Published: Tuesday 12 November 2013

The Pentagon is lobbying the Congress to provide funds for the “Modernization” of the B-61 gravity  bombs now stored in Europe. Making this bomb more accurate and more “useable” will cost an estimated $8.1 billion through 2024. At the same time, many experts and some European nations would like to see the bombs withdrawn from Europe. 

 

“I would never have thought those silly things would still be there in 2013. I think they are an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking.” said former Dutch Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, to Time Flies, a National Geographic Television documentary. In 2010 a parliamentary resolution called on the Dutch Goverments to inform the United States that its nuclear weapons were no longer required for Dutch security.

 

We know that America’s future is now endangered by many other considerations. Due to the Republican sequester, government functions have been cut back. Our children are receiving less help with preschool, food stamps and school lunches. Our schools are reducing teachers and increasing class size. Through corporate- designed free trade agreements we have given away millions of manufacturing jobs to impoverished and often endangered foreign labor.  Our infrastructure is rotting away and our businesses are sold to foreign buyers. After more than a decade of unnecessary wars, it is irresponsible to make decisions about national defense without considering the many other needs of the nation.

 

Unfortunately, the Representatives who make the Pentagon budget decisions in  Congress are amply rewarded for supporting military excess. “Leading advocates of high levels of nuclear weapons spending have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from major nuclear weapons contractors in the course ...

Published: Sunday 29 September 2013

The victims of storms Sandy and Katrina, of droughts, floods and wildfires, will tell you that the death and destruction of Climate Change is a real threat to our national life. So why has the Congress failed to reduce our carbon output or to enact defenses against the events we cannot prevent?

 

Why is it that when most of the world is reducing the burning of carbon, the United States has only the EPA to limit the burning of fossil fuels? From 2001 to 2012 the National Climatic Data Center has recorded $487 Billion in property damage and 3,952 deaths in the United States. While we lavish more money on the military than it requests, the Congress is doing little or nothing to control or to reduce the impact of climate change?

 

“Fossil-fuel companies like Exxon and Peabody Energy — which obviously have a business interest in slowing any attempt to reduce carbon emissions — have combined with traditionally conservative corporate groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and conservative foundations like the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity, to raise doubts about the basic validity of what is, essentially, a settled scientific truth.”  --Who’s Bankrolling Climate Change Deniers? --Time.com, October 4, 2011.

 

Now we learn that the Koch Bros. have gotten 169 Members of Congress to sign a Climate Obstruction Pledge.  In other words, they will do nothing to reduce our carbon output or its deadly events. 

 

In the last decade, more people have died from Climate Change than died in the attack of 9/11/01! Many of these lives could have been saved, if we had reduced our carbon output and invested in protective measures across the nation. If the Koch Bros. had blocked our war effort after the Twin Towers attack, they would have been tried as ...

Published: Thursday 5 September 2013

Part I - The President Goes to Congress

 

President Obama has sidestepped the political hole he had dug for himself (what we might call the “red line” hole) over his proposed attack on Syria. Having insisted there must be “consequences” for a breach of international law, specifically the alleged use of banned chemical weapons by the Syrian government, he was faced with both popular American reluctance to support military action and Congressional pique over not being included in the decision process.

 

As a consequence President Obama announced on 31 August 2013 that he now supports a Congressional debate and vote on the issue of attacking Syria. Then he told us how he sees the situation, “This [Syrian chemical] attack is an assault on human dignity.... It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.... Ultimately this is not about who occupies this [White House] office at any given time, its about who we are as a country.” 

 

Part II - The U.S. and Chemical Weapons

 

For all I know, the president really believes his own words, but I am pretty sure his implied question of “who we are as a country” is meant to be rhetorical. If one was to give an evidence-based answer to that inquiry, as it relates to chemical weapons, it would be embarrassing in the extreme. Lest we forget, the U.S. defoliated parts of Vietnam with a chemical weapon called Agent Orange and by its use killed a lot more than large swaths of jungle. Agent Orange killed ...

Published: Friday 30 August 2013

Do you ever wonder why the Congress of the United States, elected by the people to represent them in government, no longer represents them, nor does it “support  and defend the Constitution of the United States” as it is pledged to do by its oath of office? What has happened? The answer is corruption. Corruption so widespread that it threatens the survival of our nation as a democracy. Corruption is so generally accepted that it far exceeds the dangers of terrorism, as it seeps into the most critical agencies of government and our national life.

 

The Congress is the pivot point, the compass of our national direction. It is the meeting point of corporate power and national government. From the moment our newly elected Representatives  assume their posts in Washington they are introduced to the rule of money.

 

“Freshmen are pushed and pushed and pushed to raise money — it’s how they are judged by the leadership and the political establishment in Washington,” said Mr. (Brad)  Miller, who added that he felt the same pressure when he joined the Financial Services Committee in 2003 as a freshman. “It’s only natural that it has got to be on your mind that a vote one way or other is going to affect the ability to raise money.”

 

“After the elections in November, Democratic Party leaders gave a PowerPoint presentation urging their freshman members to spend as much as four hours a day making fund-raising calls while in Washington, and an additional hour of “strategic outreach” holding breakfasts or “meet and greets” with possible financial supporters. That adds up to more time than these first-term lawmakers were advised to spend on Congressional business.” -- For Freshmen in the House, Seats of Plenty, NY Times, 8/11/13 and How ...

Published: Saturday 16 February 2013

 

Our military spending has more than doubled since 9/11/01. The threat of terrorism has diminished, al Qaeda leadership has been killed off, and there is very little likelihood of any terrorist group mounting another attack on the United States. But in spite of the huge money spent on the wars and the serious weakness in our economy, the military continues to receive more than it requests from the Congress.

 

There is no military entitlement. The word entitlement means the right to something. The Social Security fund is a entitlement because working people and their employers have paid into that fund. If our aging population threatens that fund, the remedy is simple, we raise the ceiling on income that is taxed to compensate for the inflation since the law was established. 

 

Medicare is an insurance which we buy, usually paid from our Social Security. If it is not in balance, it makes sense to adjust the relatively low premiums to solve the problem. The elderly have a right to it because they pay for it. It is remarkably efficient and a lifesaver. 

 

Military expenses are not an entitlement, even though the Congress treats it as almost untouchable. It is paid for by the largest share of our disposable tax income. Its big piece of the budget pie is starving many of our federal agencies, which are loosing effectiveness - to the great joy of the antigovernment, Tea Party Vandals. 

 

Our military expenses are huge. Here’s the estimate of Dave Lindorff in his article

America’s Political Disfunction is Rooted in War Addiction on www.ThisCant’tBeHappening.net “The military budget, on the other hand, could be slashed by 50% and nobody would ...

Published: Tuesday 15 January 2013
“The bottom line is that President Obama and many leading Democrats are prepared to give seniors a larger hit to their income than they gave to the over $250,000 crowd.”

According to inside Washington gossip, Congress and the President are going to do exactly what voters elected them to do; they are going to cut Social Security by 3 percent. You don’t remember anyone running on that platform?  Yeah, well, they probably forgot to mention it.

Of course some people may have heard Vice President Joe Biden when he told an audience in Virginia that there would be no cuts to Social Security if President Obama got re-elected. Biden said:

“I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”

But that’s the way things work in Washington. You can’t expect the politicians who run for office to share their policy agenda with voters. After all, we might not like it. That’s why they say things like they will fight for the middle class and make the rich pay their fair share. These ideas have lots of appeal among voters. Cutting Social Security doesn’t.

While the politics of cutting Social Security are bad, it also doesn’t make much sense as ...

Published: Tuesday 15 January 2013
Let‘s send a message to the Democrats in the Senate. Let‘s tell ‘em this: A lot of us out here in the real America (aka the electorate) have totally given up on the Republicans, but that doesn't mean you can count on getting our votes. You think we have nowhere else to go, but you're wrong.

 

At the end of 2012 we were hearing a lot of noises about filibuster reform, remember?  Noise from liberal pundits, noise in the liberal press, noise from our newly elected insurgent liberal senators.  What happened to all the noise?  The war cry is sounding more like a whimper lately.

 

Is the silence a signal?  Is the issue dead – again?  If so, expect another season of partisan gridlock, political dysfunction, and rising public discontent.

 

According to the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Ballin (1892), changes to Senate rules can be made by a simple majority, but only on the first day of each session.  Like most everything that happens in Washington, D.C., what you see (or think you see) is not necessarily what you get.   To wit:  Harry Reid, the sad-sack Senate majority leader is using a parliamentary tactic that shelves rule changes indefinitely but suspends a sword of Damocles over the Republicans.  Under Reid's rule, each new day is still being considered as the “first day” of the new Congress so the rules can be changed at any time by a simple majority vote. Leave it to the highest rule-making body in America to f*@% with the rules!    

 

Here's writer, George Packer ("Senatus Decadens", The New Yorker, 1/4/13) on the very day when what might have been – namely, the long-overdue death and joyful burial of the filibuster – wasn't:  "Several proposals are circulating. The most intriguing is the one introduced by Senator Jeff ...

Published: Thursday 10 January 2013
Many of the executives who sold stock in December said they did not do so for tax purposes, and according to the Journal, their selling patterns mirrored those in previous months.

As the possibility of increased tax rates approached at the end of 2012, dozens of executives sold stock and took advantage of lower tax rates. According to the Wall Street Journal’s analysis, executives off-loaded millions of dollars in stock in December, avoiding the higher tax rates Congress approved at the beginning of 2013. And because Congress raised rates on capital gains income, executives who sold well-performing stocks saved the most, the Journal reports:

A Wall Street Journal review of securities filings found that 58 executives sold stock valued at $10 million or more in December as talks intensified over raising tax rates.

Capital gains were hit more than other types of income, according to David Kautter, the managing director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University in Washington, D.C. “So if you could move that into 2012, you saved the most of anyone.”

Many of the executives who sold stock in December said they did not do so for tax purposes, and according to the Journal, their selling patterns mirrored those in previous months. Others, however, admitted that the sales occurred for “tax planning” purposes. Cablevision CEO James Dolan, who also manages Madison Square Garden and the New York Knicks, gained $26 million from stock sales in December. He had not previously sold stock since 2009. And Robert Kauffman, co-founder of an investment firm, ...

Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
Unlike the original review, no case-by-case effort will be made to sort out who was really the victim of a bank error or abuse and who was not.

The Independent Foreclosure Review was supposed to be a full and fair investigation of the big banks' foreclosure abuses, and it was trumpeted as the government's largest effort to compensate victimized homeowners. Federal regulators, who designed the review, forced banks to spend billions to carry it out. Millions of homeowners were eligible and hundreds of thousands submitted claims. But Monday morning, the very regulators who launched the program 18 months ago announced that it had all been a massive mistake and shut it down.

Instead, 10 banks have agreed to pay a total of $3.3 billion in cash to the 3.8 million borrowers who had been eligible for the review. That's an average of around $870 per borrower. But typical of a process that's been characterized by confusion, delays and secrecy, regulators said the details of how the money will be doled out were not yet available.

The headline number for the settlement is $8.5 billion, but that includes $5.2 billion in "credits" the banks will receive for actions they take to avoid foreclosures, such as providing loan modifications. That's very similar to the separate $25 billion settlement reached last year between five banks, 49 states and the federal government. That settlement 

Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
Talk about a crappy present. Before the holidays we warned you that Congress was about to hand us a lump of coal in the form of the FISA Amendments Act.

 

Well, Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! You got your coal.

Just three days before the end of the year — and right before it reconvened to take us off the fiscal cliff — Congress pushed through a reauthorization of FISA, otherwise known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The bill — which President Obama subsequently signed into law — extends the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program for another five years.

The original FISA Amendments Act sanctioned the Bush Administration's illegal scheme in which companies like AT&T and Verizon handed over records of domestic phone calls and Internet activity to the NSA without letting us in on the secret.

In late 2012, Sen. Ron Wyden led a small bipartisan group of senators in trying to slow down the march to reauthorization. The Obama administration was pressuring Congress to pass the bill ...

Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
Make no mistake: the war against Social Security has been launched.

 

The all-out assault on Social Security has begun.

The set-up for the big battle was the Fiscal Cliff charade. That hyped drama in the last days of December was a moment of truth for the Democratic Party and for President Barack Obama to make it clear whether they were still defenders of the New Deal legacy, or whether they were ready to toss Social Security overboard on behalf of the party’s new constituency: the Wall Street gang.

The president and the Democrats in House and Senate could have said there would be no deal on the artificial Fiscal Cliff that was created by Congress back in August 2011 unless Congressional Republicans agreed not to hold the nation hostage again this February over the issue of raising the national debt ceiling. Republicans were in a weak position, since if the “cliff” deadline were allowed to pass, the Bush tax cuts would have expired. They would have been put in the position of being unable to pass new legislation restoring tax cuts for the wealthy, while Democrats could have forced them to pass tax cuts for those in the middle and lower classes.

Instead of doing that, the president and his vice president, former Senator from the über-corporate headquarters state of Delaware, Joe Biden, offered a “compromise” that give tax breaks to the 1% of Americans who earn between $250,000 and $400,000 a year, protected up ...

Published: Tuesday 8 January 2013
If your boat is sinking, do you blame the bird sitting on the railing or on the gallons of water spewing from a gaping hole in the floor?

In Congress’ latest “fiscal cliff” deal that supposedly had to be passed in order to avoid economic calamity, we spent $30 billion on extending unemployment benefits for a year, and $205 billion in corporate tax breaks, subsidies and excessive tax loopholes. Most of these Christmas gifts for corporate America are benefiting major, multi-billion dollar corporations that haven’t paid a dime of US income taxes in years, like GE and Boeing. In other words, taxpayers spent 6 times more on giving free money to companies making record profits than we did to making sure the people who were laid off by these corporations can still feed their families. $205 billion in corporate goodies was okay with Speaker Boehner, but $60 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief apparently wasn’t.

One of the most egregious giveaways included in the New Years Eve fiscal cliff deal negotiated between Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell is an extension of a loophole that allows corporations to book US profits in overseas, tax-free bank accounts. Today, US companies have up to $2 trillion offshored thanks to loopholes like the one in this deal, at the same time Congress is talking about raising the Medicare eligibility age to ...

Published: Sunday 6 January 2013
These are just a few ideas for how we get jobs back on the Washington agenda

Overlooked in the aftermath of the “fiscal cliff” deal and the questions about what spending cuts may be around the corner, was this part of President’s Obama statement following the bill’s passage:

 I think we all recognize this law is just one step in the broader effort to strengthen our economy and broaden opportunity for everybody…

 

…we’re still investing too little in the things that we need for the economy to grow as fast as it should.

 

READ FULL POST 5 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 3 January 2013
“Both sides of the aisle will all throw their vocal support behind Main Street, while putting their real muscle behind Wall Street.”

 

Thankfully, Congress has walked the U.S. back from the edge of the fiscal cliff with a last-minute, last-ditch bandaid of a bill. Along with $600 billion in new tax revenues, the deal also includes a temporary fix to the farm bill, an end to the payroll tax break, and tax credits for businesses. Both sides of the aisle will take it as a cue to moan and groan about the other. Along the way, they will all throw their vocal support behind Main Street, while putting their real muscle behind Wall Street. So what's a concerned citizen to do?

Stacy Mitchell, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, might have the answer.

Back on October 20, 2012, Mitchell gave a TEDx talk in which she highlighted the local economy movement and made the case for Main Street as a means of connectedness: “As remarkable as these trends are, they are unlikely to amount to more than an small sideshow on the margins of the mainstream if the only way we can conceive of confronting corporate power and bringing about a new economy is through our buying decisions… What we really need to do is change the underlying policies that shape our economy. We can’t do that through the sum of our individual behavior in the marketplace. We can only do it by exercising our collective power as citizens.”

Published: Thursday 3 January 2013
Published: Thursday 3 January 2013
Published: Monday 31 December 2012
If we go over it, he and the Democrats in the next Congress that starts later this week can quickly offer legislation that grants a middle-class tax cut and restores most military spending.

The deal emerging from the Senate is a lousy one. Let me count the ways:

1. Republicans haven’t conceded anything on the debt ceiling, so over the next two months – as the Treasury runs out of tricks to avoid a default – Republicans are likely to do exactly what they did before, which is to hold their votes on raising the ceiling hostage to major cuts in programs for the poor and in Medicare and Social Security.

2. The deal makes tax cuts for the rich permanent (extending the Bush tax cuts for incomes up to $400,000 if filing singly and $450,000 if jointly) while extending refundable tax credits for the poor (child tax credit, enlarged EITC, and tuition tax credit) for only five years. There’s absolutely no justification for this asymmetry.

3. It doesn’t get nearly enough revenue from the wealthiest 2 percent — only $600 billion over the next decade, which is half of what the President called for, and a small fraction of the White House’s goal of more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction. That means more of the burden of tax hikes and spending cuts in future years will fall on the middle class and the poor.

4. It continues to exempt the first $5 million of inherited wealth from the estate tax (the exemption used to be $1 million). This is a huge gift to the heirs of the wealthy, perpetuating family dynasties of the idle rich.

Yes, the deal finally gets Republicans to accept a tax increase on the wealthy, but this is an inside-the-Beltway symbolic victory. If anyone believes this will make the GOP more amenable to future tax increases, they don’t know how rabidly extremist the GOP has become.

The deal also extends unemployment insurance for more than 2 million long-term unemployed. That’s important.

But I can’t help believe the President could have done better than this. After all, public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side. Republicans would have been ...

Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
The Occupy movement changed Democratic political rhetoric, which changed poll numbers aand arguably changed the election results.

Our nation was gripped by so many fallacies and delusions in 2012 that the whole Mayan calendar end-of-the-world thing didn’t even make the list.

Even those apocalyptic prophecies were more plausible than the idea that cutting Social Security will help the deficit, that government spending cuts will jump-start the economy, there were no crimes on Wall Street, or that we live in a “divided nation” whose “center” wants more business as usual in Washington.

Here then, without further ado, are our Top 12 Political Fallacies for 2012.

1. Austerity works.

Last year we 

Published: Sunday 30 December 2012
As Washington tries to hash out a deal, we've taken a step back to break down the numbers behind our deficit.

President Obama will meet with congressional leaders today in another attempt to avert the fiscal cliff — the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 1 unless Congress can strike a deal. The cuts and tax hikes, which total more than $500 billion, are so large and so sudden that many economists fear they would plunge the country back into recession.

As Washington tries to hash out a deal, we've taken a step back to break down the numbers behind our deficit — how it grew so big, why it is actually shrinking and whether a deal can bring it under control.

 
Published: Saturday 29 December 2012
Published: Thursday 27 December 2012
Published: Sunday 23 December 2012
Results of the study, which Congress requested EPA to complete, are expected to be released in a draft for public and peer review in 2014.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today provided an update on its ongoing national study currently underway to better understand any potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.

According to an EPA press release:

Results of the study, which Congress requested EPA to complete, are expected to be released in a draft for public and peer review in 2014. The update provided today outlines work currently underway, including the status of research projects that will inform the final study. It is important to note that while this progress report outlines the framework for the final study, it does not draw conclusions about the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, which ...

Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
“With 20 children dead, President Obama insisting that preventing gun violence will be a second-term policy priority, and Harry Reid not facing re-election until 2016, perhaps the Senator will now be willing to stand up to the NRA?”

When CODEPINK, MoveOn and representatives of other organizations marched into Senator Harry Reid’s DC office on Tuesday, December 18, they wanted a simple answer to a simple question: Does the Senator support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips, such as the legislation proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein and supported by President Obama and Vice President Biden? It would seem like a no-brainer for the Senate Majority Leader to fall in line with the leadership of his party in backing a modest bill that would ban the sale of weapons that are only good for mass murder. Unfortunately, Reid’s senior policy advisor Kasey Gillette was unable to give an answer.


While there is a lot of talk in Democratic circles about Republicans standing in the way of sensible gun laws, a hidden secret is that the Democratic Senator leader from Nevada, who is key to getting gun control legislation passed in this country, has been as pro-gun as most Republicans.


READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
The U.S. military is focusing almost exclusively on non-food items, including algae and oils made from non-food and agricultural wastes.

 

Reversing attempts to eliminate the U.S. military’s advanced biofuels program, both houses of Congress on Tuesday approved major legislation that now presents no obstacles to broad-reaching Defence Department plans to mainstream and spread the use of alternative fuels throughout its operations.

The move has received broad plaudits from environmentalists, industry advocates and high-level defence officials.

“We’re really happy that Congress decided to support the Depart of Defence’s ability to develop and purchase biofuels,” Lena Moffitt, a Washington representative with the Sierra Club, an environment advocacy group, told IPS. “We wholly support the Pentagon’s major role in advancing the industry more broadly, including leading the charge in sourcing materials that are not food based.”

As the largest fuel consumer in the United States – using some 90 percent of the energy used by the federal government – the military has been ramping up plans to diversify its fuel options in the name ...

Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
“The current president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, commander in chief of the most awesome military the world has ever known, is the most pathetic negotiator in the history of modern politics. Either that or he wants to lose.”

 

If President Obama had been the commander of Allied forces during the invasion of Normandy 1944, he would have cut a deal with the Nazis when they launched the counter-offensive called the Battle of the Bulge, and WWII would have ended in Europe with a divided France and a still-extant Third Reich into the 1950s. If he had been president in 1965, we wouldn’t have Medicare today. If he had been Rosa Parks, black people might still be riding at the back of the bus.

The current president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world, commander in chief of the most awesome military the world has ever known, is the most pathetic negotiator in the history of modern politics. Either that or he wants to lose.

During his first term, we watched him inexplicably water down his health reform program before it even got started, removing the option of a Canadian-style state-run insurance program known as “single-payer” from consideration, and then cutting deals with the insurance industry, the hospital industry and the pharmaceutical industry, before going to Congress with a plan that ended up being a gift to all three.

We watched him cave early on in negotiations over a crisis economic stimulus plan in 2009, giving Republicans a $425-billion tax cut that did nothing to boost jobs in return for getting a measly $425-billion in stimulus funding approved. He ...

Published: Tuesday 18 December 2012
Published: Sunday 16 December 2012
The latest atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in quiet little Newton, Connecticut, ought to be the last straw for the good citizens of this gun-crazy nation, but it won't be.

Nelson's been talking to Mother Nature.  Nelson is a close friend fighting a hard battle against a deadly disease.  He's been having a series of very frank conversations with Mother Nature about, well, just about everything, from the origins of the universe to evolution to how and where homo sapiens fits into the natural order. 

 

It turns out we humans as a species don't – fit in to the natural order, that is.

 

Did I mention that Nelson happens to be a retire neurosurgeon?  Suffice it to say, Nelson knows as much about brains and how they work as anybody else walking on two legs.

 

But what we've been talking about lately is not why the human brain is so efficient or amazing but why it's so unpredictable, why we manifest such a vast array of psychological disorders, and why, for example, we alone kill for pleasure or motives that are simply too perverse for "normal" folks to sort out. 

 

The latest atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in quiet little Newton, Connecticut, ought to be the last straw for the good citizens of this gun-crazy nation, but it won't be.  The massacre in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, last July – 12 dead, 58 wounded – was another "last straw" event that wasn't.  And before that there was Virginia Tech, 33 killed.  Before that (back in 1999)  the Columbine school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, 15 killed (including the two teenage shooters).   Need I go on?

 

This morning when I checked my email messages there was one from Nelson.  Here it is, word for word.  (MN = Mother Nature)      

 

Nelson:   MN, I don't get why you would create a species with brains so screwed up that they kill each other at rates ...

Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
Last minute Super PAC spending keeps voters in the dark

 

Over a month has passed since the polls closed on Election Day 2012. Since then, the final totals have been tallied, the results certified and new members of Congress have even made their first trip to Washington D.C. to begin freshman orientation.

Yet voters had to wait until Dec. 6 to see the donors behind a slew of campaign ads carefully crafted by several major SuperPACs. In order to exploit a loophole in the law, these groups waited until the last minute to bombard the airwaves with commercials and stuff mailboxes with flyers, according to the New York Times.

“A last-minute burst of below-the-radar cash has begun flooding into the national elections…,” reported the Times on Nov. 3. “But unlike the well-known outside groups that have dominated the airwaves until now, many of the new spenders did not formally exist a few weeks ago. They have generic-sounding names, rarely have Web sites and are exploiting a loophole that will keep their donors anonymous until long after the last votes are counted.”

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Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
As the parties wrestle over these numbers — which would pull massive amounts of money out of a still-delicate economy — Republicans insist on bringing in the brass knuckles of another debt-ceiling fight.

 

Nothing like a debt-ceiling brawl to raise the public's anxiety levels. The Republican threat two summers ago to let America default on its borrowing helped lower America's credit rating and sent consumer confidence back into intensive care. The people were not amused.

Consumer confidence dove again this month, as shoppers feared a jump over the "fiscal cliff" would undo their economic gains. We refer to the deep spending cuts and tax hikes that Republicans agreed to as a condition of their not sending the United States into default.

As the parties wrestle over these numbers — which would pull massive amounts of money out of a still-delicate economy — Republicans insist on bringing in the brass knuckles of another debt-ceiling fight. They should desist for America's sake, and for theirs.

If the country careens over the so-called fiscal cliff, most Americans are prepared to blame Republicans, according to polls. A weak economy, or any economy, is no time to start playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

Since 1960, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 78 times, 49 of them under Republican presidents. The government should ...

Published: Thursday 13 December 2012
The “chained CPI” is opposed by the young and the old, the left and the right. So who’s the constituency for this thing, anyway?

 

The “chained CPI” is an attempt to camouflage deep cuts to Social Security and other benefits, along with tax hikes on middle class wages (but not for high incomes), in a forest of numbers and terminology.

Know who’s expert at camouflage? Veterans. And a whole lot of their organizations hate the “chained CPI.”

Sneaky … But Simple

The headline for Derek Thompson’s Atlantic piece  READ FULL POST 10 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 11 December 2012
Published: Tuesday 11 December 2012
Obama’s grassroots supporters voted for jobs and social services, not for the budget cuts that Congress is demanding. Now they’re working to make sure that message is not forgotten.

November’s election results showed strong support for progressive values, which are now being attacked in the debate about the so-called “fiscal cliff.” A better name for it would be the “grand disconnect” because, in signaling its willingness to make cuts to essential services, Congress shows that it has already forgotten the message voters sent in November.

The good news is that, across the country, the same grassroots energy that helped deliver record turnout among low-income people, especially low- READ FULL POST 4 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 9 December 2012
Published: Sunday 9 December 2012
Republican leadership continues to insist on extending tax cuts for all Americans, while President Obama said he would only sign legislation that would maintain reductions for individuals who earn $200,000 or less and couples who make $250,000 or less.

Earlier this week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sought to overcome the GOP’s resistance to voting on a Senate-passed measure that would extend Bush-era tax cuts to middle class Americans by introducing a discharge petition that, if signed by 218 members, could force the House to take-up the measure. Some Republicans, weary of the overwhelming public support for raising rates on the richest two percent of Americans, have urged the GOP leadership to allow the vote, but have yet to formally sign Pelosi’s discharge. Republican leadership continues to insist on extending tax cuts for all Americans, while President Obama said he would only sign legislation that would maintain reductions for individuals who earn $200,000 or less and couples who make $250,000 or less.

But in a recent photo-op with constituents, Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) explained why Republicans are refusing to give in. The Tennessee Republican admitted that he won’t vote to extend tax cuts to 98 percent of Americans because doing so would cede control to Democrats:

CONSTITUENT 1: Are you going to sign the discharge petition?

DUNCAN: Ummm…Oh no, I’m not. No Ma’am. I’m ...

Published: Saturday 8 December 2012
Published: Thursday 6 December 2012
The border is an expression of problems that exist far from the border.

 

Oscar and Jennifer Cruz knew that crossing the border would be the easy part.

 

The Salvadoran brother and sister made their way over the international line between Guatemala and Mexico with the help of a smuggler who guided them through the jungle. But soon afterward, Mexican immigration officers arrested the clean-cut teenagers on a bus in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the capital of the southernmost Mexican state, Chiapas.

Like many other Central American youths who migrate on their own, Oscar, 16, and Jennifer, 13, were pushed by the danger of ...

Published: Monday 3 December 2012
Now that the voting is past, a group of independent advisers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly urged her to consider pursuing an informal accord with Russia aimed at lowering the number of nuclear weapons the two countries might deploy under existing treaties

 

The Pentagon’s budget is almost assuredly going down in coming years, under heavy pressure from those who wish to trim the federal deficit and see the agency – whose budget increased by two-thirds over the last decade – as a ripe target. But it also looks like a specific weapon system,  the nation’s stockpile of nuclear warheads, is also headed down, with Barack Obama’s reelection.

This is not a great surprise. Obama promised in a 2009 speech in Prague, after all, that the U.S.-Russian arms control treaty he was then negotiating “will set the stage for further cuts.” But the administration’s planning was not detailed publicly before the election to avoid creating controversy.

Now that the voting is past, a group of independent advisers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has publicly urged her to consider pursuing an informal accord with Russia aimed at lowering the number of nuclear weapons the two countries might deploy under existing treaties. Its report, issued Nov. 27, has also acknowledged official support for deeper cuts inside the administration.

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Published: Sunday 2 December 2012
Most of us today, unfortunately, have no inkling that this huge transformation even took place, mainly because that exuberantly middle class America of the mid-20th century has disappeared.

Our contemporary billionaires, most Americans would agree, are exploiting our labor and polluting our politics. Can we shrink our super rich down to a less powerful — and more democratic — size? Of course we can. We Americans, after all, have already done that before.

Between 1900 and the 1950s, average Americans beat down plutocrats every bit as dominant as ours. A century that began with huge private fortunes and most Americans living in poverty would come to see sweeping suburban developments where grand estates and mansions once stood. 

Most of us today, unfortunately, have no inkling that this huge transformation even took place, mainly because that exuberantly middle class America of the mid-20th century has disappeared. Those grand mansions have come back.

Does this super-rich resurgence make failures out of our progressive forebears, the men and women who fought to limit the wealth and power of America's wealthiest? Our forebears didn't fail, as I explain in my new book. They just didn't go far enough.

In The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, I sum up the incredible feats those progressives accomplished. They "soaked the rich" at tax time. They built a union movement that acted as a real check on corporate greed. They even tamed Wall Street.

But these great victories have long since faded. How can we get back on a plutocracy-busting track? We could start by revisiting those struggles of years past that came up short, those proposals that, had they become law, might have lastingly ...

Published: Sunday 2 December 2012
“These ideas are so radical that they have already been rejected on a bipartisan basis by Congress.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) ripped into President Obama’s opening offer on a package to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, during the GOP’s weekly address on Saturday, characterizing the proposal as “radical” and a “classic bait-and-switch.” “Maybe I missed it but I don’t recall him asking for any of that during the presidential campaign,” Hatch said. “These ideas are so radical that they have already been rejected on a bipartisan basis by Congress.”

Watch it:

Obama’s proposal — which includes $1.6 trillion in increased taxes on the rich over the next decade, $400 billion in savings in Medicare and other social programs, $50 billion in stimulus spending to begin next year, and an end to current debt ceiling rules — is not new or radical: it reflects the very same same policies Obama advanced for years and promoted extensively on the campaign trail.

For instance, Obama’s FY 2013 budget — released in February 2012 — raised “an additional $1.7 trillion in revenue” and proposed $360 billion in savings from entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. (Comparatively, Simpson-Bowles called for $2.7 trillion revenue over 10 years, more than what Obama requested). Obama advocated for additional stimulative spending throughout the campaign, calling for a path “forward” that will “continue investing in education and infrastructure.”

Republicans are feigning shock that Obama is proposing to implement the ...

Published: Saturday 1 December 2012
When the Treasury Department issues new debt, it’s merely carrying out the mechanical necessities of Congress’ decisions — because carrying out the law as passed by the legislative branch is the constitutionally mandated job of the executive branch.

 

One of the key pieces of the package President Obama put forward yesterday to deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff” is a permanent end to the debt ceiling. It would make increases in the ceiling effectively automatic, subject to a veto by two-thirds of Congress.

This proposal did not just prompt howls of protestations from conservatives — it also produced a remarkable failure amongst politicians and journalists alike to understand the basics of government financing and the Constitution’s separation of powers.

In the Washington Post yesterday, Lori Montgomery called the idea “an effective end to congressional control over the size of the national debt.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) railed against it as “a blank check.” Timothy Carney, a journalist for The Washington Examiner, lamented the legislature ceding power to the executive, effectively “castrating” Congress.

But the worst example of the theme arrived this afternoon, when Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) ...

Published: Friday 30 November 2012
Published: Thursday 29 November 2012
New GOP idea doesn’t let youth earn green cards, but marriage to Americans can result in exile.

 

While unveiling an alternative to the DREAM ACT — but with no route to citizenship — Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona suggested that illegal immigrants brought here as children can easily get on a path to citizenship if they marry U.S. citizens. 

However, Kyl’s assumption, expressed at a Capitol press conference Tuesday, is wrong in practical terms.  A recent Center for Public Integrity and KQED public radio report detailed how penalties adopted by Congress in 1996 are ousting undocumented spouses of U.S. citizens for at least a decade, sometimes longer, when they try to obtain legal status based on marriages. 

Thousands of undocumented spouses have already found out the hard way that they may actually be forbidden from living in the United States as the result of their American partners’ efforts to sponsor them for legal permanent residency.

To finish the residency visa process, ...

Published: Thursday 29 November 2012
It seems insane that this nation’s leaders, corporate and political, would even now still be deliberately refusing to take action to protect the Earth, which of course they and their children and grandchildren will also have to live on, and yet almost to a one they are on the side of the deniers or the delayers.

 

What if the leaders of the United States -- and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government -- have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

I’m not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but this horrifying thought came to me yesterday as I batted away yet another round of ignorant rants from people who insist against all logic that climate change is a gigantic fraud being perpetrated, variously, by a conspiracy of the oil companies who allegedly want to benefit from carbon credit trading, the scientific community, which allegedly is collectively selling out and participating in some world-wide system of omerta in order to get grants, or the world socialist conspiracy, which of course, is trying to destroy capitalism), or all the above. (God, whenever I write anything on climate change these people hit me with flame-mail like mayflies spattering a car windshield in mating season!)

What prompted me to this dark speculation about an American conspiracy of inaction was the seemingly incomprehensible failure of the US -- in the face of overwhelming evidence that the Earth is heating up at an accelerating rate, and that we are in danger of soon reaching a point of no return where the process feeds itself -- ...

Published: Tuesday 27 November 2012
Social Security's foes need Plan B.

 

Conservatives never much liked Social Security. It's a wildly popular government program that's totally solvent until 2033. It will be easily fixable and by then may not need fixing at all. Doesn't quite fit with the government-can't-do-anything-right talking point.

Then there's the Social Security Trust Fund, a nice hunk of change invested in Treasury securities that some conservatives don't want to pay back. The trust fund represents payroll taxes collected from workers and employers — taxes raised a quarter century ago to provide a cushion against the predicted stresses of an aging population. The money in the trust fund was loaned, not given, to the federal government.

Many conservatives argue that the trust fund doesn't exist, thanks to cheesy accounting of the money. Whoops, it's been spent, they say. Tough luck.

The counterargument goes that the trust fund is real enough that the Treasury may not default on its debt to it without a vote by Congress. Name one rep of either party who would vote for stiffing the trust fund. Counterargument wins.

So Social ...

Published: Monday 26 November 2012
“If the President’s strategy is to hold his ground and demand from Republicans tax increases on the wealthy, presumably his strongest bargaining position would be to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on schedule come January.”

 

Why is the White House trying to scare average people about the consequences of the “fiscal cliff?”

If the President’s strategy is to hold his ground and demand from Republicans tax increases on the wealthy, presumably his strongest bargaining position would be to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire on schedule come January – causing taxes to rise automatically, especially on the wealthy.

So you’d think part of that strategy would be reassure the rest of the public that the fiscal cliff isn’t so bad or so steep, and that at the start of January Democrats will introduce in Congress a middle-class tax cut whose effect is to prevent taxes from rising for most people (thereby forcing Republicans to vote for a tax cut for the middle class or hold it hostage to a tax cut for the wealthy as well).

But today (Monday) the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a report today warning that if Congress allows the Bush tax cuts to expire January 1and the Alternative Minimum Tax to kick in, the middle class will face sharply-rising taxes.

The result, says the Council of Economic Advisers, could slow consumer spending by 1.7 percent next year, and slow overall economic growth by 1.4 percent. The loss of $200 billion in consumer spending is just about what American families spent on all the new cars and trucks sold in the U.S. in the last year, according to the report. About $36 billion less would be spent for housing and utilities, $32 billion less for healthcare, and $26 billion less for groceries and at restaurants.

This kind of fear-mongering plays into Republican hands.

Published: Monday 26 November 2012
Published: Sunday 25 November 2012
Published: Thursday 22 November 2012
Following a long presidential campaign full of policy battles and disagreements, progressives have a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Here are 10 things we can all celebrate.

 

We are thankful for the millions of Americans serving our country at home and abroad. This includes 1.4 million Armed Services members, 80,000 AmeriCorps members, and 8,073 Peace Corps volunteers and trainees, 6 million teachers and public school employees, 1.1 million professional and volunteer firefighters, and 22 million total public employees.

READ FULL POST 7 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
Published: Monday 19 November 2012
“Recall the 1990s when the Clinton administration balanced the budget ahead of the schedule it had set with Congress because of faster job growth than anyone expected.”

 

I wish President Obama and the Democrats would explain to the nation that the federal budget deficit isn’t the nation’s major economic problem and deficit reduction shouldn’t be our major goal. Our problem is lack of good jobs and sufficient growth, and our goal must be to revive both.

Deficit reduction leads us in the opposite direction — away from jobs and growth. The reason the “fiscal cliff” is dangerous (and, yes, I know – it’s not really a “cliff” but more like a hill) is because it’s too much deficit reduction, too quickly. It would suck too much demand out of the economy.

But more jobs and growth will help reduce the deficit. With more jobs and faster growth, the deficit will shrink as a proportion of the overall economy. Recall the 1990s when the Clinton administration balanced the budget ahead of the schedule it had set with Congress because of faster job growth than anyone expected — bringing in more tax revenues than anyone had forecast. Europe offers the same lesson in reverse: Their deficits are ballooning because their austerity policies have caused their economies to sink.

The best way to generate jobs and growth is for the government to spend more, not less. And for taxes to stay low – or become even lower – on the middle class.

(Higher taxes on the rich won’t slow the economy because the rich will keep spending anyway. After all, being rich means spending whatever you want to spend. By the same token, higher taxes won’t reduce their incentive to save and invest because they’re already doing as much saving and investing as they want. Remember: they’re taking home a near record share of the nation’s total income and have a record share of total wealth.)

Why don’t our politicians and media get this? Because an entire ...

Published: Saturday 17 November 2012
“The real bottom line is whether the country will allow the deficit hawks to scare us into a deal that we would never make under normal circumstances.”

Washington elites have spent much of the last three decades getting hysterical about budget deficits; however they are outdoing themselves in the current budget standoff which they labeled as “the fiscal cliff.” Their story is that scheduled increases in taxes at the end of 2012, coupled with mandated cuts in spending, will send the economy tumbling into recession if Congress doesn’t take action before the end of the year.

The horror story associated with this January 1 deadline depends on fundamentally misrepresenting reality. There are projections from the Congressional Budget Office and other independent forecasters that show the combination of tax increases and spending cuts would chop more than 3.5 percentage points off GDP growth. This hit would mean a contracting economy and push the unemployment rate back over 10.0 percent.

However, the part is generally downplayed in this genuine horror story, or left out altogether, is that the projection of a recession is not based on missing the January 1 deadline. The projection assumes that the higher tax rates and lower spending levels are left in place throughout the year, a scenario that almost no one considers plausible.  

A more realistic scenario would be that Congress and the president would quickly reach an agreement in the new year, extending most of the ...

Published: Saturday 17 November 2012
“Barack Obama campaigned for president pledging to respect state marijuana laws and his Justice Department in 2009 issued a memo reiterating that promise. But by 2011, the same Justice Department countermanded that directive and authorized a federal crackdown.”

 

What's next? Amid all the munchie-themed jokes from reporters, political elites and late-night comedians, this remains the overarching question after Coloradans voted overwhelmingly to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the same way alcohol is already legalized, regulated and taxed. Since those anti-Drug-War principles are now enshrined in Colorado's constitution, only the feds can stop this Rocky Mountain state — if they so choose. But will they? And should they even be able to?

The answer to the former is maybe. Barack Obama campaigned for president pledging to respect state marijuana laws and his Justice Department in 2009 issued a memo reiterating that promise. But by 2011, the same Justice Department countermanded that directive and authorized a federal crackdown. Now, with the results of the 2012 election, Colorado's Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has been forced into the awkward position of fighting off the feds in defense of a state constitutional amendment he tried to defeat.

Because of Hickenlooper's cynical contradictions — the beer mogul opposed pot legalization after making millions selling the more hazardous drug called alcohol — he is not trusted by those pushing for a more rational narcotics policy. That distrust only intensified after the election. Instead of acknowledging the seriousness of a Drug War that is unduly arresting thousands and that often disproportionately targets minorities, Hickenlooper reacted to the ballot measure's passage with his own infantile attempt at comedy.

"Don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly," he snickered.

Not surprisingly, proponents of the pot initiative, which passed with more votes than either Obama or Hickenlooper have ever received in Colorado, weren't laughing with the governor. They suspect Hickenlooper's recent consultations with ...

Published: Friday 16 November 2012
Published: Friday 16 November 2012
“Americans recognize the danger of GOP-backed barriers to their right to vote, as Minnesotans showed by rejecting a constitutional amendment mandating photo voter IDs.”

 

Democracy has taken quite a beating over the past several years, with the blows raining down from an increasingly activist and obsessively pro-corporate Supreme Court, voter-ID promoting Republican governors and legislatures, and Karl Rove’s empire of influence. It was easy to imagine, going into the November 6 election, that the fix was in. But the people pushed back, giving President Obama a 3.4 million popular vote victory, a 332–206 Electoral College landslide, a Senate that is more Democratic and more progressive, and a House with considerably fewer Tea Party extremists. Reversing the pattern of the 2010 Republican wave, voters chose labor-backed Democrats in seven of eleven gubernatorial races and handed key legislative chambers in New York, Maine, New Hampshire and other states to Democrats. 

 

This has led some commentators to imagine that a template has been developed for defending the will of the people in the face of unprecedented financial and structural assaults on the democratic process. But that’s a naïve assumption. It obscures the fact that a combination of gerrymandering and right-wing Super PAC money prevented Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats from regaining control of the House, and that many state capitols are still dominated by anti-union die-hards like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Ohio Governor John Kasich and their allies. And just because an incumbent president, reasonably well-funded Democrats, and fully mobilized labor, reproductive rights and civil rights activists were able in 2012 to push back against an unprecedented onslaught of right-wing Super PAC money does not mean they will be able to do so when more sophisticated and ever more abundantly financed conservatives return in 2014 or 2016—as they surely will. 

The better lesson to take from 2012 is that voters really do want a fair and functional democracy, and ...

Published: Friday 16 November 2012
“The American Hospital Association, which represents about 5,000 hospitals nationwide, also signaled that it wants to work with law enforcement officials to write Medicare billing standards that keep its members on the right side of the law.”

 

The nation’s largest hospital group has asked federal officials to create new Medicare pay scales for emergency rooms and outpatient clinics and determine if electronic health records are prompting hospitals to overcharge the federal program.

The American Hospital Association, which represents about 5,000 hospitals nationwide, also signaled that it wants to work with law enforcement officials to write Medicare billing standards that keep its members on the right side of the law.

Hospitals want to ensure that they “receive only the payment to which they are entitled,” Rich Umbdenstock, the group’s president, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 12. The letter was sent to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder.

“Hospitals share the administration’s goal of a health system that offers high-quality, affordable care and work hard to ensure billing is correct the first time,” Umbdenstock wrote.

The industry has come under fire in the wake of the Center for Public Integrity’s “Cracking the Codes” series, which found that thousands of medical professionals have steadily billed higher rates for treating seniors on Medicare over the last decade — adding $11 billion or more to their fees. The investigation suggested that Medicare billing errors and abuses have been worsening as doctors and hospitals switch to

Published: Friday 16 November 2012
“As part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the company will pay $4.5 billion in what is the largest fine ever levied on a corporation in the United States.”

 

BP agreed to plead guilty today to charges of manslaughter, environmental crimes, and lying to Congress in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, which killed 11 workers and sent as much as 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

As part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the company will pay $4.5 billion in what is the largest fine ever levied on a corporation in the United States.

The charges against the company stem from BP engineers' decision to ignore a critically important pressure test on the Macondo well structure that could have prevented the deadly blowout and explosion, and for misrepresenting the amount of oil leaking from the open well head after the mammoth drilling rig sank in nearly 5,000 feet of water.

In a separate and unexpected set of charges, three BP managers were indicted for their roles in operating the rig and for misrepresenting facts to Congress, marking the first time that any senior BP personnel have been criminally charged for their roles in the disaster.

According to a statement issued by the Department of Justice, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine — the highest-ranking BP supervisors on board the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the accident — have been charged with gross negligence in their oversight of the safety tests being conducted on the Macondo well the night of the disaster.

Kaluza and Vidrine "observed clear indications that the Macondo well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing into the well," the statement said, and then "chose not to take obvious and appropriate steps to prevent the blowout."

Each man has been charged with 11 counts of manslaughter, 11 ...

Published: Thursday 15 November 2012
Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012
“A territorial tax system actually rewards businesses that offshore jobs and investments.”

Ahead of negotiations over the so-called “fiscal cliff” and what promises to be another fight over raising the debt ceiling, 63 CEOs representing the largest U.S. corporations, including several Wall Street firms, launched a campaign to supposedly “fix the debt.” However, this campaign calls for additional corporate tax cuts by switching the U.S. to what’s known as a “territorial” corporate tax system, along the lines of that proposed by Mitt Romney.

According to a report by Institute for Policy Studies, the corporations involved could gain up to $134 billion in windfalls if Congress approves such a system, which exempts foreign earnings from the U.S. corporate income tax:

– The 63 companies that are publicly held could gain up to $134 billion in windfalls. The biggest potential winner is General Electric, which would earn $35.7 billion on its overseas earnings of $102 billion.

A territorial tax system actually rewards businesses that offshore jobs and investments. Corporate tax rates are already at a 40-year ...

Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012
“Lawmakers appear to be out of touch with public opinion.”

 

President Obama and Congress now have just over seven weeks to reach an agreement on the federal budget that would avert a round of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in defense and social programs that members of both parties have depicted as draconian.

Jan. 1 is the deadline set by the so-called “sequestration” law of 2010 that imposes substantial cuts automatically – over a ten-year period – if the government fails to whack away at the federal deficit. Front and center in the punishment will be the Defense Department, which accounts for a fifth of all federal spending and about a half of so-called “discretionary” funds, or those that lawmakers review and approve annually.

Fifty program areas at the Pentagon would collectively take a roughly $500 billion hit, which seems like a lot but would actually be less than ten percent of the $5.8 trillion that the Obama administration wants the Pentagon to spend from 2013 to 2021. Military leaders have complained fiercely, partly because the Obama administration last year chose to halt a planned 16 percent increase in defense spending, keeping the military’s budget essentially level after a decade of steep growth.

Only a few Democrats and Republicans on ...

Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012
Community organizers around the country worked overtime to hand the election to President Barack Obama. Now we need him to stand up for our values and vision.

President Obama’s big win last Tuesday was a victory for the middle class, a rejection of trickle-down economics, and a statement from a new generation of Americans that they are a force to be reckoned with

But most of all, it was a vindication for the much-maligned community organizer.

Remember all those folks on the right who mocked the organizers who work patiently and tirelessly in communities across the country? The way they tried to tar President Obama for passing up lucrative opportunities to instead take a job as an organizer on the South Side of Chicago? Recall, if you can bear it, Sarah Palin

Published: Tuesday 13 November 2012
Despite President Obama’s talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military still has some 68,000 troops and almost 100,000 private contractors there, at a cost of $2 billion a week.

 

Foreign policy played a minor role in a presidential election that focused on jobs, jobs, jobs. But like it or not, the United States is part of a global community in turmoil, and U.S. policies often help fuel that turmoil. The peace movement, decimated during the first Obama term because so many people were unwilling to be critical of President Obama, has a challenge today to re-activate itself, and to increase its effectiveness by forming coalitions with other sectors of the progressive movement.  Over the next four years, this movement must grapple with key issues such as the Afghan war, killer drone attacks, maintaining peace with Iran, US policy vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, and the bloated Pentagon budget. 

 

Despite President Obama’s talk about getting out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military still has some 68,000 troops and almost 100,000 private contractors there, at a cost of $2 billion a week. And Obama is talking about a presence of U.S. troops, training missions, special forces operations, and bases for another decade. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of Americans think this war is not worth fighting, a sentiment echoed in a recent New York Times editorial “Time to Pack Up.” It is, indeed, time to pack up. The peace movement must push for withdrawal starting now—and definitely no long-term presence! Veteran’s Day should be a time to take a hard look at the impact of war on soldiers, particularly the epidemic of soldier suicide.  We must also look at the devastating impact of war on Afghan women and children, particularly as winter sets in. Despite the billions of dollars our government has poured into development projects, Afghan children are literally freezing to death. 

 

American drone attacks are out of control, killing thousands in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, many of them civilians. ...

Published: Monday 12 November 2012
How to Get Yourself to the Edge of the Fiscal Abyss and Not Jump.

They don’t call it the "cliff” for nothing.  It’s the fiscal spot where a nation’s representatives can gather and cry doom.  It’s the place -- if Washington is to be believed -- where, with a single leap into the Abyss of Sequestration, those representatives can end it all for the rest of us. 

In the wake of President Obama’s electoral victory, that cliff (if you’ll excuse a mixed metaphor or two) is about to step front and center. The only problem: the odds are no one will leap, and remarkably little of note will actually happen.  But since the headlines are about to scream “crisis,” what you need to understand American politics in the coming weeks of the lame-duck Congress is a little guide to reality, some Cliff Notes for Washington.

As a start, relax.  Don’t let the headlines get to you.  There’s little reason for anyone to lose sleep over the much-hyped fiscal cliff.  In fact, if you were choosing an image based on the coming fiscal dust-up, it probably wouldn’t be a cliff but an obstacle course -- a series of federal spending cuts and tax increases all scheduled to take effect as 2013 begins. And it’s true that, if all those budget cuts and tax increases were to go into effect at the same time, an already weak recovery would probably sink into a double-dip recession.

READ FULL POST 2 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 11 November 2012
“The flaws in our system allowed the theft of the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and threatened to do it again this year.”

A mass grassroots election protection movement has been born. It's finally forced the issues of mass disenfranchisement and hackable electronic voting machines into the mainstream. 

 

And it's emerged from this election with a must-do list of things that need to be accomplished---soon---if we are to retain any shreds of American democracy. 

 

Meanwhile the flaws in our system allowed the theft of the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004, and threatened to do it again this year. They've allowed the theft of countless other races for Congress, governorships, state offices, judgeships, referenda and more. 

 

This cuts to the core of our democracy process. But as we've seen so many times before, we can change all this. 

 

• Money out of politics: Corporations are not people, money is not speech. We cannot afford a system of "one dollar, one vote." Citizens United must be overturned and workable limits placed on campaign spending. This will require a Constitutional amendment. Move to Amend (www.movetoamend.org) is working on it, and needs our support. 

 

• The Electoral College: This useless anachronism was meant to empower slaveowners through the 3/5 bonus granted for their slaves. It has allowed the theft of elections in 1800, 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000. It's time the candidate who gets the most votes actually wins. It will require a Constitutional amendment. But the Electoral College has repeatedly flunked the test of time, and must be abolished. 

 

• A guaranteed right to vote: Nowhere in the Constitution does it say all American citizens are guaranteed the right to vote. It must. 

 

• Universal automatic ...

Published: Sunday 11 November 2012
“The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday warned that the automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to start in January amount to too much deficit reduction, too soon.”

With the election behind us I had hoped we’d get beyond games of chicken. No such luck.

But first you need to understand that the game of chicken isn’t about how much or when we cut the budget deficit. Or even whether the upcoming “fiscal cliff” poses a danger to the economy.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Thursday warned that the automatic tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to start in January amount to too much deficit reduction, too soon. They’d put the economy back into recession, and push unemployment to about 9 percent. But the CBO also warned of an economic crisis ahead if the United States doesn’t stem the growth of the nation’s exploding deficit.

Get it? Reduce the budget deficit too quickly, and we’re in trouble. But fail to address the deficit, and we’re also in trouble.  It’s really a matter of timing. That’s why I think any deal should include a trigger mechanism that begins to cut spending and raise taxes when the economy has two consecutive quarters of 6 percent unemployment or less, and 3 percent annualized growth or more.  

In reality, though, the upcoming game of chicken isn’t about any of this. It’s over the clearest issue President Obama and Mitt Romney fought over: whether taxes should be raised on the rich.

Democrats and Republicans are now maneuvering to maximize their bargaining leverage when they sit down next year to decide this.

On Friday the President called on called on Congress to immediately make permanent the tax cuts for Americans who make less than $250,000 a year, while at the same time allowing tax rates to rise for wealthy Americans — and then making those rates part of a broader deal next year.

The President knows congressional Republicans won’t agree, but he ...

Published: Sunday 11 November 2012
A month before the 2010 election, Obama strategist David Axelrod noted that “almost the entire Republican margin is based on the enthusiasm gap.”

 

This article originally appeared in the November 26, 2012 edition of The Nation magazine.

Millions of Americans are eager, even desperate, for a political movement that truly challenges the power of Wall Street and the Pentagon. But accommodation has been habit-forming for many left-leaning organizations, which are increasingly taking their cues from the party establishment: deferring to top Democrats in Washington, staying away from robust progressive populism, and making excuses for the Democratic embrace of corporate power and perpetual war.

It’s true that many left-of-center groups are becoming more sophisticated in their use of digital platforms for messaging, fundraising and other work. But it’s also true that President Obama’s transactional approach has had demoralizing effects on his base. Even the best resources—mobilized by unions, environmental groups, feminist organizations and the like—can do only so much when many voters and former volunteers are inclined to stay home. A month before the 2010 election, Obama strategist David Axelrod noted that “almost the entire Republican margin is based on the enthusiasm gap.” A similar gap made retaking the House a long shot this year.

For people fed up with bait-and-switch pitches from Democrats who talk progressive to get elected but then govern otherwise, the Occupy movement has been a compelling and energizing counterforce. Its often-implicit message: protesting is hip and astute, while electioneering is uncool and clueless. Yet protesters’ demands, routinely focused on government action and inaction, underscore how much state power really matters.

To escape this self-defeating trap, progressives must build a grassroots power base that can do more than illuminate the nonstop horror shows of the status quo. To posit a choice between developing strong social movements and ...

Published: Friday 9 November 2012
“Now that the election is over, what steps can the president and new Congress take to ensure our nation’s ongoing clean-energy leadership?”

The election is over and the people have spoken. After months of highly-charged attacks, lively and lackluster debate performances, and never-ending punches and counterpunches, Barack Obama has prevailed as the winner of the 2012 election. It won’t be an easy job. Mr. Obama will need to enable the creation of millions of new jobs, embolden U.S energy, environmental, and national security, and lead our country into a robust economic future – all while dealing with a sharply divided electorate.

 

Now that the election is over, what steps can the president and new Congress take to ensure our nation’s ongoing clean-energy leadership? Here are five actions for Mr. Obama that, if implemented, we believe would supercharge the U.S.’s clean-tech economy:

1) Open Up Master Limited Partnerships to Renewables and Efficiency

After the energy crisis of the 1970s, Congress created an effective investment structure to support domestic oil, natural gas, coal extraction, and pipeline projects called Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs). These tax-advantaged structures now comprise more than $220 billion in assets, and on average return between five and 12 percent annually to their investors. The president should call on Congress, in a bipartisan manner, to open up these same investment tools to renewables as soon as possible. There’s no reason that fossil fuels should get special treatment, and this effective investment structure is well suited to renewables which have their own built-in annuity streams (electricity generation from a solar, wind, or geothermal installation, for example, could provide a regular revenue stream to investors). U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware) has written a bill entitled the MLP Parity Act, which if enacted, could level the playing field and open up ...

Published: Friday 9 November 2012
“Looking closer, Jon Corzine may simply be the most poignant symbol of the incestuous relationship between bankers, business and Congress that is systemic in today’s political system.”

If you look up the individual "Jon Corzine" on Wikipedia, the first sentence you encounter is “Jon Stevens Corzine is an American finance executive and political figure.”

Those two positions strung together in the same sentence may make some people uneasy, but the fact is that you can apply this description to many people in Congress. Looking closer, Jon Corzine may simply be the most poignant symbol of the incestuous relationship between bankers, business and Congress that is systemic in today's political system.

Recently, Jon Corzine — CEO of MF Global from 2010 to 2011, CEO of Goldman Sachs from 1994 to 1999, Senator of New Jersey from 2001 to 2006 and Governor of New Jersey from 2006 to 2010 — was subpoenaed before a House committee to answer questions regarding the loss of approximately $1.6 billion of citizens' money.

The "honorable" Jon Corzine, as his name tag so colorfully and inaccurately described him, claimed he did not know where the funds went. The House committee asked him, along with other MF Global executives: "Where is the money?” His response: “I don’t know.”

“OK,” replied the committee.

Could lawmakers' passivity possibly be attributed to the amount of money those committee members received from financial agencies and trading groups to keep their mouths shut? Given the evidence, it's a worthwhile question.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Committee chairman Spencer Bachus has received $262,177 from securities and investment firms, $78,677 of which was individual donations, the other $183,500 from PACs. He has also received $259,400 from commercial banks and $241,960 from insurance companies, a blend of PACs and individual contributions.

Published: Thursday 8 November 2012
“Twenty-two to 23 million Americans under 30 voted yesterday, with a turnout rate of at least 49 percent among eligible voters.”

Add this to the list of bad bets the GOP placed this year: that young Americans’ support for Barack Obama, and their interest in politics in general, was tenuous enough to break—and that it could be broken through discouragement and voter suppression, rather than by specific appeals to their concerns.

Twenty-two to 23 million Americans under 30 voted yesterday, with a turnout rate of at least 49 percent among eligible voters. That figure is comparable with the estimate at this time in 2008, which later rose to 52 percent as final results trickled in. Nearly a fifth of all voters were under 30 (19 percent, up from 18 percent in 2008), and they voted for Obama by a twenty-three-point margin, 60 to 37 percent.

The president could not have won without them. An analysis from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) suggests that eighty of Obama’s electoral votes  READ FULL POST 1 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 7 November 2012
Published: Wednesday 7 November 2012
“The fossil fuel industry went all in on this election. By mid-September, oil, gas, and coal companies had spent more than $150 million on campaign ads.”

Americans have returned a clean energy champion to the White House, but they didn’t stop there. All the way down the ticket, voters overwhelmingly favored candidates who support clean energy, clean air, and strong public health safeguards.

This is victory for everyone who likes to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and it is a resounding defeat for polluters and the dirty agenda they tried to sell to voters.

The fossil fuel industry went all in on this election. By mid-September, oil, gas, and coal companies had spent more than $150 million on campaign ads. Texas oil barons handed over $10 million to Governor Romney in one week alone—the week before he released his energy plan. By the time all the checks are tallied, the amount spent by dirty energy companies will be well over $200 million.

And yet the fossil fuel industry has little to show for it. Oil, gas, and coal companies spent $20 million to defeat Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), but he won anyway. He ran on his record of supporting renewable power and environmental protections and voters rewarded him for it.

They did the same thing in the New Mexico Senate race. Fossil fuel companies opened their checkbooks for Former Representative Heather Wilson, a pro-drilling, anti-climate action candidate. But voters preferred Representative Martin Heinrich and the fact that he made clean energy and climate action a central part of his campaign.

In Virginia, fossil fuel companies and other outside interests spent heavily to take a senate seat away from the Democratic Party. Voters weren’t buying it. They elected Former Governor Tim Kaine who has a long history of standing up for clean air and public health safeguards.

It turns out my mother was right: money can’t buy you love. If you can’t buy it for $200 million, then it’s not for sale.

That means these ...

Published: Tuesday 6 November 2012
Published: Tuesday 6 November 2012
The challenge – not only for our president and representatives in Washington but for all of us – is to rediscover the public good.

The vitriol is worse is worse than I ever recall. Worse than the Palin-induced smarmy 2008. Worse than the swift-boat lies of 2004. Worse, even, than the anything-goes craziness of 2000 and its ensuing bitterness. 

It’s almost a civil war. I know families in which close relative are no longer speaking. A dating service says Democrats won’t even consider going out with Republicans, and vice-versa. My email and twitter feeds contain messages from strangers I wouldn’t share with my granddaughter. 

What’s going on? Yes, we’re divided over issues like the size of government and whether women should have control over their bodies. But these aren’t exactly new debates. We’ve been disagreeing over the size and role of government since Thomas Jefferson squared off with Alexander Hamilton, and over abortion rights since before Roe v. Wade, almost forty years ago. 

And we’ve had bigger disagreements in the past – over the Vietnam War, ...

Published: Monday 5 November 2012
“You can be a patriotic American with all the rights of citizenship even if your first language is Spanish.”

 

To be a Democrat in 2012 probably (liberals never ever agree on everything) means you believe:

 

1.  Every man, woman, and child in America has a right to affordable health care.

 

2.  You can be a patriotic American with all the rights of citizenship even if your first language is Spanish.

 

3.  Pretending to put the good of the country above personal gain while firing workers and outsourcing everything possible to India is dishonest and hypocritical, not to mention un-American.

 

4.  Banks too big to fail cannot be trusted to make financial decisions affecting the well-being of us all without regulation but a woman can be trusted with decisions about her own body.

 

5.  This president did not cause the Great Recession; the conservative extremists in Congress sought to thwart him at every turn because as Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview in the National Journalon October 23, 2010, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

 

6.  Jesus loves you even if you're are a socialist, homosexual, pacifist, Rastafarian, vegan, tree-hugger, African-American, union member, or your Kenyan father was raised in a Muslim family.  

 

7.  Corporations are not people.  If it doesn't have a heart, it's not a person.  If it has more rights than people, it's a corporation. 

 

8.  The difference between people and corporations is obvious unless you're on the Supreme Court.  When the Supreme Court ruled that free speech under the First Amendment creates ...

Published: Friday 2 November 2012
“Last month, Chevron made the single-largest corporate donation since Citizens United.”

 

Chevron, the second largest oil company in the United States and eighth largest in the world, earned $5.3 billion in profits in the third-quarter of 2012. This brings their total profits for the first nine months of this year to $19 billion.

Last month, Chevron made the single-largest corporate donation since Citizens United. The company dropped $2.5 million with the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC for House Republicans, after congressional GOP voted at least twice to protect Chevron’s $700 million tax breaks.

Below is a glimpse at what Chevron is spending its billions in profits:

  • Chevron paid a 19 percent effective federal tax rate in 2011, after making $26.9 billion profit.
  • Since 2011, Chevron has spent $16.6 million lobbying Congress to block pollution controls and safeguards for public health.
  • Chevron spent $3.7 million on campaign contributions this election, with 85 percent of contributions going to Republicans.  Chevron gave more than any of the other Big Five Companies.
  • Meanwhile, Chevron’s production has decreased by over 6 percent since this time last year, from 1.7 billion barrels of net liquids (oil + natural gas ...
Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
On Thursday, the hosts of Fox & Friends argued that Americans affected by the hurricane could turn to private insurers for help and suggested that hurricane relief could be left to the states.

While governors across the country have praised the federal government’s rapid response to Hurricane Sandy, Fox News sought to remind viewers of the evils of Washington, criticizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for “printing money” and relying on China to fund relief for victims of the storm.

On Thursday, the hosts of Fox & Friends argued that Americans affected by the hurricane could turn to private insurers for help and suggested that hurricane relief could be left to the states:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (HOST): There is an argument about federal versus state. I mean, some people have said the states should be in charge of some of this relief money, so you don’t have to go and request to the federal. I mean, I understand why you have to go before Congress, because otherwise you could have a situation where you’re giving out money willy nilly.

PETER JOHNSON (GUEST HOST): In essence, FEMA has an ability to print money. And as we were talking about before, Steve, who in the end will be paying for our flood damage in the short-term? Who will be putting up the dollars? Will China? Will we be becoming more indebted to China as a result of our floods on our coast?

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): That’s right. It’s never free money. You know, Congress can say okay, we’re going to come up with the dough and here is the thing, FEMA has this gigantic program with over a trillion dollars worth of property insured, but they only got $3 billion in the bank. That’s crazy. But because we’ve got such a gigantic deficit right now, Peter, you’re exactly right. If the Congress says okay, let’s put more money in the ’till for FEMA, that money is probably going to be borrowed from China.

Watch it:

Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
President Barack Obama takes a small lead late in the Presidential race.

 

With less than a week left in the 2012 election campaign and much of the Northeast recovering from Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former governor Mitt Romney, are running neck and neck in the national popular vote, according to the most recent surveys.

Online bettors and seasoned political analysts, however, appear to agree that by virtue of his edge in about nine key battleground, or “swing” states, the president will most likely emerge victorious after the final ballots are cast on November 6.

Instead of a direct popular vote, the presidency is determined by the electoral college, through which each state is allocated a certain number of votes based on their representation in Congress. Almost all states use a winner-take-all formula, so that the candidate that wins a majority receives all of a state’s electoral votes. With most states either solidly “red” (Republican) or “blue” (Democratic), “purple” swing states are critical.

READ FULL POST 2 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
Far-right politicians like Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann are merely reading from a prepared script when they claim that deficit reduction is a moral issue.

 

Poll after poll has shown that the public rejects the millionaire-oriented, tax-cutting, government-slashing austerity plan known as “Simpson Bowles.” And yet politicians in both parties keep trying to force it through the legislative process under the banner of a “Grand Bargain.” Word is they're going to try again, either during the lame-duck session or when the new Congress convenes in January.

That plan was originally called “Bowles Simpson,” but its well-financed architects soon ran afoul of the “BS” acronym. But “BS” can stand for something else, too: “bait and switch.” That's exactly what they'll be doing if politicians force a “BS” austerity plan on the public after the votes have been counted.

For years voters didn't even consider the deficit a very important issue. They correctly considered job creation a much higher priority. Now, after years of media hype, some (though by no means all) of the polls say that this issue is a top READ FULL POST 3 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
Eighteen beliefs you probably have if you are a republican.

 

To be a Republican nowadays you have to believe concurrently that:

 

 1. Jesus loves you, but shares your deep hatred of homosexuals, gay marriage, gun control advocates, conservationists, animal rights activists, and Barack Obama.

 

 2. "Support our troops" means backing old white men who have no qualms about sending other people's kids to die in wars we can't win in countries whose people hate us for being there.   

 

 3.  The best way to restore growth and prosperity to the US economy is to fire your workers and outsource everything possible to Asia.

 

 4.  Venture capitalists who makes millions of dollars slicing and dicing companies and loading the unlucky ones with so much debt that they have to declare bankruptcy and cease operations cannot possibly continue to create jobs unless they get huge tax breaks and pay at an average rate of 14% or less; otherwise, they won't be "incentivized" to go on making millions while transacting important business on the golf course. 

 

5.  Being a lesbian, petty thief, or drug addict is a sign of moral degeneracy unless you're the daughter of a conservative politician, investment banker, or extreme right-wing radio host. Then it's either laudable or an illness for which the appropriate remedy is prayer, not punishment.

 

6.  The National Rifle Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council are trying to protect the public, but non-profit public interest groups like the Sierra Club, The Trust for Public Land, and  the Urban Land Institute only care about taking away our freedoms and turning everybody into tree huggers and vegetarians.

 

7.  Providing comprehensive family health care and generous job benefits to members of Congress, federal employees, ...

Published: Tuesday 30 October 2012
Has integration really ever been attempted?

 

A few months after Congress passed a landmark law directing the federal government to dismantle segregation in the nation's housing, President Nixon's housing chief began plotting a stealth campaign.

The plan, George Romney wrote in a confidential memo to aides, was to use his power as secretary of Housing and Urban Development to remake America's housing patterns, which he described as a “high-income white noose” around the black inner city.

 

The 1968 Fair Housing Act, passed months earlier in the tumultuous aftermath of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, directed the government to “affirmatively further” fair housing. Romney believed those words gave him the authority to pressure predominantly white communities to build more affordable housing and end discriminatory zoning practices.

Romney ordered HUD officials to reject applications for water, sewer and highway projects from cities and states where local policies fostered segregated housing.

READ FULL POST 3 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 28 October 2012
“The ultimate value in the CEO statement is that it lends credence and provides some political cover for members of Congress who vote for a deficit reduction plan that includes tax increases and Medicare and Medicaid cuts.”

The mainstream media and blogosphere lit up like Christmas trees yesterday when 80 CEOs came together to call on Congress and the president to agree on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that includes revenue increases and spending cuts. Here's David Wessel's story from The Wall Street Journal.

(Note: I'm linking to the story on the Fix The Debt website only because you need a subscription to the WSJ to see Wessel's story there. This definitely is not an endorsement of Fix The Debt.)

As I told Janet Novak of Forbes yesterday, while it's great to see the CEOs engaged on the issue there's much, much less here than meets the eye.

The ultimate value in the CEO statement is that it lends credence and provides some political cover for members of Congress who vote for a deficit reduction plan that includes tax increases and Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

But the statement fails to move the needle as much as the hype wants you to believe because its way too general to demonstrate that any of the CEOs are willing to give up spending or tax provisions that are important to their companies.

Yes, as wealthy individuals they are likely to pay more if income tax rates rise.

But it's not at all clear that they can or will recommend changes in federal tax and spending laws that will hurt their corporate bottom lines. Indeed, their boards and stockholders would likely see support for those types of changes as a violation of their fiduciary responsibilities as CEO and several of them would be facing the corporate equivalent of a recall.

I suspect, therefore, that this will change nothing. At the same time the CEOS take credit ...

Published: Saturday 27 October 2012
“Romney has created far more uncertainty. He offers a virtual question mark of an economy.”

 

As we close in on Election Day, the questions about what Mitt Romney would do if elected grow even larger. Rarely before in American history has a candidate for president campaigned on such a blank slate. 

Yet, paradoxically, not a day goes by that we don’t hear Romney, or some other exponent of the GOP, claim that businesses aren’t creating more jobs because they’re uncertain about the future. And the source of that uncertainty, they say, is President Obama — especially his Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the Dodd-Frank Act, and uncertainties surrounding Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

In fact, Romney has created far more uncertainty. He offers a virtual question mark of an economy

For example, Romney says if elected he’ll repeal Obamacare and replace it with something else. He promises he’ll provide health coverage to people with pre-existing medical problems but he doesn’t give a hint how he’d manage it. 

Insurance companies won’t pay the higher costs of insuring these people unless they have extra funds — which is why Obamacare requires that everyone, including healthy young people, buy insurance. Yet Romney doesn’t say where the extra money to fund insurers would come from. From taxpayers? Businesses? 

Talk about uncertainty.

Romney also promises to repeal Dodd-Frank, but here again he’s mum on what he’d replace with. Yet without some sort of new regulation of Wall Street we’re back to where we were before 2008 when Wall Street crashed and brought most of the rest of us down with it. 

Romney hasn’t provided a clue how he proposes to oversee the biggest banks absent Dodd-Frank, what kind of capital requirements he’d require of them, and what mechanism he’d use to put them ...

Published: Saturday 27 October 2012
“Regardless of political persuasion, there isn’t one person I’ve met who isn’t infuriated by the fact that they pay more in federal taxes than a combined majority of most billion-dollar corporations.”

 

After I pinned a dollar bill on my jacket lapel with “I PAY MORE” written on it in black marker, I’ve had countless conversations during my travels across the United States that went something like this:

 

Them: “I pay more? What does that mean?”

Me: “This dollar bill right here is $1 more than General Electric, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and a bunch of other big corporations paid in federal taxes, since 2008, combined.”

Them: “What? That’s not right. I pay my taxes! Too much, actually.”

Me: “But I bet you don’t hire a bunch of lobbyists to make sure Congress keeps writing in more loopholes like they do, right?”

Them: “Well, no. I don’t have that kind of money.”

Me: “So you pay more. Pass it on.”

 

Regardless of political persuasion, there isn’t one person I’ve met who isn’t infuriated by the fact that they pay more in federal taxes than a combined majority of most billion-dollar corporations. But what’s even more infuriating is that under the Budget Control Act that was passed after our austerity-

crazed Congress forced it into being during the Summer-long debt negotiations of 2011, budgets for numerous essential social programs will be cut to the bone this January, under the false guise that our country is too broke to pay the bills. 

 

Published: Saturday 27 October 2012
“Along the way, special interests have lavished the congressman with favors and gifts.”

 

McKeon, who chairs the powerful House Armed Services Committee, has left a big mark in the policy arena. From his support for the proliferation of domestic drones to his maneuvering to exclude the Pentagon and major military contractors from automatic across-the-board budget cuts next year, McKeon has been a loyal servant of the defense industry.

His corporate-friendly approach to lawmaking has also favored profit-seeking online colleges, which won access to virtually unlimited federal assistance on his watch. Almost all of McKeon’s significant legislative accomplishments involve the transfer of huge amounts of taxpayer money to quasi-private entities that are then liberated from government oversight.

Along the way, special interests have lavished the congressman with favors and gifts. What distinguishes McKeon is not just the way pay-to-play legislating has filled his campaign coffers.

Also remarkable is how he has milked his political connections for personal financial gain. This legacy is coming back to haunt him as he fends of a strong challenge from Democrat Lee Rogers this November.

McKeon’s troubles date back to the late nineties, when, as Newt Gingrich’s star faded, McKeon weighed a bid for Majority Leader, but gave up that idea to make room for Representative Dick Armey (R-TX).

Shortly thereafter, the family cowboy fashion store, which had made McKeon a millionaire when he was first sworn into office, would file for bankruptcy and liquidate every ostrich skin boot and ten-gallon hat. The Los Angeles Times reported that in 1996, Howard & Phil Enterprises Inc. had “assets of $10.2 million and debts of $16.7 million.” ...

Published: Friday 26 October 2012
The alternative to cynicism is to become more involved in politics. Help create a progressive force in this nation that grows into a movement that can't be stopped.

 

This is for those of you who consider yourself to be progressive but have given up on politics because it seems rotten to the core. You may prefer Obama to Romney but don't think there's a huge difference between the two, so you may not even vote.

Your cynicism is understandable. But cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you succumb to it, the regressives who want to take this nation back to the 19th century win it all.

The Koch brothers, Karl Rove, the rabid Republican right, CEOs and Wall Street titans who want to entrench their privileges and tax advantages -- all of them would like nothing better than for every progressive in America to throw in the towel. 

Then America is entirely theirs.

The alternative to cynicism is to become more involved in politics. Help create a progressive force in this nation that grows into a movement that can't be stopped.

We almost had it last year in the Occupy movement. We had the arguments and the energy. What we lacked was organization and discipline.

I've spent years in Washington and I know nothing good happens there unless good people outside Washington are organized and mobilized to put pressure on Washington to make it happen.

This isn't new. In the election of 1936, a constituent approached FDR with a list of things she wanted him to do if reelected. "Ma'am," he said, "I'd like to do all those things. But if I'm reelected, you must make me."

We must make them.

I suggest a two-step plan...

Step one: Vote for Barack Obama for President and vote for every Democratic senator and representative in Congress. Get off your ass and make sure your friends and relatives do the same.

Step two: Starting Election Day, regardless of who's elected, commit at ...

Published: Friday 26 October 2012
“An unapologetic liberal one who had proven she would not back down to powerful Republicans in Congress or kowtow to Democrats who prefer to soft-pedal the criticism of the greed-is-good philosophy that led to the Great Recession of the past five years.”

 

The key political race in the country every four years is typically the run for the White House, but the historic election of 2012 was different.  Massachusetts was at the heart of the difference.

 

The most important election that year was for a US Senate vacated when Senator Edward ("Teddy") Kennedy died three years ago – between Elizabeth Warren, a true Democrat of the venerable FDR variety, and Scott Brown, said to be a moderate Republican of the venerable "I Like Ike" ilk.   Here's why.

 

Elizabeth Warren was the exact opposite of everything that was wrong with Washington and Wall Street and the radical Republicans who inexplicably selected Mitt Romney as their standard bearer.  Warren was the anti-Romney in every sense of the word.

 

Romney's background smacked of privilege and money.  He was a card-carrying member of the Lucky Sperm Club.   Warren was born into an ordinary working class family.  As such, she had no connections in high places, no family name, and no fortune to propel her to the top of any profession.  Nobody who knew anything about Warren doubted her achievements or suggested that she was a "legacy" at Rutgers (where she earned her law degree) or Harvard (where she taught law).

 

Why was Warren's background so important?  Precisely because it defined who she is, explained where she is coming from, and gave voters the best guarantee money can't buy that she means what she says. 

 

Imagine that!  A candidate for high office who means what she says.  An unapologetic liberal one who had proven she would not back down to powerful Republicans in Congress or kowtow to Democrats who prefer to soft-pedal the ...

Published: Thursday 25 October 2012
The House of Representatives is the most anti-environment in Congressional history, averaging at least one anti-environment vote per day to eliminate or undermine pollution protections, many benefiting Big Oil.

Starting tomorrow, the world’s largest oil companies — ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips — will begin to announce their third-quarter profits for 2012. In the first half of 2012, these companies — all ranked in the top 10 of Fortune 500 Global — earned over $60 billion.

The oil industry reinvests tens of millions of these dollars for political purposes, including nearly all political contributions to Republicans, lobbying, and campaign ads. Through its enormous spending, these five and other Big Oil companies have fought to maintain $4 billion of their annual subsidies, while seeking to undermine clean energy investments:

$105 Million On Lobbying Since 2011, 90 Percent Of Campaign Contributions To GOP:  The big five companies have spent over $105 million on lobbying Congress since 2011, according to lobbying disclosures through the third quarter. The biggest spenders were Shell ($25.7 million), Exxon ($25.4 million), and ConocoPhillips ($22.9 million). The five companies’ oil PACs have donated over $2.16 million to mostly Republican candidates this election cycle. Koch Industries also spends big money to pressure Congress, with $16.2 million on lobbying and more than $1.3 million from its PAC (the top oil and gas spender). In total, the oil and gas industry sends 

Published: Thursday 25 October 2012
Though the focus was on the servicing of private student loans, it’s worth noting that many of the companies servicing loans in the private market are the same contractors handling federal loans.

The parallels between the mortgage market and the student loan industry have been frequently noted. Both involve big borrowing and have a history of lax underwriting by lenders. But the two are also strikingly similar in another way: When it comes to both mortgages and student debt, the servicers, or companies that handle loan payments, sometimes add roadblocks and give struggling borrowers the runaround.

 

That's the main takeaway from two  READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Wednesday 24 October 2012
“The president has also floated a Constitutional amendment to address Citizens United — an idea that’s currently politically impossible.”

With campaign finances limits rendered nearly meaningless, election spending is on pace to set records. Where does each presidential candidate stand on how to regulate money in politics?

President Obama talks about changes but hasn’t instituted many. He favors legislation that would require disclosure of donors to dark money nonprofits. The president has also floated a Constitutional amendment to address Citizens United — an idea that’s currently politically impossible. Yet advocates point out Obama hasn’t even instituted campaign finance measures that he could do on his own using executive power.   

Mitt Romney has mostly stayed mum. His campaign doesn’t have an official position paper on campaign finance and wouldn’t answer questions. When asked, Romney has said he favors removal of contribution limits to candidates, as a way to bring money from outside groups back into campaigns. He has also said he favors donor disclosure but hasn’t signaled support of specific legislation.

Here are the details:

President Obama

Obama supports the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would require disclosure of donors to politically active nonprofits, which are currently funded with anonymous money. In July, the bill

Published: Tuesday 23 October 2012
With climate change already contributing to 400,000 deaths each year and costing $1.2 trillion to economies worldwide, such dubious doubt-peddling should be considered criminal.

The octopus has a remarkable ability - it can blend seamlessly with its surroundings changing its appearance to mimic plants, rocks or even other animals.

Similarly deceptive is an upcoming junk study from a Koch-funded think tank that has taken on the format and appearance of a truly scientific report from the US Government, but is loaded with lies and misrepresentation of actual climate change science. The false report is a tentacle of the Kochtopus - with oil and industrial billionaires Charles and David Koch at the head.

The report’s disgraced author, Patrick Michaels, has made his largely undistinguished career shilling for fossil fuel interestes, including his stay at the Cato Institute, which published the counterfeit report. After 

Published: Monday 22 October 2012
“Progressives, unlike many of those on the far right, are not willing to let America fail, but instead fight for changes while promoting awareness of the unpleasant truth.”

A young explorer from a distant land 

embarked upon our shores. "A visage bold 

yet peaceful greeted me," said he. "Her hand 

held high, she bore a flaming torch that told 

of liberty and progress, and a script 

evoking justice, and a hopeful word 

to wretched peoples, tired and poor and stripped 

of dignity in other worlds." And stirred 

to dreams and passion by this moment rare, 

the visitor advanced beyond the shore, 

then suddenly fell back in stark despair: 

Before him, like the aftermath of war, 

were landscapes scarred with toxins and debris, 

and barrenness as far as he could see.

 

Progressives, unlike many of those on the far right, are not willing to let America fail, but instead fight for changes while promoting awareness of the unpleasant truth. Three remarkable books help us to understand what we need to do. 

 

 

1. The Measure of a Nation, by Howard Steven Friedman

 

American "exceptionalism" is the sense that we're better than other countries, and that we don't need to rely on them to solve problems like education and health care. Such isolation breeds delusion. Friedman notes that over 30% of American students rated their math ability at a high level, compared to 10% of Korean students and 6% of Japanese students. ...

Published: Monday 22 October 2012
It may sound like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie or the first episode of NBC’s popular new show “Revolution,” but it could be your life -- a nationwide cyber-version of Ground Zero.

First the financial system collapses and it's impossible to access one’s money. Then the power and water systems stop functioning.  Within days, society has begun to break down.  In the cities, mothers and fathers roam the streets, foraging for food. The country finds itself fractured and fragmented -- hardly recognizable.

It may sound like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie or the first episode of NBC’s popular new show “Revolution,” but it could be your life -- a nationwide cyber-version of Ground Zero.

Think of it as 9/11/2015.  It’s Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's vision of the future -- and if he’s right (or maybe even if he isn’t), you better wonder what the future holds for erstwhile American civil liberties, privacy, and constitutional protections.

Last week, Panetta addressed the Business Executives for National Security, an organization devoted to creating a robust public-private partnership in matters of national security. Standing inside the Intrepid, New York’s retired aircraft-carrier-cum-military-museum, he offered a hair-raising warning about an imminent and devastating cyber strike at the sinews of American life and wellbeing.

Yes, he did use that old alarm bell of a “cyber Pearl Harbor,” but for anyone interested in American civil liberties and rights, his truly chilling image was far more immediate.  “A cyber attack perpetrated by nation states or violent extremist groups,” he predicted, “could be as destructive as the terrorist attack of 9/11.”

Panetta is not the first Obama official to warn that the nation could be facing a cyber catastrophe, but he is the highest-ranking to resort to 9/11 imagery in doing so. Going out on a limb that previous ...

Published: Saturday 20 October 2012
Republican members of Congress argued back then that more had to be done to discourage illegal immigration.

 

Given the white-hot politics of immigration, it’s perhaps not surprising that President Obama instantly drew fire with a proposal in January to help undocumented spouses of American citizens obtain legal status — without being ousted from the U.S. for years as punishment.

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas — the chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee — accused Obama of “bending long established rules” and pursuing a “backdoor amnesty.”

“Who is the President batting for — illegal immigrants or the American people?” Smith said in a statement.

Smith is no casual observer. He is the key author of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which established penalties mandating years of exile for illegal immigrants before they can return to the United States and legalize — even if they are married to an American citizen. Marriage is one of the primary ways a person obtains legal status within the largely family-based U.S. immigration system.

Republican members of Congress argued back then that more had to be done to discourage illegal immigration. Too many immigrants were entering the country unlawfully or overstaying visitor visas, members said, and were marrying U.S. citizens or legal residents and staying. Too many relatives of legal residents who were supposed to wait back home for visas, sometimes for many years, were entering ahead of time, illegally, and staying, members added.

Since the 1950s, some illegal immigrants, based on a job or other ties, had been able to plead for legal residency before immigration officials in the U.S. who had the power to grant them that status. In 1994, Congress adopted a statute that codified the ability of illegal immigrants with legitimate family sponsorship to transition to legal status without having to ...

Published: Friday 19 October 2012
“In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.”

 

By now most folks know that the U.S. Supreme Court did something that changed how money can be spent in elections and by whom, but what happened and why should you care?

The Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

In a nutshell, the high court’s 5-4 decision said that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to convince people to vote for or against a candidate.

The decision did not affect contributions. It is still illegal for companies and labor unions to give money directly to candidates for federal office. The court said that because these funds were not being spent in coordination with a campaign, they “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

So if the decision was about spending, why has so much been written about contributions? Like seven and eight-figure donations from people like casino magnate and billionaire Sheldon Adelson who, with his family, has given about $40 million to so-called “super PACs,” formed in the wake of the decision?

For that, we need to look at another court case — SpeechNow.org v. FEC. The lower-court case used the Citizens United case as precedent when it said that limits on contributions to groups that make independent expenditures are unconstitutional.

And that’s what led to the creation of the super PACs, which act as shadow political parties. They accept unlimited donations from billionaires, corporations ...

Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012
“The corporate honchos are not expecting to convince the public that we should support cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

 

While much of the country is focused on the presidential race, the Wall Street gang is waging a different battle; they are preparing an assault on Social Security and Medicare. This attack is not exactly secret. There have been a number of pieces on this corporate-backed campaign in the media over the last few months, but the drive is nonetheless taking place behind closed doors.

The corporate honchos are not expecting to convince the public that we should support cuts to Social Security and Medicare. They know this is a hopeless task. Huge majorities of people across the political spectrum strongly support these programs.

Instead they hope that they can use their power of persuasion, coupled with the power of campaign contributions and the power of high-paying jobs for defeated members of Congress, to get Congress to approve large cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other key programs. This is the plan for a grand bargain that the corporate chieftains hope can be struck in the lame duck Congress.   

Most of the media have been happy to cooperate with the corporate chieftains in this plan. There are two main ways in which they have abandoned objectivity to support the plan for cutting Social Security and Medicare.

First they continually run stories about how the deficit and debt are the biggest problems facing the country. They routinely use phrases like “crisis” and other hyperboles to scare their audience about the risks that the debt poses to the country.

The whole notion of a “fiscal cliff” is an invention that implies an urgency that does not exist. There is almost no consequence to not having a deal in place by the end of 2012. The dire projections of ...

Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012
The plan, announced via email and the conference website, was to get together and brainstorm the things we’d need to do in order to ensure a livable future for the generations to come.

 

We often talk about the rights of women, immigrants, and animals. Yet the rights of future generations are rarely mentioned, despite the fact that their very ability to exist is threatened by our actions today. Perhaps, if the needs and rights of future people were legally recognized, it might give us the impetus to stop projects that threaten the climate and the survival of future peoples.

That was the thought that led Carolyn Raffensperger, a lawyer and executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, to call for women across the country to join her at the Women’s Congress for Future Generations in Moab, Utah. Raffensberger and her co-organizers chose to invite women (although men were also invited) because, as producer Christy Williams-Dunton said, they “are the first environment for every [living] thing that comes through.” This gives women a sense of responsibility for the nurturing of life, she added. And because women’s voices have been largely left out of political discussions, our contribution might add insight lacking in current policies.

Meanwhile, event organizers chose Moab as the setting because, as the home of sacred sites endangered by both fracking and the mining of tar sands, it heightened our sense of urgency. Plus, Moab’s gorgeous red-rock desert and breathtaking formations like Delicate Arch—which a group of us hiked to under the light of the full moon—seemed an inspirational place for discussion on how to protect nature.

The plan, announced via email and the conference website, was to get together and brainstorm the things we’d need to do in order to ensure a livable future for the generations to come. Because the well-being of ecosystem and future people require some ...

Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012
“Take Parent Plus loans, a federal program that allows families to take out as much as they need, after other aid is applied, to pay for their children’s college costs.”

 

 

The financial aid award letters that colleges send to prospective students can be confusing: Many mix grants, scholarships and loans all under the heading of "Award," "Financial Assistance," or "Offered Financial Aid." Some schools also suggest loans in amounts that families can't afford.

Take Parent Plus loans, a federal program that allows families to take out as much as they need, after other aid is applied, to pay for their children's college costs. As we recently reported with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Plus loans are remarkably easy to get. With minimal underwriting and no assessment of whether parents can actually afford the loans, families can end up overburdened by debt.

Colleges often exacerbate things when their letters lay out, or "package in," large Plus loans to cover unmet need when student ...

Published: Tuesday 16 October 2012
Edison Electric Institute, which is incorporated as a 501(c)(6) trade group and does not have to disclose its donors, has driven home similar messages about the potential tax change in other venues as well.

Since August, a dark money group called Defend My Dividend has spent nearly $90,000 running ads on South Florida TV stations warning seniors about a looming increase in the tax rate on dividends.

“You worked hard, saved for retirement, and dividends are a big part of it,” says one of the ads, which Defend My Dividend has posted on YouTube. “But if President Obama and Congress don't act this year, tax rates on dividends will spike, almost tripling in some cases.” Time is running out, the ad intones, as phone numbers for Obama and Congress appear on the screen.

The spot directs viewers to a website that gives few hints about the group behind the ads, which is described as a “national grassroots advocacy campaign.”

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Published: Monday 15 October 2012
The President’s been undercutting his own party’s best message and keeps threatening to cut benefits for its signature programs.

 

If you support strong and effective government, then the unfamiliar glow you felt after last Thursday's debate was the satisfaction of seeing your opinions forcefully defended by a national candidate. There hasn't been much of that going on lately. But a deceptive question was asked in the Vice Presidential debate, while other important ones still haven't been asked of any national candidate.

The President's been undercutting his own party's best message and keeps threatening to cut benefits for its signature programs. As for Mitt Romney and his running mate, there's little left to be said: They're both determined to undermine Medicare and Social Security. Even if they're retreating from their most radical ideas now, you know those ideas will be back once they're in office.

If what follows focuses more on the President than on his challenger, its because the Republicans are beyond redemption on this issue. But both candidates need to answer some direct questions on this topic.

This Tuesday the Presidential candidates will meet with voters face-to-face for a town-hall style debate. Let's hope the voters will ask the questions the media haven't.

Joe in the Flow

What you saw that night was a candidate on the Democratic national ticket doing something we haven't seen in a while: representing "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party." It was a pleasure to watch a gifted politician in the 'zone,' that state of maximum achievement sometimes called the "flow state."

But there were shadows over Biden as he spoke his stirring words about these two programs. First there was the shadow of Martha Raddatz's deceptive and scaremongering characterization of these programs, when she posed her question by stating that Medicare and Social Security are "going ...

Published: Sunday 14 October 2012
“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Secretary Salazar in a statement.

The way that solar energy is sited and built on federal public lands just got simpler. Earlier today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed into law a new plan outlining the best places for solar to be developed on public lands and incentives for avoiding places that are ecologically sensitive.

At the beginning of this administration, there were literally no solar energy projects on public lands, despite hundreds of applications lined up.  Currently one project is operating while five others are under construction.

“Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Secretary Salazar in a statement.

Perhaps the most unique idea in the “Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement” announced today is that of zones for solar development.  These areas were screened for their high solar resource potential, transmission capacity, and lack of resource conflicts, the idea being that projects located within them will benefit from faster permitting and easier mitigation.  Altogether, 17 zones covering approximately 285,000 acres were identified in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.  Solar development is also allowable in 19 million acres outside of the zones, but will receive less agency attention and more environmental analyses.

“This historic initiative provides a roadmap for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs,” said Salazar.

Importantly, this ...

Published: Saturday 13 October 2012
As a practical matter, then, negotiations over America’s budget deficit will drag on into the new year, right over and beyond the fiscal cliff. A deal might not be struck until February, or even March.

These are awkward days for deficit hawks who believe the American economy can get back to health only if the nation gets its fiscal house in order. If they get their wish, the economy goes over a cliff.

Regardless of what happens Election Day, at the beginning of next year more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts automatically go into effect. That’s equivalent to about 5 percent of the entire U.S. economy, more than the projected growth of the whole gross domestic product next year.

The problem is, if we fall off this fiscal cliff we plunge into recession. That’s because the cliff withdraws too much demand from the economy too quickly, at a time when unemployment is still likely to be high.

The Congressional Budget Office projects real economic growth will drop at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the first half of 2013, and unemployment will rise to 9.1 percent by the end of next year.

As Spain and Great Britain have demonstrated, launching fiscal austerity at a time when a nation’s economic capacity is substantially underutilized causes the economy to contract. This makes the debt even larger in proportion to the size of the economy. Rather than reassure global lenders and investors, it spooks them more.

America is about to fall off the fiscal cliff because Democrats and Republicans in Congress haven’t been able to agree on a plan for long-term deficit reduction – and this failure will trigger automatic spending cuts in January. Meanwhile, the temporary tax cuts enacted by former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, and extended for two years by President Obama, will run out December 31st, as will the President’s temporary jobs measures – a payroll-tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits.

In a rational world, deficit reduction on this scale wouldn’t happen until the economy is once again healthy – when unemployment has dropped to below 6 ...

Published: Friday 12 October 2012
“Ryan is among 181 members of the House who received a score of zero, but of course Ryan stands out not only because he is the Republican Party’s vice presidential candidate but because he is the intellectual leader of that band of 181 members who never sided with the middle class on a significant vote during this congressional session.”

 

Don't be surprised if Republican Rep. Paul Ryan works hard at tonight's vice presidential debate to counter Vice President Joe Biden's Scranton, Pa. working-class roots with his own small-town roots in Janesville, Wis. But while both will invoke their middle-class roots, it is Ryan who in Congress has been in relentless opposition to the fundamental things that middle-class people want and need.

That opposition is reflected in Ryan's "zero" score in TheMiddleClass.org 2012 Voter Guide, released earlier this month. That voter guide looks at 10 votes during the 112th Congress that are symbolic of the kitchen-table concerns of middle-class and low-income families. Ryan is among 181 members of the House who received a score of zero, but of course Ryan stands out not only because he is the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate but because he is the intellectual leader of that band of 181 members who never sided with the middle class on a significant vote during this congressional session.

Arguably the most important vote we rate in the guide is on what has come to be known as the "Ryan budget," the fiscal 2013 budget resolution. It will—or at least certainly should be—the centerpiece of tonight's debate. TheMiddleClass.org offers a scathing critique of the budget resolution's impact on middle class households: "Supporters of this budget choose to be the tribunes of the 1 percent, willing to destroy basic elements of the American dream in service of that cause. ... [T]his legislation would dramatically lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while cutting programs vital to the security of middle-class families."

Published: Friday 12 October 2012
“The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the legislators to identify potential conflicts at the time that they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.”

 

As legislators, members of Congress shape the environment where both benefits and detriments to their own fiscal wellbeing can be derived. A recent investigation by the Washington Post has shown the 73 congresspeople engage in practices which leverage their power for a net a financial gain. No one is corrupting these members — they’re doing it to themselves.

The Washington Post reports that:

The practice is both legal and permitted under the ethics rules 

that Congress has written for itself, which allow lawmakers to take actions that benefit themselves or their families except when they are the lone beneficiaries. The financial disclosure system Congress has implemented also does not require the legislators to identify potential conflicts at the time that they take official actions that intersect or overlap with their investments.

The committees rarely discipline their own, instead providing advisory opinions that generally give support and justification to lawmakers who take actions that intersect with their personal financial holdings, according to interviews with nearly a dozen ethics experts and government watchdog groups. And though Congress has required top executive branch officials to divest themselves of assets that may present a conflict, lawmakers have not asked the same of themselves.

While members of Congress are encouraged to consult the ethics committee for advice on whether or not to endorse or vote on a bill that may benefit their or one of their close relatives financial holdings, the committee

Published: Wednesday 10 October 2012
“Who are the voting champions for people who work for wages, dream of health insurance, and aspire to education their children without decades of debt?”

Do you wonder which members of Congress routinely side with the richest 1 percent and Wall Street?  Which lawmakers consistently vote to cut taxes for the rich, protect off-shore tax havens for transnational tax dodgers, and ensure that wealth is taxed more favorably than income from work?  Who tirelessly side with global corporations at the expense of domestic small businesses?

On the other hand, are you curious which members of Congress are committed to an economy that works for everyone, not just the 1 percent? What lawmakers back a level playing field between small business and transnational corporate conglomerates? Who are the voting champions for people who work for wages, dream of health insurance, and aspire to education their children without decades of debt?

In the new “Congressional Report Card for the 99 Percent" (full disclosure—I'm a co-author), the Institute for Policy Studies examined 40 different legislation actions in the House and Senate—votes and legislation introduced—to ascertain the real allegiances of sitting members of Congress. These include votes to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, levy a Wall Street speculation tax, invest in infrastructure, and protect workers and student financial aid.

Not surprisingly, the most promiscuous protectors of the privileged were Republicans. But 17 lawmakers in the Democratic party also got low marks. For example, in the U.S. Senate, Montana Senator Jon Tester and Virginia Senator Jim Webb—sometimes considered progressive—showed up on the list of “1 Percent Friendly Democrats.” Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), Joseph Leiberman (I

Published: Tuesday 9 October 2012
“In order to mitigate potential public health risks stemming from compounded drugs, Democratic lawmakers and health advocates are calling on Congress to strengthen FDA’s regulatory oversight in the area.”

On Monday, U.S. health officials warned that up to 13,000 Americans across 23 states could have been exposed to a strain of fungal meningitis that has been traced to contaminated steroid shots produced by a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy. The deadly meningitis outbreak — causing a potentially fatal inflammation of the brain or central nervous system — has already resulted in over 100 cases and eight deaths.

Although more than half of the estimated 56,000 U.S. pharmacies across the country practice compounding — repackaging or recombining ...

Published: Friday 5 October 2012
“There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.”

 

With the quadrennial presidential election extravaganza reaching its peak, it’s useful to ask how the political campaigns are dealing with the most crucial issues we face. The simple answer is: badly, or not at all. If so, some important questions arise: why, and what can we do about it?

There are two issues of overwhelming significance, because the fate of the species is at stake: environmental disaster, and nuclear war.

The former is regularly on the front pages. On Sept. 19, for example, Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times that the melting of Arctic sea ice had ended for the year, “but not before demolishing the previous record – and setting off new warnings about the rapid pace of change in the region.”

The melting is much faster than predicted by sophisticated computer models and the most recent U.N. report on global warming. New data indicate that summer ice might be gone by 2020, with severe consequences. Previous estimates had summer ice disappearing by 2050.

“But governments have not responded to the change with any greater urgency about limiting greenhouse emissions,” Gillis writes. “To the contrary, their main response has been to plan for exploitation of newly accessible minerals in the Arctic, including drilling for more oil” – that is, to accelerate the catastrophe.

This reaction demonstrates an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the lives of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain. Or, perhaps, an equally remarkable willingness to shut our eyes so as not to see the impending peril.

That’s hardly all. A new study from the Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that “climate change caused by global warming is slowing down world economic output by 1.6 percent a year and will lead to a doubling of costs in the next two decades.” ...

Published: Friday 5 October 2012
“Regardless of which party is in charge, it is the political establishment controlled by special interests that is steering the country towards decline, not those who merely disagree with our political preferences.”

 

Never before has an election seen political operatives try so hard to convince voters that those with whom they disagree politically are their enemies. The addendum of course being that there is only one party or candidate which can possibly prevent these traitors from destroying our country.

But it is not your peers with whom you argue about politics inhibiting progress on important issues; it is the systemic corruption caused by money in politics. Regardless of which party is in charge, it is the political establishment controlled by special interests that is steering the country towards decline, not those who merely disagree with our political preferences.

Combatting this corruption requires cooperation among traditional political opponents, so it is little wonder politicians and special interests are eager to perpetuate the lie that political opposition is tantamount to treason.

Unfortunately, most of the (rare) attempts made to date seeking to encourage cooperation between political foes have focused primarily on a constitutional amendment. But an amendment is a long, difficult and contentious process, especially for people unaccustomed to working together in a civil and productive manner.

A better approach might be to find agreement on a simple solution that improves the situation in the short-term and which all sides can work towards together. This approach would pay immediate dividends by improving the quality of both public policy and political discourse, while paving the way for additional reform in the future.

Begin by identifying nonpartisan reforms which would shield government decision-making from special interest money. For instance, real and tangible change could be affected by combining a reform to ...

Published: Thursday 4 October 2012
Cash spent to watch televisions and report on suspicious bass fishing in Mexico.

 

An alarming report published by the Department of Homeland Security in March 2010 called attention to the theft of dozens of pounds of dangerous explosives from an airport storage bunker in Washington state.

Like many such warnings, it drew on information gathered by one of the department’s “fusion centers” created to exchange data among state, local and federal officials, all at a cost to the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars.

There was just one problem with that report, and many others like it: the theft had occurred seven months earlier, and it had been highlighted within five days in a press release by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was seeking citizen assistance in tracking down the culprits.

The DHS report’s tardiness and its duplication of work by others has been a commonplace failing of work performed by fusion centers nationwide, according to a new investigation of the DHS-funded centers by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

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Published: Tuesday 2 October 2012
A far better strategy for strengthening our shaky retirement security system would be to increase Social Security benefits for low income beneficiaries under or close to the poverty line, add long-term care as a Medicare benefit, and contain our out of control health care economy.

A disturbing new report mandated by Congress from National Research Council (NRC) concludes that the rapid growth of the 65-plus population in the United States and the continuing strain on public resources will make Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid “unsustainable” over the next three decades.

What’s troubling, though, are not the report’s conclusions, but its bias toward a strictly budgetary outlook. Unfortunately, this study—from a federally chartered body charged with scientifically objective research--is so unbalanced that it does a disservice to the full range of viewpoints on this politically volatile issue. 

The report, titled Aging and the Macroeconomy, fails to take into account the microeconomic realities facing tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-income and ethnic minority groups. 

The report’s 14 authors are ...

Published: Monday 1 October 2012
Published: Monday 1 October 2012
“Yet this year as in past years, unless Americans take back control of their country, voters will again reelect nearly all incumbents.”

 

For politicians to do what is right, first citizens must do what is right.

 

Of all the many, many stupid things that most Americans do, nothing is more insane than the ritual every two years of reelecting incumbent members of Congress.  Countless opinion polls find that the public has incredibly low levels of positive regard for Congress.  Just one in 10 Americans approves of the job Congress is doing, according to a Gallup poll released a few weeks ago, tying the branch's lowest approval rating in 38 years.

 

Yet this year as in past years, unless Americans take back control of their country, voters will again reelect nearly all incumbents.  Often, some incumbents do not even have any significant opposition.  For example, in the 2000 election cycle, out of 435 House seats, 64 members had no major-party opponent, and in 2008 every House race in Arkansas was uncontested by a major party according to the Center for Voting and DemocracyPolitical redesign of congressional districts, gerrymandering, is widely done to ensure reelection of incumbents or one party.

 

The main way that incumbents get removed from office these days is when they lose in a party primary election, or die, or get themselves into a sex or corruption scandal.  Primaries often replace the incumbent with someone else from the same party who will, in time, become an incumbent.  That replacement is often a more extreme partisan than the previous incumbent.

 

The usual rationale for this survival of incumbents given by ...

Published: Sunday 30 September 2012
“If Obama gets re-elected in November, there could be an opportunity to pass a carbon tax as part of a deficit reduction plan.”

Over the last year, there’s been increasing talk in Washington political circles — including conservative ones — about how to use a carbon tax as a deficit reduction tool. However, with an election season in full swing and a large number of Congressional Republicans campaigning against climate action, the current likelihood of getting a price on carbon is officially zero.

In theory, if Obama gets re-elected in November, there could be an opportunity to pass a carbon tax as part of a deficit reduction plan. With Bush-era tax cuts set to expire and Republicans talking a big fiscal game, Obama might have some leverage to play hardball with Congress and push for carbon pricing as part of a larger package.

It’s a long shot. But a new report from the Congressional Research Service released today illustrates why it’s such an enticing prospect. According to the CRS analysis, a modest carbon tax of $20 per ton that rises 5.6 percent annually could cut the projected 10-year deficit by 50 percent — from $2.3 trillion down to $1.1 trillion.

The CRS report models two scenarios — one based on current law (the blue bar below) and one based on an alternative scenario (gray bar below) that assumes a much greater increase in the deficit due to extension of tax cuts and the avoidance of automatic spending cuts through the Budget Control Act. While the two scenarios vary widely, they show that a price on carbon starting in 2013 could fill in a sizable chunk of the federal budget gap:


Published: Saturday 29 September 2012
Davis has paid the BLM a total of $17,630 for the animals, far less than BLM has expended to provide them – the agency estimates it costs $1,000 to roundup a wild horse and records show it has paid as much as $5,000 per truckload to ship them to Davis.

 

The Bureau of Land Management faced a crisis this spring. 

The agency protects and manages herds of wild horses that still roam the American West, rounding up thousands of them each year to keep populations stable.

But by March, government pens and pastures were nearly full. Efforts to find new storage space had fallen flat. So had most attempts to persuade members of the public to adopt horses. Without a way to relieve the pressure, the agency faced a gridlock that would invite lawsuits and potentially cause long-term damage to the range. 

So the BLM did something it has done increasingly over the last few years. It turned to a little-known Colorado livestock hauler named Tom Davis who was willing to buy hundreds of horses at a time, sight unseen, for $10 a head. 

The BLM has sold Davis at least 1,700 wild horses and burros since 2009, agency records show -- 70 percent of the animals purchased through its sale program.

Like all buyers, Davis signs contracts promising that animals bought from the program will not be slaughtered and insists he finds them good homes.

But Davis is a longtime advocate of horse slaughter. By his own account, he has ducked Colorado law to move animals across state lines and will not say where they end up. He continues to buy wild horses for slaughter from Indian reservations, which are not protected by the same laws. And since 2010, he has been seeking investors for a slaughterhouse of his own.

"Hell, some of the finest meat you will ever eat is a fat yearling colt," he said. "What is wrong with taking all those ...

Published: Saturday 29 September 2012
“The following list represents a clear set of strategies for reducing our 2,300,000+ prison population without compromising public safety.”

 

As someone who writes and organizes around issues of imprisonment and detention my work is often met with a certain type of resignation.  Though many politically-conscious individuals are quick to lament our nation’s chart-topping incarceration rates, they’re justifiably overwhelmed by the complexity and magnitude of our so-called justice system. Many simply don’t know where or how to begin tackling the most salient, silent problem in the United States today. The following list represents a clear set of strategies for reducing our 2,300,000+ prison population without compromising public safety.

 1 . Replace mandatory sentencing laws with more flexible and individualized sentencing guidelines.

By 1983 forty-nine state legislatures had enacted mandatory sentencing statutes and in 1986 Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act which, though, well intentioned, established 5- and 10-year mandatory sentences for drug importation and distribution. Two years later President Reagan signed the Omnibus Anti-Drug Abuse Act granting the federal government authority to penalize all conspirators in drug-related crimes regardless of their role. Mandatory sentencing laws like these limit judicial jurisdiction by preventing sentencing judges from considering a full range of mitigating factors in a defendant’s profile, including the defendant’s role in the offense or likelihood of committing a future infraction. 

2 .  Strategically reduce “three-strikes” laws for non-violent offenders.

Although twenty-six states have passed “three-strikes” laws for violent offenders since 1993, California’s 1994 ...

Published: Saturday 29 September 2012
What can be confidently reported about the TPP is that, in terms of trade flows, it would be the largest free-trade agreement yet entered into by the United States.

 

It would be a relief to report with any certainty that the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a massive proposed free-trade zone spanning the Pacific Ocean and all four hemispheres—are definitely empowering corporations to the detriment of workers, the environment, and sovereignty throughout the region. Unfortunately, the secretive and opaque character of the negotiations has made it difficult to report much of anything about them. 

What can be confidently reported about the TPP is that, in terms of trade flows, it would be the largest free-trade agreement yet entered into by the United States—and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, that the ministers negotiating the agreement “have expressed an intent to comprehensively reduce barriers in goods, services, and agricultural trade as well as rules and disciplines on a wide range of topics” to unprecedented levels. Yet despite these grandiose ambitions, details of the negotiations and drafts of the text have been purposefully withheld from Congress and American citizens.

The secrecy surrounding the negotiations is breathtaking. In July, 134 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk requesting that the appropriate congressional committees be consulted and that a draft of the text be released. The members reminded Kirk that draft texts were circulated and congressional committees consulted throughout the NAFTA negotiations in the early 1990s. Their letter received no response. A month later, House members petitioned Kirk to allow a congressional delegation to observe the

Published: Friday 28 September 2012
Known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it’s operated for a year now, with mixed results, according to civil society groups that follow the issue.

 

 In the wake of the epidemic of home foreclosures, banking scandals and resulting massive financial regulation overhaul two years ago known as the Dodd-Frank legislation, the U.S. government created a new federal agency to protect consumers from being taken advantage of by banks and other institutions.

Known as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it’s operated for a year now, with mixed results, according to civil society groups that follow the issue.

“Obviously, the agency’s been stifled somewhat by Congress,” Jamie Court, president of the non-profit California-based group Consumer Watchdog, told IPS. “Given the scrutiny they face, and the budget limitations, they’ve done a good job of starting to break new ground on mortgage regulations and financial services regulations, disclosure for consumers.”

Republicans, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, have been vehemently opposed to the CFPB.

“It’s a very tough job in this political and budgetary climate. They’ve done a good job of letting the public know their doors are open. The question is, how responsive they are to petitions from the public, and how much can they do as quickly as possible?” Court said.

“They have a good staff that understands consumer protection. The real fate of the agency will be determined by the (November U.S. presidential) election. The election is really a mandate for this agency to go forward or not,” he said.

Republican nominee Mitt Romney opposes the CFPB, while President Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, supports it.

The CFPB is “pretty much what Obama got for the consumer out of financial reform, which was too little. It’s ...

Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012
Spending millions each year to defeat the very legislation that would support the industry’s claims of superior public safety and savings demonstrates that the for-profit corrections system stands at cross-purposes with itself.

It seems that every few days I read a new press release or “study” commissioned by the private prison industry lauding its supposedly unmatched performance on measures of efficiency and safety relative to the public sector.  Despite the industry’s zeal for public approval, it routinely refuses to disclose the very information necessary to support its arguments.  

Whereas public departments of corrections on the state and federal levels are subject to disclosure statutes under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), private prison firms contracting with public agencies are not. This level of concealment is indefensible in light of the $7.9 billion in federal contracts that the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO)—the two largest publicly-traded, private prison firms—have been awarded since 2007. If companies like CCA and GEO would like to continue to rely on taxpayer largess, then they should be required to adhere to the same disclosure laws as their public counterparts.

 

The need for disclosure statutes providing the public access to information pertaining to the operations of private prisons is vital if reasonable comparisons are to be made between the private and public sectors. Since 2005 five separate iterations of a bi-partisan Private Prison Information Act—H.R. 1806 ,

Published: Monday 24 September 2012
“Maybe, I thought, it all had to do with the poisoning of our environment, with toxics and radiation.”

Eighteen years ago, a year after my mother's death from lymphoma and heart disease—almost to the day—I was diagnosed with cancer: Hodgkin's disease.  Five years prior to my diagnosis, my dad also died after a long battle with melanoma.  It metastasized to his brain.

All that cancer so close to home was my wakeup call.  I knew something was wrong, and I knew it couldn't just be genetics.  Maybe the lymphoma was connected to Hodgkin's, but what did melanoma have to do with my cancer or with my mother's?  And what about my maternal aunt, who had breast cancer?  

Suddenly, everyone else I knew seemed to be getting cancer, too: neighbors, children, friends.

Maybe, I thought, it all had to do with the poisoning of our environment, with toxics and radiation. This concern nagged at me as I went through the grueling "healing" process of a cancer patient.

A few years later, I became pregnant. I was overjoyed—I had waited so long to become a mother. It was all I wanted.

At the same time, I felt guilty in trying to become pregnant.  What, I wondered, might I pass on to my little one, and how could I protect her from all the environmental hazards in our polluted world? What dangers coursed through my own veins?

I knew that my ability to protect my baby daughter was limited.  Sure, I did some substantial post chemo cleanses, ate as well as I could, and used non toxic products on my body and in my home. But no matter how much I did as an individual, the unbounded nature of pollution meant that my blood would carry toxins right through the placenta and into her growing fetal body, and my breast milk would transmit pollutants after the birth. And after birth, well, we live in a polluted world: with mountaintop coal removal and fracking; sacrifice zones; radioactive waste, leaks, and accidents; genetically modified food; pesticides, PCBs, and ...

Published: Sunday 23 September 2012
Published: Sunday 23 September 2012
“As the psychological boost from QE3 wears off and the ‘fiscal cliff’ looms, perhaps Congress and the Fed will consider some of these more direct approaches to relieving the economy’s intractable doldrums.”

The economy could use a good dose of “aggregate demand”—new spending money in the pockets of consumers—but QE3 won’t do it.  Neither will it trigger the dreaded hyperinflation.  In fact, it won’t do much at all.  There are better alternatives.

The Fed’s announcement on September 13, 2012, that it was embarking on a third round of quantitative easing has brought the “sound money” crew out in force, pumping out articles with frighting titles such as “QE3 Will Unleash’ Economic Horror’ On The Human Race.”  The Fed calls QE an asset swap, swapping Fed-created dollars for other assets on the banks’ balance sheets.  But critics call it “reckless money printing” and say it will inevitably produce hyperinflation.  Too much money will be chasing too few goods, forcing prices up and the value of the dollar down.

All this hyperventilating could have been avoided by taking a closer look at how QE works.  The money created by the Fed will go straight into bank reserve accounts, and banks can’t lend their reserves.  The money just sits there, drawing a bit of interest.  The Fed’s plan is to buy mortgage-backed securities (MBS) from the banks, but according to the Washington Post, this is not expected to be of much help to homeowners either.

Why QE3 Won’t Expand the Circulating Money Supply

In its third round of QE, the Fed says it will buy $40 billion in MBS every month for an indefinite period.  To do this, it will essentially create money from nothing, paying for its purchases by crediting the reserve accounts of the ...

Published: Thursday 20 September 2012
How American Democracy Became the Property of a Commercial Oligarchy

 

[A longer version of this essay appears in "Politics," the Fall 2012 issue of Lapham's Quarterlythis slightly shortened version is posted at TomDispatch.com with the kind permission of that magazine.]

 

All power corrupts but some must govern. -- John le Carré

The ritual performance of the legend of democracy in the autumn of 2012 promises the conspicuous consumption of $5.8 billion, enough money, thank God, to prove that our flag is still there. Forbidden the use of words apt to depress a Q Score or disturb a Gallup poll, the candidates stand as product placements meant to be seen instead of heard, their quality to be inferred from the cost of their manufacture. The sponsors of the event, generous to a fault but careful to remain anonymous, dress it up with the bursting in air of star-spangled photo ops, abundant assortments of multiflavored sound bites, and the candidates so well-contrived that they can be played for jokes, presented as game-show contestants, or posed as noble knights-at-arms setting forth on vision quests, enduring the trials by klieg light, until on election night they come to judgment before the throne of cameras by whom and for whom they were produced.

Best of all, at least from the point of view of the commercial oligarchy paying for both the politicians and the press coverage, the issue is never about the why of who owes what to whom, only about the how much and when, or if, the check is in the mail. No loose talk about what is meant by the word democracy or in what ways it ...

Published: Monday 17 September 2012
“Experts at the World Conservation Congress here in South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju warned that there are only four specimens of the famous turtle known to be alive.”

 

The Red River Giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is the stuff of legend in Vietnam. The fabled turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake is popularly known by the name Kim Qui or Golden Turtle God, and it made its first historical appearance in 250 BC.

Today this species could indeed use some divine intervention. Experts at the World Conservation Congress here in South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju warned that there are only four specimens of the famous turtle known to be alive. And only two have any realistic hope of breeding, said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

At the Congress, which ended Saturday, the ZSL and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a list of the 100 most threatened species in the world and called for concerted action to save those unfortunate enough to make it on to the list, like the Red River Giant turtle.

The report, titled “Priceless or Worthless?”, says that all breeding efforts to produce hatchlings of the Red River Giant have failed since 2008. “We have to get the last ones together to breed,” Baillie put it starkly.

The Red River Giant is probably the most famous species on the list that includes such obscure species as the Liben Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis) from Ethiopia, of which less than 300 survive, or the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), considered the rarest of all living rhinos. A Javan Rhino horn goes for as much as 30,000 dollars on the black market, it is that rare.

Or take the case of the Suicide Palm (Tahina spectabilis), found in northwestern Madagascar. Only discovered in 2007, it is probably a good thing that it can grow so large that individuals can be detected on satellite imagery, as only 90 known individual trees have been located. The tree’s name comes from ...

Published: Sunday 16 September 2012
“A smaller portion of American adults is now working than at any time in the last thirty years.”

With deficit hawks circling overhead, the responsibility for creating jobs has fallen by default to Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve. Last week the Fed said it expected to keep interest rates near zero through mid 2015 in order to stimulate employment.

Two cheers.

The problem is, low interest rates alone won’t do it. The Fed has held interest rates near zero for several years without that much to show for it. A smaller portion of American adults is now working than at any time in the last thirty years.

So far, the biggest beneficiaries of near-zero interest rates haven’t been average Americans. They’ve been too weighed down with debt to borrow more, and their wages keep dropping. And because they won’t and can’t borrow more, businesses haven’t had more customers. So there’s been no reason for businesses to borrow to expand and hire more people, even at low interest rates.

The biggest winners from the Fed’s near-zero rates have been the big banks, which are now assured of two or more years of almost free money. The big banks haven’t used  the money to refinance mortgages – why should they when they can squeeze more money out of homeowners by keeping them at higher rates? Instead, they’ve used the almost free money to make big bets on derivatives. If the bets continue to go well, the bankers will continue to make a bundle. If the bets sour, well, you know what happens then. Watch your wallets.

The truth is, low interest rates won’t boost the economy without an expansive fiscal policy that makes up for the timid spending of  consumers and businesses. Until more Americans have more money in their pockets, government spending has to fill the gap.

On this score, the big news isn’t the Fed’s renewed determination to keep interest rates low. The big news is global ...

Published: Sunday 16 September 2012
“Medical groups argue that the fee hikes are justified because treating seniors has grown more complex and time-consuming, both due to new technology and declining health status.”

 

 

Thousands of doctors and other medical professionals have steadily billed higher rates for treating elderly patients on Medicare over the last decade — adding $11 billion or more to their fees and signaling a possible rise in medical billing abuse, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found.

Medical groups argue that the fee hikes are justified because treating seniors has grown more complex and time-consuming, both due to new technology and declining health status. The rise in fees may also be a reaction, they say, to years of under-charging, and reflect more accurate billing. The fees are based on a system of billing codes that is structured to make higher payments for treatments that take more time and effort.

But the Center’s analysis of Medicare claims from 2001 through 2010 shows that over time, thousands of providers turned to more expensive Medicare billing codes, while spurning use of cheaper ones. They did so despite little evidence that Medicare patients as a whole are older or sicker than in past years, or that the amount of time doctors spent treating them on average was rising.

While it’s impossible to know precisely why doctors and hospitals moved to better-paying codes in recent years, it’s likely that the trend in part reflects “upcoding,” — the practice of charging for more extensive and costly services than delivered, according to Medicare experts, analysis of the data and a review of government audits.

And Medicare regulators worry that the coding levels may be accelerating in part because of increased use of electronic health records, which make it easy to create detailed patient files with just a few mouse clicks.

Many health policy experts have long believed that billing errors and abuses, from confusion over how to pick proper payment codes to ...

Published: Sunday 16 September 2012
“More serious is the Republicans’ proposal for an annual audit of the United States Federal Reserve.”

The party platform adopted at the Republican National Convention includes a number of remarkable planks. To a monetary economist, for example, the party’s proposal to restore some kind of metallic monetary standard is so outlandish as to be an almost irresistible target.

 

More serious is the Republicans’ proposal for an annual audit of the United States Federal Reserve. This, like the gold-standard plank, is partly designed to appeal to the libertarian followers of Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and perennial presidential candidate who is hugely popular with the Republicans’ “Tea Party” wing. While Paul would go further, and abolish the Fed altogether, several bills in the US Congress have mandated an annual audit; earlier this year, one such bill was passed by the House of Representatives (but not the Senate).

 

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Barry Eichengreen, click here.

 

The Republicans’ embrace of the audit idea taps into libertarians’ general distrust of government. But there is also distrust of the Fed on more specific grounds – distrust that extends well beyond the ranks of the Tea Party. The Fed, its critics complain, has used its expansive powers to engage in a range of unprecedented interventions that have propped up large financial institutions. So the monetary authorities, they argue, must be in the pockets of powerful bankers.

 

To be sure, central bankers should be democratically accountable for ...

Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
“Earlier this year, the Medicare Board of Trustees estimated that the Medicare hospital trust fund would remain fully funded only until 2024.”

 

Medicare and Medicaid, which provide medical coverage for seniors, the poor and the disabled, together make up nearly a quarter of all federal spending. With total Medicare spending projected to cost $7.7 trillion over the next 10 years, there is consensus that changes are in order. But what those changes should entail has, of course, been one of the hot-button issues of the campaign.

With the candidates slinging charges, we thought we’d lay out the facts. Here’s a rundown of where the two candidates stand on Medicare and Medicaid:

THE CANDIDATES ON MEDICARE

Big Picture

Earlier this year, the Medicare Board of Trustees estimated that the Medicare hospital trust fund would remain fully funded only until 2024. Medicare would not go bankrupt or disappear, but it wouldn’t have enough money to cover all hospital costs.

Under traditional government-run Medicare, seniors 65 and over and people with disabilities are given health insurance for a fixed set of benefits, in what’s known as fee-for-service coverage. Medicare also offers a subset of private health plans known as Medicare Advantage, in which ...

Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
The New Jersey News reports that the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, lost the membership of  another multi-billion dollar corporation yesterday.

 

With controversial and sometimes shady dealings being taking place between lobbyists and congress, big corporations are starting to pick up on the dangers of being associated with polarized lobbying bodies. The New Jersey News reports that the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, lost the membership of  another multi-billion dollar corporation yesterday:

Global pharmaceutical maker Merck & Co. said today it is

leaving the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council — which drafts model bills that are replicated in state legislatures across the country — because of “budget constraints and policy priorities.”

With $48 billion in revenue in 2011, Merck is among the largest ALEC members. The company is known for making Singulair, the asthma treatment, as well as a range of heart medications and vaccines.

Lobbyists are only as powerful as the special interests on whose behalf they are lobbying. Take away the special interest, and all you’re left with is a group of people whose power amounts to the same as the rest of ours; in order to make your voice heard, you cast a vote. Instead, ALEC has been writing their own legislation and pushing it hard through Congress. When that legislation conflicts with the will of the people, it’s simply bad business for ALEC’s members. The result?

More than three dozen companies have left ALEC this year, including Amazon.com, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Kraft.

This is bad news for ALEC, but good news for anyone looking for some prime real estate within the D.C. city limits–the headquarters for ALEC ...

Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
“Mitt Romney can can use this to show us if he wants to be president of the whole United States, or just president of, by and for the outsourcing 1 percenters.”

 

Workers facing outsourcing by Bain Capital are camping outside the Sensata factory in Freeport, Ill. They are asking Mitt Romney to show up and help save their jobs. They say they will stay camped there until Romney shows up and stands with them – or with Bain.

Mitt Romney can can use this to show us if he wants to be president of the whole United States, or just president of, by and for the outsourcing 1 percenters.

Sensata

The private equity firm Bain Capital put together Sensata Technologies in 2006 to make and sell sensors and controls to car makers and other manufacturers. The company is closing the Freeport, Ill. plant and outsourcing the 165 jobs to China. The workers have to train their Chinese replacements before they are laid off.

Sensata is making plenty of money. According to the company's website:

  • Second quarter 2012 net revenue was a record $504.6 million, an increase of 10.9% from the second quarter 2011 net revenue of $455.0 million.
  • Second quarter 2012 net income was $26.1 million, or $0.14 per diluted share, versus second quarter 2011 net (loss) of $(34.6) million, or $(0.20) per diluted share.
  • Second quarter 2012 Adjusted net income1 was a record $97.5 million, or $0.54 per diluted share, versus second quarter 2011 Adjusted net income1 of $92.2 million, or $0.51 per diluted share.

Sensata explains that Chinese workers cost less.

Mitt Romney started Bain Capital in 1984. He left the company in 1999, or 2000, or 2001, or 2002, or later, or earlier, depending on which year is best. In 2012 he is clearly no longer with Bain, while receiving only approximately $440,000 a weekfrom the company.

Efforts To Get Sensata To Reconsider

The Freeport, Ill., City Council unanimously passed a resolution on July 16 asking Romney to come and help save the workers' jobs.

Two ...

Published: Friday 14 September 2012
“Only a tiny percentage of voters in November will have read the article or will have any idea that the US military is so, um, active in so many places around the world some two decades after the end of the Cold War.”

 

 

 

A recent article in Nation of Change (Tom Engelhardt, "Monopolizing War", September 13, 2012) starts with a multiple choice question about Marines carrying out combat operations in a certain foreign country. The article goes on to list nine possible answers (that's right, boys and girls, not the usual four) – and one of the choices wasn't "all of the above.” It turns out it was a trick question.  In fact, the correct answer was all of the countries on the list, to include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Central Africa, Northern Mali, the Philippines, and Guatemala.

 

Only a tiny percentage of voters in November will have read the article or will have any idea that the US military is so, um, active in so many places around the world some two decades after the end of the Cold War.  Okay, okay.  Let's not forget that the shocking events of 9-11 changed the game 11 years ago (as we are all gravely reminded every year at this very time with a barrage of hair-raising, heart-breaking images, look-backs, documentaries, op-eds, flags, and bumper-stickers).

 

We're in a war.  On terror.  It's different from all other wars.  Even the Cold War.  Different from all the wars that have ever been fought.  Anywhere.  Anytime.  It's a war without end.  Against a fanatical, hate-filled enemy that is also invisible, amorphous, and relentless.   An enemy that has no state and no army, navy, or air force.  An enemy that cannot be defeated by conventional or unconventional military means.  Or nuclear weapons.  Ever.

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
From challenging Citizens United to protecting collective bargaining rights, grassroots groups are using ballot initiatives to push back against austerity initiatives and revitalize our economy.

The ballot initiative process, which provides an injection of direct democracy in twenty-four states, often ends up helping the right wing. For years, deep-pocketed funders have backed ballot measures to ban same-sex marriage, restrict reproductive rights, or make it nearly impossible for elected state legislatures to raise taxes—hurting families and helping to tank state budgets.

Often, the process plays out like a game of tug

Published: Thursday 13 September 2012
I’m a reporter, and it’s not my job to preserve Democrats. But preserving democracy, with that fragile little d, that means something to me.

The following is an excerpt from Greg Palast's upcoming book "Billionaires & Ballot Bandits." Stay tuned to NationofChange for updates on the book's release.  

Why Obama Is Likely to Lose in 2012” is the title of a column Karl Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal in June 2011.

It’s not Rove’s prediction: this is his plan to make sure Obama will lose. That’s fine with me—if Rove prefers vanilla to chocolate, hey, it’s a free country. But how Rove plans to take Obama down is contained in the subhead, and it gives me the chills:

“even a small drop in the share of black voters would wipe out [Obama’s] winning margin in North Carolina.”

Here, Rove is not talking about winning by convincing black voters to vote Republican. The key to victory is preventing the black vote. Period. Rove suggests, with a wink and nudge, the Game Plan:

READ FULL POST 11 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 12 September 2012
“In the midst of partisan wrangling over raising the nation’s debt limit, Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt – warning that Republicans and Democrats didn’t have a credible plan to tame the deficit. ”

The rating agencies are at it again. Moody’s Investors Services says it’s likely to downgrade U.S. government bonds if Congress and the White House don’t reach a budget deal before we go over the so-called “fiscal cliff” on January 2, when $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and tax increases automatically go into effect.

Apparently the credit rating agencies can’t decide which is more dangerous to the U.S. economy – cutting the U.S. budget deficit too quickly, or not having a plan to cut it at all.

Last year’s worry was the latter. In the midst of partisan wrangling over raising the nation’s debt limit, Standard & Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt – warning that Republicans and Democrats didn’t have a credible plan to tame the deficit.  

Now Moody’s is worried about the opposite: The spending cuts and tax increases in the Budget Control Act that will automatically kick in at the start of 2013 – unless Congress decides on a better and presumably more gradual approach — are so draconian they’ll push the economy into a recession.

The ratings agency schizophrenia is understandable. Everyone in Washington – and just about everywhere else – knows the budget deficit has to be dealt with. But anyone with half a brain (including Washington) also knows that when unemployment is high and economic growth still painfully slow, cutting the deficit too much now would make a bad situation even worse.

Remember, the real problem isn’t the deficit per se. It’s the deficit in proportion to the size of the economy. Cutting too much too soon will tip the economy into recession because it would reduce overall demand for goods and services when private demand falls way short of what’s needed. And if the economy goes into recession and begins to shrink, the ratio of deficit to ...

Published: Tuesday 11 September 2012
If Obama gets a second term, recreating that bargain — and getting enough votes from Congress to do so — will be his central challenge, and America’s.

 

The question at the core of America’s upcoming election isn’t merely whose story most voting Americans believe to be true – Mitt Romney’s claim that the economy is in a stall and Obama’s policies haven’t worked, or Barack Obama’s that it’s slowly mending and his approach is working.

If that were all there was to it, last Friday’s report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the economy added only 96,000 jobs in August – below what’s needed merely to keep up with the growth in the number of eligible workers — would seem to bolster Romney’s claim.

But, of course, congressional Republicans have never even given Obama a chance to try his approach. They’ve blocked everything he’s tried to do – including his proposed Jobs Act that would help state and local governments replace many of the teachers, police officers, social workers, and fire fighters they’ve had to let go over the last several years.

The deeper question is what should be done starting in January to boost a recovery that by anyone’s measure is still anemic. In truth, not even the Jobs Act will be enough.

At the Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, Romney produced the predictable set of Republican bromides: cut taxes on corporations and the already rich, cut government spending (mainly on the lower-middle class and the poor), and gut business regulations.

It’s the same supply-side nonsense that got the economy into trouble in the first place.

Corporations won’t hire more workers just because their tax bill is lower and they spend less on regulations. In case you hadn’t noticed, corporate profits are up. Most companies don’t even know what to do with the profits they’re already making. Not incidentally, much of those profits have come from replacing jobs with computer software or outsourcing them ...

Published: Saturday 8 September 2012
Published: Saturday 8 September 2012
“40 percent of the unemployed have been looking for work for six months or more.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that96,000 jobs were created last month, slightly under economists’ projections for 125,000 jobs. The job creation numbers for both June and July were revised down, but the unemployment rate also ticked down to 8.1 percent.

40 percent of the unemployed have been looking for work for six months or more. This chart shows how much of a problem long-term unemployment continues to be:

Despite this, the federal government has been slowly rolling back its extended unemployment benefits program. Currently, only half the unemployed are collecting benefits at all, according to the National Employment Law Center:

While it is natural to assume that most unemployed workers are eligible for UI benefits, at most, only two‐thirds of all unemployed workers received state or federal UI benefits at any time during the economic downturn. Today, less than half the nation’s 12.8 million unemployed workers receive some form of UI. Approximately 3.2 million collect state UI benefits, covering the first 26 weeks of unemployment, while an additional 2.3 million job seekers receive federal UI under the EUC08 program.

This is occurring because federal benefits phase out as states’ jobless numbers decline. Because states are seeing their jobs numbers improve — to levels that are by no means adequate — federal benefits are phasing out. That leaves workers with only 26 weeks of state benefits to use,which leaves them 13 weeks shy of the average ...

Published: Friday 7 September 2012
Published: Thursday 6 September 2012
“We have reached a crossroads where either we allow the corporations to take control of our nations or we halt their attempts.”

 

Experienced thieves do not want attention focused on their acts, so they employ diversions to misdirect attention. We are currently in the midst of such a diversion while a colossal theft of national resources, dwarfing anything we can imagine, occurs while no one is watching.

The diversion is the spectacle of the conventions of the two major American political parties. The corporate-controlled media presents these conventions as evidence of our democracy when in reality they are nothing more than circuses fully staffed with carnival barkers, clowns and feats of political strength, all designed to impress feeble minds with the pomp and pageantry. These ostentatious events, where the party’s preselected nominee is anointed by adoring crowds, will cost the taxpayers more than $136 million.

Most people watching this mindless drivel on television think that the politicians are the stars of this show. However, it is really the corporations, lobbyists and self-serving special interest groups that are the VIPs here. These are the moneymen who will pay for the extravagant parties and contribute to campaigns because they want something back. They appreciate this diversion from the real theft that will be taking place while the masses focus on the convention.

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Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
“Velásquez has been working to organize migrant farm workers in North Carolina — more than 90 percent of whom are undocumented.”

Baldemar Velásquez, founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO, has been organizing migrant workers since he worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. An Ohio delegate at the Democratic National Convention, Velasquez has been working to organize migrant farm workers in North Carolina -- more than 90 percent of whom are undocumented. On Monday, Velasquez was part of a Southern Workers Assembly here in Charlotte that brought together farm laborers along with others who work in the manufacturing and service industries. Their challenge is significant: The South is the least unionized region in the United States and union density in North Carolina is just 2 percent.

 

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." We’re broadcasting from Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s the first day of the Democratic National Convention. I’m Amy Goodman. And I want to turn right now to Baldemar Velásquez. He is the founder and president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO. He has been working to organize migrant farm workers in North ...

Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
Since most of the examination of our President comes from either the daily hypocrasies of Mitt and friends or the coddling progressive left, I thought I would examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny and fairness.

 

I wrote this a while back after Romney got the nom, and, in light of the blizzard of bullshit that will be coming at us in the next few months, I thought I would put it out now.

Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I began to think about what a vote for Obama would mean.

Since most of the examination of our President comes from either the daily hypocrasies of Mitt and friends or the coddling progressive left, I thought I would examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny and fairness.

The typical arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are centered around avoiding a fantical rightwing take over of the Oval Office. Obama is perceived as the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians--and, of course, the Supreme Court. There is a cynical logic behind this view, and I tend to agree with Garry Wills' description of the Republican primaries as  “a revolting combination of con men & fanatics, and agree proundly that “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”

However, there are certain Rubicon lines, as constituational law professor Jon Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed that should not be ignored.

All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.

This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones, but rather to ask a couple fundimental questions: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?

Three markers — the Nobel prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me.


During his 2008 campaign, ...

Published: Wednesday 5 September 2012
“The Republican austerity push gives Democrats the opportunity to seize the high ground of jobs.”

Last week Republicans branded themselves as the party of cuts. This week the Democrats have an opportunity to be the party of jobs and growth again.

Last week Republicans again and again called for for austerity: government budget cuts that kill jobs and growth. Look at what is happening in Europe as they try to fix deficits with austerity -- cuts instead of growth. The result has been recession after recession, and unemployment rates above 20%! Europe is clearly demonstrating that austerity kills jobs and growth, and actually leads to even higher deficits as the economy pulls back.

The Republican austerity push gives Democrats the opportunity to seize the high ground of jobs. But to accomplish this, they have to drop the DC-elite-induced austerity fetish, and make the case that the way to grow the economy and actually create jobs is to invest in infrastructure and energy efficiency. Democrats have to be in favor of job creation and growth and doing more than they have done already.

If you invest in infrastructure and energy efficiency you create jobs while the work is being done -- but you also end up with modernized infrastructure and lower energy costs, which means the economy is much more productive, and this pays for the investment!

Jobs Fix Deficits

It's just a fact: jobs fix deficits. If the government hires a person to work on fixing a bridge or a dam, that person is:

  1. Paying income taxes again,
  2. Not collecting unemployment or food stamps,
  3. Shopping again, which generates sales taxes and other jobs, and
  4. Feeling better off than four years ago.
  5. Duh! No-brainer!

P.S. AND the bridge or dam is fixed - something that has to be done anyway!

The Democratic Party has the opportunity to make the case for investment instead of cuts. It is an obvious case. ...

Published: Tuesday 4 September 2012
“The platform not only lays out the party’s vision for the future but also articulates President Obama’s first term accomplishments and attacks Romney’s policies.”

The Democratic National Committee released a draft of their party platform Monday night, to be voted on Tuesday in Charlotte, NC. The platform not only lays out the party’s vision for the future but also articulates President Obama’s first term accomplishments and attacks Romney’s policies. Most issues are framed in comparison to radical Republican policies, affirmed last week in what was called “the most conservative platform in modern history.”

Here are some highlights:

Published: Tuesday 4 September 2012
The choice Congress faces this term is simple: either address head on America’s challenges, or risk being remembered as the body whose dithering condemned future generations to being worse off than their parents.

What if members of the United States Congress, now returning from their summer recess, were to receive a “back to school” letter from concerned citizens? Here is what a first draft might look like.

Dear Members of Congress:

Welcome back to the Capitol. We hope that you had a good summer break, and that you return to Washington not just rested, but also energized to take on our country’s mounting economic challenges.

“Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Mohamed A. El - Erianclick here.”

The news has been mixed during your absence. We have seen some improvement in economic data, but not enough to suggest that we are any closer to overcoming decisively this painful period of low growth and high unemployment. And, with a self-inflicted fiscal cliff looming – one that could send our country back into ...

Published: Monday 3 September 2012
“This is a rare case of a lie that the campaign felt obliged to retract.”

 

On Wednesday, Jonathan Cohn asked if Paul Ryan's address was "The Most Dishonest Convention Speech ... Ever?" Now that Mitt Romney had his turn, I decided to answer the question.

After reviewing presidential and vice-presidential nominee acceptance speeches throughout the era of the modern Republican Party, back to 1980, I present to you: the Top 13 Republican Convention Speech Lies.

To make this list, the candidate had to deliver a stone-cold, unequivocal, shameless brazen lie. Being misleading but technically true, or using disingenuous qualifiers wasn't good enough.

For example, Vice-President Dick Cheney does not make the cut for saying in 2004 that "we dealt with a gathering threat and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein" shortly after saying "the president made clear that the terrorists would be dealt with". Sure, he's suggesting a false connection between 9/11 and Iraq, but he didn't explicitly state the lie--at least, not on the convention stage.

With that in mind, here we go.

13. Bush 2000: The Gore Invented The Internet Lie

George W. Bush wrapped the lie in a joke, but it's still a lie.

After riffing about all the inventions in history Gore would call a "risky scheme," -- a way to deflect criticism of his own conservative proposals -- Bush said, "if he'd been there when the Internet was invented ... well, I understand he actually was there for that."

It's about as good as a ...

Published: Sunday 2 September 2012
“You might not remember this, but there once was a woman named Sarah Palin who was nominated for vice-president.”

On Wednesday, Jonathan Cohn asked if Paul Ryan's address was "The Most Dishonest Convention Speech ... Ever?" Now that Mitt Romney had his turn, I decided to answer the question.

After reviewing presidential and vice-presidential nominee acceptance speeches throughout the era of the modern Republican Party, back to 1980, I present to you: the Top 13 Republican Convention Speech Lies.

To make this list, the candidate had to deliver a stone-cold, unequivocal, shameless brazen lie. Being misleading but technically true, or using disingenuous qualifiers wasn't good enough.

For example, Vice-President Dick Cheney does not make the cut for saying in 2004"we dealt with a gathering threat and removed the regime of Saddam Hussein" shortly after saying "the president made clear that the terrorists would be dealt with". Sure, he's suggesting a false connection between 9/11 and Iraq, but he didn't explicitly state the lie ... at least, not on the convention stage.

With that in mind, here we go.

13. Bush 2000: The Gore Invented The Internet Lie

George W. Bush wrapped the lie in a joke, but it's still a lie.

After riffing about all the inventions in history Gore would call a "risky scheme," -- a way to deflect criticism of his own conservative proposals -- Bush said, "if he'd been there when the Internet was invented ... well, I understand he actually was there for that."

It's about as good as a birth certificate joke. And just as much of a lie.

Published: Sunday 2 September 2012
“Last July’s announcement that the convention would be held in the staunchly anti-union city of  Charlotte, North Carolina—the least unionized state in the country—set off a firestorm of protest in the labor movement.”

The Democratic National Convention is less than a week away, and liberals are getting fired up. But at least one of the party's key constituencies isn’t quite so excited.

That group is organized labor.

Last July’s announcement that the convention would be held in the staunchly anti-union city of  Charlotte, North Carolina—the least unionized state in the country—set off a firestorm of protest in the labor movement. A year later, dissatisfaction still simmers, and there's a case to be made for an unprecedented move. The message is simple: maybe labor should sit this one out.

To a large extent, politics is about resources. How an organization decides to deploy those it has available says a lot about its values and priorities. So why would labor want to channel limited funds into bolstering a local economy organized around avowedly anti-union principles? By opting for North Carolina as a convention destination, rather than a swing state with stronger union infrastructure such as Ohio or Wisconsin, the Democratic Party created an entirely avoidable disaster.

Anti-Union Territory

Unions have already scaled back their involvement in the convention. If the labor movement decided to altogether avoid devoting members' time or money to attending, the Democrats could not claim they hadn't been warned. The party did not seek union input or prioritize supporting organized workers when selecting the convention location, and as soon as the news went public labor pointed to some glaring shortcomings: North Carolina is a so-called “right to work” state; Charlotte has virtually no unions among its building trades, construction firms, or service workers; and Charlotte has not one unionized hotel.

Four years ago, labor contributed heavily to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, including a $100,000 donation ...

Published: Saturday 1 September 2012
“We are nearing the culmination of a cunning and fanatical drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural frameworks that were slowly and painstakingly built over decades to protect everyday citizens from the excesses of private power.”

 

We might wish the uproar from the convention halls of both parties these busy weeks were the wholesome clamor of delegates deliberating serious visions of how we should be governed for the next four years. It rises instead from scripted TV spectacles — grown-ups doing somersaults of make-believe — that will once again distract the public’s attention from the death rattle of American democracy brought on by an overdose of campaign cash.

No serious proposal to take the money out of politics, or even reduce its tightening grip on the body politic, will emerge from Tampa or Charlotte, so the sounds of celebration and merriment are merely prelude to a funeral cortege for America as a shared experience. A radical minority of the super-rich has gained ascendency over politics, buying the policies, laws, tax breaks, subsidies, and rules that consolidate a permanent state of vast inequality by which they can further help themselves to America’s wealth and resources.

Their appetite for more is insatiable. As we write, Mitt Romney, after two fundraisers in which he raised nearly $10 million from the oil and gas industry, and having duly consulted with the Oklahoma billionaire energy executive who chairs the campaign’s energy advisory committee, has announced that if elected President, he will end a century of federal control over oil and gas drilling on public lands, leaving such matters to local officials more attuned to industry desires. Theodore Roosevelt, the first great advocate for public lands in the White House, would be rolling in his grave, if Dick Cheney hadn’t already dumped his bones in a Wyoming mining shaft during the first hours of the Bush-Halliburton administration.

We are nearing the culmination of a cunning and fanatical drive to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual and cultural ...

Published: Friday 31 August 2012
The conservative Constitution Party, which seeks to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations,” has nominated Goode, a former congressman from Virginia, for president, potentially taking votes away from Romney in what has become a presidential swing state.

 

Dark-horse presidential candidates Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode may not be household names, but with a little help from super PACs, they could peel away precious support from Republican Mitt Romney and possibly even President Barack Obama in some key state races.

The conservative Constitution Party, which seeks to “restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations,” has nominated Goode, a former congressman from Virginia, for president, potentially taking votes away from Romney in what has become a presidential swing state.

Meanwhile, Johnson, a former two-term GOP governor of New Mexico who failed to win the 2012 Republican presidential nod, has been nominated by the Libertarian Party — a perch from which he could throw a wrench in the plans of both Obama and Romney in several swing states.

Already, at least three pro-Libertarian super PACs have registered with the Federal Election Commission to support Johnson. And former Nixon administration operative Roger Stone, famous for sporting a tattoo of the disgraced president on his back, has touted a pro-Johnson super PAC.

Super PACs are allowed to collect unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations to produce political advertisements that are not coordinated with any candidate. They were made possible in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Goode, a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment and vocal opponent of abortion, served six terms in Congress — first as a Democrat, then as an independent and finally as a Republican, until he was unseated in 2008. Third-party candidates like Goode have no chance of winning the White House, but one only need look ...

Published: Friday 31 August 2012
“We support the review and examination of all federal agencies to eliminate wasteful spending, operational inefficiencies, or abuse of power to determine whether they are performing functions that are better performed by the States.”

 

Almost immediately after President Obama took office, many Republican politicians seized upon a distorted vision of the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment that would leave America nearly incapable of governing itself. Indeed, top Republicans — including U.S. Senators, governors and members of Congress — have claimed that everything from Social Security to Medicare to federal disaster relief to national child labor laws all violate the Constitution. A similarly erroneous vision of the Constitution has now infected the GOP’s party platform:

We support the review and examination of all federal agencies to eliminate wasteful spending, operational inefficiencies, or abuse of power to determine whether they are performing functions that are better performed by the States. These functions, as appropriate, should be returned to the States in accordance with the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We affirm that all legislation, rules, and regulations must conform and public servants must adhere to the U.S. Constitution, as originally intended by the Framers. . . . Scores of entrenched federal programs violate the constitutional mandates of federalism by taking money from the States, laundering it through various federal agencies, only to return to the States shrunken grants with mandates attached. We propose wherever feasible to leave resources where they originate: in the homes and neighborhoods of the taxpayers.

The GOP platform closely echoes a brief filed by GOP mega attorney Paul Clement on ...

Published: Friday 31 August 2012
“Competition is integral to the rationalizing logic of capitalism writ large, but anathema to individual capitalist firms.”

 

 

 

As the late business historian Alfred Chandler, Jr. once said, the visible hand of the corporation has been of far greater importance to capitalism than has Adam Smith’s so-called invisible hand of the market. 

 

Although modern forms of capitalism are justified, and often sanitized, by rhetorical appeals to competition, competition contradictorily tends toward monopoly by eliminating “weaker” firms in any given market. Competition is integral to the rationalizing logic of capitalism writ large, but anathema to individual capitalist firms. The essential inconsistencies of modern capitalism, however, often serve as the fault lines from which social movements can emerge.

 

And what better place to begin than with the Tennessee-based private prison firm, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). CCA, in its own words, “is the nation’s largest owner and operator of partnership correction and detention facilities and one of the largest prison operators in the United States, behind only the federal government and three states. [The company] currently operate[s] 67 facilities, including 47 company-owned facilities, with a total design capacity of approximately 92,000 beds in 20 states and the District of Columbia.” 

 

Very few corporations are more notoriously devoted to Chandler’s “visible hand” theory than the Corrections Corporation of America. With less than one month remaining in FY 2012 CCA has thus far been “awarded” $373,355,264 in contracts with the federal government. Eighty-eight percent of federal contracts “won” by CCA this year have originated with the U.S. ...

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
Democrats and many veterans’ advocates argue that the VA failed to prepare for an onslaught of wounded veterans after the Bush administration began the war in Iraq in 2003.

If you’re a Northern California veteran who has waited a year for a decision on a war-related disability claim, you might consider a move to South Dakota – where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs typically responds in less than half the time.

 

Returning home from Afghanistan to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta? Veterans who live in Lincoln, Neb., and Fargo, N.D., get their benefits faster.

 

The geographic inequity of VA wait times is fully detailed for the first time in an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Simply put: Veterans in sparsely populated states often encounter quick resolution of their compensation claims for problems ranging from back injuries to post-traumatic stress disorder while those in metropolitan areas languish. 

 

In California, veterans who file claims with any of the VA’s three regional offices – in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Diego – wait more than nine months on average.

 

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Adam Fields, a former Marine from Modesto, who has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.

 

During his two tours in Iraq, Fields said he survived multiple vehicle rollovers and sustained three concussions, which have contributed to persistent short-term memory loss.

 

“Sometimes I get in the car, and I forget where I’m going,” said Fields, who supports his wife and 5-year-old son by driving a scrap metal truck in Stockton, two hours from the closest VA hospital.

 

“If the VA approved my claim, I could afford to take time off to get regular treatment,” he said.

 

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
“Among other favors, Griffin is the top cheerleader in the House for the XL Pipeline--whose approval is vital to the billionaire Kochs making more billions.”

"Tim Griffin should be in jail." That's the conclusion of civil rights attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after going through the evidence I asked him to review.

 

But Griffin's not in jail: he's in Congress. And Tuesday, he'll be the first Congressman the Republicans have chosen to bring to their convention podium.

Predictably, I haven't seen one US press report noting that in 2007, Griffin resigned from the Justice Department in disgrace, ahead of what could have been (should have been), his indictment.

 

Kennedy thought a couple of other characters should join Griffin in the lock-up: first, Griffin's boss, the man whom George W. Bush gave the nickname, "Turd blossom": Karl Rove.

 

And there's yet another odiferous blossom, Griffin's assistant at the time of the crime: Matt Rhoades. Rhoades isn't in jail either. He's the campaign director of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

 

This story is based on the investigations in Palast's new book, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps - with a forward by Kennedy and comics by Ted Rall.

 

Kennedy had gone over the highly confidential emails we'd gotten from inside Republican National Committee headquarters i Washington. (How we got our hands on private emails from the top dogs in the Republican campaign, well, that's another story. I can say, they were sent directly from the computer of Tim Griffin. Rove, a computer expert, is careful not to have his own).

“What they did was absolutely illegal—and they ...

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
Published: Monday 27 August 2012
“The small businesses that drive our economy, we’re informed, can’t possibly afford to pay their help any more than they already do.”

 

With Labor Day fast approaching, what better time to reflect about those Americans who earn the least for their labor? These Americans — workers paid the federal minimum wage — are now taking home just $7.25 an hour.

On paper, minimum wage workers are making exactly what they made in July 2009, the last time the minimum wage bumped up. In reality, minimum wage workers are making less today than they made last year — and the year before that — since inflation has eaten away at their incomes.

And if we go back a few decades, today’s raw deal on the minimum wage gets even rawer. Back in 1968, minimum wage workers took home $1.60 an hour. To make that much today, adjusting for inflation, a minimum wage worker would have to be earning $10.55 an hour.

In effect, minimum wage workers today are taking home almost $7,000 less over the course of a year than minimum-wage workers took home in 1968.

Figures like these don’t particularly discomfort our nation’s most powerful. We live in tough times, their argument goes. The small businesses that drive our economy, we’re informed, can’t possibly afford to pay their help any more than they already do.

But the vast majority of our nation’s minimum wage workers don’t labor for Main Street mom-and-pops. They labor for businesses that no average American would ever call small. Two-thirds of America’s low-wage workers, the National Employment Law Project documented last month, work for companies with over 100 employees on their payrolls.

The 50 largest of these low-wage employers are doing just fine, even with the Great ...

Published: Monday 27 August 2012
“Congress can’t seem to grasp a basic law of nature: You can't keep a mighty tree alive — much less expect it to thrive — by only spritzing the fine leaves at its tippy-top.”

 

Washington keeps handing massive bailouts to Wall Street giants and multibillion-dollar annual subsidies to Big Oil. Those giveaways certainly boost the 1-percenters' bottom lines, but they do nothing to perk up America's grassroots economy. And that's not only where the rest of us live and work, it's the only place that can generate real national prosperity.

Congress can't seem to grasp a basic law of nature: You can't keep a mighty tree alive — much less expect it to thrive — by only spritzing the fine leaves at its tippy-top. The fate of the whole tree depends on nurturing the roots.

Sadly, America's corporate and political powers today are content to be a bunch of leaf spritzers, blithely oblivious to the dangerous shriveling of the grassroots. To witness the damage they're doing, just look at our nation's desiccated minimum wage.

Set at $7.25 an hour three years ago, its real value has since been gutted by inflation, reducing the wage's current purchasing power to a sub-poverty level of $6.75 an hour. That's only $14,000 a year for full-time work!

Not only would increasing it help hard-working people make ends meet, but it also would provide a direct jolt of nourishment to our overall economy. It's been shown again and again that every dime of a minimum-wage hike is spent by its recipients, circulating upward in our local economies as they increase their purchases of such basics as food, kids' clothing, and health care.

This kind of percolate-up economics works for the many, not just the wealthiest few — and that helps to restore a little bit of moral balance to a society now being torn apart by gross inequality. For more information on raising today's poverty wage, go to www.TimeForARaise.org.

Published: Friday 24 August 2012
“To understand how all this happened, it’s worth returning to Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Citizens United, and the political system the court envisioned.”

 

The emergence of nonprofits as the leading conduit for anonymous spending in this year's presidential campaign is often attributed to the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which opened the money spigot, allowing corporations and unions to buy ads urging people to vote for or against specific candidates.

But a closer look shows that there are several reasons that tens of millions of dollars of secret money are flooding this year's campaign. Actions — and inaction — by both the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have contributed just as much to the flood of tens of millions of dollars of secret money into the 2012 campaign. Congress did not act on a bill that would have required disclosure after Citizens United and other court rulings opened the door to secret political spending.

To understand how all this happened, it's worth returning to Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion in Citizens United, and the political system the court envisioned. In the decision's key finding, Kennedy and four other justices said the First Amendment entitled corporations and unions to the same unlimited rights of political speech and spending as any citizen.

But in a less-noticed portion of the ruling, Kennedy and seven of his colleagues upheld ...

Published: Wednesday 22 August 2012
“The fossil-fuel industry is fully developed after many decades of government help. Going up against a fully-developed industry like oil and coal is enormously expensive, and the industry is trying to block We, the People from triggering private investment to help get us out from under its grip.”

There has been a recent flurry of propaganda attacks on wind and solar energy by oil-and-coal-backed conservatives. A vitally important tax credit to help build a renewable energy industry in this country expires at the end of this year without Congressional action, and the old oil and coal industries -- along with certain other countries -- want to make sure it does expire.

Background

The fossil-fuel industry is fully developed after many decades of government help. Going up against a fully-developed industry like oil and coal is enormously expensive, and the industry is trying to block We, the People from triggering private investment to help get us out from under its grip. It has nothing to do with government interfering in markets, or "picking winners and losers," this is about us helping offset the enormous competitive advantage oil and coal have due to government investment and assistance in oil and coal in prior decades. We do this because We, the People see the benefits and prosperity that will come to us from developing these alternative energy industries.

Oil and coal are, to put it mildly, entrenched in our economy, and, to put it mildly, make out very, very well because of that. Various forms of government assistance put them there and keeps them there. Aside from direct help like the tax breaks to the companies themselves and keeping taxes low at the pump (compare the cost of gas here to other countries), there are support structures like the cost of the vast military complex that keeps the oil flowing, building roads instead of rail, etc., and then of course there's the cost to us of that whole "let them dump their waste products into the environment for free" thing.

As a result vast ecosystem supporting the oil and coal industries has been built up over the decades. Delivery systems like pipelines, rail lines, gas stations, etc. are ...

Published: Tuesday 21 August 2012
“More homeowners have received assistance through reforms and changes made to the private modification and refinancing process, and even more are sure to benefit from the $25-billion mortgage settlement between large banks and the federal government and state attorneys generals reached this year.”

It is hardly a secret that the Obama administration’s programs to bolster the housing market and help struggling homeowners have failed to meet expectations — Obama admitted so himself last year, when he said his administration was “going back to the drawing board” to expand those programs. The slow progress in housing, as the New York Times detailed today, has “remained a millstone” around the economy’s neck, even though the programs have helped millions of homeowners: the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) and Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) have helped more than 3.6 million people refinance or  READ FULL POST 5 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 21 August 2012
“However, Biden also lives in a city where calling for cuts to Social Security is the way to demonstrate your manhood. The bigger the cuts and the more frequent the calls, the higher your status.”

 

Last week Vice President Joe Biden did a courageous thing, he promised an audience in southern Virginia that there will be no cuts whatsoever to Social Security in a second Obama Administration. He used the strongest possible language, telling customers at a local diner: “I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you.”

That was good to hear from the Vice President. Since the Obama Administration had several times indicated that it would be willing to cut Social Security as part of a “Grand Bargain” on the budget, it was encouraging to hear Mr. Biden make such an unambiguous commitment. While nothing in politics can be taken as 100 percent certain, this is about as good as you get.

On the one hand, Biden’s commitment may not seem very courageous. After all, he is running for office and Social Security is the most popular program on the table. It draws approval ratings close to 80 percent from Republicans, conservatives, and even Tea Party supporters. Backing Social Security in this context might just seem like cheap politics, which it may well be.

However, Biden also lives in a city where calling for cuts to Social Security is the way to demonstrate your manhood. The bigger the cuts and the more frequent the calls, the higher your status. And, there are plenty of rewards for those politicians who go down fighting for Social Security cuts. Just check out the salaries for the lobbying jobs of the Blue Dog Democrats who have left office in recent ...

Published: Monday 20 August 2012
“An Akin spokesperson explained to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent why Akin believes that it is wrong for the United States to feed needy children, and his explanation is a doozy.”

 

As ThinkProgress previously reported, U.S. Senate candidate Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin (R-MO) believes the federal government should “end its support for school lunch programs,” and his votes reflect his hostility towards the idea that the richest country in the world should ensure that its children have adequate nutrition. Akin was one of just five members of Congress to oppose the bipartisan Child Nutrition Improvement and Integrity Act, which streamlined the process for children to qualify for free or reduced priced school lunches and expanded a program providing local produce to schools.

An Akin spokesperson explained to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent why Akin believes that it is wrong for the United States to feed needy children, and his explanation is a doozy:

Steve Taylor, a spokesman for Congressman Akin, confirmed the above votes and said they reflect Akin’s beliefs.

“As a principled conservative, he has always stood for limited government and for supporting authorizations that fall within the framework of our United States Constitution,” Taylor said. “Those are principles that guide him.”

So Akin believes that school lunch programs are unconstitutional, which probably ...

Published: Monday 20 August 2012
The commission, which proved to be a bust, was headed by co-chairs named by the president. For the Republicans, who since its inception have wanted to destroy this last vestige of the New Deal, it was former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a cadaverous wretch of a man who promptly called the program a “milk cow with 300 million tits.”

 

If you want to know how moribund the Democratic Party is, how completely owned by Wall Street the president is, and how sick our national politics have become, just consider Social Security.

The president, earlier in his term, convened a “blue ribbon” panel, supposedly composed of a “broad spectrum” of opinions from liberal to conservative,” to come up with a plan to “reform” the system.

At issue: It is known that because of the huge number of Baby Boomers -- people born between 1946 and 1964 -- just starting to hit retirement age, and the general aging of the population, the Trust Fund composed of revenues paid into the system by working people will be depleted by about 2033. That would leave current worker taxes covering just 78% of the benefits promised to be paid out the same year, unless something is done sooner to increase revenues or decrease the rate of payouts of those benefits.

The commission, which proved to be a bust, was headed by co-chairs named by the president. For the Republicans, who since its inception have wanted to destroy this last vestige of the New Deal, it was former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a cadaverous wretch of a man who promptly called the program a “milk cow with 300 million tits.” ‘Nuff said there. Nice pick Barack.

As for his Democratic co-chair, the president named Erskine Bowles. If you wanted to know the views of this former congressman and Clinton advisor on Social Security, you need only learn that in 2011 at a public event, he praised Rep. Paul Ryan, now Mitt Romney's choice for VP, who has said he wants to privatize Social Security, and condemned the president’s last budget proposal as a joke. Barack sure knows how to pick ‘em. Bowles ...

Published: Monday 20 August 2012
“His budget implies that after three decades the federal government will have no money to spend on health research, education, highways, airports, and other infrastructure, the Food and Drug Administration and most other activities that we associate with the federal government.”

 

If the news media had to work for a living, this is what they would all be asking right now. The reason is simple. The projections the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) made for Representative Ryan's budget imply that he literally wants to shut down the federal government.

His budget implies that after three decades the federal government will have no money to spend on health research, education, highways, airports, and other infrastructure, the Food and Drug Administration and most other activities that we associate with the federal government. His budget has money for Social Security, Medicare and other health programs and the Defense Department. That's it.

This is not a vicious anti-Ryan attack coming from hyper-partisan Democrats. This is what the analysis of his budget by the non-partisan CBO shows. It's right there in the fifth row of Table 2.
The table shows that in 2040, Representative Ryan would allot an amount equal to 4.75 percent of GDP to all these other areas of government including defense spending. By 2050, Ryan's allocation for these areas, including defense, falls to 3.75 percent of GDP.

The defense budget is currently a bit over 4.0 percent of GDP. Ryan has indicated that he would like to maintain or even increase this level of spending. The arithmetic is then straightforward. In 2040, Ryan would leave less than 0.75 percent of GDP for areas of spending that currently require more than five times this amount. In 2050, all these areas of spending would literally have to be zeroed out as defense spending will take up every cent and more that Ryan has left in his budget.

It is important to understand that CBO tried to accurately present the implications of the budget that Representative Ryan gave them. CBO works for Congress. These are career civil servants. They cannot be easily fired, but if CBO's staff deliberately misrepresented a ...

Published: Monday 20 August 2012
“Oddly enough, while poll after poll shows that most Americans no longer trust our basic institutions, they continue to believe the people who run them got where they are on basis of superior merit and talent.”

 

How Romney Could Win the Presidency And Save the Republic (And Why He Won’t)

 

At this perilous moment in the nation’s history, nobody is better positioned to restore public trust  - or take the White House back for the Republicans – than Mitt Romney. My prediction is that he won’t do either because he believes he can do one (win the presidency) without the other (restoring public trust).

 

Oddly enough, while poll after poll shows that most Americans no longer trust our basic institutions, they continue to believe the people who run them got where they are on basis of superior merit and talent.  This belief flies in the face of mounting evidence of corruption and incompetence at the top.

 

Despite a steady stream of news about scandals in business (WorldCom, Enron), banking and finance (Countrywide, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase), journalism (Iraq War, WMD, and Judith Miller), sports (Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and doping), and, of course, politics (Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Keating Five, NSA warrantless surveillance), the public is still being gulled into believing what corporate media shills say about everything from global warming to health care.

 

Few public policy issues are more confusing and convoluted that our bizarre federal income tax code. The system, like the political and business elites who created it and now shamelessly perpetuate it, is designed to deceive most of the people most of the time.

 

Most middle-class taxpayers know the system is rigged in favor of corporate interests and wealthy individuals, but few understand when or how it happened – or the real reasons why. Indeed, the winners like it that way and reward politicians and journalists ...

Published: Sunday 19 August 2012
“The increase in disease, the association contends, is confined to pockets of central Appalachia and is the result of miners breathing more dust from ground-up rock, not coal.”

Research supports an Obama administration plan to reduce coal miners’ exposure to the dust that causes black lung, a much-anticipated Government Accountability Office report released Friday found.

Last December, House Republicans inserted language into an appropriations bill requiring the study. No money could be used to implement a proposed coal mine dust rule until the GAO evaluated the research underpinning it, the rider said.

The GAO report lends support to one piece of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration’s efforts to address a resurgence of black lung, particularly in parts of Appalachia. A Center for Public Integrity-NPR investigation in July found that the disease has returned amid widespread cheating on required dust sampling by some mining companies and enforcement lapses by MSHA.

In October 2010, the agency proposed cutting in half the amount of dust to ...

Published: Thursday 16 August 2012
Question: If you mix a cocktail of "black liquor," biofuels, diesel and a generous splash of tax subsidies — then have it shaken vigorously by a U.S. senator and served in a golden goblet by corporate lobbyists — what do you call it? Answer: Koch Brothers Moonshine.

 

Question: If you mix a cocktail of "black liquor," biofuels, diesel and a generous splash of tax subsidies — then have it shaken vigorously by a U.S. senator and served in a golden goblet by corporate lobbyists — what do you call it? Answer: Koch Brothers Moonshine.

Black liquor is the key ingredient here, though don't mistake it for an adult beverage like Johnnie Walker "black label" scotch or the relatively new wine named "Black Box." No one drinks this black liquor moonshine. But fasten the seatbelt on your barstool, for you do pick up the tab for it — and the billionaire Koch boys do appreciate your civic generosity.

What we have here is an alcoholic sludge. Yuck! Yeah, you would never imbibe the nasty goo, which is a byproduct of the papermaking process, but it is a useful fue

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2012
Ryan’s version is updated slightly, claiming that if Congress removes enough loopholes and tax expenditures, the resulting spurt of growth will reach 5 percent, 10 percent or even more.

By naming Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has endorsed what used to be known as "voodoo economics" — and restored that special brand of Republican superstition to the center of national debate.

To take Ryan seriously, as all too many pundits and politicians insist we must, requires everyone to behave as if the plans he produced as House Budget Committee chairman represent a meaningful effort to improve the nation's fiscal future. Sooner or later, however, real analysts will scrutinize the Ryan budget using honest math instead of humbug and magic.

In fact, they already have done so — and that is where the myth of Ryan as a serious, scrupulous and bold reformer begins to disintegrate.

As close observers know, the Wisconsin congressman wants to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans even more sharply than George W. Bush, whose tax policies caused the bulk of the deficits that provoke so much righteous anger among Republicans like Ryan today. In Ryan's budget, his tax cuts leave an enormous revenue gap, even with the absurdly destructive spending cuts he also proposes.

But according to Ryan, we need not worry that his plan will increase fiscal deficits as well as the deficits it will assuredly worsen in infrastructure, education, health care, environmental quality, consumer protection and scientific research. He says that his tax cuts, which naturally favor the wealthiest Americans, will pay for themselves by creating a huge, rapid spurt of economic growth — which will result in higher tax revenues to cover the deficit.

Where have we heard this before? There was the original Reagan version, and then later the Bush version, which relied on a gimmick called "dynamic scoring" to create the same fake equation. Ryan's version is updated slightly, claiming that if Congress removes enough loopholes and ...

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2012
Published: Wednesday 15 August 2012
“With so many human needs being unattended to here on Earth, the argument went, we should not be spending billions on space.”

When Curiosity touched down on Mars, joy erupted at NASA's lab in Pasadena, Calif., and national pride swelled. America the Demoralized had briefly vanished. Our research instruments were going where no research instruments had gone before. America was back at its game.

 

The Mars landing cost a cool $2.5 billion. No doubt, the folks at NASA wanted this voyage to drum up interest in the space program at a time when budgets everywhere are under attack. They've done a good, convincing job of it.

 

In olden days, the loudest calls for slashing the space program came from the left. With so many human needs being unattended to here on Earth, the argument went, we should not be spending billions on space. Fortunately, those protests went unheeded. We are now harvesting the fruit of decades in which Americans were willing to pay for space exploration, even though their tax rates were a lot higher than they are currently.

 

Nowadays, the demands for radical budget chopping emerge chiefly from the right, except when it comes to military spending (though a few conservatives are looking there, as well). And so we see The Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Spending We Can Believe In complaining that the "sequester" requiring $500 billion in the defense spending cuts will be a jobs killer. "Military jobs are on the block," she writes, "but the bulk of the pink slips will come from private businesses — from giant defense companies on down to smaller businesses that are the economic mainstays of their communities."

 

I've always been intrigued by the notion, popular among big-spending Republicans, that when taxpayer dollars are sent to private companies, they magically turn into free-market investments. Anyhow, let's have a Time Out.

 

Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012
Samuel Wurzlbacher — known to most as Joe the Plumber — made an inappropriate comment about how to solve the country’s immigration problem.

Samuel Wurzlbacher — known to most as Joe the Plumber — made an appearance at a fundraiser for a Republican Arizona State Senator candidate over the weekend, and told the audience that the way to solve the country’s immigration problem is to station troops along the border and have them “start shooting.”

The comment was first made at a Friday evening fundraising dinner for Lori Klein, the Republican candidate for her state senate district:

“For years I’ve said, you know, put a damn fence on the border going to Mexico and start shooting. I’m running for Congress and that should be a bad thing to say. But you know what, it’s how I feel…I want my borders protected, I’m very very adamant about that.”

The dinner attracted both Wurzelbacher, who is running for Congress in Ohio, and infamous conspiracy theorist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, along with 125 supporters. His comment was met with nervous laughter, as seen in a video shot by local news outlet Prescott eNews.

Lest anyone think that Wurzelbacher somehow misspoke, he repeated the outrageous comment the following morning at another campaign event for Klein, an outdoor “Patriot rally” in Prescott:

“I’m running for Congress. How many congressmen or people running for Congress have you heard, put a fence up and start shooting? None? Well you heard it here first. Put troops on the border and start shooting, I bet that solves our immigration problem real quick.”

Wurzelbacher’s comments were met with swift condemnation from his Democratic opponent, Rep. Marcy Kaptur ...

Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is in a dead heat with two other candidates in the state's GOP U.S. Senate primary.

For months, Republican Tommy Thompson, a former four-term Wisconsin governor, was the favorite to become the next U.S. senator from the state, filling the seat occupied by retiring Democrat Herb Kohl, and boosting GOP hopes of gaining control of Congress’ upper chamber.

But thanks to $3.4 million in spending by outside groups and an ongoing ideological divide within the Republican Party, Thompson may not even make it through Tuesday’s primary, much less win the general election.

Thompson’s main primary rivals are former Rep. Mark Neumann, the favored candidate of the increasingly influential super PAC Club for Growth Action, and businessman Eric Hovde, who has invested millions of dollars of his own money in his candidacy.

Club for Growth Action has spent $1.7 million on ads, more than any other non-candidate organization, with about $1.2 million going toward criticizing Neumann’s opponents.

As a super PAC, the organization can accept unlimited funds from corporations and individual donors and spend that money on advertising as long as it is not coordinated with candidates’ own ...

Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012
The case for decentralizing Congress.

 

Most everyone agrees Washington is over-run with lobbyists and completely disconnected from the rest of the nation. So then why continue to allow our government to operate from there full-time? In this day and age of Skype, web-conferencing and so forth, what good reason is there for our elected leaders to spend as much time as they do in this graveyard of noble intentions and common decency?

What if instead, we brought our representatives home and made them live in the communities they’ve forsaken for the false realities that have been erected and perpetuated inside the bubble of Washington?

Congress has long been dysfunctional, but it is now also historically unproductive. Yet the only time most constituents ever see their representative is at campaign rallies or the occasional public event…often just a campaign stop in disguise. So despite an abundance of time thanks to lack of job performance – and frequent claims of love and fealty notwithstanding ...

Published: Monday 13 August 2012
This is a crucial moment in the life of our nation, and it is absolutely vital that we select the right man to lead America back to prosperity and greatness.

 

As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney names Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice presidential running mate, we speak with two Wisconsinites about the seven-term congressman's record, and how his views are influenced by the controversial philosopher, Ayn Rand. "This is not necessarily a foolish choice by Romney," says John Nichols, political writer for The Nation magazine. "It is an extreme choice and it does define the national Republican Party toward a place where the Wisconsin Republican Party is — which is very anti-labor, willing to make deep cuts in education, public services, and frankly, very combative on issues like voter ID and a host of other things that really go to the core question of how successful and how functional our democracy will be." Ryan is chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and architect of a controversial budget plan to cut federal spending by more than $5 trillion over the next 10 years. "Ryan gets a lot of mileage for understanding so-called the budget and economics," says Matthew Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. "But if you look closely, he doesn't really get it." Democrats argue Ryan's planned Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform would essentially dismantle key components of the social safety net.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the latest news in the U.S. presidential race. On Saturday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan, now 42, was elected to the House of Representatives at 28. He’s a Republican representative. He’s also chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. He spoke in Virginia right after his selection was made.

REP. PAUL RYAN: I’ve been ...

Published: Monday 13 August 2012
It's the arrival and proliferation of "unmanned vehicle systems," soon to be buzzing around the airspace of your own town.

 

Get ready, America. Here comes "the next latest and greatest thing in aviation." Wow, what could it be? Maybe the airlines are going to drop all of their ridiculous rip-off fees. That'd be great!

No, no, not that kind of aviation. You probably won't find this breakthrough so great. It's the arrival and proliferation of "unmanned vehicle systems," soon to be buzzing around the airspace of your own town.

Yes, drones, right here at home. Those very same pilotless, remote-controlled, undetectable planes that the CIA has been secretly using to spy on and bomb people in Pakistan and elsewhere are headed to our local police departments, FBI offices, and...well, who knows who else will have these toys?

All we know is that Congress — under pressure from Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other big drone peddlers — directed the Federal Aviation Agency earlier this year to open up civilian air space to thousands of them by 2015. And, in their wisdom, our loosey-goosey lawmakers provided no regulation of who can have drones, how many, or for what purposes.

So prepare to be pestered and monitored, for police agencies and corporate interests are said to be abuzz about getting their own. The first ones are expected to be used for high-altitude surveillance, which is worrisome enough. But consider this: A Texas sheriff's office that has already bought a "ShadowHawk" drone says it might outfit the little buzzer to fire tear gas and rubber bullets.

No worries, though. The drone industry's lobbying group has drafted a two-page code of conduct urging purchasers to "respect the privacy of individuals."

How nice. Only, it's a voluntary code — and totally unenforceable.

Published: Monday 13 August 2012
A few frenzied super-rich political donors have apparently gulped the Kool-Aid of America’s delusional right wing.

 

Why do the mega rich in the United States feel so put upon? Their incomes are rising, after all, and the taxes they pay have never been lower since the 1920s.

In fact, even if lawmakers in Congress passed 100 percent of President Obama’s tax plan, America’s rich would still be paying taxes at less than half the top rate that America’s richest faced back in the 1950s.

America’s wealthiest, given this ever so friendly political lay of the land, ought to be kicking back and living care-free. But that’s not happening. This election cycle appears to have America’s super rich in a feverish frenzy. They’re pouring money into the 2012 elections at all-time record rates.

What’s behind this deluge of campaign cash? A few frenzied super-rich political donors have apparently gulped the Kool-Aid of America’s delusional right wing. President Obama, these crazed deep pockets almost seem to believe, has tumbrils waiting to cart them off to the guillotines once he wins a second term.

But most of our super rich remain eminently reality-based. They know full well that the rich in other major developed nations face political challenges far more unnerving than anything that confronts deep pockets in the United States.

In France, for instance, the lawmakers elected this past spring will be taking action this September to raise the tax rate on income over 1 million euros, the equivalent of $1.24 million, from 44 to 75 percent.

The tax plan President Obama has announced, by contrast, will only hike the top-bracket U.S. rate from 35 to 39.6 percent — and no one in Congress has anything remotely close to a majority for ...

Published: Sunday 12 August 2012
There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages, and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor.

The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behavior of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.

Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in England were rigging the Libor in the fall of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do.

The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages, and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks.

Bernanke certainly had an obligation as Fed chair to expose and stop this rigging, which was interfering with the proper working of U.S. and world financial markets. But hey, Mervyn King didn’t want to take any action, what could Bernanke possibly do?

It is truly incredible that Bernanke would make such a statement to Congress and the public. There was nothing he could do about the rigging?

Suppose that he told the head of the Bank of England that he had no choice but to stop the rigging. Bernanke could have said that if King doesn’t immediately take the necessary steps to end the rigging then he would hold a press conference in which he would publicly display the evidence of the rigging and report King’s failure to take action.

Is it conceivable that this threat would have left King unmoved? Would King continue to tolerate ...

Published: Saturday 11 August 2012
The GOP is counting on America’s notoriously short-term memory to blot out the last time the nation put a Republican into the Oval Office, on the reasonable assumption that such a memory might cause voters to avoid making the same mistake twice.

As Bill Clinton is resurrected by the Democrats, George W. Bush is being erased by the GOP — as if an entire eight years of American history hadn’t happened.

While Bill Clinton stumps for Obama, Romney has gone out of his way not to mention the name of the president who came after Clinton and before Obama.

Clinton will have a starring role at the Democratic National Convention. George W. Bush won’t even be at the Republican one – the first time a national party has not given the stage at its convention to its most recent occupant of the Oval Office who successfully ran for reelection.

The GOP is counting on America’s notoriously short-term memory to blot out the last time the nation put a Republican into the Oval Office, on the reasonable assumption that such a memory might cause voters to avoid making the same mistake twice. As whoever-it-was once said, “fool me once …” (and then mangled the rest).

Republicans want to obliterate any trace of the administration that told America there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and led us into a devastating war; turned a $5 trillion projected budget surplus into a $6 trillion deficit; gave the largest tax cut in a generation to the richest Americans in history; handed out a mountain of corporate welfare to the oil and gas industry, pharmaceutical companies, and military contractors like Halliburton (uniquely benefiting the vice president); whose officials turned a blind eye to Wall Street shenanigans that led to the worst financial calamity since the Great Crash of 1929 and then persuaded Congress to bail out the Street with the largest taxpayer-funded giveaway of all time.

Besides, the resemblances between George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are too close for comfort. Both were born into wealth, sons of prominent politicians who themselves ran for president; both are closely tied to ...

Published: Friday 10 August 2012
“Fast-forward to the present debate over impending budget cuts. Incredibly, the same Republican Party that once insisted the government can’t create jobs is now barnstorming the country telling us the government can, in fact, create jobs — lots of them.”

I'm confused by Republicans in Washington, and here's why: For most of President Obama's term, they have ignored the millions of jobs the Congressional Budget Office says the 2009 stimulus legislation created and instead argued that the government is incapable of boosting employment. Summing up the larger sentiment, Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) in 2011 said "government spending doesn't create jobs," and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) insisted in 2010 that "it's not the government that's going to create jobs in this country."

Fast-forward to the present debate over impending budget cuts. Incredibly, the same Republican Party that once insisted the government can't create jobs is now barnstorming the country telling us the government can, in fact, create jobs — lots of them.

This isn't an exaggeration. As The Hill newspaper reports, Republican senators — many of whom suggested government can't create jobs — are hosting town hall meetings to sound the alarm about how proposed defense spending reductions "would cause significant job losses" and therefore hurt the economy.

Ayotte's rhetorical paroxysms are especially illustrative — and perplexing. In a CNN interview to promote the events, the New Hampshire senator — the same lawmaker who said, "it's not the government that's going to create jobs" — implored Americans to "think about (the Pentagon cuts) in terms of jobs, 136,000 defense jobs in Virginia. They have to issue layoff notices before the election, so members of Congress need to come together on this."

So, as I said, I'm confused. Do Republicans believe government cannot create jobs? Or do Republicans believe the government is so good at creating jobs that we can't even minimally reduce the largest military budget in the world for fear of layoffs?

Because of the rhetorical backflips, ...

Published: Wednesday 8 August 2012
“Whatever hardships befall the victims of such occasional mischief, it’s not clear that we should be any happier when the programs are working as planned.”

The Knight Capital debacle last week gave us yet another example of the financial system run amok. The company’s computers were apparently misprogrammed. As a result, they caused wild gyrations in the price of several major stocks. This incident naturally brings back memories of the “flash crash” two years ago, when programmed trading sent stock prices plummeting by close to 10 percent for no reason whatsoever. In the era of high-speed trading, it seems that such events are inevitable.

Whatever hardships befall the victims of such occasional mischief, it’s not clear that we should be any happier when the programs are working as planned. After all, many of these programs are designed to pick up large trades and effectively jump in ahead of the trader.

For example, if a major investor or mutual fund was in the process of selling a large amount of G.E. stock, a high-speed program may detect the movement. The high-speed trader could then short G.E. stock and buy it back immediately after the big sale and get a guaranteed profit. This has the same effect on the stock market as insider trading. Insider trading is bad for markets because it means that normal investors will get a smaller share of the gains. The same holds true with the high-speed trading platforms that now dominate the market.

A modest financial speculation tax can go a long way to putting an end to such practices and bringing the markets back to earth. It can also raise large amounts of money. A bill proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio would impose a tax of just 0.03 percent on trades. According to the Joint Tax Committee of Congress, it would raise more than $350 billion in its first nine years. A set of taxes more in line with the 0.5 percent tax that the United Kingdom imposes on stock trades could raise 

Published: Monday 6 August 2012
“For the past two years the Republicans have obstructed proposals that would have helped most Americans.”

There are more than five, of course, and voting Democrat may not be much of an improvement, but attaching these adjectives to the comically contemptible GOP seems more than appropriate.

 



OBSTRUCTIONIST

 


In 2010 Mitch McConnell said: "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." He didn't mention the economy, or education, or jobs, or the housing market. Instead, the goal is to beat Obama, whatever misery it might cause 200 million Americans.



For the past two years the Republicans have obstructed proposals that would have helped most Americans. They fought the middle-class tax cut because it would only apply to the first quarter-million of income. They killed a jobs bill that was supported by two-thirds of the public. They rejected a bill to disclose information about big campaign donors. They disrupted the routine process of increasing the debt ceiling, thus triggering the first-ever downgrading of the U.S. credit rating. Most recently they've obstructed efforts to provide mortgage debt relief to American homeowners.


Along the way they found time to obstruct other bills that conflicted with their 'austerity' mentality: a Pay Equity Bill that would have provided greater pay equality for women; a bill to limit student loan rates; a transportation bill that Senator Dick Durbin called one of the "easiest bills to do on Capitol Hill"; a demand for a $16 million cut in the FAA budget that led to a $25 million PER DAY shutdown.


Republicans in Congress, by relying on questionable filibuster rules and delay tactics, have built a "road to gridlock" in the halls of our government. They have been even less productive than the "do-nothing" Congress of Harry Truman. As observed by George Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling, their recalcitrance ...

Published: Monday 6 August 2012
“It could cost seniors $30,000, $40,000 or more to buy health insurance, for example - that is, if they could afford it at all.”

 

Yesterday I got an email for the President's birthday inviting me to sign an e-card (and no doubt asking for contributions, too.) The subject line, "Big Birthday," could have been about another landmark: Today, August 5, the Federal income tax turned 151 years old.

Now that's a big birthday. Bring out the balloons and party hats.

I can hear people saying, "Is this guy crazy? Doesn't he pay taxes? Who likes giving up a big chunk of money?"

Yes, I pay my taxes, and there are lots of other bills on the family table. Among other things I'm a small business owner, and our ongoing "invisible recession" has taken a toll on my income. Under the circumstances I can't say I like paying taxes. Or, more precisely, I don't enjoy the process. But then I think about what it would cost us, financially and otherwise, not to have the Federal income tax.

It could cost seniors $30,000, $40,000 or more to buy health insurance, for example - that is, if they could afford it at all. And what would it cost to use the public highways if they'd been built for profit - $500 per year? $5,000? Then there are those things the private sector wouldn't bother with at all, like disease prevention. I'd guess we'd just get sick more often.

When I think about that I become downright grateful. So Happy 151st Birthday, Federal income tax! May you have many more to come.

Our Little Bundle of Joy

It's a tax! President Abraham Lincoln and the Congress of the United States are pleased to announce the arrival of the Federal income tax. Name: The Revenue Act of 1861. Date of birth: August 5, 1861. Place of birth: Washington DC.

1861: The Civil War was straining the Federal government's budget. There were fears that the Confederacy ...

Published: Sunday 5 August 2012
The United States has not “declared war” against another country since Pearl Harbor; however, it has engaged in a series of losing wars ever since.

Once again the United States is engaging in a war it is destined to lose.  Add Syria to the long list of nations where the United States has unnecessarily used military force to its disadvantage since the end of World War II.

There is an alternative to waging war against other nations and their people, and the United States will continue losing such wars until it adopts a better strategy.

The United States has not "declared war" against another country since Pearl Harbor; however, it has engaged in a series of losing wars ever since.  Unlike World War II, which resulted in the complete defeat and unconditional surrender of enemy forces, these wars were not fought to defend the United States against military attack.  To the contrary, they were wars of convenience fought to advance the economic and political agenda of the United States government.

In the absence of clear-cut victories, the passage of time has demonstrated, repeatedly, that these wars have wasted trillions of dollars and millions of lives.  In every case, the war resulted in a loss of prestige and advantage for the U.S.  In other words, the United States lost these wars.

The only beneficiary of these wars has been the military industrial complex and those who profit from the excesses and violence of war.  Unfortunately, "they" have come to control the U.S. government and the means of communication.  Thus, they can easily start wars for profit and successfully peddle the wars to those who pay the price, in the lives of their children and their hard-earned taxes.

In every one of these wars, it is possible to identify an individual or small group of individuals who were engaging in conduct that may or may not have been dangerous to the safety and security of the United States, but which was always contrary to the best interests of their own people.

Published: Saturday 4 August 2012
“Forget that the government is increasingly trampling on the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, with a burgeoning surveillance program and a growing militarization of the police.”

We Americans are taught it in school. The propaganda put out by Voice of America repeats the idea ad nauseum around the globe. Politicians refer to it in every campaign speech with the same fervor that they claim to be running for office in response to God’s call: America is a model of democracy for the whole world.

But what kind of democracy is it really that we have here?

Forget that only half of eligible voters typically vote in quadrennial presidential elections (less than 30% in so-called “off-year” elections for members of the House and a third of the Senate, and less than 25% in municipal and state elections). Forget that the government is increasingly trampling on the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, with a burgeoning surveillance program and a growing militarization of the police.

The US government doesn’t even do what the majority of the citizens want. In fact, these days it flat out ignores what we the people want.

Consider the polls, and what they show public sentiment to be on key issues, and then look at what the government, composed of supposedly elected representatives and an elected president, actually does:

1. Military spending

Most polls show that Americans, tired of the endless wars that have been raging almost without pause since the end of World War II, and the huge amount of taxes devoted to the military (currently over $1 trillion per year!), favor cutting the military. Just recently, the Center for Public Integrity conducted a poll and found that when asked whether they wanted to cut funding for education, veterans’ benefits, homeland security and other areas, or military spending, 65% of people said they wanted military spending to get the axe. Overall, people favored an 18% cut in the military budget. Democrats wanted a 22% cut, while even Republicans, usually perceived as pro-military, ...

Published: Saturday 4 August 2012
Published: Saturday 4 August 2012
“Nearly every Republican in the Senate, nearly every Republican in the House and the Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney, all support tax plans which would cut taxes for the 2% of households that earn more than $250,000, but also raise taxes on millions of Americans among the poor and middle class.”

It is often stated as fact that Democrats always want to raise taxes and Republicans always want to lower taxes.

We now know this to be false.

Nearly every Republican in the Senate, nearly every Republican in the House and the Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney, all support tax plans which would cut taxes for the 2% of households that earn more than $250,000, but also raise taxes on millions of Americans among the poor and middle class.

Meanwhile, Democrats recently passed tax cuts designed for the poor and middle class only, in President's Obama recession-stopping Recovery Act.

And Congress could have easily extended both the Bush and Obama tax cuts for those in the 98% ... if the House Republicans didn't just reject the Senate Democratic bill.

Republicans have been alluding to their belief that rich people pay too much and poor people pay too little for some time, without being blunt enough to get into trouble. "47% of Americans don't pay income taxes" they cry, "broaden the base."

Instead of ...

Published: Thursday 2 August 2012
Published: Thursday 2 August 2012
Published: Thursday 2 August 2012
“Today, just days before legislators will head home or back to the campaign trail for the August recess, the United States Postal Service will default — for the first time in history — on a $5.5 billion payment meant to fund future retirees’ benefits.”

 

Last summer, the House of Representatives set aside arduous debt ceiling negotiations to focus on a longstanding congressional pastime: renaming post offices.

Today, just days before legislators will head home or back to the campaign trail for the August recess, the United States Postal Service will default — for the first time in history — on a $5.5 billion payment meant to fund future retirees’ benefits.

During the 112th Congress, the House has introduced 60 bills to rename post offices. In fact, of the 151 laws ...

Published: Thursday 2 August 2012
“Crediting Symantec, he said the theft of intellectual property costs American companies $250 billion a year.”

 

Gen. Keith Alexander is the director of the National Security Agency and oversees U.S. Cyber Command, which means he leads the government’s effort to protect America from cyberattacks. Due to the secretive nature of his job, he maintains a relatively low profile, so when he does speak, people listen closely. On July 9, Alexander addressed a crowded room at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and though he started with a few jokes — his mother said he had a face for radio, behind every general is a stunned father-in-law — he soon got down to business.

Alexander warned that cyberattacks are causing “the greatest transfer of wealth in history,” and he cited statistics from, among other sources, Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc., which both sell software to protect computers from hackers. Crediting Symantec, he said the theft of intellectual property costs American companies $250 billion a year. He also mentioned a McAfee estimate that the global cost of cybercrime is $1 trillion. "That’s our future disappearing in front of us," he said, urging Congress to enact legislation to improve America’s cyberdefenses.

Published: Wednesday 1 August 2012
“Despite slightly lower oil and gasoline prices over the past three months, these companies still made a combined $236,000 per minute this year.”

Second-Quarter Earnings Race Ahead, Boosted by Tax Breaks

Middle-class families may have gotten some relief in the second quarter of 2012 due to slightly lower gasoline prices compared to the first quarter of the year, but billions of dollars in big profits continue to pile up at the Big Oil companies. In the first half of 2012, the five biggest oil companies—BP plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell Group—earned a combined $62.2 billion, or $341 million per day. This compares to an average dip in the average price of gas at the pump for American consumers of a mere 3 cents per gallon between the first and second quarters.

Despite slightly lower oil and gasoline prices over the past three months, these companies still made a combined $236,000 per minute this year. This income is more than what 96 percent of American households earn in an entire year.

Table

Profits continued to grow for ExxonMobil and Chevron, while dropping slightly for ConocoPhillips and Shell compared to last year. ExxonMobil saw a 67 percent increase in profits while Chevron enjoyed an 11 percent increase. The New York Times reported that these slightly lower profits compared to the second quarter of 2011 were linked to “international benchmark prices for oil [which] had declined by more than 7 percent in the second quarter, compared to the same period last year when turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East caused a spike in oil ...

Published: Tuesday 31 July 2012
“Many of the same folks who brought the economy to ruin just a few years ago are now going to come up with a plan that is supposed to set the budget and the economy on a forward path. ”

 

Many people are following the presidential election closely with the idea that the outcome will have a major impact on national policy. However, according to Steven Pearlstein, a veteran Washington Post columnist and reporter, it may not matter who wins the election. In a column last week, Pearlstein told readers that the top executives of some of the country’s largest companies are getting together to craft a budget package that they will try to push through Congress and get the president to sign.

While Pearlstein clearly sees these backroom meetings of corporate chieftains in positive terms (he refers to them as “grown-ups” who have been noticeably absent from the conversation about the budget), the rest of us might view this plotting a bit differently. As Pearlstein openly acknowledges, this corporate coup is an end-run around the electorate. As corrupt as the political process may have become, at least we will get a vote in the election. Pearlstein’s plotters are not inviting the rest of us into the conversation.

Many of the same folks who brought the economy to ruin just a few years ago are now going to come up with a plan that is supposed to set the budget and the economy on a forward path. At the center of their proposal are big cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

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Published: Sunday 29 July 2012
“President Obama has apparently decided against advancing any bold ideas for what he’d do in the second term, even if he has a Congress that would cooperate with him.”

 

The worst economy since the Great Depression and you might think at least one of the candidates would come up with a few big ideas for how to get us out of it.

But you’d be wrong. Neither candidate wants to take any chances by offering any large, serious proposals. Both are banking instead on negative campaigns that convince voters the other guy would be worse.

President Obama has apparently decided against advancing any bold ideas for what he’d do in the second term, even if he has a Congress that would cooperate with him. 

He’s sticking to a worn script that says George W. Bush caused the lousy economy, congressional Republicans have opposed everything he’s wanted to do to boost it, it’s slowly on the mend anyway, the Bush tax cuts shouldn’t be extended for the rich, and we shouldn’t take a chance electing Romney.

Yet the public wants bigger ideas from the President, and wants to know what he’ll do in his second term to get us out of this mess. A New York Times-CBS News poll released last week showed that a majority of voters believe the president “can do a lot about” the economy. That’s a double-digit jump from the fall of 2011.

The President could propose a new WPA, modeled after the Depression-era jobs program that hired hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, or a new Civilian Conservation Corps.

He could suggest permanently exempting the first $25,000 of income from payroll taxes, and making up the lost revenues by eliminating the ceiling on income subject to it. He could propose resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act and breaking up the big banks, so Wall Street doesn’t cause another financial collapse.

But you won’t hear any of this, or anything else of this magnitude, because the ...

Published: Sunday 29 July 2012
“People impacted by fracking in their communities joined forces with 136 local and national organizations to call on Congress to Stop the Frack Attack and protect Americans from the dangerous impacts of fracking.”

More than 5,000 people from all over the nation, and various parts of the world including Australia, united today on the West lawn of the U.S. Capitol demanding Congress take immediate action to stop fracking. After the rally that began at 2 p.m., rally participants marched for more than one hour, stopping at the headquarters of the America’s Natural Gas Alliance and American Petroleum Institute.

People impacted by fracking in their communities joined forces with 136 local and national organizations to call on Congress to Stop the Frack Attack and protect Americans from the dangerous impacts of fracking.

Rally speakers included, Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org; Josh Fox, producer of Gasland; Calvin Tillman, former mayor of Dish, Texas; Allison Chin, board president of the Sierra Club, and community members from swing states affected by fracking.

“As the increasingly bizarre weather across the planet and melting ice on Greenland makes clear, at this point we’ve got no choice but to keep fossil fuels underground. Fracking to find more is the worst possible idea,” said McKibben.

“The amazing thing about this problem is that there’s a solution… We know that we can run the world on renewable energy. We know that we can run the world on the wind. And today, we have a reminder that we can run the world on the sun,” said Fox.

Published: Saturday 28 July 2012
“The National Climatic Data Center tracks those climate disasters that destroy over a billion dollars in property.”

 

 

Climate change continues to wreak its destruction around the world. The United States is without effective legislation to reduce greenhouse gasses or to provide a reliable flow of alternative energy as fossil fuels are reduced. The Congress has been so corrupted by the fossil fuel corporations that it cannot create the legislation needed to get us into the safety zone that lies below 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. Most Congress members are trained in law, business and education. They cannot be expected to suddenly develop the varied expertise necessary to legislate the intricate policies necessary to control the climate, stimulate alternatives and create a smooth transition.

 

The climate change is not in the distant future. The National Climatic Data Center tracks those climate disasters that destroy over a billion dollars in property. From 2001 to 2010 climate disasters have cost the U.S. over $354 billion and 2,840 lives. The frequency and intensity of fires, floods, violent storms and tornadoes have increased as the CO2 in the atmosphere has increased. The fires, floods and tornadoes of 2011 are breaking records. Our people are made homeless and dying from climate chaos and we are doing almost nothing about it nationally.

 

Scientists tell us that climate change threatens civilization as we know it, and that the sooner we act, the better chance we have of preventing worst disasters. We must not pass on to our children a world of violent storms, destructive floods, advancing deserts, and life-threatening shortages of food and water. While the U.S. may be better able to withstand these threats than some less-developed nations, scientists say that recent climate disasters are only an introduction to what lies ahead, if we do not act.

 

This is an emergency and the President must ...

Published: Friday 27 July 2012
Sanders revealed for the first time that at least 23 billionaire families have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each so far in this year’s campaigns. “My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret. In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well,” he said his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Sen. Bernie Sanders told a Senate panel on Tuesday that a constitutional amendment is needed to undo the Supreme Court ruling that let corporations and wealthy individuals spend unlimited sums to sway American elections. Vermont and five other states have adopted resolutions asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. More than 200 local governments, including about 60 towns in Vermont, have passed similar measures.

Sanders revealed for the first time that at least 23 billionaire families have contributed a minimum of $250,000 each so far in this year's campaigns. "My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret.  In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well," he said his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Sanders said a handful of billionaires own a significant part of the wealth of America and have enormous control over our economy. The wealthiest 400 individuals own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans - half the country. One family, the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, is worth $89 billion, more than the bottom 40 percent of America. 

"What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to say to these same billionaires and the corporations they control: ‘You own and control the economy, you own Wall Street, you own the coal companies, you own the oil companies. Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we're going to give you the opportunity to own the United States government.'

"That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about - and that's why it must be overturned," said Sanders, the sponsor of the

Published: Thursday 26 July 2012
“Perhaps, if sane laws on gun control, including the ban on high- capacity magazines, were in place, many in Aurora who are now dead or seriously injured would be alive and well today.”

James Holmes, the alleged shooter in the massacre in Aurora, Colo., reportedly amassed his huge arsenal with relative ease. Some of these weapons were illegal as recently as eight years ago. Legislation now before Congress would once again make illegal, if not the guns themselves, at least the high-capacity magazines that allow bullets to be fired rapidly without stopping to reload. Holmes bought most of his weaponry within recent months, we are told. Perhaps, if sane laws on gun control, including the ban on high- capacity magazines, were in place, many in Aurora who are now dead or seriously injured would be alive and well today.

The facts of the assault are generally well-known. Holmes allegedly burst into the packed theater during the 12:30 am premier of the Batman sequel “The Dark Knight Rises,” threw one or two canisters of some gas or irritant, which exploded, then began to methodically shoot people, killing 12 and wounding 58.

“Everybody sort of started screaming, and that’s when the gunman opened fire on the crowd, and pandemonium just broke out,” Omar Esparza told me. He was in the third row, with five friends out for a birthday celebration: “He started opening fire on the audience pretty freely, just started shooting in every direction, that’s when everybody started screaming, started panicking. A lot of people had been hit at that point at those initial few rounds, and that’s when everybody sort of hit the floor and started to exit.”

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Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
“In 60 seconds, these five companies earned $261,000 — more than 96 percent of American households make in one year.”

The Big Five oil companies – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell – are slated to announce their 2012 second-quarter profits later this week.

We can expect these companies, all of which rank in the top 10 of the “Fortune 500 Global Ranking,” to reveal billions of dollars more in profits, after earning $375 million in profits per day in 2011 ($261,000 per minute), and $368 million per day in the first three-months of 2012 — bringing their combined profits to $1 trillion from 2001 through 2011.

Below is a quick look at just how much these Big Oil companies are making, and where they are spending their billions in profits.

Big Oil’s Big Profits, In 24 Hours

  • In 60 seconds, these five companies earned $261,000 — more than 96 percent of American households make in one year.
  • These five oil companies received $6.6 million in federal tax breaks every day.
Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
If people knew what Republicans were doing... but they don’t. In the 2010 election Repubicans spent hundreds of millions on ads telling the public that Democrats had “cut half a trillion from Medicare.”

Last week Republicans filibustered the Bring Jobs Home Act, when polls showdramatic support for ending tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. Last week Republicans filibustered the DISCLOSE Act which would at least let us know who is pumping hundreds of millions into our election, when polls show overwhelming opposition to corporate purchases of politicians. That's two BIG ones, and that's just last week. You'd think that would clinch the election -- but the public doesn't know who to blame. In a democracy accountability is important but in a plutocracy impunity carries the day.

Campaigned Saying Dems Cut Medicare - Got Voted In And Eliminated Medicare

If people knew what Republicans were doing... but they don't. In the 2010 election Repubicans spent hundreds of millions on ads telling the public that Democrats had "cut half a trillion from Medicare." So the public "knew" that and Republicans took the senior vote for the first time, enabling them to gain a majority in the House. Except it wasn't true. And when Repubicans got into office they passed a budget that ... pretty much eliminates Medicare.

Eliminating Medicare Only The Beginning

That budget that eliminates Medicare is called the Ryan budget (more recently called the Romney-Ryan budget), and it was passed by House Repubicans. Here are just some of the things this budget -- already passed by House Republicans and endorsed by Mitt Romney -- does:

  • Raises taxes on wage earners who make between $50,000 to $100,000 by $1,300
  • Raises taxes on those who make between $100,000 to $200,000 by $2,600
  • Cuts taxes on those who make between $500,000 and $1 million by $35,000
  • Cuts taxes on those who make over a million dollars ...
Published: Wednesday 25 July 2012
“There are plenty of ways to reign in political spending that don’t run afoul of the Supreme Court…it is just virtually impossible under current conditions to pass a law with teeth, and then make it stick.”

The FEC (Federal Election Commission) is currently a corpse – lifeless, ineffective, and useless. Elections financed by a tiny sliver of the population threaten the health of our democracy. The current murmur to reform and strengthen the agency should be a roar given the enormous effect doing so would have on restoring a government by, for, and of the people.

Currently, amending the Constitution is the most widely embraced solution for ending the systemic corruption fueled by money in politics. However, an amendment will take many years to implement, and as other reformers have correctly argued, steps should be taken in the interim. Unlike other short-term fixes however, reforming the FEC has the unique potential to actually eliminate the need to amend the Constitution.

Let’s back up a little. There are two primary arguments for a constitutional amendment. The first is well known –an amendment bypasses the Supreme Court, which has taken the idea of non-person personhood to ridiculous extremes.

The second is that any law put in place using the normal legislative process can be easily undone later. While not as well known, it is this second reason many in the reform community believe an amendment to be the most viable solution.

There are plenty of ways to reign in political spending that don’t run afoul of the Supreme Court…it is just virtually impossible under current conditions to pass a law with teeth, and then make it stick. Reforming the FEC is the exception; and one which could help facilitate additional reforms.

Here’s how a remade FEC would work:

First, decouple its budgeting from Congress so it couldn’t be starved of necessary funds (a huge conflict of interest). Have the agency instead submit a budget to the CBO for review and approval. Whatever the price tag, it pales in ...

Published: Tuesday 24 July 2012
“John Sarbanes has a new way to get money out.”

Representative John Sarbanes (D-MD) put another potential reform law on the table for congressional campaign finance. Importantly, this is the first proposal to directly combat the huge influence of Super-PACs. Alongside the Fair Elections Now Act, the DISCLOSE Act, and a constitutional amendment to overturnCitizens United, Sarbanes is placing “The Grassroots Democracy Act” which would institute a voucher system to increase grassroots campaign donations.

In a summary document Sarbanes’ office provided to the Washington Post, he outlines the skyrocketing ...

Published: Tuesday 24 July 2012
“As long as politicians, preachers, judges, and self-appointed guardians of liberty continue to pretend that there’s no legal or moral – or lethal – difference between hunting rifles designed to kill deer or elk one at a time and military-style weapons designed to kill scores of people in a minute or less there will continue to be ‘tragedies’ like the ones in Columbine and Aurora.”

The basic outlines of the “dark knight” massacre in Aurora, Colorado, are now well known.  A 24-year-old medical school dropout named James Egan Holmes acting alone opened fire with an assault rifle in a crowded theater, killing 12 people and wounding 59. 

 

A lot of good the Department of Homeland Security did in Aurora that night as “The Dark Knight” was emerging from his booby-trapped spider hole.  There’s plenty of obvious irony in the subtitle of that damned movie:  “The Dark Knight Rises.”  Irony is one thing; tragedy leaves an altogether different taste in one’s mouth.   A bitter taste like poison-laced lemon peels.

 

Living in Colorado, when I heard the first news stories on the BBC within minutes of the shootings, I thought of a high school, another massacre, and a lone shooter.   Columbine.   So, of course, did people all over the world from Copenhagen to Cairo, from Toronto to Tokyo.  The Columbine horror happened only about a dozen years ago; it’s the kind of thing that remains lodged in the world’s collective memory for a long, long time. 

 

Aurora and Columbine are within shouting distance of each other, less than 20 miles apart as the crow flies.   That’s too close for comfort, but in fact these two crimes are obviously a lot closer from a sociological perspective.   Google Maps is a great tool but it has nothing to say about pathological killers, or about a society that defines terrorism in a way that excludes the terrorist next door. 

 

Any mass murderer – from Adolf Hitler to Osama bin Laden – is a deranged individual, of course.  The fact is there are LOTS of deranged individuals among us, lots of nut cases.  What was once  abnormal ...

Published: Sunday 22 July 2012
“Ever feel frustrated that, no matter how hard you try to make responsible choices, live in harmony with your community, or take care of the planet, there are 7 billion other humans who just don’t give a crap?”

Do you ever feel like your efforts to make the world a better place just aren't working?

Ever feel frustrated that, no matter how hard you try to make responsible choices, live in harmony with your community, or take care of the planet, there are 7 billion other humans who just don't give a crap?

Annie Leonard, creator of "The Story of Stuff" and other animated exposés, knows exactly how you feel. "Like many who care about the environment, I spent years thinking that information would lead to change," wrote Leonard in a recent blog post. "So I wrote reports, gave speeches, even testified before Congress. Some things changed. Sadly, the big picture didn’t."

After a few years of reflection, Leonard started to see the problem. It wasn't that people aren't aware that they need to change, they just don't have the strength to take action. We've been told that we can buy everything we need to be happy, so when buying things doesn't fix the problem, we're lost.

I’ve come to see that we have two parts to ourselves; it’s almost like two muscles – a consumer muscle and a citizen muscle. Our consumer muscle, which is fed and exercised constantly, has grown strong. So strong that “consumer” has become our primary identity, our reason for being. We’re told so often that we’re a nation of consumers that we don’t blink when the media use “consumer” and “person” interchangeably. Meanwhile, our citizen muscle has gotten flabby. There’s no marketing campaign reminding us to engage as citizens. On the contrary, we’re bombarded with lists of simple things we can buy or do to save the planet, without going out of our way or breaking a sweat.

Consumerism can't get us out of the social, economic, and ...

Published: Saturday 21 July 2012
“Leveling the playing field between online merchants and the traditional shops would help states and localities in more ways than simply increasing sales tax revenues.”

 

A rebounding economy will not be enough to pull state governments out of their fiscal mess, says a new report from the State Budget Crisis Task Force. While health and other costs continue to grow, important sources of revenues are shrinking, the group led by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch noted. One of those sources is sales taxes. Some states rely on them heavily for revenues. (Only four don't have sales taxes — Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon.)

Sales tax revenues have been falling, thanks in part to a Congress that has meddled in states' ability to collect them. With a few noble exceptions, "conservatives" in Washington have worked hard to ban states from requiring online merchants to fork over the sales taxes that brick-and-mortar stores must charge. Online commerce is the fastest-growing sector in retailing. I put "conservatives" in quotes because real conservatives believe that local government, being closer to the people, is the best government. Deny it money, and you deny it power.

So what business did Washington politicos have denying local governments the tools to properly fund themselves? None, outside of irresponsible politicking. Telling states they could not tax the sale of a printer or tomato cage if it was bought online lets the lawmakers boast of their tax-cutting prowess while dumping the consequences on state and local governments. The notion that anything sold on the Internet should be tax-free was engraved in Republican ideology, making it hard for GOP governors to object to it.

But with their states strapped for funds, Republican governors are finally joining their Democratic colleagues in demanding the right to collect the same taxes from online merchants that they do from stores on Main Street or in the mall.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, ...

Published: Saturday 21 July 2012
“Ford told the committee that Corning paid an effective tax rate of 36 percent in 2011, but as CTJ notes, she is counting taxes on profits earned overseas that haven’t yet been paid and won’t be unless the company decides to bring the money back to the United States.”

 

Over a four years period from 2008 to 2011, Corning Inc. was one of 26 companies that managed to avoid paying any American income taxes, even though it earned nearly $3 billion during that time. In fact, according to Citizens For Tax Justice, the company received a $4 million refund from 2008 to 2010. That didn’t stop Susan Ford, a senior executive at the company, from telling the House Ways and Means Committee this week that America’s high corporate tax rate was putting her company at a disadvantage:

American manufacturers are at a distinct disadvantage to competitors headquartered in other countries. Specifically, foreign manufacturers uniformly face a lower corporate tax rate than U.S. manufacturers, and virtually all operate under territorial systems which encourage investment both abroad and at home.

Ford told the committee that Corning paid an effective tax rate of 36 percent in 2011, but as CTJ notes, she is counting taxes on profits earned overseas that haven’t yet been paid and won’t be unless the company decides to bring the money back to the United States. Corning’s actual tax rate in 2011, according to CTJ’s analysis, was actually negative 0.2 percent.

The territorial system Ford testified in favor of would actually encourage the offshoring of profits earned by American companies, ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
“A vast majority of postal offices under consideration for closure are located in rural areas, where poverty rates are higher than the national average.”

In 2006, the Republican-led Congress passed an unnecessary law requiring the United States Postal Service to prefund its pension benefits for 75 years through a $5.5 billion annual payment. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) is theonly one of its kind for a government agency. On August 1st of this year, the Post Office will likely default for the first time in its history on its 2011 pension payment. If Congress does not act, it will also default on its ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
Obama Administration looking to reform the presidential pardon.

The Obama administration has asked for a fresh review of an Alabama federal inmate's commutation request and directed the Justice Department to conduct its first ever in-depth analysis of recommendations for presidential pardons, according to several officials and individuals involved.

The Office of Pardon Attorney has been at the center of growing controversy since December, when stories published by ProPublica and The Washington Post revealed a racial disparity in pardons. White applicants were four times more likely to receive presidential mercy than minorities. African Americans had the least chance of success.

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Published: Wednesday 18 July 2012
“Can shopping save the world? Put down your credit card and start exercising your citizen muscles with Annie Leonard's new film.”

I used to think the truth would set us free. Like many who care about the environment, I spent years thinking that information would lead to change. If only people realize the mess our planet is in, I thought, things will change. So I wrote reports, gave speeches, even testified before Congress. 

Some things changed. Sadly, the big picture didn’t.

For a long time I couldn’t understand why. Now I’ve realized we don’t need more data, white papers or documentaries to tell us we’re in trouble. Every day, the news is full of extreme weather disasters, toxic chemical scares and the cruel consequences of economic inequality. At this point, most people know.

And the good news is that most people care. Most of us want a safe and healthy environment. Most of us are horrified by the idea of babies born with harmful chemicals in their blood. Most of us would rather see investments in clean energy than billion-dollar subsidies for fossil fuel fat-cats. Most of us would prefer to live in a just society.

So, if people know, and if people care, why aren’t we generating the level of change needed to turn things around? My new movie, The Story of Change, argues it’s partly because we’ve gotten stuck in our consumer mode.

I’ve come to see that we have two parts to ourselves; it’s almost like two muscles—a consumer muscle and a citizen muscle. Our consumer muscle, which is fed and exercised constantly, has grown strong: So strong that “consumer” has become our primary identity, our reason for being. We’re told so often that we’re a nation of consumers that we don’t blink when the media use “consumer” and “person” interchangeably.

Meanwhile, our citizen muscle has gotten flabby. There’s no marketing campaign reminding us ...

Published: Wednesday 18 July 2012
“Each of these claims has grabbed national attention in a big way, sucking up years’ worth of precious airtime.”

We’re at the edge of the cliff of deficit disaster!  National security spending is being, or will soon be, slashed to the bone!  Obamacare will sink the ship of state! 

Each of these claims has grabbed national attention in a big way, sucking up years’ worth of precious airtime. That’s a serious bummer, since each of them is a spending myth of the first order. Let’s pop them, one by one, and move on to the truly urgent business of a nation that is indeed on the edge.

Spending Myth 1:  Today’s deficits have taken us to a historically unprecedented, economically catastrophic place.

This myth has had the effect of binding the hands of elected officials and policymakers at every level of government.  It has also emboldened those who claim that we must cut government spending as quickly, as radically, as deeply as possible.

In fact, we’ve been here before.  In 2009, the federal budget deficit was a whopping 10.1% of the American economy and back in 1943, in the midst of World War II, it was three times that -- 30.3%. This fiscal year the deficit will total around 7.6%. Yes, that is big. But in the Congressional Budget Office’s grimmest projections, that figure will fall to 6.3% next year, and 5.8% in fiscal 2014. In 1983, under President Reagan, the deficit hit 6% of the economy, and by 1998, that had turned into a surplus. So, while projected deficits remain large, they’re neither historically unprecedented, nor insurmountable.

More important still, the size of the deficit is no sign that lawmakers should make immediate deep cuts in spending. In fact, history tells us that such reductions are ...

Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“The covert spying operation led the agency to monitor the scientists’ computers at work and at home, copying emails and thumb drives and even monitoring individual messages line by line as they were being composed in real time.”

The Food and Drug Administration has been found to have launched a massive surveillance campaign targeting its own scientists for writing letters to journalists, members of Congress and President Obama. The scientists were expressing their concern over the FDA’s approval of medical imaging devices for colonoscopies and mammograms that could endanger patients with high levels of radiation. The covert spying operation led the agency to monitor the scientists’ computers at work and at home, copying emails and thumb drives and even monitoring individual messages line by line as they were being composed in real time. The agency also created an enemies list. We’re joined by the FDA whistleblowers’ attorney, Stephen Kohn, executive director of the National Whistleblowers Center. "For the first time, we now have a glimpse into what domestic surveillance of whistleblowers looks like in this country with the modern technological developments," Kohn says. "The agency [sought] to destroy the reputation of these whistleblowers forever."

Transcript:

AMY GOODMAN: The  READ FULL POST 1 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“Labeling would tell them that the group was designed and created by and for political backs from both parties, who scrupulously hide their funding sources but are associated with people like anti-Social Security billionaire Pete Peterson.”

 

The Jeff Daniels character from The Newsroom would know what to ask the operators of an allegedly “grass roots” group called “No Labels”:

“Why won't you publish your list of donors?” 

“What's wrong with having legislators debate the issues publicly? Isn't that how representative democracy works?“

“How can you call yourself 'centrist' when so many of your ideas are unpopular, and in fact are too conservative for most Tea Party members?”

He might have another question, too:

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Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“At the time the TARP bailout was being debated in the fall of 2008 many progressive members of Congress wanted to have a provision that would at least temporarily alter bankruptcy law to allow judges to rewrite the terms of a mortgage.”

Ever since the housing bubble collapsed, the Federal government has refused to take major initiatives to help underwater homeowners. As a result, we are likely to see close to 1 million foreclosures both this year and next, with the numbers only gradually slipping back to normal levels by the end of the decade.

The inaction cannot be attributed to a lack of opportunity. At the time the TARP bailout was being debated in the fall of 2008 many progressive members of Congress wanted to have a provision that would at least temporarily alter bankruptcy law to allow judges to rewrite the terms of a mortgage.

Under current law, home mortgages are treated differently than any other type of debt. Bankruptcy judges are prohibited from altering the terms of a mortgage in anyway. If a homeowner cannot meet the terms of the mortgage, they lose the house. Congress could have allowed bankruptcy judges to rewrite mortgages that were written during the housing bubble frenzy, but it backed away from this opportunity.

Similarly, Congress could have temporarily changed the rules on foreclosure to allow foreclosed homeowners to stay in their homes for a substantial period of time (e.g. five years) as renters paying the market rent. This would have assured underwater homeowners substantial housing ...

Published: Saturday 14 July 2012
The effort, involving officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other offices within the Labor Department, includes discussion of how regulators might be more aggressive in filing civil and criminal cases against mining companies that violate dust standards, the communication says.

 

Federal regulators are assembling a team of lawyers and other experts to consider how to bolster coal mine dust enforcement given systemic weaknesses revealed by an investigation into the resurgence of black lung by the Center for Public Integrity and NPR, according to an internal Labor Department communication.

The effort, involving officials from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and other offices within the Labor Department, includes discussion of how regulators might be more aggressive in filing civil and criminal cases against mining companies that violate dust standards, the communication says.

The investigation by the Center and NPR documented a recent increase in cases of deadly coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung. It highlighted rampant cheating on dust sampling by coal companies, rules riddled with loopholes and weak enforcement.

Black lung was supposed to have been eradicated after a 1969 law forced coal companies to control the amount of dust miners breathe. After declining from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, the disease has reappeared, in part because of flaws in MSHA regulations. The agency proposed a rule in 2010 that would close some loopholes but leave much of the dust sampling in the hands of coal companies, preserving a self-policing system critics and government panels have recommended eliminating for years.

MSHA spokeswoman Amy Louviere wouldn’t discuss specific plans by the agency but said: “[I]t is obvious more needs to be done. We’re carefully reviewing the issues that were raised by NPR and CPI, and are committed to taking whatever actions are necessary to end black lung disease.”

In interviews, many retired miners, some of whom worked as recently as 2008, described ...

Published: Friday 13 July 2012
“Beginning with a Bush executive order in 2001, the NSA has been spying on the communications of Americans, including inside the US.”

 

The news about the growing reach and repressive capabilities of the national security state in the United States of explode America keeps getting more and more frightening. Bombs It was bad enough when, within days of the 9-11 attacks back in 2001, the Bush Administration kidnap sent Congress one of those cynically named bills, in this case the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (the PATRIOT Act), which revolution effectively gutted the first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments of the Bill of Rights. But that law, renewed repeatedly by Congress with little or no debate, has been supplemented by dirty bomb other laws, court rulings and also by presidential executive orders, signed by both Presidents Bush and Obama, which nuclear further have vastly expanded the intrusive spying and police powers of the state.

Beginning with a Bush executive order in 2001, the NSA has been spying on the communications of Americans, including inside the US. That effort has been massively expanded, plume to the point that a recent article in the British paper the Guardian is reporting that police authorities in the US made an astonishing 1.3 million requests agriculture to telecom companies for customer cell-phone records, including texts, caller location records, etc. -- almost all of them without the legal nicety of a court warrant.

Journalist and attorney Glenn Greenwald, in a scary address to the Socialism 2012 Conference last month, warned that this nation is becoming a police state in which the government will have Americans so completely monitored, even with thousands of drones flying the skies and ...

Published: Wednesday 11 July 2012
“Everyone gets a one-year extension of the Bush tax cut on the first $250,000 of income.”

To hear the media report it, President Obama is proposing a tax increase on wealthy Americans. That’s misleading at best. He’s proposing that everyone receive a continuation of the Bush tax cuts on the first $250,000 of their incomes. Any dollars they earn in excess of $250,000 will be taxed at the old Clinton-era rates.

Get it? Everyone is treated exactly the same. Everyone gets a one-year extension of the Bush tax cut on the first $250,000 of income. No “class warfare.”

Yet regressive Republicans want Americans to believe differently. The editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal say the President wants to extend the Bush tax cuts only “for some taxpayers.” They urge House Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for “everyone” and thereby put Senate Democrats on the spot by “forcing them to choose between extending rates for everyone and accepting Mr. Obama’s tax increase.”

Pure demagoguery. 

Regressives also want Americans to think the President’s proposal would hurt “tens of thousands of job-creating businesses,” as the Journal puts it.

 More baloney.

A small business owner earning $251,000 would pay the Bush rate on the first $250,000 and the old Clinton rate on just $1,000.

Congress’s Joint Tax Committee estimates that in 2013 about 940,000 taxpayers would have enough business income to break through the $250,000 ceiling – and, again, they’d pay additional taxes only on dollars earned above $250,000.

All told, fewer than 3 percent of small business owners would even reach the $250,000 threshold.

A third lie is Obama’s proposal will “increase uncertainly and further retard investment and job creation,” as ...

Published: Tuesday 10 July 2012
Published: Tuesday 10 July 2012
“While these stories are undoubtedly confusing to most of the public, which is not generally familiar with the intricacies of different interest rate indexes, the basic story is fairly simple: Big banks were caught lying about interest rates in order to make big profits ”

 

Over the past week, the business news has been filled with stories about major British banks manipulating the LIBOR rate. While these stories are undoubtedly confusing to most of the public, which is not generally familiar with the intricacies of different interest rate indexes, the basic story is fairly simple: Big banks were caught lying about interest rates in order to make big profits.

For the most part the victims were other high-rollers who were taking the other side of bets on complex financial derivatives. However there were also pension funds and even governmental units such as school districts and park services that were persuaded by their financial advisers to get into this high-stakes game. These folks were among those who lost because of the LIBOR liars.

A Fundamental Problem

While there should be a thorough investigation that results in the guilty parties being severely punished, this incident sheds light on the fundamental problem with the modern financial industry. There is enormous money to be made by shaving a small fraction of a penny here or there. When this shaving is done on trades that can run into the hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars, those fractions of a penny can run into really big bucks. And when we give people enormous incentive to lie and steal, it is likely that many will take advantage of the opportunity.

READ FULL POST 6 COMMENTS

Published: Monday 9 July 2012
About a year into his tenure as the nation’s top mine safety regulator, Main announced an ambitious plan he said was aimed at ending black lung.

 

For more than a quarter-century, government efforts to end deadly black lung disease have hit various brick walls, built by opposition from one side or the other.

Industry lobbyists object that tougher dust limits and more rigorous sampling requirements go too far. Labor leaders complain those same proposals are far too weak.

Miners are left with the same system that experts have agreed hasn't worked for decades. And thousands of those miners have paid with their health or their lives.

"We can't get a regulation out to save our souls," said former federal Mine Safety and Health Administration staffer Celeste Monforton, who now studies workplace health issues and advocates for workers and their families.

Take the case of the Obama administration's MSHA chief, Joe Main.

About a year into his tenure as the nation's top mine safety regulator, Main announced an ambitious plan he said was aimed at ending black lung.

Main proposed to tighten the legal limit on dust that causes black lung, to require more accurate continuous personal dust monitors, and to reform sampling methods and enforcement of dust limits.

"I hope the miners and the mining community embrace this approach," Main, assistant labor secretary for MSHA, told reporters in October 2010. "It is the right thing to do."

A decade earlier, Main was director of safety for the United Mine Workers union when the Clinton administration announced its plan to end black lung. It included a government takeover of dust monitoring and similar changes to sampling techniques, but no tightening of the dust limit.

Main said the Clinton proposal didn't go far enough. In particular, the UMW was upset that the government monitoring would involve fewer samples, because of budget and staffing constraints ...

Published: Monday 9 July 2012
Last week, Congress voted to extend lowered interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans to undergraduates after months of arguing over how to pay for it.

 

Reverend Stan Duncan describes the members of his Wareham, Mass. congregation as blue-collar workers in a factory town where all the factories have moved away: They’re hard-working, mission-driven Christians who clean the homes of widows, play the accordion at nursing homes, and “vote almost universally in a more conservative way.”

“I don’t usually get that political in the pulpit,” he says of his leadership at First Congregational Church of Wareham (UCC). But last month he convinced his church to join more than 40 faith groups nationwide to pray for a political issue gone surprisingly—and refreshingly—religious: debilitating student debt, and what we can do to alleviate it.

Last week, Congress voted to extend lowered interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans to undergraduates after months of arguing over how to pay for it. The current 3.4 percent rates were set to expire on July 1 if an agreement was not reached, doubling them to 6.8 percent. This would mean paying an extra $1,000 over the life of subsidized Stafford loans for 7.4 million students.

“In the faith community, there is a real acknowledgment that students are our future," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the Christian organization Jubilee USA Network, which coordinated the national prayer session. “In a time of severe economic crisis … the types of loans they have dictate the kinds of choices they are able to make.”

The day of prayer on June 24 was the culmination of a series of actions—including press conferences, petition drives, and the delivery of around 3,000 messages from faith communities to the Senate—over the past 7–8 weeks to prevent the impending interest rate hike.

Jubilee USA, an alliance of more than ...

Published: Monday 9 July 2012
A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require - the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed.

 

While many Americans were firing up barbecues and breaking out the sparklers to celebrate Independence Day, biotech industry executives were more likely chilling champagne to celebrate another kind of independence: immunity from federal law.

A so-called “Monsanto rider,” quietly slipped into the multi-billion dollar FY 2013 Agricultural Appropriations bill, would require – not just allow, but require - the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary permit for the planting or cultivation of a genetically engineered crop, even if a federal court has ordered the planting be halted until an Environmental Impact Statement is completed. All the farmer or the biotech producer has to do is ask, and the questionable crops could be released into the environment where they could potentially contaminate conventional or organic crops and, ultimately, the nation’s food supply.

Unless the Senate or a citizen’s army of farmers and consumers can stop them, the House of Representatives is likely to ram this dangerous rider through any day now.

In a statement issued last month, the Center For Food Safety had this to say about the biotech industry’s latest attempt to circumvent legal and regulatory safeguards:

Ceding broad and unprecedented powers to industry, the rider poses a direct threat to the authority of U.S. courts, jettisons the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) established oversight powers on key agriculture issues and puts the nation’s farmers and food supply at risk.

In other words, if this single line in the 90-page Agricultural Appropriations bill slips through, it’s Independence ...

Published: Monday 9 July 2012
When ‘W’ Bush took office we had a huge budget surplus and we were on track to pay off the entire national debt in just ten years.

 

Republicans have been holding to a no-tax pledge for decades as a strategy to undermine government. But more and more people are noticing that our schools, roads, police and fire departments, bridges, courts, food-safety system -- and everything else non-military that our government does -- are starting to fall apart. At the same time, Republican-created anti-deficit hysteria is starting to backfire on Republicans themselves. So are some Republicans starting to back off?

But First

Before any deficit discussion begins people should be reminded of one very important and relevant fact: When 'W' Bush took office we had a huge budget surplus and we were on track to pay off the entire national debt in just ten years. In other words, our country's debt would be entirely paid off by now, and there would be no emergency at all. But Bush changed some things, and said the return of budget deficits was "incredibly positive news," and now we have a huge deficit and ...

Published: Sunday 8 July 2012
“The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also named six current and former members of Congress who received discount loans, but all of their names had surfaced previously.”

The former Countrywide Financial Corp., whose subprime loans helped start the nation's foreclosure crisis, made hundreds of discount loans to buy influence with members of Congress, congressional staff, top government officials and executives of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae, according to a House report.

The report, obtained by The Associated Press, said that the discounts — from January 1996 to June 2008, were not only aimed at gaining influence for the company but to help mortgage giant Fannie Mae. Countrywide's business depended largely on Fannie, which at the time was trying to fend off more government regulation but eventually had to come under government control.

Fannie was responsible for purchasing a large volume of Countrywide's subprime mortgages. Countrywide was taken over by Bank of America in January 2008, relieving the financial services industry and regulators from the messy task of cleaning up the bankruptcy of a company that was servicing 9 million U.S. home loans worth $1.5 trillion at a time when the nation faced a widening credit crisis, massive foreclosures and an economic downturn.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee also named six current and former members of Congress who received discount loans, but all of their names had surfaced previously. Other previously mentioned names included former top executive branch officials and three chief executives of Fannie Mae.

"Documents and testimony obtained by the committee show the VIP loan program was a tool used by Countrywide to build goodwill with lawmakers and other individuals positioned to benefit the company," the report said. "In the years that led up to the 2007 housing market decline, Countrywide VIPs were positioned to affect dozens of pieces of legislation that would have reformed Fannie" and its rival Freddie Mac, the committee said.

Some ...

Published: Saturday 7 July 2012
“If it were not for congressional Republicans’ repeated obstruction or dilution of virtually every significant job-creation proposal sent to Congress since 2009, unemployment today would likely be under 7 percent instead of stubbornly persisting at around 8 percent.”

Today's unemployment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics will be closely watched for its political impact on the presidential race. But it is not the numbers that will be most consequential. What will determine whether President Obama will keep his job in November is whether he steps up his fight for our jobs and whether we as progressives step up our pressure on Congress, particularly the Republicans who have blocked virtually every major effort to revive the Main Street economy.

From a political standpoint for the Obama administration as well as for job seekers, the news is bad. The economy produced a total of only 80,000 jobs in June, with 84,000 private sector jobs offset by an additional 4,000 jobs lost in the public sector. Middle-class level jobs in construction and manufacturing showed particularly weak growth. But also, the economy lost more than 5,000 retail jobs.

Unemployment among African Americans has creeped up above 14 percent, compared to 7.4 percent among whites; among African-American youth, the official rate is now almost 40 percent. Among Latinos, the unemployment rate is 11 percent; it was 10.3 percent in March and April.

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
Conservative governors have latched onto the ruling that states won’t lose their existing Medicaid funding if they don't expand their Medicaid coverage as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act.

 

There was never much doubt that the individual mandate in "Obamacare" was constitutional. As Harvard Law School professor Einer Elhauge had noted, the first Congress in 1790 passed a law ordering ship owners to buy medical insurance for their seamen. Twenty framers of the U.S. Constitution were members, and President George Washington signed the law.

No, the emotional claim that forcing people to buy a commercial product stomps on basic American rights was a cover for a political campaign to kill the reforms. The Supreme Court removed that fig leaf last week, but the naked politicking goes on.

The next showdown on the program is less dignified. Conservative governors have latched onto the ruling that states won't lose their existing Medicaid funding if they don't expand their Medicaid coverage as envisioned by the Affordable Care Act. Thus, they won't.

In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley's spokesman defiantly announced, "We're not going to shove more South Carolinians into a broken system ... ." Gosh, wouldn't bringing coverage to the uninsured make the system less broken? More to the point, exactly who would be "shoved"?

Contrary to right-wing mythology, America's uninsured are not the idle poor. They already have government-guaranteed health care, as do the elderly, the disabled, government workers and prisoners. Left out are the modest folk who earn too much to qualify under the old Medicaid rules but not enough to afford insurance in the private market (and, by the way, who subsidize others' coverage). The Medicaid expansion is for them.

Nebraska's Republican Gov. Dave Heineman also opposes letting more struggling workers into Medicaid: "As I have said repeatedly, if this unfunded Medicaid expansion is implemented, state aid to education and funding for the University of ...

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
Recession, U.S. workers who lose their jobs from the first week of July forward will only be eligible to receive 27 weeks of benefits at the state level, not the extended benefits that have been available for the last several years.

Jobless Americans are facing a cliff when it comes to their unemployment benefits. As a new report from the National Employment Law Project notes, due to Congress phasing out federal unemployment benefits that were implemented as a response to the Great Recession, U.S. workers who lose their jobs from the first week of July forward will only be eligible to receive 27 weeks of benefits at the state level, not the extended benefits that have been available for the last several years:

The [Emergency Unemployment Compensation] program is scheduled to expire at the end of December 2012. Workers who lose their jobs during the first week of July and thereafter will thus face having no federal benefits when they exhaust state UI benefits. Unlike prior authorizations of the EUC program, which provided for a graduated phase-out of eligibility for workers receiving benefits on the scheduled expiration date, workers receiving EUC at the end of the year face a “hard” cut-off: their benefits will stop. This means that unless Congress reauthorizes the EUC program by the end of December, no unemployed worker will receive any federal unemployment benefits for the weeks after December 29, 2012.

Though the labor market is improving, there are still nearly four unemployed workers for every available opening, and the average duration of unemployment is currently 40 weeks — longer than the 26 weeks of benefits most states provide. Since the recession, the federal government has picked up the tab for up to 99 weeks of unemployment through the EUC program.

If Congress allows the EUC program to expire at the end of the year, more than two-thirds of the unemployed will not be receiving any benefits at all. Even with the federal benefits program, less than half of the unemployed currently receive benefits.

Published: Thursday 5 July 2012
Today, over 36 million people in the United States have student loans, while at least 1 out of 5 borrowers go into default.

Occupy Student Debt and Occupy Colleges have recently merged because of our overlapping principles. Collectively, our beliefs are simple: we are here to advocate on behalf of students and to educate as many people as possible on the growing crisis of student debt. We are fighting for quality, affordable and accessible education for all students who want to obtain a college degree. Beyond that, we don’t have any demands as we are forming a broad coalition. We will never see debt forgiven in one large bill and how can we even ask for free education when tuition prices keep rising - how about we start with a tuition hike freeze before we ask for all education to be free? These are just a few of the questions that our alliance hopes to address.

Today, over 36 million people in the United States have student loans, while at least 1 out of 5 borrowers go into default. As highlighted in a short video we released, those who default are slammed with exorbitant fees and penalties, exploding and usurious interest rates, destroyed credit ratings, possible suspension of driver’s licenses, possible suspension of professional licenses, and more. For these reasons we have opposed the decision which encourages borrowers to voluntarily default on their student loans. If a million people were to actually default, this would be a dream come true for companies such as Sallie Mae who happens to own many collection companies as well. Due to heavy lobbying from these student lenders, consumer rights have been stripped away and lenders make far more if the borrower defaults.

Given that, we believe it would be a great disservice if we were to tell all borrowers that it’s in their best interest to voluntarily default. And we’re not alone on this decision - during a weekly conference call involving over 50 colleges, Occupy Colleges put to a vote whether or not to support voluntary default. The result? A unanimous decision opposing voluntary ...

Published: Wednesday 4 July 2012
Indeed, two of the nation’s most respected forecasters predicted that the AJA would add 1.3-1.9 million jobs in 2012 and more than two million jobs by the end of 2013.

The United States has just completed its third year of economic recovery, but the unemployment rate remains above 8%, and there are worrisome signs of a slowdown. So it is no surprise that jobs have become a major focus in the presidential campaign – or that the candidates have very different ideas about how to boost employment.Last autumn, President Barack Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, a $450 billion package of fiscal measures aimed at job creation. The AJA amounted to about 3% of GDP and was designed to take effect in 2012, providing a timely employment boost and insurance for the US recovery against global headwinds. Most of its measures had enjoyed bipartisan support in the past; tax cuts comprised about 56% of the total cost; and the package was paid for in Obama’s long-term deficit reduction plan.

 

Several independent economists concluded that Obama’s plan would provide a significant lift to the job market in 2012-2013. Indeed, two of the nation’s most respected forecasters predicted that the AJA would add 1.3-1.9 million jobs in 2012 and more than two million jobs by the end of 2013. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also found that most of the AJA’s policies ranked high in budgetary effectiveness, measured by the number of jobs created in 2012-2013 per dollar of budgetary cost.

 

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Laura Tyson, click here.

 

The AJA was filibustered by Senate Republicans, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives likewise prevented the bill from coming to a vote. Mitt Romney, now the ...

Published: Wednesday 4 July 2012
Our system of government is America’s most precious and fragile possession, the means we have of joining together as a nation for the common good. It requires not only our loyalty but ongoing vigilance to keep it working well.

In the last two weeks, the Supreme Court has allowed police in Arizona to demand proof of citizenship from people they stop on other grounds (while throwing out the rest of Arizona’s immigration law), and has allowed the federal government to require everyone buy health insurance — even younger and healthier people — or pay a penalty. 

What do these decisions — and the national conversations they’ve engendered — have to do with patriotism? A great deal. Because underlying them are two different versions of American patriotism. 

The Arizona law is aimed at securing the nation from outsiders. The purpose of the heatlhcare law is to join together to provide affordable health care for all. 

The first version of patriotism is protecting America from people beyond our borders who might otherwise overrun us — whether immigrants coming here illegally or foreign powers threatening us with aggression. 

The second version of patriotism is joining together for the common good. That might mean contributing to a bake sale to raise money for a local school or volunteering in a homeless shelter. It also means paying our fair share of taxes so our community or nation has enough resources to meet all our needs, and preserving and protecting our system of government. 

This second meaning of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to one another as citizens of the same society. It requires collaboration, teamwork, tolerance, and selflessness. 

The Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect, but in requiring younger and healthier people to buy insurance that will help pay for the healthcare needs of older and sicker people, it summons the second version of patriotism. 

Too often these days we don’t recognize and don’t practice this second version. We’re shouting at each ...

Published: Tuesday 3 July 2012
“The penalty-tax that the individual mandate imposes will soon constitute one of the most regressive taxes in the United States.”

Last Thursday the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s signature domestic policy –the Affordable Health Care Act –by arguing that its individual mandate falls under Congress’s jurisdiction to levy taxes. Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to purchase health insurance may “reasonably be characterized as a tax [and because] the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.” 

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has long asserted that the mandate—the bill’s fulcrum, really—is necessary to ensure that other provisions of the law function smoothly. That is, supporters view the mandate as essential to market based reform; without it, they argue, many healthy people would remain without insurance coverage, premiums for individuals and employers would accelerate, and insurance markets could become unstable. When the uninsured who can afford premiums do become ill, unaffordable health care costs are often absorbed by the rest of the population.

Unfortunately, the penalty-tax that the individual mandate imposes will soon constitute one of the most regressive taxes in the United States. (The terms “penalty” and “tax” here are effectively fungible. Whatever the nomenclature, it’s the functional equivalent of a tax.) The penalty-tax structure authorized by this law inherently disadvantages low income earners who, in effect, pay proportionally more on fewer dollars. Taxes imposed here are uncannily akin to the regression rates of sales and social security taxes. Take a look at the scatter chart below:

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Published: Monday 2 July 2012
Published: Sunday 1 July 2012
In February, Congress quietly passed a bill that enables the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fast-track the “efficient integration” of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into the national airspace, with nary a cost-benefit analysis or impact study.

In recent months, the United States’ policy of drone attacks to kill suspected militants in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen has come under heated criticism. The extrajudicial targeted killings of suspects, including American citizens, is in itself a stark violation of international law. Add to that the fact that President Obama has ordered hundreds of strikes (over five times as many so far as did his predecessor Bush) and the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians (now estimated at over a thousand by the most conservative estimates) with drones’ missiles inevitably raining down on funeral gatherings and mosques; the posthumous classification of all military-age male casualties as “militants” for the purposes of P.R.; and the creepy image of Obama fretting over the biography of each suspect on his “kill list.”

With their courageous acts of civil disobedience at the Air Force and Air National Guard bases that control the drone strikes, Code Pink and other activist groups are sounding the clarion call that these remote-controlled killers commit war crimes. But amidst the growing recognition of the brutal effects of armed drones abroad, it’s also time for activists to take a hard look at the brave new world of surveillance drones being used here in the United States.

In February, Congress quietly passed a bill that enables the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fast-track the “efficient integration” of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into the national airspace, with nary a cost-benefit analysis or impact study. This came after the December crash of a U.S. drone on the Iranian border, which highlighted both the high crash rates of drones and the windfall of ...

Published: Sunday 1 July 2012
Yes, those actively violating Americans’ privacy claim they can’t tell Congress about their activities because doing so might violate Americans’ privacy.

If there was an ongoing contest in the art of self-contradicting newspeak, a quote from a U.S. military official during the Vietnam War would be the reigning victor for most of the modern era. In describing the decision to ignore the prospect of civilian casualties and vaporize a Vietnamese village, that unnamed official famously told Peter Arnett of the Associated Press that "it became necessary to destroy the town to save it."

Epitomizing the futility, immorality and nihilism of that era-defining war, the line has achieved true aphorism status — employed to describe any political endeavor that is, well...futile, immoral and nihilistic.

But now, ever so suddenly, the Vietnam quote has been dethroned by an even more oxymoronic line — one that perfectly summarizes the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 era. As Wired's Spencer Ackerman reports, "Surveillance experts at the National Security Agency won't tell two powerful United States Senators how many Americans have had their communications picked up by the agency (because) it would violate your privacy to say so."

In a letter to senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall, the agency wrote: "(A) review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons."

While the line's bureaucratic lingo doesn't roll of the tongue like its Vietnam-era predecessor, it does equal it for sheer audacity. Yes, those actively violating Americans' privacy claim they can't tell Congress about their activities because doing so might violate Americans' privacy.

Of course, what sets this particular oxymoron apart from others — what makes it the new champion of oxymoronic newspeak — is its special mix of incoherence and non-sequitur. This isn't merely a self-contradictory statement — it's one that ...

Published: Saturday 30 June 2012
Published: Saturday 30 June 2012
If it seems odd that a federal regulator was scooped by a sleep-deprived student, get used to it, because the federal government is often the last to know about digital invasions of your privacy.

 

 

Jonathan Mayer had a hunch.

A gifted computer scientist, Mayer suspected that online advertisers might be getting around browser settings that are designed to block tracking devices known as cookies. If his instinct was right, advertisers were following people as they moved from one website to another even though their browsers were configured to prevent this sort of digital shadowing. Working long hours at his office, Mayer ran a series of clever tests in which he purchased ads that acted as sniffers for the sort of unauthorized cookies he was looking for. He hit the jackpot, unearthing one of the biggest privacy scandals of the past year: Google was secretly planting cookies on a vast number of iPhone browsers. Mayer thinks millions of iPhones were targeted by Google.

This is precisely the type of privacy violation the Federal Trade Commission aims to protect consumers from, and Google, which claims the cookies were not planted in an unethical way, now reportedly faces a fine of more than $10 million. But the FTC didn't discover the violation. Mayer is a 25-year-old student working on law and computer science degrees at Stanford University. He shoehorned his sleuthing between classes and homework, working from an office he shares in the Gates Computer Science Building with students from New Zealand and Hong Kong. He doesn't get paid for his work and he doesn't get much rest.

If it seems odd that a federal regulator was scooped by a sleep-deprived student, get used to it, because the federal government is often the last to know about digital invasions of your privacy. The largest privacy scandal of the past year, also involving Google, wasn't discovered by federal regulators, either. A privacy official in Germany forced Google to hand over the hard drives of cars equipped with 360-degree digital cameras that were taking pictures for its Street ...

Published: Saturday 30 June 2012
The 2013 Financial Services bill is heading to the House floor after being considered by the Rules Committee on Thursday.

 

House Republicans, after failing to prevent the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law from passing Congress, have attempted to undermine it by refusing to give Wall Street regulators adequate funds to do their jobs. Both the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission are short of the funding they require, and House Republicans recently voted in committee to fund the SEC $245 million below the Obama administration’s request for 2013.

However, should that funding bill actually reach President Obama’s desk, he has announced that he will veto it:

The 2013 Financial Services bill is heading to the House floor after being considered by the Rules Committee on Thursday.

The bill severely undermines key investments in financial oversight and implementation of Wall Street reform to protect American consumers, as well as needed tax enforcement and taxpayer services. It also hampers effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA),” the White House statement reads.

House Republicans on the Appropriations Committee also recently approved a cut of $25 million to the CFTC’s budget.

Just ten days ago, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee admitted that Wall Street regulators do not have the resources necessary to do what Congress has asked of them. However, House Republicans have not acted to rectify the situation, instead bringing to the House floor a bill that would simply exacerbate the problem.

Published: Friday 29 June 2012
Published: Friday 29 June 2012
Published: Friday 29 June 2012
Published: Friday 29 June 2012
As the nation awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA,) Flowers sounded more upbeat than aghast at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling striking down part or more of the Obama law.

Margaret Flowers MD, is a pediatrician whose exasperation with the American health care system turned her into a single-payer activist. In 2009 she was arrested at the Senate Round Table on Health Insurance for attempting to speak on behalf of a single-payer plan when single payer had been cut out of the conversation.     “When Obama was elected I was optimistic like many people because he knew what single-payer was,” she told me recently when we talked. “He’d been on record saying that single-payer was the best solution. It was quickly very clear that that this was a predetermined course that it was more like a marketing campaign.” As the nation awaited the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA,) Flowers sounded more upbeat than aghast at the prospect of the Supreme Court ruling striking down part or more of the Obama law. For Flowers, a single-payer plan, like Medicare for all (which would fund medical care from a single insurance pool run by the state), was always the ideal way to provide universal, affordable, quality care, and contain soaring costs and waste in the process. As for the individual mandate – forcing the public to buy from a for-profit company – she’s called it “crony capitalism on steroids.”     It would be no small thing to move health reform through the legislature again, she agrees. Three years ago, Democratic leaders in Washington foreclosed on single payer, and went on to betray their commitments to single-payer-lite  -- the so-called public option. There’s no evidence there’s been a sea change in Washington. Around the country, though, Flowers ...

Published: Friday 29 June 2012
Although the court upheld the law’s mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance, the justices said the act could not force states to expand Medicaid to millions by threatening to withhold federal funding.

 

For many people without insurance, a key question raised by the Supreme Court's decision today to uphold the Affordable Care Act is whether states will decline to participate in the law's big Medicaid expansion.

Although the court upheld the law's mandate requiring individuals to buy insurance, the justices said the act could not force states to expand Medicaid to millions by threatening to withhold federal funding.

Republican leaders of some states already are saying they are inclined to say thanks, but no thanks.

Tom Suehs, the Texas Health and Human Services Executive commissioner whose state could cover an additional 1.8 million people by 2019, praised the court for giving "states more ability to push back against a forced expansion of Medicaid. The court clearly recognized that the Affordable Care Act put states in the no-win situation of losing all their Medicaid funding or expanding their programs knowing that they would face billions of dollars in extra costs down the road."

The act, signed by President Obama in March 2010, required "states to extend Medicaid coverage to non-elderly individuals with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty line, or about $30,700 for a family of four," according to a March 2012 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. The extension was expected to cover nearly 16 million people by 2019, one of the law's main ways of reducing the ranks of the uninsured.

The 26 states that challenged the health care law together account for an estimated 8.5 million of those who would benefit from Medicaid's expansion by 2019, more ...

Published: Friday 29 June 2012
“The Affordable Care Act’s [ACA] requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.”

 

Initial reactions to the U.S. Supreme Court’s general upholding of the health care reform law Thursday ranged from the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) heralding the decision to conservative groups, such as the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, decrying it as “a victory for those who want the Federal government to micromanage your life and medical care.”

 

Buzzing beneath the first bluster of reactions, though, advocates for uninsured or underinsured Americans are raising concerns about the impact — if any — of limitations on the high court’s decision.

 

Chief Justice’s Surprise Swing Vote

 

First, here’s what the court decided: The 200-plus-page judgment breaks down into two major parts. In a 5-4 majority opinion written by conservative stalwart Chief Justice John Roberts, who became the surprise swing vote, the court upheld the law’s provision mandating that individuals have insurance or pay a penalty. 

 

The decision states, “The Affordable Care Act’s [ACA] requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.” 

 

Roberts thus accepted the Obama administration’s secondary argument that compelling people to buy insurance or be penalized was not tantamount, as dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia argued, to compelling citizens to buy broccoli for their health. Instead, says the majority, the penalty for not purchasing health insurance is no different from any other federal tax permitted by the U.S. Constitution.

 

The Chief Justice, however, sided with his four conservative colleagues on the ...

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“The ruling hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in approving the plan.”

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld virtually all of President Barack Obama's historic health care overhaul, including the hotly debated core requirement that nearly every American have health insurance.

The 5-4 decision meant the huge overhaul, still taking effect, could proceed and pick up momentum over the next several years, affecting the way that countless Americans receive and pay for their personal medical care.

The ruling hands Obama a campaign-season victory in rejecting arguments that Congress went too far in approving the plan. However, Republicans quickly indicated they will try to use the decision to rally their supporters against what they call "Obamacare," arguing that the ruling characterized the penalty against people who refuse to get insurance as a tax.

Breaking with the court's other conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts announced the judgment that allows the law to go forward with its aim of covering more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Roberts explained at length the court's view of the mandate as a valid exercise of Congress' authority to "lay and collect taxes." The administration estimates that roughly 4 million people will pay the penalty rather than buy insurance.

Even though Congress called it a penalty, not a tax, Roberts said, "The payment is collected solely by the IRS through the normal means of taxation."

Roberts also made plain the court's rejection of the administration's claim that Congress had the power under the Constitution's commerce clause to put the mandate in place. The power to regulate interstate commerce power, he said, "does not authorize the mandate. "

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney renewed his criticism of the overhaul, calling it "bad law" and promising to work to repeal it if elected in November.

Stocks of hospital companies rose sharply, and insurance companies ...

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
Why the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a vote of 6 to 3.

Predictions are always hazardous when it comes to the economy, the weather, and the Supreme Court. I won’t get near the first two right now, but I’ll hazard a guess on what the Court is likely to decide tomorrow: It will uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a vote of 6 to 3. 

Three reasons for my confidence:

First, Chief Justice John Roberts is — or should be — concerned about the steadily-declining standing of the Court in the public’s mind, along with the growing perception that the justices decide according to partisan politics rather than according to legal principle. The 5-4 decision in Citizen’s United, for example, looked to all the world like a political rather than a legal outcome, with all five Republican appointees finding that restrictions on independent corporate expenditures violate the First Amendment, and all four Democratic appointees finding that such restrictions are reasonably necessary to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. Or consider the Court’s notorious decision in  READ FULL POST 9 COMMENTS

Published: Wednesday 27 June 2012
“Foreclosures, lost jobs, wage declines and other reductions (combined with rising costs of everything from gasoline to child care) have become the norm, even shoving many proud middle-classers onto food stamp rolls.”

To report on how our economy is doing, media outlets keep a constant eye on the Dow Jones Average. But they're like cats watching the wrong mouse hole, for the great majority of Americans have between zero and next-to-nothing in the stock market.

The economic measure that matters most to most folks is the Doug Jones Average. The Doug is concerned about such key indicators as the pump price on a gallon of regular, the subprime value of today's seven-and-a-quarter minimum wage and the impact of global inflationary pressures on the cost of a six-pack.

So, how're Doug and Dottie Jones doing? Not well, report the number-crunchers at the Federal Reserve. In the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, Fed economists found that from 2007 through 2010, all but the wealthiest 10 percent of American households have been downwardly mobile, with the median net worth of U.S. households tumbling by a startling 39 percent, falling to the lowest level in 20 years.

In short, Americans are not merely feeling poorer — they are. Foreclosures, lost jobs, wage declines and other reductions (combined with rising costs of everything from gasoline to child care) have become the norm, even shoving many proud middle-classers onto food stamp rolls. Yet Washington remains fixated on propping up Wall Street's moneyed elites.

Congressional Republicans are actually clamoring for more financial deregulation and tax giveaways to coddle Wall Streeters (the same disastrous approach that caused the mess we're in) while also voting to slash funding for the food stamp program that more and more people need.

To keep a mighty tree, alive you must nourish the grassroots, not just spritz the few leaves at the top. But Washington has become a town of leaf-spritzers, ignoring the massive housing crunch, ongoing joblessness and mounting consumer debt. Indeed, three-fourths of Americans today have ...

Published: Wednesday 27 June 2012
“It’s been relatively easy to be anti-spending up to now because the reductions being proposed have mostly been theoretical and weren’t really likely to happen.”

There’s about to be a big change in the federal budget debate. In the end, the big winner will be the part of the budget that supposedly is so unpopular — federal spending — that a candidate for office this year cannot currently say he or she supports it without risking massive political condemnation and reprisals.

It’s been relatively easy to be anti-spending up to now because the reductions being proposed have mostly been theoretical and weren’t really likely to happen.

They also were mostly discussed in statistical terms that don’t typically strike fear into the hearts of most voters. After all, what does it really mean to reduce federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, to keep spending to its historical average or to implement an across-the-board cut?

And if all that has to be done — as some wishful thinkers have repeatedly said — is to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and you’re sure what you care about doesn’t meet any of those definitions, then cutting federal spending isn’t really that worrisome.

The irony is that this is about to change because of something that spending cut proponents themselves demanded. The sequester — the spending-cut-only alternative they insisted on if the anything-but-super committee failed — that will occur on Jan. 2 is the opposite of most of the plans that have been part of the federal budget debate up to now: It’s in place and will happen unless Congress and the president take some action to prevent it.

And it’s forcing companies, industries and voters to face the reality that the spending cuts could actually occur and, despite what they’ve been saying publicly, that they really don’t want it to happen.

This is not a guess. The military community has been so actively opposing the spending cuts the ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
Graduating the Class of 2012 Onto Our Overheated Planet.

 

Class of 2012, greetings! It’s a deceptively glorious day, even under this tent in the broiling heat of an August-style afternoon in mid-June on this northeastern campus.  Another local temperature record is being set: 98 degrees.  And yes, let’s admit it, the heat, the sun, the clearness of the azure blue sky stretching without a cloud to the horizon, the sense of summer descending with a passion, it’s not quite as reassuring as it might once have been, is it?  I suspect that few of you, readying yourselves to leave this campus, many mortgaged to your eyeballs (some for life no matter what you do), and heading into a country on edge, imagine personal clear skies to the horizon.

And while we’re admitting things, let’s admit something else about the heat today, as you bake under your graduation gowns: whether or not you have the figures at your fingertips, whether or not you know the details, who doesn’t sense that this planet is on edge, too?  I mean, here you are, the class of 2012, and like the classes of 2011, 2010, and so on, you are surely going to spend your first months out of college enduring one of history's top ten heat years.

READ FULL POST 2 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“The American Robin Hoods are seeking economic justice.”

Robin Hood popped up all across America last week. A bunch of green-suited Merry Men protested in front of Wall Street bank branches in 15 cities.

Another felt-hatted group demonstrated in Washington D.C. during J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon's testimony about why his bank shouldn’t submit to regulation even after flushing $2 billion down the toilet. The biggest band of Robin Hoods appeared on dollar bills -- a pointy hat drawn on George's head and the words “Robin Hood tax” written below.

The American Robin Hoods are seeking economic justice. They want Congress to resurrect the financial transactions tax. This is the Robin Hood tax, a tiny levy on the sale of stuff like stocks, bonds, derivatives, futures and credit default swaps. It packs two benefits in one tax. It would give the government cash to offset the cost of the Wall Street-caused recession. And it would suppress the high-risk, high-speed trading that caused the crash. Britain, home of Robin Hood, already charges a form of it. Ten European Union countries plan to institute it. America needs it.

It’s not new. The United States collected the tax for half of the 20th Century. During the Great Depression, Congress doubled it to help pay for recovery. It’s not novel.Twenty-nine countries charge it now, including Brazil, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Switzerland. It’s the opposite of a ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“Over the last year, the Orange County Register has published numerous editorials that falsely portray California’s pollution reduction program as costly, ineffective and arbitrarily imposed by state regulators.”

 

Over the last year, the Orange County Register has published numerous editorials that falsely portray California's pollution reduction program as costly, ineffective and arbitrarily imposed by state regulators. In fact, the program -- which incorporates a cap-and-trade program -- is part of a bipartisan law expected to benefit the state's economy.

 
 

THE OC REGISTER PORTRAYS CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM AS AN INEFFECTIVE, JOB KILLING TAX IMPOSED BY STATE REGULATORS

OC Register: AB 32 Bill Is "Costly" And "Jobs-Killing." According to the Orange County Register:

READ FULL POST 5 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
“Regressives in Congress have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.”

 

Recently I publicly debated a regressive Republican who said Arizona and every other state should use whatever means necessary to keep out illegal immigrants. He also wants English to be spoken in every classroom in the nation, and the pledge of allegiance recited every morning. “We have to preserve and protect America,” he said. “That’s the meaning of patriotism.”

To my debating partner and other regressives, patriotism is about securing the nation from outsiders eager to overrun us. That’s why they also want to restore every dollar of the $500 billion in defense cuts scheduled to start in January. 

Yet many of these same regressives have no interest in preserving or protecting our system of government. To the contrary, they show every sign of wanting to be rid of it.

In fact, regressives in Congress have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.

The GOP’s highest-ranking member of Congress has said his “number one aim” is to unseat President Obama. For more than three years congressional Republicans have marched in lockstep, determined to do just that. They have brooked no compromise. 

They couldn’t care less if they mangle our government in pursuit of their partisan aims. Senate Republicans have used the filibuster more frequently in this Congress than in any congress in history.

House Republicans have been willing to shut down the government and even risk the full faith and credit of the United States in order to get their way.

Regressives on the Supreme Court have opened the floodgates to unlimited money from billionaires and corporations overwhelming our democracy, on the bizarre theory that money is speech under the First Amendment and corporations are people.

Regressive Republicans in Congress won’t even support legislation requiring the sources of this money-gusher be ...

Published: Monday 25 June 2012
Due to weak insider trading rules, Bachus was cleared of any legal wrong doing by the Congressional Ethics Committee, but the case still motivated Congress to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which supposedly prevents lawmakers from profiting off information they receive in private briefings with top economic officials.

 

 

Last November, 60 Minutes aired a report showing that House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) made tens of thousands of dollars trading stock as he was receiving private economic briefings during the height of the 2008 financial crisis. Due to weak insider trading rules, Bachus was cleared of any legal wrong doing by the Congressional Ethics Committee, but the case still motivated Congress to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which supposedly prevents lawmakers from profiting off information they receive in private briefings with top economic officials.

However, the problem may go far beyond just Bachus. As the Washington Post reported on Monday, 34 lawmakers — including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) — shuffled their investment portfolios during the financial crisis, after speaking to high-ranking economic officials:

Boehner is one of 34 members of Congress who took steps to recast ...

Published: Monday 25 June 2012
Published: Monday 25 June 2012
The four justices’ hard line challenge to the government’s position during oral arguments signaled that they leaned heavily toward scrapping the law.

 

President Obama and top Democrats have repeatedly exuded cautious confidence that the Supreme Court would uphold part or most of the Affordable Care Act. But beneath their strained optimism, the Obama administration almost certainly has known that politics, not law, will ram its way into the high court’s final decision. 

 

There was never much doubt that the health care reform law would face rough sledding from the court's four ultra conservatives. The tip-off came quickly. The four justices’ hard line challenge to the government’s position during oral arguments signaled that they leaned heavily toward scrapping the law. 

 

The ostensible hook that the conservatives latched onto to assail the law was that the individual mandate is an unlawful infringement on individual liberty. It allegedly forces Americans to buy insurance. Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution confer that power on Congress or the executive branch.

 

GOP’s War on Health Care Reform

 

That’s just the start. Polls show that a slender majority of Americans want to dump all or parts of the law. This includes some Democrats. 

 

Despite loud protests that they are not swayed by public opinion or ideological beliefs, the court’s conservatives have shown they are as much “judicial activists” for their political views as they accuse liberal jurists of being. And the polls give even more ammunition to them. 

 

But even without the polls, the GOP and ultra conservatives waged their own very public and relentless war on health care reform from the moment Obama proposed it—even though the White House structured the legislation along line Republicans had advocated for ...

Published: Monday 25 June 2012
“The Big Lie that is destroying the American economy, the middle class, and the good character of a once-great country.”

 

As numbing news of multibillion dollar boondoggles, scandals and swindles becomes a daily occurrence, now is the time to take a close look at the right-wing propaganda machine’s favorite canards about capitalism and the free market. In the wake of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression and in the throes of a prolonged recession brought on by rogue financial institutions operating outside a regulatory system supposedly designed to prevent the very kind of reckless behavior and profiteering that led to the current doldrums, here is a short list of myths perpetrated by the corporate greed-is-good culture – myths that taken together add up to The Big Lie that is destroying the American economy, the middle class, and the good character of a once-great country.

 

Let’s begin with an axiom the US Chamber of Commerce, Koch Industries, Inc., Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Company, and Bain Capital, to name but a few, would all wholeheartedly endorse:  state interference (“regulation”) is inimical to economic growth, job creation, and prosperity.  And this corollary:  a free Market is the best and only way to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number.

 

Myth #1: There is no such thing as a free market, never has been, never will be. All markets are regulated, but some markets are regulated in the interest of the many and others in the interest of the few. The American economy is now clearly and indisputably regulated by the few and for the few who now control the wealth of the nation.

 

Proof: The top 20% own all but about 15% of the privately held money and assets in this country. The top 10% of taxpayers owns roughly 72% of the wealth and over 90% of the stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. Between 1981 and 2005, federal taxes on ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
Holder says that his office already released thousands of documents, and that the others that Issa wants are internal communications protected by executive privilege

 

Yesterday, the Obama administration invoked executive privilege to prevent the release of certain documents to Congress related to Operation Fast and Furious, the arms-trafficking sting gone awry that came to light last year. (As we've detailed, federal agents lost track of hundreds of guns they sold to suspected gun smugglers, many of which later turned up at crime scenes in Mexico).

The fall-out from the failed operation has been an ongoing battle between Attorney General Eric Holder and congressional Republicans, in particular Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa wants documents related to the Department of Justice's investigation of the operation.

The committee voted yesterday to recommend that Holder be held in contempt of Congress for not turning over some documents. Holder says that his office already released thousands of documents, and that the others that Issa wants are internal communications protected by executive privilege.

In the midst of all this back-and-forth, we lay out exactly what the executive privilege is, and what it means in this case.

So what is executive privilege?

The president can invoke executive privilege in order to withhold some internal executive branch communications from the other branches of government. The privilege is based on the separation of powers between the branches.

Executive privilege has been invoked ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments.

Shortly after the 2010 passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration bill, 20,000 people gathered in Phoenix for a May Day march to protest the new law. Instead of ending with speakers or a formal program, as political marches often do, organizers broke the crowd into small groups and asked them two questions:

How will the new law impact you and your neighbors? What can you do about it?

And with that, a new phase of the migrant rights movement, based on an age-old model of community organizing, was born.

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide very soon whether to strike down SB 1070, but few observers expect that it will choose to do so based on the Department of Justice arguments. That’s one reason local capacity development methods, such as Barrio Defense Committees, are crucial, organizers say. “We went to Congress for reform and were treated like a political football,” says Carlos Garcia, an organizer with the grassroots group Puente Arizona. “We asked the president for relief and instead got record deportations. Now even the courts may give SB 1070 the green light. It's time we realize we have only each other and start organizing deeper in our own community."

In the weeks and months after those small group discussions, communities across Arizona formed Barrio Defense Committees, neighborhood-based groups focused on resolving local problems, building resilience in the face of attack, and building organic leadership for broader social movements.

The committees are based on neighbor-to-neighbor relations where people commit to support each other to mitigate the negative impacts of deportations. Families sign power of ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
“The change is nevertheless a tremendous advance that will affect some 800,000 young people who have been living in fear and uncertainty about their ability to stay in the country.”

You can say that Obama was pandering for election-year purposes with his announcement that the government will no longer deport undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. You can say that the new policy does not go far enough in securing thoroughgoing immigration reform. So be it. The change is nevertheless a tremendous advance that will affect some 800,000 young people who have been living in fear and uncertainty about their ability to stay in the country. And it is worth spending a moment to pay homage to the DREAM Act students whose extraordinary activism made it possible.

In case you haven’t followed this issue, the DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would give legal status and create a path to citizenship for young immigrants, some of whom have spent almost their entire lives in the United States, who are going to college or serving in the military. The bill was passed by the House in 2010, and even got fifty-one votes in the Senate, but it could not overcome a Republican filibuster.

Undaunted, student activists supporting the bill—young people known as DREAMers—continued to push for the legislation with a series of gutsy actions. It is their dedication that has compelled Obama’s executive order, which represents an end-run around Congress. The order implements many of the practical mandates of the DREAM Act, giving legal status to young immigrants who have been in the country for more than five years and who have graduated high school, earned a GED, or enlisted in the military.

When I say the students took gutsy actions, I mean gutsy. I quote here a story from last December:

A pair of college students from Southern California recently walked into a ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
“More than three-fourths of Americans want their political leaders to undertake a new effort, rather than leave the health care system alone if the court rules against the law, according to the poll.”

 

The nutty thing about the health care debate that will play a prominent role in the next election is that most Americans want pretty much the same outcome: to control costs without sacrificing quality. And that’s not what either major-party candidate is offering. Few think that Obamacare, a Romneycare descendant that contains the same kind of individual mandate the then-governor of Massachusetts signed into law, will get us to that desired goal. Nor would Mitt Romney, who has been reborn as a celebrant of the old, pre-Obama system with a few nips and tucks.

As the nation awaits a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Obama health care approach, a new Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that the vast majority of Americans want Congress to come up with a better plan. They know that the current system is unsustainable. Only a third of those polled favored the law President Barack Obama signed, but according to the AP, “... Whatever people think of the law, they don’t want a Supreme Court ruling against it to be the last word on health care reform.” The article continued, “More than three-fourths of Americans want their political leaders to undertake a new effort, rather than leave the health care system alone if the court rules against the law, according to the poll.”

That sentiment underscores the opportunity missed by Obama, who limited his ambition to what Big Pharma and the insurance giants would accept as “reform” in a system that they had so successfully exploited. Obamacare is a faux reform born of opportunism, as was Romney’s original version: Play ball with those who have profited most from the run-up of medical costs and expect them to make it more affordable.

Two dynamics doomed the experiment. First, the new Democratic president wanted to launch a bold progressive program, but rather than channel the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to address the ...

Published: Friday 22 June 2012
We’re not going to make any headway on the issue of what to do with our border policy until we change the narrative that all undocumented visitors work digging ditches and undercutting the American worker.

This week president Obama made some drastic changes to the way we, as a nation, treat young immigrants. The new rules are by no means an easy way for illegal immigrants to gain permanent residency. There are quite a few restrictions based upon age, academic status, and other factors. I’m not writing this article to debate the finer points of the president’s new policy, I’m writing this article because of all the illegal immigrants I know who’ve contributed in a positive way to this country. I’m not ashamed to say I personally know and like several undocumented migrants and not a single one is poor, uneducated, or a criminal.

 

We’re not going to make any headway on the issue of what to do with our border policy until we change the narrative that all undocumented visitors work digging ditches and undercutting the American worker. I knew two men who came from Europe. They own a thriving restaurant, which employs nearly twenty Americans in a small town economy and they give back to local schools and civic organizations. They’ve been here illegally for over five years and even missed seeing their father on his deathbed because if they left the country they wouldn’t be allowed to return for a number of years. Their business would’ve fallen apart and left a gaping hole in their town’s economy. Americans would go jobless in hard times because of our immigration policies.

 

Another friend of mine was raised here in the states, but isn’t a citizen. Her parents split when she was out of high school and she decided to stay here instead of returning to one of two foreign countries she’s never known. Instead of being able to go to college and get a good job that allows her to contribute to this, the only country she’s experienced in 20 years, she has to take under the table waitressing positions to make ends meet. She lives scared of being deported, and ...

Published: Thursday 21 June 2012
“In a Rose Garden speech, Obama said that he and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were working to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just—specifically for certain young people sometimes called ‘Dreamers.’”

Undocumented immigrants in the United States number around 12 million people, a group larger than the populations of most countries on the planet. Among those are as many as 800,000 young people who are now most likely eligible for limited legal status, thanks to executive action taken last week by President Barack Obama. In a Rose Garden speech, Obama said that he and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano were working “to mend our nation’s immigration policy, to make it more fair, more efficient and more just—specifically for certain young people sometimes called ‘Dreamers.’” Behind the speech was a movement for social change, built by millions, each with their own story.

The “Dreamers” are those who are here without legal documentation, often derogatively referred to as “illegals,” but who came to this country as children, in some cases as infants. As he said in his speech: “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.” For 10 years, people have pushed for an act of Congress to give these young people legal status, through a bill called the DREAM Act, short for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

People in the movement don’t consider themselves “alien.” They call themselves “undocumented Americans.” One of those who stands to directly benefit from White House’s decision is ...

Published: Monday 18 June 2012
“The Senators should have grilled Dimon on the disparity between his public statements about his bank’s financial conditions and risk controls and what we now know was really going on behind the scenes.”

It had to happen sooner or later: Jamie Dimon, the bank CEO who's become the public face for our greedy and corrupt banking system, is openly backing the austerity plan pushed by former Senator Alan Simpson, the arrogant and abusive voice of our country's bought-and-sold elite "bipartisan" consensus. Will the Democratic Party led by Barack Obama stand up to that corporate consensus, or submit to it?

The "Simpson Bowles" plan is designed to force the American people to pay for the wealth, greed, and criminality of the banking class that Jamie Dimon has chosen to represent. The day after Dimon's testimony another institution announced that it was planning to impose the Simpson Bowles austerity plan on us: the Presidential Administration of Barack Obama, as represented by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

What did Jamie know?

The Senators dutifully made a show of their concern about JPMorgan Chase's multibillion dollar losses. They were shocked - shocked! - that gambling was gong on in his establishment.

That hearing should have focused on the need for tougher bank regulations, which Dimon has been vigorously fighting, and on the epidemic of criminal behavior and mismanagement within his own bank. The Senators should have grilled Dimon on the disparity between his public statements about his bank's financial conditions and risk controls and what we now know was really going on behind the scenes.

It's not only wrong to intentionally make misleading statements of that kind - it's also a crime. Yet the Senators never raised the question that should have been at the core of their hearing:

What did Jamie know and when did he know it?

The Committee never asked Dimon about his statement that the unit behind these trades, the "CIO," had been using a "new risk management model" that reduced its daily risk of potential losses by ...

Published: Monday 18 June 2012
“According to a new survey from the Federal Reserve, the median American family’s net worth dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2010 — from $126,400 to $77,300 — wiping out 18 years’ worth of accumulated wealth.”

Deep down we know there's no paradise on earth, but as the children of immigrants who came to this country believing it was a land of milk and honey, we are stalwart.  For generations now, it's the middle class that has sustained the dream of "America, the Beautiful" – with a dash of liberty and justice for all.  But now the very foundations on which that dream has rested are crumbling.  Consider the facts in this recent editorial in the New York Times:         

 

[The] numbers on the loss of personal wealth [since 2007-2008] are staggering and say a lot about why the economic recovery has been so sluggish — and why the government will need to do a lot more to turn things around.

 

According to a new survey from the Federal Reserve, the median American family’s net worth dropped by nearly 40 percent from 2007 to 2010 — from $126,400 to $77,300 — wiping out 18 years’ worth of accumulated wealth. The crash in house prices accounted for most of that loss. Median family income, which was already edging down in the years before the recession, continued to decline, dropping from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010, about where it was in the mid-1990s.

 

The middle class was hit the hardest…

 

The recession "would have been much deeper and the weak recovery much weaker", we are told,  but for past government support (for example, payroll tax cuts and extended jobless benefits).  Of course, Republicans in Congress opposed these measures.  Give the socialist Obama an inch, you see, and he will turn this country into a Marxist dictatorship.

 

The Times editorial calls for "…more support, including federal spending on education and public-works projects to create ...

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
The Change In Immigration Policy Was An Exercise Of Prosecutorial DiscretionDHS Exercised Prosecutorial Discretion To Allow Young Immigrants To Remain In The U.S. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano authored and signed the memorandum that dictated the new policy changes to immigration enforcement.

Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion Is Different From Issuing An Executive Order

Following the Obama administration's announcement that it will grant certain undocumented immigrants the chance to be exempted from deportation, Fox News claimed President Obama had issued the decision as an executive order, implying he did so to circumvent Congress. In fact, the change is an exercise of prosecutorial discretion that is consistent with the current law and has decades of precedent.

Policy Change Will Allow Eligible Undocumented Immigrants To Remain In The U.S. And Legally Work

Department Of Homeland Security Issued Policy Change Affecting Some 800,000 Young Undocumented Immigrants. From a press release by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano:

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today announced that effective immediately, certain young people who were brought to the United States as young children,do not present a risk to national security or public safety, and meet several key criteria will be considered for relief from removalfrom the country or from entering into removal proceedings. Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization.

[...]

Under this directive, individuals who demonstrate that they meet the following criteria will be eligible for an exercise of discretion, specifically deferred action, on a case by case basis:

1.     Came to the United States under the age of sixteen;

2.     Have ...

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
“In the education arena, it’s long past time for Democrats to go bold in their opposition to Republicans, to call them out as active agents in the dismantling of public schools, and to call for a renewed commitment to the best education that can be provided equally to children and young people everywhere.”

 


A funny thing happened on the way to the news cycle the past two weeks when the issue of education -- specifically, public schoolteachers and student loan relief -- maintained a presence on the political stage.

Because the conclusion among the Very Serious People is that the upcoming election is all about the economy, it was expected that the subject of education would quickly get the hook after last month's candidate sparring on the topic.

Yet after nearly a month in the limelight, we still see issues related to education hanging around stage left.

Education Just Won't Leave The Stage

For instance, just last week, all-but-certain Republican contender Mitt Romney bashed for "hiring more teachers." His comment was quickly affirmed and doubled-down this week when Romney surrogate, former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu, declared that there are places where we "need fewer teachers." Sununu apparently must be referring to a country other than America because where we live student population is at an all time high and will continue to grow in the near future.

Romney's pronouncement about desiring fewer schoolteachers was repeatedly rebuked by the Obama campaign on YouTube and Twitter, with Obama surrogate David Axelrod on 

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
The measure also would require the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically-engineered ingredients.

Senator Sanders introduces an amendment to the farm bill that would require labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering or derived from organisms that have been genetically engineered.


The measure also would require the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report to Congress within two years on the percentage of food and beverages in the United States that contain genetically-engineered ingredients.

Published: Saturday 16 June 2012
President Obama’s “red line” on Iran -- the point at which his administration would consider taking military action against the country -- has been the reactionary regime’s actual procurement of nuclear weapons.

 

In another resolution apparently designed to prepare for war against Iran, the U.S. House of Representatives, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 401-11 vote, has passed a resolution (HR 568) urging the president to oppose any policy toward Iran "that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."

With its earlier decision to pass a bill that effectively sought to ban any negotiations between the United States and Iran, a huge bipartisan majority of Congress has essentially told the president that nothing short of war or the threat of war is an acceptable policy. Indeed, the rush to pass this bill appears to have been designed to undermine the ongoing international negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. According to Iranian-American analyst Jamal Abdi, a prominent critic of both the Iranian regime and U.S. policy, the motivation for the resolution may be to "poison those talks by signaling to Iran that the President is weak, domestically isolated, and unable to deliver at the negotiating table because a hawkish Congress will overrule him."

President Obama's "red line" on Iran -- the point at which his administration would consider taking military action against the country -- has been the reactionary regime's actual procurement of nuclear weapons. The language of this resolution, however, significantly lowers the bar by declaring it unacceptable for Iran simply to have "nuclear weapons capability" -- not necessarily any actual weapons or an active nuclear weapons program. Some members ...

Published: Friday 15 June 2012
“It takes a lot to get elected to Congress, but most of all it takes cash.”

 

Our representatives in government aren’t just elected — they’re funded. It takes a lot to get elected to Congress, but most of all it takes cash. Members of Congress often spend up to 70 percent of their time fundraising, a problem that only gets worse with time — since 1982, campaign spending has increased fivefold.

Our friends at Rootstrikers are out with an infographic showing just how costly the problem is. Check it out above.

Published: Friday 15 June 2012
Published: Friday 15 June 2012
“If the Court strikes down the individual mandate, health insurance company lobbyists and executives will swarm Capitol Hill seeking to have the Act amended to remove the requirement that they insure people with pre-existing medical conditions.”

 

Any day now the Supreme Court will issue its opinion on the constitutionality of the Accountable Care Act, which even the White House now calls Obamacare.

Most high-court observers think it will strike down the individual mandate in the Act that requires almost everyone to buy health insurance, as violating the Commerce Clause of the Constitution — but will leave the rest of the new healthcare law intact.

But the individual mandate is so essential to spreading the risk and cost of health care over the whole population, including younger and healthier people, that some analysts believe a Court decision that nixes the mandate will effectively spell the end of the Act anyway.

Yet it could have exactly the opposite effect. If the Court strikes down the individual mandate, health insurance company lobbyists and executives will swarm Capitol Hill seeking to have the Act amended to remove the requirement that they insure people with pre-existing medical conditions. They’ll argue that without the mandate they can’t afford to cover pre-existing conditions.

But the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions has proven to be so popular with the public that Congress will be reluctant to scrap it.

This opens the way to a political bargain. Insurers might be let off the hook, for example, only if they support allowing every American, including those with pre-existing conditions, to choose Medicare, or something very much like Medicare. In effect, what was known during the debate over the bill as the “public option.”

So in striking down the least popular part of Obamacare - the individual mandate - the Court will inevitably bring into question one of its most popular parts - coverage of pre-existing conditions. And in so doing, open alternative ways to maintain that coverage - including ideas, like the public option, that were rejected in favor of the mandate.

The fact is, ...

Published: Thursday 14 June 2012
“Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.”

Late this summer, August 27-30, the world will once again be treated to the spectacle of a Republic National Convention.  It's only fitting that this one will be held in Tampa, Florida, the state that made it possible for George W. Bush to steal the election in 2000.  The convention is a sure bet to be a theater of the absurd, but this year the candidate it anoints and the speeches that sing his praises will highlight the hypocrisy of the new Grand Old Party like never before.

Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.  A vibrant economy operating without state intervention or regulation is one of the most pernicious, pervasive, and persistent myths in contemporary American politics.

Today even in the aftermath of the wild-assed, credit-crazed, derivative-driven, deliriously leveraged bubble economy that finally triggered the financial meltdown in 2008 – even after the near-collapse of the global economy and the Great Recession that followed (and still lingers), few Republican leaders dare to say a kind word about the need for state regulation or tax reform, and Democrats too often concede in practice what they dare not renounce in principle.  In fact, there is not a country in the world, never has been and never will be, where the economy operates in a political-administrative or legal vacuum.  Which is to say, there is no such thing as a free market or a pure market economy.

Nothing even close.  And while it's true that the state plays a smaller role in some economies than in others, the United States is in no sense exemplary except by one measure:  hypocrisy.

For proof, we can turn to no less an authority than Niall Ferguson, a self-confessed true believer in Adam Smith's "invisible hand".  Earlier this ...

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012
Congress had moved quickly to pass bills on water safety and bioterrorism, and the EPA thought it was “on the right track” to pass a bill on chemical security as well.

Christine Todd Whitman, Environmental Protection Agency chief under George W. Bush, urged the EPA Tuesday to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to impose stricter safety standards on American chemical facilities vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attacks.

“I cannot understand why we have not seen some action when the consequences of something happening are so potentially devastating,” Whitman said in a teleconference that included representatives of labor and environmental groups.  

As Bush’s EPA administrator, Whitman was prepared to unveil a proposal requiring chemical plants to use safer processes in the months after 9/11. Under the Clean Air Act’s general duty clause, Whitman said, the EPA had the authority to require hazard reduction at facilities at risk of catastrophic chemical releases.

But the plan was scuttled by the White House, which maintained that chemical hazards could be better addressed by legislation, Whitman said. Congress had moved quickly to pass bills on water safety and bioterrorism, and the EPA thought it was “on the right track” to pass a bill on chemical security as well.

Bob Bostock, Whitman’s homeland security adviser at the time, said EPA officials expected litigation from the chemical industry if it used the general duty clause. “It wasn’t so much that we were afraid we’d lose the litigation,” Bostock said. “We didn’t want to be tied up in litigation for years and years, leaving this unaddressed.”

Legislation never came. Now, Whitman and others are pressing the EPA to act on its own. In March, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council wrote a 

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012
Their latest reach is into the pockets of low- and modest-income college students who need federal student aid to help cope with today’s ever-escalating education costs.

Forget the PR perfume that BOA's now spritzing around, Bank of America stinks to its core.

But it's hardly alone in reflexively doing things that most of us would recognize as wrong from our kindergarten days. Perhaps there's some sort of greed gene that prompts compulsive outbreaks of financial graspiness by giant bankers. How else to explain the chronic gouges, excesses and scandals that we're getting from this one, small subgroup of human beings?

Their latest reach is into the pockets of low- and modest-income college students who need federal student aid to help cope with today's ever-escalating education costs. For decades, this financial assistance has come in the form of simple checks written to the students by the aid program or administered directly by the schools. But, of course, such straightforward simplicity begged the obvious question: How can we expect Wall Street bankers to grab a chunk of this student education money if it's not routed directly through them?

Thus, from deep inside a particularly inventive banker somewhere, the greed gene shouted: "debit cards!" Rather than disbursing the aid by checks, banks get universities to issue debit cards for students to use to withdraw their aid funds electronically.

This third-party play was pitched to Congress as a nice, convenient service to help hard-pressed students. But wait — these are bankers. They don't do nice — at least, not for free. Sure enough, the campus debit cards, cheerily emblazoned with each school's logo, have hooked more than 9 million needy students into an insidious fee system, ranging from 50 cents per swipe of their cards to a $10 "inactivity fee" — yes, a fee for not using their card frequently enough.

Some 900 campuses have signed card deals with such outfits as Wells Fargo and Higher One. These high-flying financiers grin from ear to ear as they line ...

Published: Monday 11 June 2012
“A rare interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and first lady Vilma Espín”

In a Democracy Now! special, we begin our hour on Cuba with a rare interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban president Raul Castro and first lady Vilma Espín. Mariela Castro is best known in Cuba for her ardent support of gay, lesbian, and transgender rights and as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana. During a rare visit to the U.S., Castro discusses her work in Cuba battling anti-LGBTQ discrimination. 

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: In a Democracy Now! special, we begin our show today with a rare U.S. interview with the daughter of the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, and First Lady Vilma Espín. Her name is Mariela Castro. She’s best known in Cuba for her ardent support of gay, lesbian and transgender rights and as the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana.

Mariela Castro was recently granted a visa for a rare trip to the United States.Democracy Now! had a chance to sit down with her last week at the Cuban consulate here in New York City. We talked not only about her work combating homophobia, but also her thoughts on the Cuban Five and what’s happening in Cuba 50 years after the start of the U.S. embargo. She called on the United States ...

Published: Monday 11 June 2012
Public-Sector Job Losses Have Been Severe And Unusual.

 

Conservative media figures have mocked President Obama's concerns about continuing job losses in the public sector but experts say the job cuts are more severe than in other recoveries in recent decades and threaten the recovering economy.

Conservative Media Mock Concerns About Public-Sector Job LossBill Kristol: Obama Thinks "The Problem With The Economy Is That The Government Isn't Big Enough." Fox News contributor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol said on the June 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting's Fox News Sunday:

KRISTOL: This gaffe is revealing about President Obama. And it's his policy. He wants more public sector jobs.  That's his address to the country, his radio address this past weekend was about how we - as you pointed out in your discussion with Mitch Daniels - is about how we need -- Congress needs to spend more money on public sector jobs, that will get the economy going again. So there's a fundamental difference here. The Republicans believe that the private sector is the engine of economic growth. And President Obama believes that the private sector is doing fine and that the problem with the economy is that the government isn't big enough. [Fox Broadcasting, Fox News Sunday, 6/10/12]

Liz Cheney Refers To Public-Sector Job Losses As "The Good That Is Being Done At The State Level." Later on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Fox News contributor Liz Cheney if reducing public-sector job loss is "an answer for the economy." Cheney responded that President Obama's call for public-sector hiring is "trying to undo the ...

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012
“Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.”

 

Oil drilling has sparked a frenzied prosperity in Jeff Keller's formerly quiet corner of western North Dakota in recent years, bringing an infusion of jobs and reviving moribund local businesses.

But Keller, a natural resource manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, has seen a more ominous effect of the boom, too: Oil companies are spilling and dumping drilling waste onto the region's land and into its waterways with increasing regularity.

Hydraulic fracturing — the controversial process behind the spread of natural gas drilling — is enabling oil companies to reach previously inaccessible reserves in North Dakota, triggering a turnaround not only in the state's fortunes, but also in domestic energy production. North Dakota now ranks second behind only Texas in oil output nationwide.

The downside is waste — lots of it. Companies produce millions of gallons of salty, chemical-infused wastewater, known as brine, as part of drilling and fracking each well. Drillers are supposed to inject this material thousands of feet underground into disposal wells, but some of it isn't making it that far.

According to data obtained by ProPublica, oil companies in North Dakota reported more than 1,000 accidental releases of oil, drilling wastewater or other fluids in 2011, about as many as in the previous two years combined. Many more illicit releases went unreported, state regulators acknowledge, when companies dumped truckloads of toxic fluid along the road or drained waste pits illegally.

State officials say most of the releases are small. But in several cases, spills turned out to be far larger than initially thought, totaling millions of gallons. Releases of brine, which is often laced with carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals, have wiped out aquatic life in streams and wetlands and sterilized farmland. The effects on land can last for years, or even decades.

Compounding such problems, ...

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012
“Those victories happen dramatically more often when homeowners organize and make their fight public.”

 

There is some good news in the fight for homeowners and against the big banks. Homeowners who are facing foreclosures because of unfair and often illegal practices by the major financial Goliaths are learning how to organize, how to shame bank executives and how to get local media attention.

But a panel of activists at Netroots Nation also expressed disappointment that there has not yet been any prosecutions of banking industry executives for any of the wrongdoing that led to the financial crisis and the millions of home foreclosures that followed.

That disappointment will greet Eric Schneiderman, the New York state attorney general who is also the head of an investigative task force on the financial crisis commissioned by President Obama, when he speaks tonight at a Netroots Nation plenary session.

Tracy Van Slyke, the director of New Bottom Line, one of the progressive grassroots organization leading the effort to break up the big banks and hold them accountable for causing the financial crisis, reflected the mood of the panel when she said that she was viewing the work of Schneiderman and the task force "with growing disappointment and growing anger" because of its slow progress.

Matt Browner-Hamlin, senior economic strategist at the Citizen Engagement Lab, said that top banking executives have already testified to actions before Congress that should lead to indictments, but so far they have not. There is a need for some real heroes in the fight against the big banks, Browner-Hamlin said, and "I had hoped that Schneiderman would be one of those heroes. Unfortunately, that's not going to be the case."

The heroes instead have been ordinary homeowners facing the threat of losing their homes who have found that by banding together with community activists and other homeowners they can often curb the big banks' worst behavior and begin to move public opinion on such issues as whether the big ...

Published: Saturday 9 June 2012
So when “The New York Times” this week ran the headline “Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism ‘Kill List,’” it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

 

When a democracy functions properly, media revelations of executive branch misconduct typically result in an investigation by the legislative branch. Watergate epitomized this healthy dynamic — illegal acts exposed by the Washington Post prompted congressional hearings and ultimately prosecutions. In other words, checks and balances functioned properly, and the system both cleansed itself of wrongdoers and rejected the Nixonian notion that no matter what a president does, it is inherently legal.

So when "The New York Times" this week ran the headline "Senate Will Investigate National Security Leaks About Terrorism 'Kill List,'" it was a frightening sign that something has gone horribly wrong since the Woodward-and-Bernstein days.

Some background: Last week, the Times published an expose detailing how President Obama personally orders the execution of American citizens and foreigners that he labels "terrorists." According to the Times, this program deems "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants"; allows the president to be judge, jury and executioner; and operates wholly outside of the law. Indeed, the Times reports that the administration justifies such dictatorial power by insisting that the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process can now "be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."

However, the memo laying out this utterly preposterous legal theory is secret — and, of course, hasn't been ratified by any court.

In terms of size, scope and long-term effects, this program makes the Watergate scandal look altogether quaint. You would therefore think that at minimum, even the most flaccid, rubber-stamp Congress might ask a few questions about the president's "kill list" and the dangerous precedents it sets.

But evidently, you would be wrong.

As the Times noted in that subsequent ...

Published: Saturday 9 June 2012
Across the country the momentum is building, spurred by organizations such as Free Speech for People, Move to Amend, Public Citizen, People for the American Way, and Occupy groups.

 

When I spoke at an event in February 2010, I gave the audience little boxes of matches. My point was that to achieve the change we were discussing we would need to light a prairie fire of activism. Two years later, I gave a similar talk. I needed no matchboxes. The prairie fire was well underway. 

Both talks were about the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (CU). The case was the crown jewel of decades of Supreme Court rulings that corporations are “persons” with constitutional rights, including free speech, and that spending money is a form of speech. CU allows unlimited spending on political campaigns directly from corporate treasuries right up to Election Day.

After the decision, most people I knew were in despair. Although polls showed that 80 percent of people who knew about the ruling opposed it, what were we to do? The highest court in the land had spoken. Corporate money would now flood our elections. Only a constitutional amendment could reverse the ruling. At my 2010 talk that possibility seemed remote indeed. 

Two years later, when I spoke at a Move to Amend event, the mood was strikingly different. Organizers had just gotten the Port Townsend, Wash., city council to approve an amendment declaring that corporations are not people. They planned to press county officials and the state legislature to do likewise. Some planned to urge the League of Women Voters to support an amendment. Others wanted their churches to take a stand. 

Across the country the momentum is building, spurred by organizations such as Free Speech for People, Move to ...

Published: Wednesday 6 June 2012
“The debt is growing because of obligations entered into long ago, many under George W. Bush – including two giant tax cuts that went mostly to the very wealthy that were supposed to be temporary and which are still going, courtesy of Republican blackmail over raising the debt limit.”

 

JP Morgan Chase,  Goldman Sachs, BP, Chevron, WalMart, and billionaires Charles and David Koch are launching a multi-million dollar TV ad buy Tuesday blasting President Obama over the national debt.

Actually, I don’t know who’s behind this ad because there’s no way to know. And that’s a big problem.

The front group for the ad is Crossroads GPS, the sister organization to the super PAC American Crossroads run by Republican political operative Karl Rove.

Because Crossroads GPS is a tax-exempt nonprofit group, it can spend unlimited money on politics — and it doesn’t have to reveal where it gets the dough.

By law, all it has to do is spent most of the money on policy “issues,” which is a fig leaf for partisan politics.

Here’s what counts as an issue ad, as opposed to a partisan one. The narrator in the ad Crossroads GPS is launching solemnly intones: “In 2008, Barack Obama said, ‘We can’t mortgage our children’s future on a mountain of debt.’ Now he’s adding $4 billion in debt every day, borrowing from China for his spending. Every second, growing our debt faster than our economy,” he continues. “Tell Obama, stop the spending.”

This is a bald face lie, by the way.

Obama isn’t adding to the debt every day. The debt is growing because of obligations entered into long ago, many under George W. Bush – including two giant tax cuts that went mostly to the very wealthy that were supposed to be temporary and which are still going, courtesy of Republican blackmail over raising the debt limit.

In realty, government spending as a portion of GDP keeps dropping.

As I said, I don’t know who’s financing this big lie but there’s good reason to think it’s some combination of Wall Street, big corporations, and the billionaire Koch brothers.

According ...

Published: Wednesday 6 June 2012
“By offering a chance for people to connect their personal troubles with larger social issues, Occupy Our Homes is creating an opening for the millions of Americans facing distress over their housing situations to join in collective action.”

 

Since the real estate bubble burst, conditions for a national fight against foreclosures and evictions have seemed ideal. “Too big to fail” banks have refused to offer homeowners struggling with high mortgage payments any meaningful relief, despite receiving billions of dollars in public bailouts. More than one in five home mortgages in the country are “underwater” —with the mortgage greater than the market value of the home—resulting in about $700 billion in negative equity. Overall, more than 4 million homes were lost due to foreclosure between 2006 and 2011.  In response, community organizations in cities throughout the country ramped up their work to keep families in their homes through local direct action.

Yet even though all of these elements were in place, no broad-scale movement to address the foreclosure crisis had captured the public spotlight.

That changed with the dramatic emergence of the Occupy movement this past fall. The movement provided an opportunity for a broader, coordinated approach to the foreclosure problem. Occupy set its sights firmly on abuses by the banking system and pointed to foreclosures as a main grievance. This winter, a national call to “Occupy Our Homes” and join in anti-foreclosure and anti-eviction efforts became a popular proposal for one of the movement’s next steps.

In recent months, Occupy Our Homes has given community groups that have organized around housing issues for years a chance to link with a unified, national effort and to share knowledge gained from local fights. The Occupy movement, in turn, has benefited from joining forces with anti-foreclosure and anti-eviction organizers. While Occupiers’ arguments about inequality and corporate greed may sometimes seem abstract, the foreclosure issue has allowed activists to make their complaints about the U.S. economy more concrete. It gives the Occupy movement an ...

Published: Tuesday 5 June 2012
“The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.”

 

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they -- and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self -- are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded 

Published: Monday 4 June 2012
“Pelosi’s proposal would be great for millionaires - and bad for everyone else.”

 

Once again a Democrat's letting the Right set the terms of the debate. This time it's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who's undercutting her party's tax policy in an odd way: by redefining "middle class" so that it includes people making a million dollars a year.

Pelosi's proposal would be great for millionaires - and bad for everyone else.

It hurts the nation economically by depriving the government of revenue when it should be providing more stimulus funding. It also muddies her party's messaging, and reinforces the unpatriotic idea that taxes are punishment rather than a fair exchange. Nancy Pelosi is better than this.

How good is her proposal? Let's take a closer look.

The Upper Upper Upper Upper Upper Middle Class

President Obama has proposed ending the Bush tax breaks. That would, among other things, raise the tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for income above $250,000. But since he's keeping taxes where they are for income below $250,000, that would preserve a tax break for millionaires too!

After all, you can't earn a million dollars unless you earn $250,000 first.

Nevertheless, Minority Leader Pelosi sent a letter to her Republican counterpart, House Speaker John Boehner, demanding an immediate up-or-down vote on a very different proposition: letting the tax cuts expire for income above a milliondollars.

To make matters even more confusing, Leader Pelosi described the proposal as an "extension of the middle-class tax cuts." While opinions differ on what constitutes a middle-class income, this appears to be the first time in history that a million-dollar income was characterized as "middle class." The average personal income in the United States as of the last survey was $39,959 and, as 

Published: Sunday 3 June 2012
Published: Friday 1 June 2012
“On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that Whitmore was fired in retaliation for telling journalists and Congress about OSHA’s failure to crack down on companies submitting suspect data.”

A whistleblower who was fired by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after complaining publicly about the poor quality of injury and illness data kept by employers has won a major court victory.

Robert Whitmore, a supervisory economist with OSHA’s Office of Statistical Analysis, lost his job in 2009, ostensibly for insubordination. On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that Whitmore was fired in retaliation for telling journalists and Congress about OSHA’s failure to crack down on companies submitting suspect data. OSHA is supposed to use the data to identify potentially unsafe workplaces; accuracy, therefore, is crucial.

The Merit Systems Protection Board upheld Whitmore’s firing, finding that he had acted in a threatening manner toward a supervisor. The appeals court, however, found that OSHA failed to provide “clear and convincing” evidence that Whitmore’s whistleblowing had no bearing on his dismissal. The case will go back to the board for rehearing.

The court found that Whitmore’s airing of concerns about employer record keeping, beginning in 2005, led to “increasingly strained relationships with OSHA officials” and “paralleled his increasingly poor performance reviews and adverse personnel actions after decades of exceptional service.”

The court went on: “Despite Robert Whitmore’s highly unprofessional and intimidating conduct, which may well ultimately justify some adverse personnel action, he is nevertheless a bona fide whistleblower.”

Whitmore would like to have his job back, his lawyer, Paula Dinerstein, told the Center for Public Integrity on Thursday. He went public with his concerns because “OSHA for a long time had not been enforcing [record keeping] requirements,” said Dinerstein, senior counsel with Public Employees for ...

Published: Friday 1 June 2012
Everything from high fructose corn syrup-sweetened Coke to soybean oil-containing Hellman’s would have to bear a label reading something like “Contains GMO ingredients.”

In November, California voters will decide on a ballot initiative that would require labeling of all foods containing ingredients from genetically modified crops. The initiative made it to the ballot after almost 1 million Californians signed a petition in favor of it—nearly double the 504,760 signatures needed under the state's proposition rules. The campaign that organized the push to get the measure on the ballot focused on possible health effects of GMO foods.

This news will not likely be applauded by my friends over at Crop life America, the main trade group of the GM seed/agrichemical industry. The big GMO crops—corn, soy, sugar beets, and cotton—are processed into sweeteners, fats, and additives used widely by the food industry. Everything from high fructose corn syrup-sweetened Coke to soybean oil-containing Hellman’s would have to bear a label reading something like "Contains GMO ingredients."

That would send a shockwave through the food industry—one that could ultimately be felt on the industrial-scale U.S. farms that have been devoting their land to GMO crops for years, and the companies that profit from selling them patented seeds and matching herbicides. The reason isn't just that California represents an imposing chunk of the U.S. food market. It's also that a food-labeling law that starts in California is unlikely to stay in California.

To see why, look at ...

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“Chris Van Hollen says that the only way to mitigate the ability of corporate interests to wield undue, unscientific influence over public policymaking on climate change is to require corporations to disclose more fully where any political funding is going. ”

According to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) here on Wednesday, at least half of the U.S. corporations under review have actively supported the misrepresentation of the science around climate change.

Many more have offered contradictory statements on the issue. 

This despite the fact that all of the 28 companies included in the study have publicly expressed general or concerted support for emissions reductions. 

“Many of these companies influenced public opinion and undermined the public's understanding of scientific consensus around climate change,” Francesca Grifo, the director of the UCS's Scientific Integrity Program, told journalists on Wednesday. 

“They have done so by developing specific strategies to promote false scientific uncertainty and downplay scientific evidence, and by propping up and using front groups to vilify scientists and promote sympathetic experts.”

Grifo says that such actions mirror past approaches by the tobacco industry, “where the end goal is delaying ...

Published: Wednesday 30 May 2012
“These elected officials spend 30-70 percent of their time fundraising, and they are highly, shall we say, responsive when Big Money talks”

We pay a lot of money for health care in the United States, more per capita than anywhere else in the industrialized world. If you point out this inescapable fact to opponents of socialized medicine, they invariably respond that we get high-quality care in return. Exasperated, you might go further and say that spending nearly $8,000 a year per capita still leaves us with the 8th-lowest average life expectancy among OECD countries, that the Japanese spend $5,000 less per person per year and live longer. But rich foreigners flock to the United States for operations, your interlocutor insists, so clearly we get what we pay for. The uninsured, alas, would agree with this grim assessment – since they have little to no money, they get little to no care.

Americans also spend more per capita on the military than any other industrialized country (the United Arab Emirates, with a population of only 7 million people, is the only country with a higher rate). The Pentagon and its clients boast that all this money is well spent, that no country comes close to us in terms of quality or quantity of security. Critics, meanwhile, decry the waste, the cost overruns, the systems that work poorly (the F-35) or will never work (missile defense), and of course the enormous opportunity costs.

On health care and the military budget, no one can dispute that the United States spends exorbitantly. Whether we get our money’s worth is a matter of considerable debate.

But there is one arena in which the United States is a world-class spender where you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue that we get world-class results for our money. I’m talking ...

Published: Wednesday 30 May 2012
Let’s admit even the smallest “donor-investors” want value for dollar and that mandates bold, progressive PACs with mission statements like “Performance -- or Reimbursement.”

Since our political hubs begin to loom as business subsidiaries for the biggest banks, energy-industrial cartels, and unhinged billionaires, let's fight back with a business-reward model for progressive campaigns. If corporations are people, why can't the residual left reinvent itself, just like willful corporations that leverage deductible "investments" -- or go elsewhere? Think: lemon law for progressives.  

 

Here stands our era's dilemma -- will the majority "take back," indeed restore our collective national assets, or will more get brazenly auctioned off to the highest bidder? Not so long ago, a more equitable balance of liberal powers took on dinosaurs: sustained movements in Congress and the streets gained civil rights and impeded wars of empire; energetic labor unions offset greedy owners, forcing greater profit-sharing; and more mindful, better-educated Main Streeters defended their own bloody self-interest, fostering government as the great leveler, not politics as toxic divider.  

 

Why only yesterday, the wealthiest coveted businesses, resources, and sufficient political clout to prevent onerous interventions, but stopped short of trying to own everything. Since 1980's, the narrative speaks to rightwing dominance of the Supreme Court, media, elections, redistricting and voting privileges, personal medical decisions, and cutting employment (via outsourcing) and middle-class access to capital (thanks to self-serving "loan" crises). And yet, money itself does not equal political ruination.

 

In fact, it's naive, even impossible to separate money from power, let alone "take money out of politics." For all of our history, power, class, propaganda and property inextricably mirror the same stone. The problem isn't simply that money dominates politics, but that focused, reactionary owners have come to distort "the playing ...

Published: Tuesday 29 May 2012
“When it comes to military policy, the Obama administration’s success in shutting down wars conducted in plain sight tells only half the story.”

As he campaigns for reelection, President Obama periodically reminds audiences of his success in terminating the deeply unpopular Iraq War.  With fingers crossed for luck, he vows to do the same with the equally unpopular war in Afghanistan.  If not exactly a peacemaker, our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president can (with some justification) at least claim credit for being a war-ender.

Yet when it comes to military policy, the Obama administration’s success in shutting down wars conducted in plain sight tells only half the story, and the lesser half at that.  More significant has been this president’s enthusiasm for instigating or expanding secret wars, those conducted out of sight and by commandos.

President Franklin Roosevelt may not have invented the airplane, but during World War II he transformed strategic bombing into one of the principal emblems of the reigning American way of war.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower had nothing to do with the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.  Yet, as president, Ike’s strategy of Massive Retaliation made nukes the centerpiece of U.S. national security policy.

So, too, with Barack Obama and special operations forces.  The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) with its constituent operating forces -- Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, and the like -- predated his presidency by decades.  Yet it is only on Obama’s watch that these secret warriors have reached the pinnacle of the U.S. military’s prestige hierarchy.

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Published: Tuesday 29 May 2012
“The way to avoid this austerity trap is to get growth and jobs back first, and only then tackle budget deficits. ”

We now know austerity economics is bad for weak economies facing large budget deficits. Much of Europe is in recession because of budget cuts demanded by Germany. And as Europe’s economies shrink, their debts become proportionally larger, making a bad situation worse.

The way to avoid this austerity trap is to get growth and jobs back first, and only then tackle budget deficits. 

The U.S. hasn’t yet fallen into the trap, but it could soon. Last week the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office warned we’ll be in recession early next year if the Bush tax cuts end as scheduled on January 1, and if more than $100 billion is automatically cut from federal spending, as required by Congress’s failure last August to reach a budget deal. 

Predictably, Capitol Hill is deadlocked. Democrats refuse to extend the Bush tax cuts for high earners and Republicans refuse to delay the budget cuts. 

If recent history is any guide, a deal will be struck at the last moment – during a lame-duck Congress, some time in late December. And it will only be to remove the January 1 trigger. Keep everything as it is, the Bush tax cuts as well as current spending, and kick the ...

Published: Wednesday 23 May 2012
“House Republicans are calling for cuts to food aid, healthcare and social services while protecting funds for the Pentagon.”

Census data shows nearly one in two Americans live in poverty and now the Congressional Budget Office warns things could soon get worse if President Obama and Congress remain at an impasse over the 2013 fiscal budget. House Republicans are calling for cuts to food aid, healthcare and social services while protecting funds for the Pentagon. We discuss poverty with Peter Edelman, who resigned as assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services over then-President Bill Clinton's signing of the 1996 welfare reform law that threw millions off the rolls. "Basically right now welfare is gone," Edelman says. "We have six million people in this country whose only income is food stamps -- that's an income at a third of the poverty line. ... Nineteen states serve less than 10 percent of their poor children. It's a terrible hole in the safety net. Welfare has basically disappeared in large parts of this country." Now a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Edelman has written a new book, "So Rich, So Poor: Why It's So Hard to End Poverty in America." "I'm very much in support of Occupy," he adds. "The idea ... of the 1 percent and the 99 percent ... all fits together -- we really should be all one country."

 

Transcript:

Published: Wednesday 23 May 2012
“Very few Americans on this side of the ATM machine think that the biggest problem in Washington is that the moneychangers don’t have enough clout.”

We're sick and tired of being bullied and stomped on by the Powers That Be in Washington, and by gollies, we're not going to take it anymore!

Hooray! It's about time that workers, consumers, small farmers and other "small fry" joined together in a populist rebellion to make big-shot Congress critters of both parties listen to us. But — uh-oh — wait a minute. These mad-as-hellers aren't wielding pitchforks and torches, but big bags of cash. Holy Thom Payne — they're bankers!

Very few Americans on this side of the ATM machine think that the biggest problem in Washington is that the moneychangers don't have enough clout. But, incredibly, here they come with a super PAC intended to force lawmakers to bow even deeper to their needs.

"Congress isn't afraid of bankers," declared one of the bank honchos who organized the Friends of Traditional Banking super PAC. "They don't think we'll do anything to kick them out of office," he said, but that's exactly the plan.

In a dramatic and wholly destructive escalation of Big Money's assault on America's democracy, FTB's funders are not out to support candidates, but "to defeat our enemies." A Utah banker who chairs the new super PAC explains that giving $10,000 or so to the opponent of an incumbent who sides with the people has no impact, "but if you say the bankers are going to put ... $1 million into your opponent's campaign, that starts to draw some attention." He calls this a "surgical" approach to carving out political power. Yeah — like doing surgery with a chainsaw and sledgehammer!

Thank you, Supreme Court, for making this crass money play possible with your plutocratic Citizens United decision. Now that bankers are going to intimidate officeholders with the threat to put unlimited campaign cash against them, we can expect Big Oil, Big Pharma and all ...

Published: Wednesday 23 May 2012
“The Leadership Conference is specifically concerned about protecting language in the Senate version of the bill that would require the federal government to continue technical assistance programs and studies related to public transportation and its accessibility to low-income people and people of color.”

It's about time for us to break into the closed-door negotiations in Congress over a surface transportation bill.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is asking people today to call their members of Congress to support "transportation equity" in the transportation bill, which will fund highway and public transportation projects for the next two years. The Leadership Conference has in mind some specific concerns affecting urban and low-income populations, but everyone concerned about making the economy work again for working-class and middle-class people has a reason to make their voice heard. This bill is too important to be left to the lobbyists who have access to the members and staffers huddled in a House-Senate conference committee.

The Leadership Conference is specifically concerned about protecting language in the Senate version of the bill that would require the federal government to continue technical assistance programs and studies related to public transportation and its accessibility to low-income people and people of color. The importance of public transportation, of course, transcends race and class—the more people use public transportation, the less clogged and the less polluted our roads are, and the less fuel we're consuming.

And just this week, the American Public Transportation Association released a report that estimated that riders would be making an additional 200 million new trips on buses and rail systems this year as gas prices fluctuate. That reports cites evidence that many riders who start taking buses or rail when gas prices spike keep on doing so when gas prices fall, as they are now.

House Republicans, however, almost got away with ditching dedicated federal funding for public transportation altogether. (Federal assistance is used for capital expenses; operating expenses are ...

Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Published: Tuesday 22 May 2012
Lobbyists have raised $3 million for Romney’s presidential campaign.

The federal energy loan program that has created headaches for President Barack Obama has a Mitt Romney connection.

Cathy Tripodi of FaegreBD Consulting lobbies on behalf of Abound Solar, a company that was awarded a $400 million loan guarantee through the same Department of Energy program that aided Solyndra, the now-bankrupt California company that included an Obama bundler as an investor.

Tripodi is a bundler for Romney. She raised $27,000 for the presumptive Republican nominee in April, according to documents filed by his campaign with the Federal Election Commission Sunday.

After receiving a federal loan guarantee, Solyndra ultimately went bankrupt, sticking taxpayers with a $535 million bill and providing fodder for Republican attacks against the president and his green energy initiatives.

Many pundits and politicos began uttering Abound’s name in the same sentence as Solyndra this spring, after Abound announced plans to lay off 280 workers from a Colorado plant and delay the opening of a factory in Indiana. Earlier this month, the Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives brought in Abound’s president to ...

Published: Sunday 20 May 2012
“In September 2008, Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, managed to extort a $700 billion bank bailout from Congress.”

 

The Goldman Sachs coup that failed in America has nearly succeeded in Europe—a permanent, irrevocable, unchallengeable bailout for the banks underwritten by the taxpayers.

In September 2008, Henry Paulson, former CEO of Goldman Sachs, managed to extort a $700 billion bank bailout from Congress. But to pull it off, he had to fall on his knees and threaten the collapse of the entire global financial system and the imposition of martial law; and the bailout was a one-time affair. Paulson’s plea for a permanent bailout fund—the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP—was opposed by Congress and ultimately rejected.

By December 2011, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi, former vice president of Goldman Sachs Europe, was able to approve a 500 billion Euro bailout for European banks without asking anyone’s permission. And in January 2012, a permanent rescue-funding program called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) was passed in the dead of night with barely even a mention in the press. The ESM imposes an open-ended debt on EU member governments, putting taxpayers on the hook for whatever the ESM’s Eurocrat overseers demand.

The bankers’ coup has triumphed in Europe seemingly without a fight. The ESM is cheered by Eurozone governments, their creditors, and “the market” alike, because it means investors will keep buying sovereign debt. All is sacrificed to the demands of the creditors, because where else can the money be had to float the crippling debts of the ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
Such giants as the Boeing Company, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), not only coaxed a three-year extension for Ex-Im operations out of Congress supposedly preoccupied with reducing the federal deficit, they also got an increase in lending authority from 100 billion dollars last year to 140 billion dollars by 2014.

For leaders of the right-wing populist "Tea Party" who have bragged about their growing influence – if not domination – of the Republican Party, the past week's battle over the future of the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) has been a humbling experience.

 

It's also been a reminder of the power enjoyed by Big Business, the corporate empires with globe-straddling interests, in both major parties in Congress.

 

While bipartisanship is an increasingly rare commodity in Washington these days, the interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations is something both Democrats and Republicans can agree on.

 

Such giants as the Boeing Company, backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), not only coaxed a three-year extension for Ex-Im operations out of Congress supposedly preoccupied with reducing the federal deficit, they also got an increase in lending authority from 100 billion dollars last year to 140 billion dollars by 2014.

 

"The three-year extension and healthy increase in lending level sends the right message to our foreign competitors," said John Hardy, the president of the Coalition for Employment Through Exports (CEE), one of an alphabet soup of business associations that lobbied for the extension.

 

"American companies that export have the support of their government to level the playing field and help make those sales," he added.

 

Created in the early days of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal", Ex-Im has survived and prospered under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. This despite occasional complaints on the right side of the political ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
As Reuters reports, the food and beverage industry has been relentless in Washington lately, more than doubling their spending in Washington during the past three years, completely outpacing public interest groups looking out for children’s health.

Nearly half of all Americans will be obese by 2030, researchers reported at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Weight of the Nation conference in Washington earlier this month. 42 percent of us are projected to be obese, placing a huge strain on our already compromised health care system. Brian Fung at The Atlantic points out that the healthcare costs of obesity — $550 billion over the next two decades — is more than the U.S. Department of Defense asked for in its fiscal year 2013 budget.

There are a lot of reasons — chemical, psychological, environmental — for why people are obese. But explaining societal obesity means looking at what the food system is providing for us to eat — and how government policies might promote certain foods over others.

“In the political arena, one side is winning the war on child obesity,” a new Reuters report on the food lobby begins. “The side with the fattest wallets.”

That’s entirely true. As Reuters reports, the food and beverage industry has been relentless in Washington lately, more than doubling their spending in Washington during the past three years, completely outpacing public interest groups looking out for children’s health:

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year — roughly what those opposing the stricter guidelines spent every 13 hours, ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
In a nod to the human rights concerns, the Pentagon said the weapons being sold to Bahrain will not include anything that could be used against protestors.

While much of the world’s focus has been on the civil war in Syria, the island kingdom of Bahrain continues to shake with anti-government protests that started in last year’s “Arab Spring.” While it has received less attention, human rights groups have documented ongoing government abuses.

Those concerns were enough to put a halt on a weapons sale from the U.S. to Bahrain last fall, but the Obama administration announced last Friday that it has decided to proceed with the sale, despite the ongoing upheaval and protests from both Congress and human rights groups.

“Bahrain is an important security partner and ally in a region facing enormous challenges,” wrote Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in an official statement announcing the sales. “Maintaining our and our partners’ ability to respond to these challenges is a critical component of our commitment to Gulf security.”

In a nod to the human rights concerns, the Pentagon said the weapons being sold to Bahrain will not include anything that could be used against protestors. Instead, it would be a package of equipment geared towards protecting the country from external threats, including engines for F-16 planes and harbor security boats.

“Sales of items that are sort of predominantly or typically used by police and other security forces for internal security, things used for crowd control, we’re not moving forward with at this time,” said an unnamed administration official on a conference call last Friday. “That would include things like tear gas, tear gas launchers, stun grenades – those ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
“As Greg Kaufmann reported in The Nation, these cuts in 2013 include $36 billion less in spending on food assistance to the poor (the SNAP, or food-stamp, program), eliminating 5.5 million children from eligibility for the Child Tax Credit and eliminating programs under the Social Services Block Grant that serve millions of low-income children and seniors. ”

Multibillionaire Peter G. Peterson's Fiscal Summit may have started with conciliatory nods toward bipartisanship, but it did not climax that way. And that had to have been by design.

Peterson and the people who planned the Fiscal Summit had to have known when they planned to have House Speaker John Boehner as the day's closing speaker that he would deliver the right-wing, red-meat, no-compromise speech that even Peterson himself was too polite to give. If that was the case, Boehner did not disappoint, declaring that he would once again risk having the federal government default in order to ram his conservative austerity agenda down the throat of the nation.

The middle finger pointed at the American Majority could not have been more plain. He said in his speech:

Yes, allowing America to default would be irresponsible. But it would be more irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without taking dramatic steps to reduce spending and reform the budget process.

We shouldn’t dread the debt limit. We should welcome it. It’s an action-forcing event in a town that has become infamous for inaction.

... When the time comes, I will again insist on my simple principle of cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase. This is the only avenue I see right now to force the elected leadership of this country to solve our structural fiscal imbalance.

We already know what this looks like because the House last week passed its budget, based on the budget plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman. (Ryan was at the summit as well, as its lunchtime speaker, followed by his ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
“The title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: ‘The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?’”

In an attempt to keep the political war against renewable energy in the headlines, Republicans are holding another hearing to question the value of government investments in the sector.

Looks like ten political sideshows on Solyndra weren’t enough.

If tomorrow morning’s hearing were being used as a chance to objectively assess where the industry stands, that would be one thing. But the title of the meeting gives away the real political intent: “The Obama Administration’s Green Energy Gamble: What Have All The Taxpayer Subsidies Achieved?

Actually, those green energy investments have yielded substantial returns. And before the political grandstanding begins in the House of Representatives tomorrow, here are five important things you should know about how promotion of clean energy has supported American businesses and consumers:

1. The 1603 grant program supported up to 75,000 jobs and 23,000 renewable energy projects during the height of the recession. When the recession hit, it was very difficult for project developers to find banks that were willing to utilize tax credits. So a cash grant program was created to give companies an easier way to finance projects. While it’s very difficult to know the exact influence of the grant on each project, the program played a major role in maintaining momentum — helping support $25 billion in gross ...

Published: Wednesday 16 May 2012
“When customers call seeking assistance, Sallie Mae representatives say pretty terrible stuff.”

Sallie Mae is the country’s largest provider of private student loans — and despite their innocuous name, they’re guilty of some pretty awful practices.

Sallie Mae has a dual role of a lender and collector. As Elizabeth Warren said, “Sallie Mae gets to play every hand at the poker table.” And, “Student-loan debt collectors have power that would make a mobster envious.

When customers call seeking assistance, Sallie Mae representatives say pretty terrible stuff — a story from one of our members: “I encouraged my grandson to pursue a college degree, because I thought as a Black male, his chances of landing a decent paying job would be much improved. Since he graduated, he has been unable to find a job with a living wage. His paycheck barely covers the gas he needs to go to a low paying job, much less repay his student loans. Because I co-signed, I now use a great portion of my Social Security check to pay the loans. When I called Sallie Mae to work out a payment plan, the representative told me to tell my grandson to s