Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital

How the GOP presidential candidate and his private equity firm staged an epic wealth grab, destroyed jobs – and stuck others with the bill

rollingstonegreeddebtThe great criticism of Mitt Romney, from both sides of the aisle, has always been that he doesn't stand for anything. He's a flip-flopper, they say, a lightweight, a cardboard opportunist who'll say anything to get elected.

The critics couldn't be more wrong. Mitt Romney is no tissue-paper man. He's closer to being a revolutionary, a backward-world version of Che or Trotsky, with tweezed nostrils instead of a beard, a half-Windsor instead of a leather jerkin. His legendary flip-flops aren't the lies of a bumbling opportunist – they're the confident prevarications of a man untroubled by misleading the nonbeliever in pursuit of a single, all-consuming goal. Romney has a vision, and he's trying for something big: We've just been too slow to sort out what it is, just as we've been slow to grasp the roots of the radical economic changes that have swept the country in the last generation.

The incredible untold story of the 2012 election so far is that Romney's run has been a shimmering pearl of perfect political hypocrisy, which he's somehow managed to keep hidden, even with thousands of cameras following his every move. And the drama of this rhetorical high-wire act was ratcheted up even further when Romney chose his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – like himself, a self-righteously anal, thin-lipped, Whitest Kids U Know penny pincher who'd be honored to tell Oliver Twist there's no more soup left. By selecting Ryan, Romney, the hard-charging, chameleonic champion of a disgraced-yet-defiant Wall Street, officially succeeded in moving the battle lines in the 2012 presidential race.

Like John McCain four years before, Romney desperately needed a vice-presidential pick that would change the game. But where McCain bet on a combustive mix of clueless novelty and suburban sexual tension named Sarah Palin, Romney bet on an idea. He said as much when he unveiled his choice of Ryan, the author of a hair-raising budget-cutting plan best known for its willingness to slash the sacred cows of Medicare and Medicaid. "Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party," Romney told frenzied Republican supporters in Norfolk, Virginia, standing before the reliably jingoistic backdrop of a floating warship. "He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt."

Debt, debt, debt. If the Republican Party had a James Carville, this is what he would have said to win Mitt over, in whatever late-night war room session led to the Ryan pick: "It's the debt, stupid." This is the way to defeat Barack Obama: to recast the race as a jeremiad against debt, something just about everybody who's ever gotten a bill in the mail hates on a primal level.

Last May, in a much-touted speech in Iowa, Romney used language that was literally inflammatory to describe America's federal borrowing. "A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation," he declared. "Every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love." Our collective debt is no ordinary problem: According to Mitt, it's going to burn our children alive.

And this is where we get to the hypocrisy at the heart of Mitt Romney. Everyone knows that he is fantastically rich, having scored great success, the legend goes, as a "turnaround specialist," a shrewd financial operator who revived moribund companies as a high-priced consultant for a storied Wall Street private equity firm. But what most voters don't know is the way Mitt Romney actually made his fortune: by borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back. This is the plain, stark reality that has somehow eluded America's top political journalists for two consecutive presidential campaigns: Mitt Romney is one of the greatest and most irresponsible debt creators of all time. In the past few decades, in fact, Romney has piled more debt onto more unsuspecting companies, written more gigantic checks that other people have to cover, than perhaps all but a handful of people on planet Earth.

By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions – placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House.

The unlikeliness of Romney's gambit isn't simply a reflection of his own artlessly unapologetic mindset – it stands as an emblem for the resiliency of the entire sociopathic Wall Street set he represents. Four years ago, the Mitt Romneys of the world nearly destroyed the global economy with their greed, shortsightedness and – most notably – wildly irresponsible use of debt in pursuit of personal profit. The sight was so disgusting that people everywhere were ready to drop an H-bomb on Lower Manhattan and bayonet the survivors. But today that same insane greed ethos, that same belief in the lunatic pursuit of instant borrowed millions – it's dusted itself off, it's had a shave and a shoeshine, and it's back out there running for president.

Mitt Romney, it turns out, is the perfect frontman for Wall Street's greed revolution. He's not a two-bit, shifty-eyed huckster like Lloyd Blankfein. He's not a sighing, eye-rolling, arrogant jerkwad like Jamie Dimon. But Mitt believes the same things those guys believe: He's been right with them on the front lines of the financialization revolution, a decades-long campaign in which the old, simple, let's-make-stuff-and-sell-it manufacturing economy was replaced with a new, highly complex, let's-take-stuff-and-trash-it financial economy. Instead of cars and airplanes, we built swaps, CDOs and other toxic financial products. Instead of building new companies from the ground up, we took out massive bank loans and used them to acquire existing firms, liquidating every asset in sight and leaving the target companies holding the note. The new borrow-and-conquer economy was morally sanctified by an almost religious faith in the grossly euphemistic concept of "creative destruction," and amounted to a total abdication of collective responsibility by America's rich, whose new thing was making assloads of money in ever-shorter campaigns of economic conquest, sending the proceeds offshore, and shrugging as the great towns and factories their parents and grandparents built were shuttered and boarded up, crushed by a true prairie fire of debt.

Mitt Romney – a man whose own father built cars and nurtured communities, and was one of the old-school industrial anachronisms pushed aside by the new generation's wealth grab – has emerged now to sell this make-nothing, take-everything, screw-everyone ethos to the world. He's Gordon Gekko, but a new and improved version, with better PR – and a bigger goal. A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we'll all end up paying for the acquisition.

Willard "Mitt" Romney's background in many ways suggests a man who was born to be president – disgustingly rich from birth, raised in prep schools, no early exposure to minorities outside of maids, a powerful daddy to clean up his missteps, and timely exemptions from military service. In Romney's bio there are some eerie early-life similarities to other recent presidential figures. (Is America really ready for another Republican president who was a prep-school cheerleader?) And like other great presidential double-talkers such as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Romney has shown particular aptitude in the area of telling multiple factual versions of his own life story.

"I longed in many respects to actually be in Vietnam and be representing our country there," he claimed years after the war. To a different audience, he said, "I was not planning on signing up for the military. It was not my desire to go off and serve in Vietnam."

Like John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush, men whose way into power was smoothed by celebrity fathers but who rebelled against their parental legacy as mature politicians, Mitt Romney's career has been both a tribute to and a repudiation of his famous father. George Romney in the 1950s became CEO of American Motors Corp., made a modest fortune betting on energy efficiency in an age of gas guzzlers and ended up serving as governor of the state of Michigan only two generations removed from the Romney clan's tradition of polygamy. For Mitt, who grew up worshipping his tall, craggily handsome, politically moderate father, life was less rocky: Cranbrook prep school in suburban Detroit, followed by Stanford in the Sixties, a missionary term in which he spent two and a half years trying (as he said) to persuade the French to "give up your wine," and Harvard Business School in the Seventies. Then, faced with making a career choice, Mitt chose an odd one: Already married and a father of two, he left Harvard and eschewed both politics and the law to enter the at-the-time unsexy world of financial consulting.

"When you get out of a place like Harvard, you can do anything – at least in the old days you could," says a prominent corporate lawyer on Wall Street who is familiar with Romney's career. "But he comes out, he not only has a Harvard Business School degree, he's got a national pedigree with his name. He could have done anything – but what does he do? He says, 'I'm going to spend my life loading up distressed companies with debt.'?"

Romney started off at the Boston Consulting Group, where he showed an aptitude for crunching numbers and glad-handing clients. Then, in 1977, he joined a young entrepreneur named Bill Bain at a firm called Bain & Company, where he worked for six years before being handed the reins of a new firm-within-a-firm called Bain Capital.

In Romney's version of the tale, Bain Capital – which evolved into what is today known as a private equity firm – specialized in turning around moribund companies (Romney even wrote a book called Turnaround that complements his other nauseatingly self-complimentary book, No Apology) and helped create the Staples office-supply chain. On the campaign trail, Romney relentlessly trades on his own self-perpetuated reputation as a kind of altruistic rescuer of failing enterprises, never missing an opportunity to use the word "help" or "helped" in his description of what he and Bain did for companies. He might, for instance, describe himself as having been "deeply involved in helping other businesses" or say he "helped create tens of thousands of jobs."

The reality is that toward the middle of his career at Bain, Romney made a fateful strategic decision: He moved away from creating companies like Staples through venture capital schemes, and toward a business model that involved borrowing huge sums of money to take over existing firms, then extracting value from them by force. He decided, as he later put it, that "there's a lot greater risk in a startup than there is in acquiring an existing company." In the Eighties, when Romney made this move, this form of financial piracy became known as a leveraged buyout, and it achieved iconic status thanks to Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Gekko's business strategy was essentially identical to the Romney–Bain model, only Gekko called himself a "liberator" of companies instead of a "helper."

Here's how Romney would go about "liberating" a company: A private equity firm like Bain typically seeks out floundering businesses with good cash flows. It then puts down a relatively small amount of its own money and runs to a big bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup for the rest of the financing. (Most leveraged buyouts are financed with 60 to 90 percent borrowed cash.) The takeover firm then uses that borrowed money to buy a controlling stake in the target company, either with or without its consent. When an LBO is done without the consent of the target, it's called a hostile takeover; such thrilling acts of corporate piracy were made legend in the Eighties, most notably the 1988 attack by notorious corporate raiders Kohlberg Kravis Roberts against RJR Nabisco, a deal memorialized in the book Barbarians at the Gate.

Romney and Bain avoided the hostile approach, preferring to secure the cooperation of their takeover targets by buying off a company's management with lucrative bonuses. Once management is on board, the rest is just math. So if the target company is worth $500 million, Bain might put down $20 million of its own cash, then borrow $350 million from an investment bank to take over a controlling stake.

But here's the catch. When Bain borrows all of that money from the bank, it's the target company that ends up on the hook for all of the debt.

Now your troubled firm – let's say you make tricycles in Alabama – has been taken over by a bunch of slick Wall Street dudes who kicked in as little as five percent as a down payment. So in addition to whatever problems you had before, Tricycle Inc. now owes Goldman or Citigroup $350 million. With all that new debt service to pay, the company's bottom line is suddenly untenable: You almost have to start firing people immediately just to get your costs down to a manageable level.

"That interest," says Lynn Turner, former chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, "just sucks the profit out of the company."

Fortunately, the geniuses at Bain who now run the place are there to help tell you whom to fire. And for the service it performs cutting your company's costs to help you pay off the massive debt that it, Bain, saddled your company with in the first place, Bain naturally charges a management fee, typically millions of dollars a year. So Tricycle Inc. now has two gigantic new burdens it never had before Bain Capital stepped into the picture: tens of millions in annual debt service, and millions more in "management fees." Since the initial acquisition of Tricycle Inc. was probably greased by promising the company's upper management lucrative bonuses, all that pain inevitably comes out of just one place: the benefits and payroll of the hourly workforce.

Once all that debt is added, one of two things can happen. The company can fire workers and slash benefits to pay off all its new obligations to Goldman Sachs and Bain, leaving it ripe to be resold by Bain at a huge profit. Or it can go bankrupt – this happens after about seven percent of all private equity buyouts – leaving behind one or more shuttered factory towns. Either way, Bain wins. By power-sucking cash value from even the most rapidly dying firms, private equity raiders like Bain almost always get their cash out before a target goes belly up.

This business model wasn't really "helping," of course – and it wasn't new. Fans of mob movies will recognize what's known as the "bust-out," in which a gangster takes over a restaurant or sporting goods store and then monetizes his investment by running up giant debts on the company's credit line. (Think Paulie buying all those cases of Cutty Sark in Goodfellas.) When the note comes due, the mobster simply torches the restaurant and collects the insurance money. Reduced to their most basic level, the leveraged buyouts engineered by Romney followed exactly the same business model. "It's the bust-out," one Wall Street trader says with a laugh. "That's all it is."

Private equity firms aren't necessarily evil by definition. There are many stories of successful turnarounds fueled by private equity, often involving multiple floundering businesses that are rolled into a single entity, eliminating duplicative overhead. Experian, the giant credit-rating tyrant, was acquired by Bain in the Nineties and went on to become an industry leader.

But there's a key difference between private equity firms and the businesses that were America's original industrial cornerstones, like the elder Romney's AMC. Everyone had a stake in the success of those old businesses, which spread prosperity by putting people to work. But even private equity's most enthusiastic adherents have difficulty explaining its benefit to society. Marc Wolpow, a former Bain colleague of Romney's, told reporters during Mitt's first Senate run that Romney erred in trying to sell his business as good for everyone. "I believed he was making a mistake by framing himself as a job creator," said Wolpow. "That was not his or Bain's or the industry's primary objective. The objective of the LBO business is maximizing returns for investors." When it comes to private equity, American workers – not to mention their families and communities – simply don't enter into the equation.

Take a typical Bain transaction involving an Indiana-based company called American Pad and Paper. Bain bought Ampad in 1992 for just $5 million, financing the rest of the deal with borrowed cash. Within three years, Ampad was paying $60 million in annual debt payments, plus an additional $7 million in management fees. A year later, Bain led Ampad to go public, cashed out about $50 million in stock for itself and its investors, charged the firm $2 million for arranging the IPO and pocketed another $5 million in "management" fees. Ampad wound up going bankrupt, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs, but Bain and Romney weren't crying: They'd made more than $100 million on a $5 million investment.

To recap: Romney, who has compared the devilish federal debt to a "nightmare" home mortgage that is "adjustable, no-money down and assigned to our children," took over Ampad with essentially no money down, saddled the firm with a nightmare debt and assigned the crushing interest payments not to Bain but to the children of Ampad's workers, who would be left holding the note long after Romney fled the scene. The mortgage analogy is so obvious, in fact, that even Romney himself has made it. He once described Bain's debt-fueled strategy as "using the equivalent of a mortgage to leverage up our investment."

Romney has always kept his distance from the real-life consequences of his profiteering. At one point during Bain's looting of Ampad, a worker named Randy Johnson sent a handwritten letter to Romney, asking him to intervene to save an Ampad factory in Marion, Indiana. In a sterling demonstration of manliness and willingness to face a difficult conversation, Romney, who had just lost his race for the Senate in Massachusetts, wrote Johnson that he was "sorry," but his lawyers had advised him not to get involved. (So much for the candidate who insists that his way is always to "fight to save every job.")

This is typical Romney, who consistently adopts a public posture of having been above the fray, with no blood on his hands from any of the deals he personally engineered. "I never actually ran one of our investments," he says in Turnaround. "That was left to management."

In reality, though, Romney was unquestionably the decider at Bain. "I insisted on having almost dictatorial powers," he bragged years after the Ampad deal. Over the years, colleagues would anonymously whisper stories about Mitt the Boss to the press, describing him as cunning, manipulative and a little bit nuts, with "an ability to identify people's insecurities and exploit them for his own benefit." One former Bain employee said that Romney would screw around with bonuses in small amounts, just to mess with people: He would give $3 million to one, $3.1 million to another and $2.9 million to a third, just to keep those below him on edge.

The private equity business in the early Nineties was dominated by a handful of takeover firms, from the spooky and politically connected Carlyle Group (a favorite subject of conspiracy-theory lit, with its connections to right-wingers like Donald Rumsfeld and George H.W. Bush) to the equally spooky Democrat-leaning assholes at the Blackstone Group. But even among such a colorful cast of characters, Bain had a reputation on Wall Street for secrecy and extreme weirdness – "the KGB of consulting." Its employees, known for their Mormonish uniform of white shirts and red power ties, were dubbed "Bainies" by other Wall Streeters, a rip on the fanatical "Moonies." The firm earned the name thanks to its idiotically adolescent Spy Kids culture, in which these glorified slumlords used code names, didn't carry business cards and even sang "company songs" to boost morale.

The seemingly religious flavor of Bain's culture smacks of the generally cultish ethos on Wall Street, in which all sorts of ethically questionable behaviors are justified as being necessary in service of the church of making money. Romney belongs to a true-believer subset within that cult, with a revolutionary's faith in the wisdom of the pure free market, in which destroying companies and sucking the value out of them for personal gain is part of the greater good, and governments should "stand aside and allow the creative destruction inherent in the free economy."

That cultlike zeal helps explains why Romney takes such a curiously unapologetic approach to his own flip-flopping. His infamous changes of stance are not little wispy ideological alterations of a few degrees here or there – they are perfect and absolute mathematical reversals, as in "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country" and "I am firmly pro-life." Yet unlike other politicians, who at least recognize that saying completely contradictory things presents a political problem, Romney seems genuinely puzzled by the public's insistence that he be consistent. "I'm not going to apologize for having changed my mind," he likes to say. It's an attitude that recalls the standard defense offered by Wall Street in the wake of some of its most recent and notorious crimes: Goldman Sachs excused its lying to clients, for example, by insisting that its customers are "sophisticated investors" who should expect to be lied to. "Last time I checked," former Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack sneered after the same scandal, "we were in business to be profitable."

Within the cult of Wall Street that forged Mitt Romney, making money justifies any behavior, no matter how venal. The look on Romney's face when he refuses to apologize says it all: Hey, I'm trying to win an election. We're all grown-ups here. After the Ampad deal, Romney expressed contempt for critics who lived in "fantasy land." "This is the real world," he said, "and in the real world there is nothing wrong with companies trying to compete, trying to stay alive, trying to make money."

In the old days, making money required sharing the wealth: with assembly-line workers, with middle management, with schools and communities, with investors. Even the Gilded Age robber barons, despite their unapologetic efforts to keep workers from getting any rights at all, built America in spite of themselves, erecting railroads and oil wells and telegraph wires. And from the time the monopolists were reined in with antitrust laws through the days when men like Mitt Romney's dad exited center stage in our economy, the American social contract was pretty consistent: The rich got to stay rich, often filthy rich, but they paid taxes and a living wage and everyone else rose at least a little bit along with them.

But under Romney's business model, leveraging other people's debt means you can carve out big profits for yourself and leave everyone else holding the bag. Despite what Romney claims, the rate of return he provided for Bain's investors over the years wasn't all that great. Romney biographer and Wall Street Journal reporter Brett Arends, who analyzed Bain's performance between 1984 and 1998, concludes that the firm's returns were likely less than 30 percent per year, which happened to track more or less with the stock market's average during that time. "That's how much money you could have made by issuing company bonds and then spending the money picking stocks out of the paper at random," Arends observes. So for all the destruction Romney wreaked on Middle America in the name of "trying to make money," investors could have just plunked their money into traditional stocks and gotten pretty much the same returns.

The only ones who profited in a big way from all the job-killing debt that Romney leveraged were Mitt and his buddies at Bain, along with Wall Street firms like Goldman and Citigroup. Barry Ritholtz, author of Bailout Nation, says the criticisms of Bain about layoffs and meanness miss a more important point, which is that the firm's profit-producing record is absurdly mediocre, especially when set against all the trouble and pain its business model causes. "Bain's fundamental flaw, at least according to the math," Ritholtz writes, "is that they took lots of risk, use immense leverage and charged enormous fees, for performance that was more or less the same as [stock] indexing."

'I'm not a Romney guy, because I'm not a Bain guy," says Lenny Patnode, in an Irish pub in the factory town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. "But I'm not an Obama guy, either. Just so you know."

I feel bad even asking Patnode about Romney. Big and burly, with white hair and the thick forearms of a man who's stocked a shelf or two in his lifetime, he seems to belong to an era before things like leveraged debt even existed. For 38 years, Patnode worked for a company called KB Toys in Pittsfield. He was the longest-serving employee in the company's history, opening some of the firm's first mall stores, making some of its canniest product buys ("Tamagotchi pets," he says, beaming, "and Tech-Decks, too"), traveling all over the world to help build an empire that at its peak included 1,300 stores. "There were times when I worked seven days a week, 16 hours a day," he says. "I opened three stores in two months once."

Then in 2000, right before Romney gave up his ownership stake in Bain Capital, the firm targeted KB Toys. The debacle that followed serves as a prime example of the conflict between the old model of American business, built from the ground up with sweat and industry know-how, and the new globalist model, the Romney model, which uses leverage as a weapon of high-speed conquest.

In a typical private-equity fragging, Bain put up a mere $18 million to acquire KB Toys and got big banks to finance the remaining $302 million it needed. Less than a year and a half after the purchase, Bain decided to give itself a gift known as a "dividend recapitalization." The firm induced KB Toys to redeem $121 million in stock and take out more than $66 million in bank loans – $83 million of which went directly into the pockets of Bain's owners and investors, including Romney. "The dividend recap is like borrowing someone else's credit card to take out a cash advance, and then leaving them to pay it off," says Heather Slavkin Corzo, who monitors private equity takeovers as the senior legal policy adviser for the AFL-CIO.

Bain ended up earning a return of at least 370 percent on the deal, while KB Toys fell into bankruptcy, saddled with millions in debt. KB's former parent company, Big Lots, alleged in bankruptcy court that Bain's "unjustified" return on the dividend recap was actually "900 percent in a mere 16 months." Patnode, by contrast, was fired in December 2008, after almost four decades on the job. Like other employees, he didn't get a single day's severance.

I ask Slavkin Corzo what Bain's justification was for the giant dividend recapitalization in the KB Toys acquisition. The question throws her, as though she's surprised anyone would ask for a reason a company like Bain would loot a firm like KB Toys. "It wasn't like, 'Yay, we did a good job, we get a dividend,'" she says with a laugh. "It was like, 'We can do this, so we will.'?"

At the time of the KB Toys deal, Romney was a Bain investor and owner, making him a mere beneficiary of the raping and pillaging, rather than its direct organizer. Moreover, KB's demise was hastened by a host of genuine market forces, including competition from video games and cellphones. But there's absolutely no way to look at what Bain did at KB and see anything but a cash grab – one that followed the business model laid out by Romney. Rather than cutting costs and tightening belts, Bain added $300 million in debt to the firm's bottom line while taking out more than $120 million in cash – an outright looting that creditors later described in a lawsuit as "breaking open the piggy bank." What's more, Bain smoothed the deal in typical fashion by giving huge bonuses to the company's top managers as the firm headed toward bankruptcy. CEO Michael Glazer got an incredible $18.4 million, while CFO Robert Feldman received $4.8 million and senior VP Thomas Alfonsi took home $3.3 million.

And what did Bain bring to the table in return for its massive, outsize payout? KB Toys had built a small empire by targeting middle-class buyers with value-priced products. It succeeded mainly because the firm's leaders had a great instinct for what they were making and selling. These were people who had been in the specialty toy business since 1922; collectively, they had millions of man-hours of knowledge about how the industry works and how toy customers behave. KB's president in the Eighties, the late Saul Rubenstein, used to carry around a giant computer printout of the company's inventory, and would fall asleep reading it on the weekends, the pages clasped to his chest. "He knew the name and number of all those toys," his widow, Shirley, says proudly. "He loved toys."

Bain's experience in the toy industry, by contrast, was precisely bupkus. They didn't know a damn thing about the business they had taken over – and they never cared to learn. The firm's entire contribution was $18 million in cash and a huge mound of borrowed money that gave it the power to pull the levers. "The people who came in after – they were never toy people," says Shirley Rubenstein. To make matters worse, former employees say, Bain deluged them with requests for paperwork and reports, forcing them to worry more about the whims of their new bosses than the demands of their customers. "We took our eye off the ball," Patnode says. "And if you take your eye off the ball, you strike out."

In the end, Bain never bothered to come up with a plan for how KB Toys could meet the 21st-century challenges of video games and cellphone gadgets that were the company's ostensible downfall. And that's where Romney's self-touted reputation as a turnaround specialist is a myth. In the Bain model, the actual turnaround isn't necessary. It's just a cover story. It's nice for the private equity firm if it happens, because it makes the acquired company more attractive for resale or an IPO. But it's mostly irrelevant to the success of the takeover model, where huge cash returns are extracted whether the captured firm thrives or not.

"The thing about it is, nobody gets hurt," says Patnode. "Except the people who worked here."

Romney was a prime mover in the radical social and political transformation that was cooked up by Wall Street beginning in the 1980s. In fact, you can trace the whole history of the modern age of financialization just by following the highly specific corner of the economic universe inhabited by the leveraged buyout business, where Mitt Romney thrived. If you look at the number of leveraged buyouts dating back two or three decades, you see a clear pattern: Takeovers rose sharply with each of Wall Street's great easy-money schemes, then plummeted just as sharply after each of those scams crashed and burned, leaving the rest of us with the bill.

In the Eighties, when Romney and Bain were cutting their teeth in the LBO business, the primary magic trick involved the junk bonds pioneered by convicted felon Mike Milken, which allowed firms like Bain to find easy financing for takeovers by using wildly overpriced distressed corporate bonds as collateral. Junk bonds gave the Gordon Gekkos of the world sudden primacy over old-school industrial titans like the Fords and the Rockefellers: For the first time, the ability to make deals became more valuable than the ability to make stuff, and the ability to instantly engineer billions in illusory financing trumped the comparatively slow process of making and selling products for gradual returns.

Romney was right in the middle of this radical change. In fact, according to The Boston Globe – whose in-depth reporting on Romney and Bain has spanned three decades – one of Romney's first LBO deals, and one of his most profitable, involved Mike Milken himself. Bain put down $10 million in cash, got $300 million in financing from Milken and bought a pair of department-store chains, Bealls Brothers and Palais Royal. In what should by now be a familiar outcome, the two chains – which Bain merged into a single outfit called Stage Stores – filed for bankruptcy protection in 2000 under the weight of more than $444 million in debt. As always, Bain took no responsibility for the company's demise. (If you search the public record, you will not find a single instance of Mitt Romney taking responsibility for a company's failure.) Instead, Bain blamed Stage's collapse on "operating problems" that took place three years after Bain cashed out, finishing with a $175 million return on its initial investment of $10 million.

But here's the interesting twist: Romney made the Bealls-Palais deal just as the federal government was launching charges of massive manipulation and insider trading against Milken and his firm, Drexel Burnham Lambert. After what must have been a lengthy and agonizing period of moral soul-searching, however, Romney decided not to kill the deal, despite its shady financing. "We did not say, 'Oh, my goodness, Drexel has been accused of something, not been found guilty,'?" Romney told reporters years after the deal. "Should we basically stop the transaction and blow the whole thing up?"

In an even more incredible disregard for basic morality, Romney forged ahead with the deal even though Milken's case was being heard by a federal district judge named Milton Pollack, whose wife, Moselle, happened to be the chairwoman of none other than Palais Royal. In short, one of Romney's first takeover deals was financed by dirty money – and one of the corporate chiefs about to receive a big payout from Bain was married to the judge hearing the case. Although the SEC took no formal action, it issued a sharp criticism, complaining that Romney was allowing Milken's money to have a possible influence over "the administration of justice."

After Milken and his junk bond scheme crashed in the late Eighties, Romney and other takeover artists moved on to Wall Street's next get-rich-quick scheme: the tech-Internet stock bubble. By 1997 and 1998, there were nearly $400 billion in leveraged buyouts a year, as easy money once again gave these financial piracy firms the ammunition they needed to raid companies like KB Toys. Firms like Bain even have a colorful pirate name for the pools of takeover money they raise in advance from pension funds, university endowments and other institutional investors. "They call it dry powder," says Slavkin Corzo, the union adviser.

After the Internet bubble burst and private equity started cashing in on Wall Street's mortgage scam, LBO deals ballooned to almost $900 billion in 2006. Once again, storied companies with long histories and deep regional ties were descended upon by Bain and other pirates, saddled with hundreds of millions in debt, forced to pay huge management fees and "dividend recapitalizations," and ridden into bankruptcy amid waves of layoffs. Established firms like Del Monte, Hertz and Dollar General were all taken over in a "prairie fire of debt" – one even more destructive than the government borrowing that Romney is flogging on the campaign trial. When Hertz was conquered in 2005 by a trio of private equity firms, including the Carlyle Group, the interest payments on its debt soared by a monstrous 80 percent, forcing the company to eliminate a third of its 32,000 jobs.

In 2010, a year after the last round of Hertz layoffs, Carlyle teamed up with Bain to take $500 million out of another takeover target: the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. Dunkin' had to take out a $1.25 billion loan to pay a dividend to its new private equity owners. So think of this the next time you go to Dunkin' Donuts for a cup of coffee: A small cup of joe costs about $1.69 in most outlets, which means that for years to come, Dunkin' Donuts will have to sell about 2,011,834 small coffees every month – about $3.4 million – just to meet the interest payments on the loan it took out to pay Bain and Carlyle their little one-time dividend. And that doesn't include the principal on the loan, or the additional millions in debt that Dunkin' has to pay every year to get out from under the $2.4 billion in debt it's now saddled with after having the privilege of being taken over – with borrowed money – by the firm that Romney built.

If you haven't heard much about how takeover deals like Dunkin' and KB Toys work, that's because Mitt Romney and his private equity brethren don't want you to. The new owners of American industry are the polar opposites of the Milton Hersheys and Andrew Carnegies who built this country, commercial titans who longed to leave visible legacies of their accomplishments, erecting hospitals and schools and libraries, sometimes leaving behind thriving towns that bore their names.

The men of the private equity generation want no such thing. "We try to hide religiously," explained Steven Feinberg, the CEO of a takeover firm called Cerberus Capital Management that recently drove one of its targets into bankruptcy after saddling it with $2.3 billion in debt. "If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person," Feinberg told shareholders in 2007. "We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it."

Which brings us to another aspect of Romney's business career that has largely been hidden from voters: His personal fortune would not have been possible without the direct assistance of the U.S. government. The taxpayer-funded subsidies that Romney has received go well beyond the humdrum, backdoor, welfare-sucking that all supposedly self-made free marketeers inevitably indulge in. Not that Romney hasn't done just fine at milking the government when it suits his purposes, the most obvious instance being the incredible $1.5 billion in aid he siphoned out of the U.S. Treasury as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake – a sum greater than all federal spending for the previous seven U.S. Olympic games combined. Romney, the supposed fiscal conservative, blew through an average of $625,000 in taxpayer money per athlete – an astounding increase of 5,582 percent over the $11,000 average at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. In 1993, right as he was preparing to run for the Senate, Romney also engineered a government deal worth at least $10 million for Bain's consulting firm, when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. (See "The Federal Bailout That Saved Romney")

But the way Romney most directly owes his success to the government is through the structure of the tax code. The entire business of leveraged buyouts wouldn't be possible without a provision in the federal code that allows companies like Bain to deduct the interest on the debt they use to acquire and loot their targets. This is the same universally beloved tax deduction you can use to write off your mortgage interest payments, so tampering with it is considered political suicide – it's been called the "third rail of tax reform." So the Romney who routinely rails against the national debt as some kind of child-killing "mortgage" is the same man who spent decades exploiting a tax deduction specifically designed for mortgage holders in order to bilk every dollar he could out of U.S. businesses before burning them to the ground.

Because minus that tax break, Romney's debt-based takeovers would have been unsustainably expensive. Before Lynn Turner became chief accountant of the SEC, where he reviewed filings on takeover deals, he crunched the numbers on leveraged buyouts as an accountant at a Big Four auditing firm. "In the majority of these deals," Turner says, "the tax deduction has a big enough impact on the bottom line that the takeover wouldn't work without it."

Thanks to the tax deduction, in other words, the government actually incentivizes the kind of leverage-based takeovers that Romney built his fortune on. Romney the businessman built his career on two things that Romney the candidate decries: massive debt and dumb federal giveaways. "I don't know what Romney would be doing but for debt and its tax-advantaged position in the tax code," says a prominent Wall Street lawyer, "but he wouldn't be fabulously wealthy."

Adding to the hypocrisy, the money that Romney personally pocketed on Bain's takeover deals was usually taxed not as income, but either as capital gains or as "carried interest," both of which are capped at a maximum rate of 15 percent. In addition, reporters have uncovered plenty of evidence that Romney takes full advantage of offshore tax havens: He has an interest in at least 12 Bain funds, worth a total of $30 million, that are based in the Cayman Islands; he has reportedly used a squirrelly tax shelter known as a "blocker corporation" that cheats taxpayers out of some $100 million a year; and his wife, Ann, had a Swiss bank account worth $3 million. As a private equity pirate, Romney pays less than half the tax rate of most American executives – less, even, than teachers, firefighters, cops and nurses. Asked about the fact that he paid a tax rate of only 13.9 percent on income of $21.7 million in 2010, Romney responded testily that the massive windfall he enjoys from exploiting the tax code is "entirely legal and fair."

Essentially, Romney got rich in a business that couldn't exist without a perverse tax break, and he got to keep double his earnings because of another loophole – a pair of bureaucratic accidents that have not only teamed up to threaten us with a Mitt Romney presidency but that make future Romneys far more likely. "Those two tax rules distort the economics of private equity investments, making them much more lucrative than they should be," says Rebecca Wilkins, senior counsel at the Center for Tax Justice. "So we get more of that activity than the market would support on its own."

Listen to Mitt Romney speak, and see if you can notice what's missing. This is a man who grew up in Michigan, went to college in California, walked door to door through the streets of southern France as a missionary and was a governor of Massachusetts, the home of perhaps the most instantly recognizable, heavily accented English this side of Edinburgh. Yet not a trace of any of these places is detectable in Romney's diction. None of the people in any of those places bled in and left a mark on the man.

Romney is a man from nowhere. In his post-regional attitude, he shares something with his campaign opponent, Barack Obama, whose background is a similarly jumbled pastiche of regionally nonspecific non-identity. But in the way he bounced around the world as a half-orphaned child, Obama was more like an involuntary passenger in the demographic revolution reshaping the planet than one of its leaders.

Romney, on the other hand, is a perfect representative of one side of the ominous cultural divide that will define the next generation, not just here in America but all over the world. Forget about the Southern strategy, blue versus red, swing states and swing voters – all of those political clichés are quaint relics of a less threatening era that is now part of our past, or soon will be. The next conflict defining us all is much more unnerving.

That conflict will be between people who live somewhere, and people who live nowhere. It will be between people who consider themselves citizens of actual countries, to which they have patriotic allegiance, and people to whom nations are meaningless, who live in a stateless global archipelago of privilege – a collection of private schools, tax havens and gated residential communities with little or no connection to the outside world.

Mitt Romney isn't blue or red. He's an archipelago man. That's a big reason that voters have been slow to warm up to him. From LBJ to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, Americans like their politicians to sound like they're from somewhere, to be human symbols of our love affair with small towns, the girl next door, the little pink houses of Mellencamp myth. Most of those mythical American towns grew up around factories – think chocolate bars from Hershey, baseball bats from Louisville, cereals from Battle Creek. Deep down, what scares voters in both parties the most is the thought that these unique and vital places are vanishing or eroding – overrun by immigrants or the forces of globalism or both, with giant Walmarts descending like spaceships to replace the corner grocer, the family barber and the local hardware store, and 1,000 cable channels replacing the school dance and the gossip at the local diner.

Obama ran on "change" in 2008, but Mitt Romney represents a far more real and seismic shift in the American landscape. Romney is the frontman and apostle of an economic revolution, in which transactions are manufactured instead of products, wealth is generated without accompanying prosperity, and Cayman Islands partnerships are lovingly erected and nurtured while American communities fall apart. The entire purpose of the business model that Romney helped pioneer is to move money into the archipelago from the places outside it, using massive amounts of taxpayer-subsidized debt to enrich a handful of billionaires. It's a vision of society that's crazy, vicious and almost unbelievably selfish, yet it's running for president, and it has a chance of winning. Perhaps that change is coming whether we like it or not. Perhaps Mitt Romney is the best man to manage the transition. But it seems a little early to vote for that kind of wholesale surrender.

This story is from the September 13, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.

Original article on Rolling Stone

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Breaking: Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill Pollutes River and Threatens Drinking Water

Yesterday afternoon, Duke Energy reported that it spilled between 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River near Eden, NC. To put the volume in perspective, the spill is the equivalent of 413 to 677 rail cars of wet coal ash poured into a public drinking water...

Donna Lisenby | EcoWatch 04 Feb 2014 Hits:594 SGW Articles

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The Great Lakes Go Dry: How One-Fifth Of The World’s Fresh Water Is Dwindling Away

The Great Lakes Go Dry: How One-Fifth Of The World’s Fresh Water Is Dwindling Away

The frozen opalescent lake and thin, gray sky fade together into white light where the horizon should be. Tall, skeletal grasses shiver on the beach in a wind that makes any sliver of exposed skin burn. The Arni J. Richter, an icebreaking ferry, is about to pull away from Northport...

Joanna M Foster | Think Progress 04 Feb 2014 Hits:545 SGW Articles

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Alabama Looked The Other Way As Prison Staff Habitually Raped Women, Demanded Sexual Favors, DOJ Finds

Alabama Looked The Other Way As Prison Staff Habitually Raped Women, Demanded Sexual Favors, DOJ Finds

For the past two decades, female inmates in Alabama’s Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women have been subjected to atrocious acts of sexual abuse – and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) did nothing about it. A Department of Justice report has found that the state’s rampant abuse violates the U.S. Constitution’s...

Carimah Townes | Think Progress 04 Feb 2014 Hits:516 EMC Articles

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America’s Secret War in 134 Countries

America’s Secret War in 134 Countries

They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over...

Nick Turse | Tom's Dispatch 04 Feb 2014 Hits:528 EWO Articles

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The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking

The 4 Big Dangers of Fracking

By now you’ve likely heard that the U.S. is expected to overtake Russia this year as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. The surge in production comes from a drilling boom enabled by using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, along with, in many places, horizontal drilling. These technologies have...

Tara Lohan | AlterNet 04 Feb 2014 Hits:464 SGW Articles

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Minimum-wage debate rages on: Consensus elusive, despite 75 years of experience, countless studies

Minimum-wage debate rages on: Consensus elusive, despite 75 years of experience, countless studies

You'd think debate on the merits of raising the minimum wage would have been settled long ago. After all, it's been around for 75 years in the United States, and it's been examined in countless academic and professional studies. But the rhetoric rages on after President Barack Obama last week urged...

Gregory Karp | Chicago Tribune 02 Feb 2014 Hits:394 ESJ Articles

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Push to Overturn ‘Citizens United’ Gathering Official Momentum

Push to Overturn ‘Citizens United’ Gathering Official Momentum

Sen. Al Franken launched a petition on Tuesday calling for the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United, the 2010 ruling that has been widely held responsible for allowing an unprecedented influx of anonymous corporate money into local and national politics. By Friday, the site-based petition had...

Carey L. Biron | Mint Press News 20 Jan 2014 Hits:1535 ECR Articles

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Corporate Deregulation to Blame for Toxic Spill in West Virginia

Corporate Deregulation to Blame for Toxic Spill in West Virginia

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. A toxic spill in West Virginia's Elk River has left 300,000 local residents without water for the past week. The leak came from a storage facility for chemicals used to process coal, and it's left many wondering...

Jessica Desvarieux | The Real News Network 20 Jan 2014 Hits:559 ECR Articles

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Lawmakers push the single-payer financing issue

Lawmakers push the single-payer financing issue

Lawmakers have begun looking at how to finance a single-payer health care system that Gov. Peter Shumlin hopes will be his crowning achievement. Shumlin, a second-term Democrat, wants to launch a universal, publicly financed health care system known as Green Mountain Care in 2017. He has repeatedly told lawmakers that the...

Staff | Times Argus 20 Jan 2014 Hits:490 HCA Articles

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Advocates push for single-payer health care system in Maine

Advocates push for single-payer health care system in Maine

A government-run health care system in Maine would provide universal coverage to residents, cut down on administrative costs and free businesses from the complexities of providing insurance for their employees, supporters of a single-payer model said Thursday. Advocates of a single-payer system have long been trying to implement the model in...

Associated Press | Maine Sun Journal 20 Jan 2014 Hits:473 HCA Articles

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Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Found Unconstitutional

Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Found Unconstitutional

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley issued an order today permanently blocking the controversial photo identification law that threatened to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters. His ruling can be appealed by the commonwealth. "Today was a good day to be a Pennsylvania voter,” said Michael A. Rubin of Arnold &...

Sara Mullen | ACLU 17 Jan 2014 Hits:538 VS-DRA Articles

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Negotiators Put Final Touches on Iran Accord

Iran and a group of six world powers completed a deal on Sunday that will temporarily freeze much of Tehran’s nuclear program starting next Monday, Jan. 20, in exchange for limited relief from Western economic sanctions. The main elements of the deal, which is to last for six months, were announced...

Michael R Gordon and Eric Schmitt | The New York Times 13 Jan 2014 Hits:428 EWO Articles

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Where is the left’s outrage over cuts on jobless benefits?

Where is the left’s outrage over cuts on jobless benefits?

Where have all the Democrats gone? It’s hard to imagine a better gift falling into their laps: Republicans have just thrown 1.3 million unemployed Americans out into the cold and are prepared to cut off 3.6 million others who are out of work. At a time when the long-term unemployment rate remains near...

Dana Millbank | The Washington Post 07 Jan 2014 Hits:706 ESJ Articles

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Federal Court Invalidates Drug Testing of Welfare Applicants

Federal Court Invalidates Drug Testing of Welfare Applicants

In yet another constitutional rejection of mandatory drug testing, a federal judge this week struck down Florida’s program to require drug testing of all applicants for public assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. The ruling makes permanent an earlier ruling that blocked the program, and reinforces many...

Nicole Flatow | ThinkProgress 07 Jan 2014 Hits:510 ESJ Articles

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Single Payer Is Getting a Second Life as Obamacare Frustration Peaks

Single Payer Is Getting a Second Life as Obamacare Frustration Peaks

As the rollout of Obamacare clunks forward, activists who opposed the law from the beginning say it is time to seize the moment, to tear down the current health-care edifice and start anew, especially now as frustration with the law’s implementation is reaching a peak. These are not Tea Party activists...

David Freedlander | Daily Beast 10 Dec 2013 Hits:2368 HCA Articles

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House to Vote on National Defense Authorization Act

Call Your Representative at 1-855-686-6927 Say Vote "NO" on the Defense Authorization Act The House will be voting on a final version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Bill. This measure includes $80.7 billion to continue the war in Afghanistan, on top of a $552.1 billion base budget for the Pentagon....

Tim Carpenter 10 Dec 2013 Hits:730 EWO Articles

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Progressives Must Stand Up Against the Right Wing War on Public Employees

Progressives Must Stand Up Against the Right Wing War on Public Employees

For many years the American Right -- and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite -- have conducted a war on public employees. Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of...

Robert Creamer | Huffington Post 09 Dec 2013 Hits:621 ESJ Articles

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Vermont Approves Single-Payer Health Care: "Everybody In, Nobody Out"

Vermont Approves Single-Payer Health Care:

The Affordable Care Act continues to plow ahead, despite Republican attempts to fight it at every turn.  What is unfolding in front of us is nothing short of spectacular.  The problems with healthcare.gov are slowly being resolved which is helping more and more people sign up for affordable healthcare, many...

Salvatore Aversa | Truth Out 08 Dec 2013 Hits:1835 HCA Articles

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After Obamacare, Can Don Berwick Implement Single-Payer In Massachusetts?

After Obamacare, Can Don Berwick Implement Single-Payer In Massachusetts?

Former CMS administrator Don Berwick is running for Governor in Massachusetts. He has an uphill battle in the ever growing primary for the Democratic nominee. Yet his controversial tenure in DC, his pursuit of the Corner Office in the state that birthed RomneyCare (a state that is home to some...

Josh Archambault | Forbes 08 Dec 2013 Hits:683 HCA Articles

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Obama Says He Can Envision Nuclear Deal With Iran

Obama Says He Can Envision Nuclear Deal With Iran

President Obama said Saturday that he could envision a final diplomatic agreement with Iran that would let the country’s government enrich nuclear material for power production with enough restrictions to assure Israel and the rest of the world that it could not produce a nuclear weapon. But Mr. Obama said there...

Michael D Shear | The New York Times 08 Dec 2013 Hits:622 EWO Articles

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Army general’s report defends decision to build $36 million headquarters in Afghanistan

 Army general’s report defends decision to build $36 million headquarters in Afghanistan

This past summer, the Army began investigating why the military spent nearly $36 million to construct a well-appointed 64,000-square-foot headquarters in southwestern Afghanistan that commanders in the area did not want and has never been used. The two-star Army general in Kabul who conducted the inquiry has determined that the decision...

Rajiv Chandrasekaran | Washington Post 04 Dec 2013 Hits:682 EWO Articles

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Florida woman who got 20 years for warning shot released pending retrial

Florida woman who got 20 years for warning shot released pending retrial

A Florida woman who became a cause celebre for civil-rights activists after she received a 20-year prison sentence for firing a warning shot has been released on house arrest this week as she awaits another trial. Marissa Alexander's supporters said that she was at home for Thanksgiving with her children Thursday after she...

Matt Pearce | LA Times 30 Nov 2013 Hits:833 EMC Articles

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Thanksgiving Resolution

Thanksgiving Resolution

Barbie Izquierdo, a low-income mother of two small children, is a member of Witnesses to Hunger, a Philadelphia group of moms dedicated to ending hunger and poverty for their children and for families nationwide. About a month ago while she was waiting in line at a supermarket, she overheard two...

Deborah Weinstein | Huffington Post 26 Nov 2013 Hits:594 ESJ Articles

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This Holiday Season, Charity No Match for Food Stamp Cuts

This Holiday Season, Charity No Match for Food Stamp Cuts

Authors of new report warn food donations not enough as six million threatened with worsened hunger 'Tis the season to give, the saying goes. Yet all of the charitable food donations in the United States this year combined would not make a dent in proposed cuts to food subsidy programs that threaten...

Sarah Lazare | Common Dreams 26 Nov 2013 Hits:670 ESJ Articles

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Conservatives should stop defending Pentagon waste and fraud

Conservatives should stop defending Pentagon waste and fraud

How can some policymakers claim to be fiscal conservatives when they won’t allow small spending cuts to the defense budget to go through? We've seen that the “sky is falling” predictions about sequestration haven't materialize. Yet lawmakers in both houses of Congress are still seeking to at least partially undo the...

VERONIQUE DE RUGY | Washington Examiner 26 Nov 2013 Hits:527 EWO Articles

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US Bullying at TPP Negotiations for Big Pharma Profits

US Bullying at TPP Negotiations for Big Pharma Profits

A key dispute in the TPP negotiations is the patents on pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures.  Long patents inflate the profits of the pharmaceutical industry by not allowing less expensive generic drugs on the market. This means that people around the world will not be able to afford critical, often...

Staff | Truthout 25 Nov 2013 Hits:722 ESJ Articles

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Meet the Woman Who Accidentally Explained Poverty to the Nation

Meet the Woman Who Accidentally Explained Poverty to the Nation

This piece is a follow-up to Linda's first post, "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense": At this point, enough people are asking that I will tell you about myself, because I am getting a lot of the same questions. I was raised middle class, by a factory...

Linda Tirado | Huffington Post 25 Nov 2013 Hits:2360 ESJ Articles

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Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations

Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations

Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith. The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it. Hobby Lobby, a...

Adam Liptak | The New York Times 25 Nov 2013 Hits:832 ECR Articles

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A National Call to Link Arms for Detroit

Oh, make you wanna holler The way they do my life This ain't livin', this ain't livin' No, no baby, this ain't livin' No, no, no, no --Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues" On July 18 thousands of activists and dozens of organizations will converge on downtown Detroit to protest the privatization of the city’s assets and...

Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier | The Progressive 09 Jul 2014 Hits:166 Michigan

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Detroit’s fight for public water is also the nation’s

Detroit’s fight for public water is also the nation’s

Detroit made international news this month when its municipal water board resumed cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. With thousands of community members struggling in homes with no running water, local groups reached out (PDF) to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking...

Anna Lappé | Al Jazeera English 02 Jul 2014 Hits:576 Michigan

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The New Machine: Charter Schools

The New Machine: Charter Schools

Charter school operators aren’t the only one’s not being held accountable—a major complaint of the Chicago Teachers Union—it’s the machine politicians angling for electoral support and continued political power.  The War on Independents Wages On Battle lines were once again drawn between Chicago’s machine democrats and independent democrats when Ald. Toni...

RA Monaco | Sheffield Gazette 29 Jun 2014 Hits:160 Illinois

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Home News Sports Arts & Culture Opinion Business Advertising About Us Print Edition AG’s in-…

Home     News     Sports     Arts & Culture     Opinion     Business     Advertising     About Us     Print Edition  AG’s in-state tuition opinion gives local students more options

Geraldine Zenteno knew exactly where she wanted to go after graduation. Researching universities, the 17-year-old T.C. Williams senior had fallen in love with The College of William and Mary. Zenteno wants to pursue a teaching career and the Williamsburg school’s education program ranks among the best in the country, according to...

Derrick Perkins | Alexandria Times 17 Jun 2014 Hits:570 Virginia

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Blocking Any Medicaid Expansion, Virginia Legislature Passes Budget Bill

Blocking Any Medicaid Expansion, Virginia Legislature Passes Budget Bill

Empowered by their new majority in the State Senate, Republicans have moved to checkmate Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a monthslong contest over Medicaid, passing a budget that does not include the Medicaid expansion the governor sought and forbidding him from unilaterally expanding the health care program for the poor. Mr. McAuliffe...

Trip Gabriel | The New York Times 15 Jun 2014 Hits:240 Virginia

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Democrats Suggest They Won’t Challenge For Seat After Eric Cantor Refuses Write-In Campaign

Democrats Suggest They Won’t Challenge For Seat After Eric Cantor Refuses Write-In Campaign

The Democratic Party is already signaling that they won’t be solidly backing Jack Trammell, the Democratic candidate for Eric Cantor’s old seat after Cantor announced that he won’t run as a write-in candidate. Roll Call reported this morning that, “National Democrats are considering competing for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s House...

Jason Easley | Politicus 13 Jun 2014 Hits:850 Virginia

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Eric Cantor succumbs to tea party challenger Tuesday

 Eric Cantor succumbs to tea party challenger Tuesday

In a stunning upset propelled by tea party activists, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was defeated in Tuesday’s congressional primary, with insurgent David Brat delivering an unpredicted and devastating loss to the second most powerful Republican in the House who has widely been touted as a future speaker. The race...

Robert Costa | Washington Post 10 Jun 2014 Hits:237 Virginia

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Kasich’s fracking plan comes into sharper focus

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) environmental record took a turn for the worse last week when he approved rolling back the state’s renewable energy standards. The Buckeye State became the nation’s first to go backwards in this area.   But it’s not the only trouble area for the Ohio governor as it relates to...

Steve Benen | The Maddow Blog 02 Jun 2014 Hits:218 Ohio

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Koppell Versus Klein: A State Senate Race With National Implications for Democrats and Progressives

Koppell Versus Klein: A State Senate Race With National Implications for Democrats and Progressives

Primary season has begun to roll out across the country, including some hotly contested -- and some just plain bizarre -- races for governor, Congress and other local and state offices. One primary of note is in a State Senate race here in New York, and it has already attracted...

Pearl Korn | The Huffington Post 29 May 2014 Hits:446 New York

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On Anniversary of David Silva Slaying, Protesters Demand Justice

On Anniversary of David Silva Slaying, Protesters Demand Justice

Jacque DelRio interviews Chris Silva (brother of David Silva) and the family attorney David Khon on PDA Radio on Saturday 6/21 at 3pm EST. One year after the death of David Sal Silva, who was beaten by police outside a Bakersfield hospital, family, friends, and supporters gathered near Kern County Superior...

Alfred Camacho | New America Media 27 May 2014 Hits:137 California

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Federal judge overturns Pennsylvania same-sex marriage ban

A federal district court judge struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage Tuesday, handing gay rights advocates their second legal victory in as many days. In the wake of last June’s Supreme Court decision striking down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III...

Niraj Chokshi and Reid Wilson | Washington Post 20 May 2014 Hits:194 Pennsylvania

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Senate Democrats look to revive dormant Equal Rights Amendment

Senate Democrats look to revive dormant Equal Rights Amendment

Senate Democrats plan to make an end-of-session push this week to “rectify an historical wrong” -- and perhaps give women a strong reason to go to the polls this fall -- by putting Illinois on record in support of an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The bid to revive the...

Dave McKinney | Chicago Sun-Times 19 May 2014 Hits:329 Illinois

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Illinois legislator wants state to revisit Equal Rights Amendment

Illinois legislator wants state to revisit Equal Rights Amendment

More than 40 years after the Equal Rights Amendment was first passed by the U.S. Congress, an Illinois state senator is taking another crack at getting her colleagues in Springfield to adopt the provision that would enshrine in the U.S. Constitution the idea that rights can't be abridged on account...

John Byrne | Chicago Tribune 19 May 2014 Hits:285 Illinois

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Eric Cantor’s tea party opponent in Va. primary may be picking up momentum

 Eric Cantor’s tea party opponent in Va. primary may be picking up momentum

RICHMOND — There was a time when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sympathized with the tea party’s frustration with Washington. Now, he’s engaged in open warfare with the GOP’s insurgent wing. This week, Cantor’s opponent in the June 10 primary — a tea party activist named David Brat — is gaining...

Jenna Portnoy and Robert Costa | The Washington Post 14 May 2014 Hits:429 Virginia

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Rep. John Conyers fails to qualify for ballot

Rep. John Conyers fails to qualify for ballot

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) won't appear on the Democratic primary ballot after failing to submit enough valid signatures, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said on Tuesday. "It is my determination that in accordance with the current laws and statutes of the State of Michigan, the nominating petitions filed by Congressman John Conyers, Jr....

Cameron Joseph | The Hill 14 May 2014 Hits:481 Michigan

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Alabama inmates stage protest over free labor system

Alabama inmates stage protest over free labor system

For the second time this year, prisoners in Alabama are planning a nonviolent demonstration and work stoppage to protest conditions inside the state’s prisons. Melvin Ray, an inmate at the St. Clair correctional facility in Springville and founder of prison-based group Free Alabama Movement (FAM) says this weekend’s strike is an...

Nick Ramsey | MSNBC 20 Apr 2014 Hits:284 Alabama

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Clear leaders emerge in primary races in Northern Virginia, finance reports show

Clear leaders emerge in primary races in Northern Virginia, finance reports show

In the run-up to midterm congressional elections that both major parties see as crucial, Virginia is again a magnet for political donations as candidates vie for two open seats in the House of Representatives. Republicans and Democrats are steering money in a big way toward favored candidates in Northern Virginia’s 10th...

Antonio Olivo and Patricia Sullivan | The Washington Post 17 Apr 2014 Hits:424 Virginia

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Mary Fallin Signs Ban On Minimum Wage Increase

Mary Fallin Signs Ban On Minimum Wage Increase

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed a bill Monday prohibiting cities across the state from establishing mandatory minimum wage and employee benefits, including vacation or sick leave days. Advocates of the new law contend that efforts to increase the minimum wage across various municipalities could potentially harm local business communities. "This bill...

Shadee Ashtari | Huffington Post 15 Apr 2014 Hits:537 Oklahoma

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Judge: Ohio must recognize out-of-state gay marriages

Judge: Ohio must recognize out-of-state gay marriages

Proponents of marriage equality have been on quite a winning streak in the courts, targeting anti-gay laws in states across the country. That streak continued this morning in Ohio. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black has formally ruled that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states, but he put...

Steve Benen | The Maddow Blog 14 Apr 2014 Hits:253 Ohio

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Staffer Who Was Caught Kissing Vance McAllister Resigns, While Congressman Keeps His Job

Staffer Who Was Caught Kissing Vance McAllister Resigns, While Congressman Keeps His Job

The staff member for Rep. Vance McAllister (R-La.) who was caught on tape kissing the married congressman has been "taken off the payroll," the News-Star reports. On Monday, the Ouachita Citizen published a surveillance video purporting to show the Republican congressman kissing Melissa Anne Hixon Peacock, his married district scheduler. McAllister...

Molly Reilly | The Huffington Post 09 Apr 2014 Hits:645 Louisiana

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NC NAACP Filed Title VI Complaint against Health Provider for Closing Hospital in Rural County, Cutting Emergency Care for Th…

NC NAACP Filed Title VI Complaint against Health Provider for Closing Hospital in Rural County, Cutting Emergency Care for Thousands

BELHAVEN, NC - Citing a difficult financial situation partially due to North Carolina's refusal to expand Medicaid, a health care provider announced last week that it will close its hospital in the small town of Belhaven, NC, on April 1 in complete disregard of the community's staunch protests and for...

Jamie Phillips Cole | NAACP North Carolina 05 Mar 2014 Hits:590 North Carolina

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Wendy Davis Wins Texas Primary as State Veers Further to the Right

Wendy Davis Wins Texas Primary as State Veers Further to the Right

Far-right Texas Republicans prospered in the first US primary of the year as it was confirmed that Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott will square off in the battle to be the state’s next governor. Davis parlayed the national celebrity garnered from her epic filibuster last June into a high-profile bid...

Tom Dart | The Guardian 05 Mar 2014 Hits:385 Texas

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Ted Nugent brings bigotry and misogyny to Texas governors race

Ted Nugent, the old rocker from the Seventies, is now just plain old… and off his rocker. A political novelty act for the far right and a front man for the National Rifle Association, Nugent regularly spews venomous, vulgar, race-laced, abusive hate speech about liberals, Democrats, gun laws, and creeping communism....

Jim Hightower | Jim Hightower.com 05 Mar 2014 Hits:216 Texas

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Florida Is Illegally Limiting How Often Poor People On Medicaid Can Visit The ER

Florida Is Illegally Limiting How Often Poor People On Medicaid Can Visit The ER

Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) effort to save his state’s Medicaid program money on the backs of the poor just backfired. In 2012, the Scott administration lobbied the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow it to limit the number of times that Medicaid beneficiaries can frequent emergency rooms...

Sy Mukherjee | Think Progress 04 Mar 2014 Hits:435 Florida

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The power team of Cantwell and Murray

The power team of Cantwell and Murray

"Neither of our "power team" has signed onto the "Three State Solution" for ERA ratification. Please give them call and encourage them to cosponsor Senate Joint Resolution 15, "Remove the ratification deadline from the Equal Rights Amendment." -  Walt Kloefkorn, PDA Washington   A normally reserved Sen. Maria Cantwell was exchanging bear...

Joel Connelly | Seattle PI 03 Mar 2014 Hits:286 Washington

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Delegate opposes Mayor Jones for DPVA chair less he backs same-sex marriage

Delegate opposes Mayor Jones for DPVA chair less he backs same-sex marriage

Del. Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, said Saturday that he will oppose Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones as chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia if Jones still opposes same-sex marriage. “The chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia needs to reflect our values as a party,” Hope said in a statement...

Andrew Cain | Richmond Times-Dispatch 02 Mar 2014 Hits:376 Virginia

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Remembering Chokwe Lumumba

Can you be a revolutionary and a mayor? Chokwe Lumumba—who spent eight months as mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, before he died this Tuesday—did his best to be both. Chokwe Lumumba, an extraordinary leader with a vision of liberation forged in the 1960s Black Power movement, died on Tuesday after eight...

Laura Flanders | Yes Magazine 27 Feb 2014 Hits:255 Mississippi

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ERA to be Heard in the Virginia House Tomorrow

ERA to be Heard in the Virginia House Tomorrow

Thank you so much for signing the petition, making phone calls and sending emails; all your hard work has paid off. Tomorrow the Virginia House of Delegates will hear the Equal Rights Amendment in the Elections subcommittee. The bill was placed in this subcommittee so that a woman (Del. Margaret...

26 Feb 2014 Hits:392 Virginia

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The Mayor Who Brought an Economic Democracy Vision to Mississippi

The Mayor Who Brought an Economic Democracy Vision to Mississippi

Chokwe Lumumba maintained a civil rights commitment that was rooted in the moment when his mother showed her eight-year-old son the Jet magazine photograph of a beaten Emmett Till in his open casket. The commitment was nurtured on the streets of Detroit, where Lumumba and his mother collected money to...

John Nichols | The Nation 26 Feb 2014 Hits:321 Mississippi

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Judge strikes down gay marriage ban in Texas

Judge strikes down gay marriage ban in Texas

A Texas judge has struck down that state's ban on gay marriage. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal. "Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny...

Aaron Blake | The Washington Post 26 Feb 2014 Hits:289 Texas

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Arizona governor vetoes controversial bill allowing denial of service to gays

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) announced Wednesday night that she has vetoed a controversial bill that would allow businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians if they feel it violates their religious rights. Gay rights advocates have denounced the legislation, labeling it a form of legalized discrimination, and Arizona's two...

Aaron Blake | The Washington Post 26 Feb 2014 Hits:327 Arizona

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Longest-serving Rep. John Dingell to retire

Longest-serving Rep. John Dingell to retire

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will retire at the end of his current term, capping a historic career as the longest-serving member of Congress in history. In prepared remarks for his annual "State of the District" speech distributed by his office Monday afternoon, Dingell described his decision as personal and rooted...

Sean Sullivan | Washington Post 24 Feb 2014 Hits:329 Michigan

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Expanded Medicaid will be subject of forced vote by Republicans in Va. House

Expanded Medicaid will be subject of forced vote by Republicans in Va. House

House Republicans will force a vote Thursday on whether to expand Medicaid, briefly plucking the contentious issue out of a massive state budget bill in a move meant to show overwhelming GOP opposition to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s top legislative goal. The House will subject the expansion plan to an up-or-down floor...

Laura Vozzella and Michael Laris | The Washington Post 20 Feb 2014 Hits:431 Virginia

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Is Thomas Frank’s pessimism about the Democrats premature?

In the Salon article The matter with Kansas now: The Tea Party, the 1 percent and delusional Democrats,  Thomas Frank writes: It wasn’t until several years later that I began to understand what a fascinating, upside-down extravaganza it was to see the right eat its way through the good sense of the...

Walt Kloefkorn | Washington Liberals 18 Feb 2014 Hits:370 Washington

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Disgusting! GOP Tries to Bully American Workers Seeking Union at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant

Disgusting! GOP Tries to Bully American Workers Seeking Union at Tennessee Volkswagen Plant

The United Auto Workers are trying to organize a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but GOP lawmakers seem determined to thwart them. About 1,550 hourly workers are employed at the plant, which opened its doors in 2011. On Wednesday, workers began a three-day vote on whether to join the union....

Lynn Stuart Parramore | AlterNet 14 Feb 2014 Hits:543 Tennessee

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Meet Judge Arenda Wright Allen, who struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage

Meet Judge Arenda Wright Allen, who struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage

The federal judge who struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage Thursday is an appointee of President Obama and in 2011 became the first black woman appointed as a federal District Court judge in Virginia. Arenda Wright Allen, born in 1960, is a Philadelphia native who spent decades as a government...

David A. Fahrenthold | The Washington Post 14 Feb 2014 Hits:446 Virginia

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AZ Reps. Grijalva and Barber Back Extension of ERA Ratification Deadline

Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has received bipartisan support in the Arizona Legislature, but Arizona’s Congressional delegation appears to be lagging behind. Of Arizona’s 11 Senators and Representatives, only two–  Southern Arizona Reps. Raul Grijalva (D- CD3) and Ron Barber (D- CD2)– have signed on to co-sponsor legislation...

Pamela Powers Hannley | Tucson Progressive 14 Feb 2014 Hits:314 Arizona

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This Weekend's March in North Carolina May Be the Start of Something Huge

This Weekend's March in North Carolina May Be the Start of Something Huge

Nearly 100,000 people took to the streets in Raleigh, North Carolina on February 8 in a Moral March to say "No!" to the state's sharp right-wing political turn and "Yes!" to a new, truly progressive America. They weren't just marching for one issue or another. They were marching for every issueprogressives...

Ira Chernus | AlterNet 10 Feb 2014 Hits:690 North Carolina

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More than 80,000 March on the North Carolina State Capitol to Advocate for Moral and Constitutional Public Policies

More than 80,000 March on the North Carolina State Capitol to Advocate for Moral and Constitutional Public Policies

Protesting against the regressive laws passed by extremists in the General Assembly last year, upwards of 80,000 people marched on the state capitol Saturday morning, according to the march's logistics and planning experts. Called the Moral March on Raleigh, the event's multiracial, intergenerational crowd also advanced an agenda for moral...

North Carolina NAACP 09 Feb 2014 Hits:767 North Carolina

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Jumpstarting the vote in North Carolina

Jumpstarting the vote in North Carolina

In North Carolina, it's called the "Monster Law" -- the 56-page bill passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) last year that ushered in some of the most stringent voting restrictions in the nation. Among the wide-ranging law's provisions were a strict photo ID requirement, cutting...

Chris Kromm | Facing South 07 Feb 2014 Hits:474 North Carolina

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An Austerity Storm Hammers Georgia

An Austerity Storm Hammers Georgia

In this aerial view looking at I-75 north at Mount Paran Road, abandoned cars are piled up on the median of the ice-covered interstate after a winter snowstorm Wednesday. Officials estimate that more than 2,000 cars still litter the highways. (Photo: AP) Americans are surrounded by examples of the extent to...

John Nichols | The Nation 31 Jan 2014 Hits:430 Georgia

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NC NAACP to Implement Three New Initiatives to Fight for Fair Representation and Democratic Participation in North Carolina

NC NAACP to Implement Three New Initiatives to Fight for Fair Representation and Democratic Participation in North Carolina

RALEIGH-Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II opened the NC NAACP's annual winter conference today by declaring that its members were prepared to oppose any attempt by government officials to deny an equal voice and fair representation to the people of North Carolina -whether that involves tens of thousands of feet marching in protest...

Laura Ashton | North Carolina NAACP 25 Jan 2014 Hits:369 North Carolina

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Charniele Herring joins field for Rep. Moran’s seat, will step down as chair of Va. Democrats

Charniele Herring joins field for Rep. Moran’s seat, will step down as chair of Va. Democrats

Del. Charniele Herring said Thursday that she is running for the seat of retiring Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), adding to a crowded field and leaving a vacancy atop the Virginia Democratic Party. “If elected, I will continue the good works of Congressman Jim Moran to foster the economic development...

Ben Pershing | The Washington Post 24 Jan 2014 Hits:479 Virginia

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Va. Attorney General Mark Herring files brief opposing same-sex marriage ban

 Va. Attorney General Mark Herring files brief opposing same-sex marriage ban

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced Thursday that he believes the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and he joined two same-sex couples in asking a federal court to strike it down. The action, which Herring (D) made with the support of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), marks...

Robert Barnes and Laura Vozzella | The Washington Post 23 Jan 2014 Hits:432 Virginia

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Va. now projects Medicaid savings of $1 billion through 2022

Va. now projects Medicaid savings of $1 billion through 2022

Expanding Virginia’s Medicaid program to about 250,000 uninsured Virginians initially would produce savings of $1 billion through 2022, according to new estimates produced by the state Medicaid office. The estimate represents a swing of more than $1 billion from a Medicaid analysis a year ago, when state health officials estimated a...

Michael Martz | Richmond Times Dispatch 23 Jan 2014 Hits:421 Virginia

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McDonnell, former first lady indicted on multiple counts

McDonnell, former first lady indicted on multiple counts

Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted today by a federal grand jury on 14 counts stemming from the first couple’s acceptance and solicitation of thousands in gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman during McDonnell’s term. The indictment, spelled out in an extensive document filed by...

Jim Nolan | Richmond Times Dispatch 21 Jan 2014 Hits:469 Virginia

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Tom Coburn To Leave Senate At End Of 113th Congress

Tom Coburn To Leave Senate At End Of 113th Congress

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn will finish out the current congressional session and then resign from his seat nearly two years before his term is scheduled to end, he said in a statement released late Thursday. The 65-year-old Republican said he would give up his seat at the end of the current...

Sean Murphy | The Huffington Post 17 Jan 2014 Hits:438 Oklahoma

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Gov. McAuliffe emphasizes ‘progress over ideology’ at inauguration

Gov. McAuliffe emphasizes ‘progress over ideology’ at inauguration

Gov. Terence R. McAuliffe pledged to find common ground after officially taking the oath of office Saturday and becoming the state of Virginia’s 72nd governor on a rainy day outside the state Capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson. “It is humbling, and the highest honor of my life, to stand before you today,” Mr. McAuliffe said before a crowd of...

Dave Sherfinski | The Washington Times 12 Jan 2014 Hits:404 Virginia

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North Carolina NAACP Responds to Governor McCrory's Decision to Postpone Until November a Special Election for Vacant 12th Co…

North Carolina NAACP Responds to Governor McCrory's Decision to Postpone Until November a Special Election for Vacant 12th Congressional District

Raleigh - The North Carolina NAACP State Conference today spoke out against North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory's recent announcement of a Writ of Election that would postpone until November the special election for the state's now vacant 12th Congressional District, causing an undue delay in the election against state precedent....

Rev. Dr. William Barber, II 10 Jan 2014 Hits:645 North Carolina

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W. Virginia Declares State of Emergency After Huge Chemical Spill

W. Virginia Declares State of Emergency After Huge Chemical Spill

Approximately 300,000 people have been told not to drink their water. Residents of nine counties in West Virginia have been told not to use or drink their water after a chemical used by the coal industry spilled into the Elk River on Thursday. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of...

Kiley Kroh | ThinkProgress 10 Jan 2014 Hits:349 West Virginia

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