March 26th, 2012
By Stephen Hayes
Mitt Romney wants to eliminate government programs and shutter cabinet agencies. Doing so, he says, is “the critical thing” that needs to be done in order to bring government books back into balance and to begin restoring the promise of America. “Actually eliminating programs is the most important way to keep Congress from stuffing the money back into them,” he told me in a 30-minute interview on March 21. It’s a smart answer and a deeply conservative one.
But Romney, ever cautious, is reluctant to get specific about the programs he would like to kill. He did this in his bid for the Senate 18 years ago and remembers the political ramifications.
“One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education,” Romney recalled. “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies. So for instance, I anticipate that housing vouchers will be turned over to the states rather than be administered at the federal level, and so at this point I think of the programs to be eliminated or to be returned to the states, and we’ll see what consolidation opportunities exist as a result of those program eliminations. So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”
Romney’s answer goes a long way to explain why some conservatives have been reluctant to embrace his candidacy. They want a list. They want it to be long, they want it to be detailed, and they want a candidate who is not only willing to provide one but eager to campaign on it. This is especially true after the historic success of the unapologetic, aggressive strain of conservatism that triumphed in the 2010 midterm elections.
That’s not Mitt Romney. It never will be.
In a conversation with him, you can feel him thinking about his words, trying to make sure he doesn’t say anything that could become the latest in a string of gaffes—some real, some manufactured—that have dogged his campaign. His inveterate risk-aversion often comes off as a lack of commitment to conservative policies and goals, a perception that confounds his advisers, who say that Romney, in the spirit of the turnaround campaigns that marked his career in the private sector, is dedicated to profound, even radical, changes in what the federal government does and how it operates.
Thus far, their assurances haven’t been enough. Exit polls in primaries show Romney has difficulty earning support from voters who identify themselves as “very conservative,” usually winning just one out of three voters in that group. If he’d been able to win a majority of those voters, he would have been the de facto nominee weeks ago. But their resistance continues. Even in his decisive victory in Illinois, he won just 36 percent of self-identified “very conservative” voters. I asked him why.
“You know, I don’t know that I’m the pundit that can make that analysis for you,” he says with the laugh that often accompanies his answers to difficult questions. “I describe what my positions are on issues and lay out my policy and people will either warm to it or not, depending upon how they connect with it. So as to all of the factors that are associated with those that support me and those that support me less—well, I’m going to let you do that work.”
After I told him that I wasn’t sure I’d done that analysis well, he offered something of an answer.
“Obviously there are some for whom coming from Massachusetts is an issue,” he theorizes. “There are some—the health care plan in Massachusetts they can’t get over. There are others for whom religion is an issue. You’ll have to do the cross-tabs on a lot of things to figure out where that is, but one thing I can assure you is that the one group that will certainly be with me in the general election if I’m the nominee will be conservatives and very conservatives. Because they’re certainly not going to vote for Barack Obama.”
Romney had given a similar answer to Megyn Kelly in an interview on Fox News. Conservatives grumbled that his answer suggested his campaign was taking them for granted. Even in a Romney-Obama general election contest, the choice for potential voters isn’t binary. Republicans unenthusiastic about the nominee could stay home. According to exit polls, some 4 million fewer Republicans voted in 2008 than had turned out four years earlier. And polls suggest that enthusiasm for the Republican frontrunner this time is lower than it was at a similar point in the 2008 contest.
Nonetheless, a repeat of those turnout woes seems unlikely, in part because the Barack Obama on the ballot won’t be an abstraction—a candidate who ran as a post-partisan leader vowing to end the wars and economic uncertainty that seemed to exhaust Americans at the end of the Bush administration. He is, instead, a president with a record, a man who has added more debt in three years than his predecessor added in eight and whose two signature domestic policy achievements—the stimulus and Obamacare—are so unpopular that Democrats avoid using the terms. The list of his foreign policy and national security accomplishments doesn’t go far beyond authorizing the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
Still, for Romney to take conservatives for granted would be “political malpractice,” according to a highly regarded Republican strategist not affiliated with any presidential campaign. “An animating feature of the explosive growth of the Tea Party was due to their being dismissed (even before they were dissed and demeaned) as an insignificant voice.”
Romney hasn’t ignored this part of the Republican base. He has appeared at Tea Party events, he is a regular on conservative talk radio, and he has courted their leaders.
Last Thursday Romney reached out to the de facto leader of that group on a trip to Washington. Senator Jim DeMint, who vowed not to endorse in the Republican presidential primary, came awfully close in comments to reporters after that meeting.
“I can tell conservatives from my perspective that, I’m not only comfortable with Romney, I’m excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee,” he said.
The following day, Senator Pat Toomey, a DeMint ally and former head of the Club for Growth, also praised Romney. “I think Mitt Romney is a conservative, and I think if elected he’ll govern as a conservative.” That, of course, is the big question. To have a movement conservative like Toomey offer that kind of backing is no small thing.
Toomey added: “I think Governor Romney is absolutely committed to the principles of limited government. I think he knows the free enterprise system is a source of prosperity, and opportunity, and personal fulfillment, and elevating people out of poverty.”
Toomey will not endorse, but his words echo those Romney uses on his own behalf. “I have a number of liberal folks I’ve met with, and I listen to them and I think, ‘How can you be so clueless? How do you not understand that free enterprise is the only economic strategy which has ever lifted people out of poverty and provided long-term prosperity? And you continue to try and find ways to attack free enterprise?’ I simply don’t understand it.”
The president is one of those liberals. Romney’s critique of Obama is often focused on competence more than ideology. “He’s a nice guy, but he’s in over his head,” Romney often says.
Why not say more about ideology? Romney says the two critiques are mutually reinforcing.
Obama, he says, has an “agenda which is contrary to the interests of the economy and the nation. And I think a lot of people who have that agenda are clueless.”
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
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March 26th, 2012
Wired / Ryan Singel
The FTC put the online advertising and user tracking industry on notice Monday that it’s time to clean up its act and start treating users’ data with respect, laying out broad guidelines for companies to follow. But the agency stopped short of calling for federal regulation of online data collectors, amid protests from online companies that regulation would kill a vibrant industry.
The report adds more weight to the Commerce Department’s own recent report and the White House’s call for an online bill of rights. The FTC’s report (.pdf) outlines broad principles that the FTC wants browser makers, ISPs, online ad companies, search engines and social networks — as well as offline data collecting entities — to pledge to obey.
“With this Report, the Commission calls on companies to act now to implement best practices to protect consumers’ private information. These best practices include making privacy the “default setting” for commercial data practices and giving consumers greater control over the collection and use of their personal data through simplified choices and increased transparency,” the FTC said, adding that doing so should increase user’s trust in services and increase business for all.
While there’s no stick involved yet for online companies, the report did call for federal legislation that would force transparency on giant data collection companies like Choicepoint and Lexis Nexis. Few Americans know about those companies’ databases but they are used by law enforcement, employers and landlords. The FTC is asking Congress to make it easier for Americans to view and correct their data, as legislation requires with credit bureaus.
The FTC report emphasizes what it calls “privacy by design,” alluding to the idea that privacy and data security should be built into any service, not an afterthought. The four principles called for in the report are data security, reasonable collection limits, sound retention practices, and data accuracy. While the report is new, the principles are based on 40 year princples known as Fair Information Practices.
The FTC did not, however, lay down any hard or fast rules. For instance, data rentention periods are left to companies to decide – so that a mortgage broker can keep payment history information for the life of a mortgage, whereas a mobile app that collects a user’s current location would be encouraged to delete that data much faster.
Instead of prescriptions, the FTC wants a set of self-regulatory groups to build on these principles and issue best practices for various industries, and then have individual companies agree to abide by such rules.
That’s despite the report’s own admission that this model, which has been tried by the FTC since 2000 in regards to online privacy, has been a failure.
Commission agrees that, to date, self-regulation has not gone far enough. In most areas, with the notable exception of efforts surrounding Do Not Track, there has been little self-regulation of the data broker industry. For example, the FTC’s recent survey of mobile apps marketed to children revealed that many of these apps fail to provide any disclosure about the extent to which they collect and share consumers’ personal data. Similarly, efforts to establish self-regulatory rules concerning consumer privacy have fallen short.
These examples illustrate that even in some well-established markets, basic privacy concepts like transparency about the nature of companies’ data practices and meaningful consumer control are absent. This absence erodes consumer trust.
As if to give the rules some more weight, the FTC does say that it is joining the White House and Commerce department’s call for a “baseline” consumer privacy law – though it’s not clear whether there’s any real political will to do so, since setting privacy rules in writing is hard.
Just ask the FTC.
March 26th, 2012
In James Cameron's fantasy films, like "Avatar" and "The Abyss," the unexplored is splashed in color and fraught with alien danger. But on his dive to the deepest place on Earth, reality proved far different: white, barren and bland.
Yet otherworldly -- and amazing.
"I felt like I literally, in the space of one day, had gone to another planet and come back," Cameron said Monday after returning from the cold, dark place in the western Pacific Ocean, seven miles (11 1/4 kilometers) below the surface. "It was a very surreal day."
Cameron is the first person to explore the deepest valley in the ocean since two men made a 20-minute foray there more than half a century ago. He spent about three hours gliding through the icy darkness, illuminated only by special lights on the one-man sub he helped design. That was only about half as long as planned because his battery ran low.
This deepest section of the 1,500-mile(2,415-kilometer)-long Mariana Trench is so untouched that at first it appeared dull. But there's something oddly dark and compelling about the first snippets of video that Cameron shot. It's not what you see, but where it puts you. There is a sense of aloneness that Cameron conveys in the wordless video showing his sub gliding across what he calls "the very soft, almost gelatinous flat plain."
"My feeling was one of complete isolation from all of humanity," Cameron said.
It may not have looked all that dramatic and, in a way, Cameron was "doing exploration with training wheels," said Andy Bowen, who heads the deep submergence lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
But it was an amazing start.
The images "do lack the visual impact of highly colorized 3D spectacular representations of the ocean," Bowen said. But there are still "dramatic discoveries to be made."
The minute-long snippet, released by trip sponsor National Geographic, is just a coming attraction. Cameron will keep diving in the area, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) southwest of the island of Guam, where the depth of the trench is called Challenger Deep. And he's already filming it in 3D for later viewing.
To Cameron, the main thing was to appreciate just being there. He didn't do that when he first dove to the wreck of the Titanic, and Apollo astronauts have said they never had time to savor where they were.
"There had to be a moment where I just stopped, and took it in, and said, `This is where I am; I'm at the bottom of the ocean, the deepest place on Earth. What does that mean?"' Cameron told reporters during a conference call.
"I just sat there looking out the window, looking at this barren, desolate lunar plain, appreciating," Cameron said.
He also realized how alone he was, with that much water above him.
"It's really the sense of isolation, more than anything, realizing how tiny you are down in this big, vast, black, unknown and unexplored place," the "Titanic" director said.
Cameron said he had hoped to see some sort of strange deep sea creature that would excite the storyteller in him, but he didn't.
He didn't see tracks of small primitive sea animals on the ocean floor, as he did when he dove more than five miles (eight kilometers) down several weeks ago. All he saw was voracious shrimp-like critters no bigger than an inch (2.5 centimeters). In future missions, Cameron plans to bring "bait" -- like chicken -- to set out.
Cameron said the mission was all about exploration, science and discovery. He is the only person to dive there solo, using a lime-green sub called Deepsea Challenger. He is the first person to reach that depth -- 35,576 feet (10,843.5 meters) -- since it was initially explored in 1960.
There had been a race to reach the bottom among rich and famous adventurers. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has been building his own one-man sub to explore the ocean depths. Cameron's dive was "a fantastic achievement," Branson told The Associated Press.
Branson said he hoped to be the first to explore a different deep-sea location, diving later this year to the deepest part of the Atlantic, the Puerto Rican trench, which is only five miles from his home. Just shy of six miles deep, the area has not been explored yet.
Branson also hopes to join Cameron in a tandem dive of solo subs. "Together, we'll make a formidable team," he said.
While Cameron's dive was far longer than that of U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh and Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard 52 years ago, he didn't reach the trench walls because he was running low on battery power. He said he would return, as would the sub's Australian co-designer, Ron Allum.
"I see this as the beginning," Cameron said. "It's not a one-time deal and then moving on. This is the beginning of opening up this new frontier."
"To me, the story is in the people in their quest and curiosity and their attempt to understand."
The trip to the deepest point took two hours and 36 minutes and started Sunday afternoon, U.S. East Coast time.
His return aboard his 12-ton sub was a "faster-than-expected 70-minute ascent," according to National Geographic, which sponsored the expedition. Cameron is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
The only thing that went wrong was a hydraulic failure that kept Cameron from collecting rocks and critters and bringing them back to land.
Science like this takes time, but Cameron is committed to doing it, said Woods Hole's Bowen, who ran a program that sent an unmanned sub to the same place in 2009.
"The reality of exploring such an environment is that at times it can be very boring; exploring these environments isn't always about some dramatic highly visual discovery," Bowen said. "The scientific process is exhausting and sometimes it takes a significant amount of sweat, if you will, to uncover secrets."
Cameron did sweat -- and shiver.
When the 6-foot-2 (1.87-meter) Cameron climbed into the cramped sub, his head hit one end and his feet the other. It was warm outside because it was near the equator; it was toasty inside, temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), because of the heat given off by the sub's electronics. It felt "like a sauna," he said.
But as he plunged into the deep, it grew cold inside the sub as the waters outside dropped to around 36 degrees (2 Celsius), he said.
The pressure on the sub was immense -- comparable to three SUVs resting on a toe. The super-strong sub shrank three inches under that pressure, Cameron said.
"It's a very weird environment," he said. "I can't say it's very comfortable. And you can't stretch out."
March 26th, 2012
CNN Politics / Gregory Wallace
(CNN) – Newt Gingrich may be far behind in the GOP delegate count – he has a quarter of the number frontrunner Mitt Romney does – but said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" that he isn't bowing out of the race.
"I think this is not over until it's over and obviously, if he does become the nominee, I will support him," the former House speaker said of Romney, calling him "the weakest front runner in modern times."
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The former Massachusetts governor leads a four-man field - including Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul – ambling towards 1,144, the so-called "magic number" of GOP delegates needed for the nomination. Almost two-dozen contests remain, the last of which, Utah, votes on June 26.
"If he can get to 1,144, he's the nominee," Gingrich said. "But if he can't get to 1,144, on 26th of June, it will be a wide open primary at that point. If Romney can't clinch it, I think it becomes pretty wide open."
He likened the Republican race this year to the 2008 Democratic primary, when then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama wrangled for months after Sen. John McCain became the de facto GOP nominee.
In the case Romney does not win outright, Gingrich said "we'll have a discussion for those 60 days for who ought to be the right person to beat Barack Obama."
Santorum has also committed to remain in the race and is currently second in the delegate count. When pressed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Gingrich said Santorum "he doesn't have a guaranteed lock any more than I do or Romney does" on the nomination.
When President Obama spoke out on the death last month of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, Gingrich called his remarks "disgraceful." Asked about his comments, and a critical response to them by one of President Obama's reelection advisers, Gingrich did not repeat the criticism.
"I think he should show empathy for that family. I think he should show empathy for every family that loses a child," Gingrich said. "We should be concerned about any young American of any background who ends up getting killed. I think all of us should reach out with our hearts to any American."
With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," as many know it, before the Supreme Court, Gingrich said he expects the court to find unconstitutional its requirement that individuals carry health insurance or face a penalty – and, because of that, strike down the entire law. He said his past support for an individual mandate came with a "libertarian opt out clause" which would allow individuals "other ways of meeting their financial responsibilities."
March 26th, 2012
From everything the public has been told, Trayvon Martin was a fresh-faced, innocent looking teenager and the visage of the man who shot him, George Zimmerman, is right out of a booking photo.
The media narrative being sold is quite clear, Trayvon Martin is the innocent victim here and George Zimmerman is a horrible bigot who attacked the young man for doing nothing more than buying skittles while being black. Even Barack Obama seems to accept the fresh-faced innocence of Trayvon, stating, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” More on that later.
It’s becoming more and more clear however that the innocent appearance the mainstream media is so desperate to apply to Trayvon isn’t at all accurate. The picture we’re used to seeing to represent Trayvon Martin appears to be a far cry from how he actually looked once he was a few years older: