up for re-election in 2012.

Brown joked that he’s been challenging President Obama to a round of basketball but hasn’t heard back. “Maybe when he needs a vote,” NBC reporter Jamie Gangel said. Brown shot back: “Maybe when he needs somebody who can shoot.”

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12
Apr
10

Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

NEWS
Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Monday, April 12, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already had a lot of things on his plate to get done in the Senate this year, even before last week’s news broke. Now he’s facing two more big issues in the midst of an election year (and in the midst of a fight for his own political life in Nevada) – a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, and an upcoming confirmation battle over a Supreme Court nomination. Given that Harry Reid’s Senate is not exactly known for moving with blinding speed (to be fair, few Senates are), one has to wonder whether Harry Reid can deliver on some of these big issues before the midterm elections or not.

The three major issues which Reid presently faces are the “New START” treaty, the Supreme Court nomination battle, and Wall Street reform. There are other issues just as large (and just as confrontational) which conventional Washington wisdom has already decided Reid isn’t even going to tackle in an election year (comprehensive immigration reform and a new energy policy, to name two of the biggest), although it must be said that politics is always fluid, so this conventional wisdom may prove wrong by November. Add to this the regular issues which the Senate must deal with (such as the budget), as well as pressing political problems like jobs legislation, and it’s pretty easy to see that Reid faces an overwhelming list of things to do this year.

Which means that a lot of the focus in Washington this year is going to be centered squarely on the Senate. Nancy Pelosi’s House has shown that it is much quicker and more productive, passing dozens of good bills (many with widespread Republican support), which have then done nothing but languish in the Senate. This backlog adds even further to Reid’s “to do” list. To be fair, the House does not have such constitutional duties as ratifying treaties or confirming judges. Because the Senate does, and because it faces one of each right now, it is just going to shrink the available time for the Senate to act on legislative issues this year.

Just considering the three highest-priority items on that list currently, it’s easy to see how they could eat up most (or all) of the Senate’s time between now and Election Day. Wall Street reform is the first of these scheduled for a showdown on the Senate floor. And – much like the health reform bill – this is a huge and complicated issue, with plenty of room for watering things down and inserting loopholes in the fine print. Which is exactly what both Republicans and Democrats who have sold their soul to the banking industry are going to attempt. If they don’t kill the bill outright, that is, or delay it endlessly until Reid cries “Uncle!” and shelves the whole debate.

To be blunt, Reid’s performance in the health reform struggle does nothing to inspire confidence that the donnybrook over Wall Street reform will be any different. To Reid’s credit, on health reform, he did finally deliver. About nine months late, but given the constraints he was working under (especially when Democrats lost the filibuster-proof majority they theoretically had), putting anything at all on the president’s desk was indeed a big achievement. But this time, we don’t have those extra nine months. And the constraints Reid faced then have not gone away. Which leaves passage of any meaningful Wall Street reform a real open question, at this point.

The next big, contentious issue on Reid’s schedule will be shepherding President Obama’s Supreme Court pick through the confirmation process. This fight will be different for two reasons. The first is that, ultimately, it is a binary choice for senators to make – either “yea” or “nay.” Unlike a legislative battle, where changing a paragraph here or there can gain you some votes, with a court nominee you’re either going to be for him or her, or against him or her – there’s no middle ground. The second reason this fight will be different is that it will have a real and concrete deadline. Justice John Paul Stevens is stepping down at the end of the Supreme Court’s current term, and the Senate really is going to need to act before the next term begins – which happens before the election. Meaning Harry Reid is going to face a deadline he won’t be able to ignore. And, so far, he hasn’t been all that impressive about meeting deadlines lately – although (again, to be fair) he did manage to do so the last time he faced this situation, confirming Sonia Sotomayor in a timely enough fashion for her to join the high court before its term began last year.

The third big issue Reid faces will be the Senate exercising their constitutional duty to ratify (or reject) the New START treaty which President Obama just signed. However, there is no real deadline on treaty ratification (at least, not as far as I know – there may be such a deadline in the language of the treaty itself). What this means is that if Harry Reid has to “punt” any of these three issues past the election itself, this is going to be the prime candidate to get put off.

The Senate returned to work today, after a two-week vacation. Or, as they officially and euphemistically call it, a “State Work Period” (even though they are fooling precisely nobody with this cheerfully Orwellian label). From today until Election Day dawns, the Senate has a further seven weeks of vacation time scheduled (so far). That’s one week for Memorial Day, one week for Independence Day, and five whole weeks for the “August In D.C. Is So Hellish Month.” And these are just the vacation periods scheduled so far (the “tentative” schedule currently says nothing about post-Labor Day vacations). Which is not to say that they aren’t going to take a big chunk of October off, to go home and campaign their little hearts out. In the last two midterm election years (2006 and 2002), the Senate took off six weeks and three weeks, respectively. In particular, 2006 was a relaxed and leisurely year for the Senate, as they worked precisely one week in all of October and November combined (a six-week election break was followed by one week of work, then two weeks off for Thanksgiving – nice work, if you can get it, eh?).

Taken together, the two weeks for holidays, the five weeks in August, and the (likely) four weeks or so before the election where the Senate won’t be in session, the schedule leaves only a little over four months’ worth of actual working time to get anything done. The Supreme Court pick is likely going to eat up roughly a month of this time, possibly more. Wall Street reform is going to take at least a month or two (and that is being wildly optimistic, I should add). Even if Reid punts on the treaty ratification, it’s easy to see that the calendar is going to be an awfully tough one for Senate Democrats to get much done outside of the major issues this year. Which puts even more pressure on them to deliver on the major issues themselves, I should add.

Congressional Democrats would like to campaign this year on the things they’ve been able to accomplish. As well as (knock wood) an economy that is visibly getting better for people, of course. So far, the things Democrats have been able to accomplish haven’t exactly resonated with the public (health care, the stimulus, etc.). Whether Democratic officeholders have anything else to put before the voters as solid Democratic accomplishments is going to hinge mostly on Reid’s performance for the rest of this year.

If Harry Reid can manage to produce, he may improve his own currently-dismal re-election chances in Nevada, as well as give the Democratic voter base a reason to get enthusiastic about voting in November. But, if Reid cannot deliver, a lot of Democrats are going to be sucked down on Reid’s “coattails” come Election Day. Now, obviously, there are other factors at play in this election season – which, like all midterms, is problematic for the president’s party – but Harry Reid could either give Democrats a real boost in their chances at the polls by delivering a few big wins (and, one hopes, a whole bunch of smaller wins), or he could squander this opportunity and not provide legislative victories for Democrats to tout on the campaign trail.

Harry Reid has the rest of this year to produce some solid Senate victories. And the question remains: Can Harry Reid actually deliver? For many Democrats, the answer to this question is a whole lot more than merely academic, and may in fact mean quite a bit to their own chances in the upcoming election.

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08
Apr
10

Scientists come face to face with 2 million-year-old ‘missing link’

NEWS
Scientists come face to face with 2 million-year-old ‘missing link’

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Science••• Two million years after he died in a deep death-shaft cave along with a sabre-toothed cat, a horse, wild dog, hyena and other animals, the remains of a human-like juvenile male – potentially a missing link in the evolutionary transition of apes to humans, and estimated to have been nine years old when he died – have been discovered by a boy of the same age.

The find in South Africa of the 4.26 feet specimen, which could walk upright on its two legs like humans and swing in trees with particularly long arms and strong curved fingers, together with an adult believed to be his mother, is being hailed by scientists as one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the modern quest to understand the evolution of mankind.

The presence of two other skeletons, confirmed yesterday, has led to speculation that all four were family members who died together after entering the cave in search of water and becoming trapped, along with the animals. There is clear evidence of plaque on the teeth, and scientists are examining what may be tools.

Professor Paul Dirks, head of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Queensland’s James Cook University, told The Australian: “We have been incredibly fortunate. We have bumped into one of the best finds ever. It couldn’t have been better orchestrated.”
The initial discovery in August 2008 has been kept secret until now to allow scientific study of the site and its contents. The find occurred during a cave-mapping and fossil-searching project designed by Professor Dirks, a geologist and professor Lee Berger, colleagues at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for seven years until late last year.

Professor Berger, a controversial U.S. paleoanthropologist whose son Matthew spotted the collarbone of the juvenile protruding from the ground in an area known as the Cradle of Humankind, said yesterday: “We have at least two more skeletons emerging – they literally are emerging.”

Professor Berger described how his son had run off to an unexplored part of the cave. “After a minute and a half, he said `Dad, I’ve found a fossil. I was sure it would be an antelope fossil.”

But when he saw the bone he realised it was the clavicle, or collarbone, of a hominin, and nearby was a block of rock containing part of its jaw and teeth.

Asked yesterday whether the find was the missing link between apes and humans, Professor Berger said that although he did not approve of the simplistic term, it appeared the species was “transitional”, with a mosaic of characteristics shared by later hominins from the genus Homo and earlier hominins from the genus Australopithecus.

Professor Berger described the pelvic structure as “very advanced and very human-like”.

“They could still climb trees – that was very clear with those long arms – but they were very competent walking bipeds on the ground,” he said.

Although DNA has not been reliably identified beyond remains tens of thousands of years old, the scientific team, including experts from universities in Melbourne, Sydney and Townsville, is trying everything possible to recover traces of DNA from the two-million-year-old fossils.

The species, which has a brain about one-third the size of the modern human brain, has been newly named Australopithecus Sediba.

Professor Dirks said he and Professor Berger had devised a plan to rely on geology to identify locations of potential fossil-bearing caves, leading them to the cave site known as Malapa, about 25 miles from Johannesburg.

It is producing an astonishing wealth of fossils that are remarkably well preserved, causing scientists to reconsider the rightful place of different species in human evolution.

“They would have died within reach and within minutes or hours or days or weeks of each other,” Professor Dirks said.

Describing the life of the species and how the individuals probably died in the cave, Professor Dirks paints a picture of a “death shaft” descending about 50m from the ground to the bottom: “We believe they may have gone in search of water during a calamitous drought.”
• Latest News & Headlines » Home «
• Source(s): James Cook University (Townsville, Queensland, Australia)
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08
Apr
10

U.S. And Russia Sign Historic Nuclear Treaty

NEWS
U.S. And Russia Sign Historic Nuclear Treaty

Thursday, April 8, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama and the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, have signed a landmark nuclear arms treaty in the Czech capital, Prague.

The treaty commits the former Cold War enemies to each reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1 550 – 30 percent lower than the previous ceiling.

It also limits the number of deployed “launchers” – ballistic missiles and heavy bombers – to no more than 700.

The deal replaces the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 1991.

After it was agreed, Obama hailed the deal as the most comprehensive weapons control agreement in nearly two decades.

“With this agreement, the United States and Russia – the two largest nuclear powers in the world – also send a clear signal that we intend to lead,” he said.

The treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.

The U.S. and Russian leaders signed the New START treaty at 12:00 pm CET (8:00 am EDT) in Prague Castle (Spanish Hall), the Czech president’s residence.
Speaking after the signing ceremony, President Obama said the treaty demonstrated that both countries had halted the deterioration of their relations, which had prevented agreement on mutually important issues in the past.

“When the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it’s not good for either of our nations, nor is it good for the world. Together we’ve stopped that drift and proven the benefits of co-operation,” he added.

Mr. Obama said the pact was “an important milestone for nuclear security and non-proliferation” and set the stage for further arms cuts.

“While the New Start treaty is an important first step forward, it is just one step on a longer journey. This treaty will set the stage for further cuts, and going forward, we hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons.”

He said the talks – beginning this summer – would cover missile defence, threat assessments, and the completion of a joint assessment of emerging ballistic missiles.

For his part, President Medvedev said the negotiating process had not been simple, but the treaty represented a “win-win situation” that would enhance strategic stability and bilateral relations.

“The result we have obtained is good,” he said. “We have got a document that fully maintains the balance of interests between Russia and the U.S. The main thing is that there are no victors or losers here.”

But Mr. Medvedev said disagreements remained between Moscow and Washington over U.S. plans for a missile defence shield, which have been modified by Mr. Obama.

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister warned that it could abandon the New Start treaty “if a quantitative and qualitative build-up of the U.S. strategic anti-missile potential begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russia’s strategic forces”.

It was Moscow’s concerns over Washington’s plans to base interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic that helped delay the new treaty. President Obama shelved the idea in September, although new plans include ground-based interceptor missiles in Romania.

The White House has said it hopes and expects the U.S. Senate to ratify the New Start treaty this year. Senate ratification requires 67 votes, which means it must include Republicans.

The Russian lower house of parliament must also approve the treaty, but as long as the Kremlin supports it, ratification there is expected to be a formality.

During private talks before the signing ceremony, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev also discussed Iran’s nuclear programme.

The U.S. wants the U.N. Security Council to approve tougher sanctions against Tehran, over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

“Unfortunately Tehran is not reacting to an array of constructive compromise proposals. We cannot close our eyes to this,” Mr. Medvedev said afterwards.

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