From the daily archives: Monday, March 26, 2012

By Mario Conde

The Calexico School Board adopted a resolution authorizing the issue and sale of an additional $6 million in Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes, bringing the total issuance to $11 million for 2011-12

The District issued $5 million in TRAN in July 2011 in anticipation of possible cash flow deficiencies. These funds were deposited to the County Treasure in a separate fund. CUSD did not draw from these funds. This TRAN has been repaid in full and the initial $5 million is no longer available for 2011-12.

Superintendent Richard Fragale said that in order to meet the projected cash flow deficiencies for June 2012, estimated as high as $6 million, it is necessary for CUSD to issue a 2011-12 TRAN that can be repaid in 2012-13 fiscal year. To do so, the District must increase its Maximum of borrowing authorization, he said. The District wanted to do another TRAN in January but the underwriter advised to purchase it through an alternative-rated market.

The fiscal impact of this action can vary greatly, as cost will depend upon the total amount of TRAN funds used to alleviate District cash flows, as well as interest rates at the time of the borrowing. Based on current cash flow projections, interest expense is estimated at a $25,000, which must be repaid along with the $6 million principal.

In other news, the Board approved the consideration to move Aurora High School and the Adult Education Center to the old Blanche Charles Elementary School Site. The move, Superintendent Fragale said, is to allow students to have a bigger cafeteria and a larger place for sports and recreation.

Aurora High School has been at its present location on Rockwood Avenue since September of 1979, providing an alternative secondary program to students in grades 9-12.

 

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Supreme court debates ‘Obamacare’ and Republican campaign – live” was written by Jim Newell, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.55 UTC

12.54pm: Day One of the Case of the Century has already concluded, and the chamber is clearing out. Here’s CNN/New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin‘s insta-reaction from the press bench:

Jamie Dupree of WBS radio had a bit more to offer, suggesting that there was still plenty of intra-justice sparring during these early, procedural hours:

While the U.S. Supreme Court set aside 90 minutes for argument on the first day of its review of the Obama health reform law, it did not seem like there was an appetite among the Justices to side step the essential question of the constitutionality of the law itself.

Instead, the Justices started skirmishing in advance of what will be the main event on Tuesday, when the Supreme Court takes two hours to review the individual mandate.

Jess Bravin at the Wall Street Journal felt a similar vibe – that the justices seem quite eager to fight this out instead of making an anticlimactic punt:

From what we’ve seen today, most of the justices appeared ready to get to the core of this case now, without waiting until 2014. Overall, the justices didn’t seem receptive to the argument that the Anti-Injunction Act bars a suit until 2014 or after because they didn’t see the insurance-mandate penalty as the kind of tax envisioned by the act.

For further insta-reactions, read any news website. Or stay here all day! You should stay here.

12.31pm: Actor Martin Sheen, who played President Jed Bartlett on The West Wing, has lent his fictional presidential voice to this new ad for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

“The same Republicans in Congress who obstructed Mr. Obama every step on the road back,” he says, “now want to end Medicare, eliminate it altogether.” Watch out, Martin Sheen! PolitiFact is going to shake a fist in your direction, any second now.

12.14pm: Today’s hearing at the Supreme court has now finished for the day.

12.10pm: Why can’t the Supreme Court justices simply decided this case with a game of paintball between the liberals and conservatives? You can learn so much from a game of paintball, according to these Western journalists who played with Hezbollah members.

11.56am: Aaaaand here’s the long-awaited video footage of Rick Santorum calling “bullshit” on Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. Yes, it looks worse on video. Meaning it’s hilarious! He is quite the angry fellow.

 

11.44am: It wasn’t the big name lawyers for either side – profiles here and here – who opened the proceedings, the Wall Street Journal writes:

In a twist, the first lawyer set to stand up before the court Monday morning wasn’t Donald Verrilli or Paul Clement, the powerhouse advocates leading each side. Instead it’s Robert Long, a Covington & Burling partner who is arguing that the case isn’t ripe for adjudication. Long was hired by the Supreme Court to make that argument because both of the litigants – in a rare point of agreement – say the case is ready to be decided.

And the Associated Press reports on what sounds like a very… exciting… opening…

Eight of nine justices fired two dozen questions in less than half hour at Washington attorney Robert Long. He was appointed by the justices to argue that the case has been brought prematurely because a law bars tax disputes from being heard in the courts before the taxes have been paid.

Under the new law, taxpayers who don’t purchase health insurance will have to report that omission on tax returns for 2014 and will pay a penalty along with federal income tax. At issue is whether that penalty is a tax.

The “good stuff” comes tomorrow, when the individual mandate will be up for question-firing.

11.32am: Here’s our latest commentary on the issue, in which Jason Farago argues that Justices Roberts and Kennedy are all too aware of how overturning the PPACA would reflect on the Court’s reputation:

John Roberts surely wants to see the president lose this election as much as any establishment conservative, but it may be the election of 2000, rather than 2012, that really forces the chief justice’s hand. Whether he believes the zany arguments of the act’s opponents have worth is not the central question – because, to be frank, he has more to lose than Barack Obama, if he strikes it down. Obama may get a second chance, but for Roberts, the entire legitimacy of his court is as stake.

I wouldn’t go before a “death panel” to say so, but it seems a safe bet that Roberts and Kennedy will back the administration, if on narrow terms. But in the unlikely event that the justices kill part or all of the Affordable Care Act, it will at least remind us of one unspoken issue in this presidential race: that when we choose a president for four years, we’re also getting supreme court justices for decades more.

 

11.19am: Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo is also outside the Supreme Court, and notes that the atmosphere closely resembles those last days of protests outside the Capitol two years ago when the House was passing the health care law – specifically, tea partiers and liberal supporters shouting past each other with cheap sloganeering:

11.08am: Spotted amid the throngs of activists and angry journalists who couldn’t procure seating to today’s Supreme Court hearing: Rick Santorum, whining (appropriately) about how Mitt Romney basically invented the dreaded legislation being discussed indoors.

10.45am: Rick Santorum is standing by his hurling of a curse word – oh my! – at a New York Times reporter, telling Fox & Friends this morning, “If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of a campaign, you’re not really a real Republican.” A new public litmus test! Romney? Gingrich? When will you curse out a Timesman in public?

Santorum – like any good Catholic boy – is even turning his vulgarity into a fundraising opportunity, emailing his supporters this morning:

Earlier today, while campaigning in Wisconsin, I criticized Romney and Obama for their outrageous healthcare legislation. Predictably, I was aggressively attacked by a New York Times reporter all too ready to defend the two of them, and all too ready to distort my words. Let me assure you, I didn’t back down, and I didn’t let him bully me. I think it is high time that conservatives find the courage to expose the liberal press for what they are, a defender and enabler of Romney’s and Obama’s liberal agendas.

This will probably reap great rewards.

10.35am: Let’s say there are two ways to evaluate the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning, or at least mortally wounding, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: (1) Read every explainer – or really the entirety of every legal blog over the past two years – to arrive at a conclusion based on justices’ previous rulings, overturn rates, or even (god forbid) the case’s merits, or (2) notice that there are five conservatives on the court as opposed to four liberals and just assume they’ll overturn it. The American public, according to The Hill’s latest poll, seem to be thinking more along the lines of (2):

Although voters want the court to strike the law, they don’t necessarily trust the justices’ motivations. Fifty-six percent of likely voters believe the justices are swayed by their own political beliefs, while just 27 percent believe they “make impartial decisions based on their reading of the Constitution.”

Skepticism about the justices relying on their political beliefs ran consistently among age, racial and philosophical categories, with a majority of whites (54 percent), blacks (59 percent), Republicans (56 percent), Democrats (59 percent), conservatives (54 percent), centrists (56 percent) and liberals (59 percent) expressing the same viewpoint.

10.17am: Not that he matters in any way whatsoever, but here is a new ad from Herman Cain in which a bunny is launched from a catapult and then shot in mid-air.

You’ll recall that Herman Cain led a major party’s race for its presidential nomination for several whole weeks last fall.

10.13am: President Obama, as ABC’s Jake Tapper reports, got himself into a bit of hot mic trouble near the end of his 90-minute meeting with Russian president Dmitri Medvedev this morning. Here’s the eerie transcript, in which Obama pleads for “space” on missile defense until his would-be reelection is out of the way:

Obama: On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space.

Medvedev: Yeah, I understand. I understand your message about space. Space for you…

Obama: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.

Medvedev: I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.

The White House has responded that with Russia having only recently resolved (in its own special way) its “election,” and the United States still having eight more months until its election that’s already been under way for a year, it’s true that neither side expects to get much done in the near term.

10.00am: Good morning and welcome to your Monday politics liveblog. This is Jim Newell writing from Washington. While you can usually find me at Wonkette these days, I’ll be substituting this week to bring you all the freshest political misery.

Most of today’s focus will be on the Supreme Court health care reform hearing, as Ryan Devereaux writes in our briefing of the morning’s events, but sadly the Supreme Court can’t fit us all as spectators. So we’ll have plenty of time to cover the other stuff – what mean things Rick Santorum said about Obama, or Mitt Romney said about Santorum, and so on, forever.

The main focus of political news comes away from the campaign trail today as 26 states challenge the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s signature health care legislation in the Supreme Court. A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds more Americans continue to disapprove of the president’s federal health care law than support it. According to the poll, 47% of Americans disapprove of the Affordable Care act while 36% approve, 16% don’t have an opinion. The issue has been prominent on the campaign trail: last week the Obama administration decided to embrace the term “Obamacare”, a phrase often used pejoratively by the president’s challengers.

Rick Santorum took a swing at Mitt Romney on Sunday, calling him “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” Speaking in Wisconsin over the weekend, Santorum added that the former Massachusetts governor was “uniquely disqualified” to serve as the GOP’s presidential candidate. “Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” Santorum said. When pressed about his comments by a reporter, Santorum responded with obscenities. “Quit distorting my words. It’s bullshit.” Both the Obama and Romney camps have capitalized on Santorum’s outburst to cast him as a panicky and unhinged candidate in the final days of a failing campaign. It’s also earned him the nickname, “Tantorum”.

A senior White House adviser, David Plouffe, hit back at Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich for their “reprehensible” comments on the Trayvon Martin shooting. On Friday President Obama expressed his sympathy for the Martin family, saying: “If had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Gingrich said the comments were divisive, and Santorum said the president was “politicizing” the issue. Plouffe said the comments were “reprehensible” and appealing to voters’ “worst instincts”.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The pope has work to do selling Catholicism in Cuba’s busy marketplace” was written by Richard Gott, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.17 UTC

Largely ignored and undervalued by the Roman Catholic church for more than five centuries, Cuba is now receiving its second papal visit in 14 years. Yet Pope Benedict XVI’s visit this week takes place in rather different circumstances than that of Pope John Paul II in 1998. In those days, the charismatic Polish pope was on a wave of popularity, and an uncritical media suggested that perhaps he might sound the trumpet and the walls of communism in Cuba would tumble as they had done earlier in eastern Europe.

Today the uncharismatic German pope, struggling to restore the stained reputation of a global institution suffering from internal malpractices and external apathy, is perceived to have lesser ambitions.

Cuba too, has changed. In 1998, Fidel Castro was still in complete control, and the country was only just beginning to emerge from a disastrous economic decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its financial friend and political patron.

Today it is Fidel’s brother, Raúl, as uncharismatic as his papal visitor, who runs the show, presiding over a country that has got over the worst of its economic difficulties and has been gingerly putting its toes into the uncertain waters of contemporary capitalism. Reform rather than upheaval is on the agenda.

Yet some things do not change. Cuba remains an island where the Roman Catholic church has a weak and insubstantial hold. Afro-Cuban religions – Santería, Palo Monte and Abakuá – come top of the popularity contest among the great mass of the people, followed almost certainly by a variety of Protestants sects imported from the United States over a century ago.

The Roman Catholic church, an almost exclusively urban phenomenon run by Spanish priests over most of its existence, comes a poor third, although the pope will certainly be welcomed by large crowds, always happy to witness a great state-spectacle. He will visit the ugly shrine at El Cobre, outside Santiago de Cuba, of the Virgin of Charity, a saintly national heroine variously endorsed over time by Indians, blacks and whites, and celebrated by both Catholics and Afro-Cuban enthusiasts.

The real challenge facing the Roman Catholic church, both in Cuba and in the rest of Latin America, is the tremendous growth in recent decades of evangelical Protestantism. In Cuba, the various denominations popular in the United States in the 19th century arrived with the US invasion of 1898, and spread rapidly all over in the country, bringing their unique blend of education and self-help. They divided up the country between them: Northern Baptists in Oriente, Southern Baptists in Pinar del Rio, Quakers and Methodists in eastern Cuba, Presbyterians and Congregationalists in the west, and Episcopalians in Matanzas.

They were a vital element in the North Americanisation of Cuba in the 20th century, against which Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 was in part a rebellion, but the Protestant missionaries, unlike the Catholics, had been quick to move into the rural areas, to enrol Cuban pastors and to teach black children. In the more promiscuous era of the 21st century, where Cuba officially tolerates a wide variety of religions, the Protestant sects have been quick to build on this legacy.

The Roman Catholic Church, many of whose Franco-era Spanish priests were expelled in the early 1960s, has had more difficulty in re-establishing itself in the hearts and minds of the people. The experience of centuries in negotiating relations between Church and state has somehow passed it by.

For most of the past half century, the Cuban Roman Catholic Church has been content just to survive, without playing any significant role. Only in the past few years has it begun to negotiate a possible position as an intermediary between the state and the embryonic emergence of a civil society.

By happenstance, the two most popular figures in Latin America will be present in Havana during the pope’s visit: Fidel Castro, now old and retired but still sprightly, and Hugo Chávez, the youthful but ailing president of Venezuela, in town for a radiotherapy session to treat his cancer.

Will Pope Benedict participate in a photo opportunity, in the hope that some of their charisma will rub off on him and on his church?

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “New media gurus launch Upworthy – their ‘super-basic’ internet start-up” was written by Ed Pilkington, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 15.48 UTC

As Upworthy’s launch editors openly admit the first offering from the new website is “super-basic”. It contains nothing more, so far, than a mission statement and a couple of links relating to the Trayvon Martin story.

But as any start-up entrepreneur will tell you, you’ve got to begin somewhere. Upworthy’s founders hope that Monday’s modest offering will snowball into a website that becomes “the place to find awesome, meaningful, visual things to share”.

So why should this attempt at aggregation prove any more successful than the myriad other start-ups that never quite make it? Well, the track record of its founders certainly make Upworthy worth watching, even if it doesn’t guarantee success.

The mission statement is written with trademark satirical touch by the Onion’s former editor Peter Koechley. The other two founders are Chris Hughes, who was in at the beginning of Facebook and used the ample proceeds recently to buy the New Republic magazine, and Eli Pariser, president of the left-wing internet campaign MoveOn.

The founders are remaining annoyingly coy about their aspirations for Upworthy, formerly known as Cloud Tiger Media, so we have to rely on the mission statement to divine their intentions. It sums up their hopes with the phrase “I can haz meaning” stamped over a cute picture of a cat.

They want to bring together content that is “awesome”, “meaningful” and “visual” and make it viral through sharing across social media – hence the name Upworthy. By so doing, they want to help fight the inanity of internet content, of which only 0.1% – by their estimation – actually matters.

It’s too early to tell whether their offering will rise to the surface amid the sea of competing porn, adverts on how to get a flat belly in 30 days and – yes – pictures of cute cats. But at least now we have a URL, and that’s a start.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘Taliban sympathiser’ arrest prompts new questions about FBI tactics” was written by Paul Harris in New York, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.01 UTC

The arrest of a Pittsburgh man described as a Taliban sympathiser has sparked allegations that the FBI deployed a notorious confidential informant used in previous controversial stings on suspected Muslim radicals.

Khalifah al-Akili, 34, was arrested in a police raid on his home on March 15. He was later charged with illegally possessing a gun after having previous felony convictions for drug dealing. However, at his court appearance an FBI agent testified that al-Akili had made radical Islamic statements and that police had uncovered unspecified jihadist literature at his home.

But, in a strange twist, al-Akili’s arrest came just days after he had sent out an email to friends and local Muslim civil rights groups complaining that he believed he was the target of an FBI “entrapment” sting. That refers to a controversial FBI tactic of using confidential informants – who often have criminal records or are paid large sums of money – to facilitate “fake” terrorist plots for suspects to invent or carry out.

In the email – which was also sent to the Guardian before al-Akili was arrested – he detailed meeting two men he believed were FBI informants because of the way they talked about radical Islam and appeared to want to get him to make jihadist statements. According to his account, one of them, who called himself Saeed Torres, asked him to buy a gun. Al-Aikili said he refused. The other, who was called Mohammed, offered to help him go to Pakistan for possible Islamic radical training. Al-Akili also refused.

In the email al-Akili recounted that he obtained a phone number from Mohammed and put it into Google. The search returned a reference to the case of the Newburgh Four, where an FBI confidential informant called Shahed Hussain helped secure the convictions of four men for attempting to blow up Jewish targets in the Bronx.

Hussain’s actions became notorious among civil rights groups due to the incentives he deployed on his targets, who were local black Muslims in the impoverished town of Newburgh. They included offering one suspect $250,000, a car and a free holiday. Al-Akili said he also found a picture of Shahed Hussain on the internet and realised it was the same man as “Mohammed”.

Al-Akili concluded his email by saying: “I would like to pursue a legal action against the FBI due to their continuous harassment and attempts to set me up.” The Guardian contacted al-Akili by email and on March 14 by phone and al-Akili agreed to talk more to the Guardian about his belief that he was being set up by Hussain. But he was arrested the next day and has been denied bail as a potential threat to the public, keeping him in jail.

Al-Akili’s lawyer Mike Healey believes that the FBI may have been monitoring al-Akili’s emails, and possibly his phone, and then rushed to arrest him once Hussain had been identified and al-Akili had effectively gone public with his fears.

Healey questioned why the FBI would use Hussain, who has also been widely criticised for his role in another “entrapment” case in Albany, New York, which resulted in the jailing of a local imam and a pizza shop owner. “What are they doing bringing him here? I am amazed they would use someone like that,” he said.

Yet, despite being painted in court as a dangerous radical Islamist, the only charges brought against al-Akili were for firing a rifle – which Healey said was owned by a friend – at a local shooting range almost two years ago in June 2010. Al-Akili faces the prospect of a hefty jail sentence if found guilty.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment on whether the agency had been using Shahed Hussain as a confidential informant in Pittsburgh.

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