Published: Monday 31 December 2012
The reported McConnell-Biden compromise does not deal with the spending cuts side of the fiscal cliff, though CNN’s Dana Bash reported that the sequester may simply be delayed for two months.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Vice President Joe Biden have reportedly reached an agreement that would solve the tax side of the debate over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” the package of tax increases and spending cuts that will begin automatically at midnight tonight.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democratic caucus have not yet indicated support for the compromise, which extends most of the Bush tax cuts and other tax provisions, and while the Senate may vote tonight, no vote is expected in the House before tonight’s deadline. Here is a breakdown of the different provisions of the reported compromise:

Bush tax cuts: The deal would extend all of the Bush tax cuts for incomes below $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families, while reinstating the Clinton-era 39.6 percent tax rate for income above those thresholds. It will also push the capital gains rate ...

Published: Thursday 20 December 2012
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.


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Published: Friday 30 November 2012
“This past weekend, it was reported that Obama and the generals at the Pentagon are planning on keeping at least 10,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan indefinitely after that 2014 deadline for ending the war and withdrawing from that war-torn land.”

 

It is amazing to watch politicians trying to weasel their way around their promises. President Obama is providing us with a good illustration of the art.

During the latest presidential campaign and in the final televised debates, both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were adamant in asserting that the US would be leaving Afghanistan and ending the war in that country at the end of 2014--a goal most Americans profoundly want. Biden, in a heated debate with his Republican opponent Paul Ryan, said the US would “absolutely” be “out” of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Obama, a week later, said, “By 2014, this process of transition will be complete and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security."

I’m reminded of President Clinton, a lawyer who, when pressed under oath by a special prosecutor hounding him over the details of whether he had had sex with a young White House intern, said that the answer hinged on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

This past weekend, it was reported that Obama and the generals at the Pentagon are planning on keeping at least 10,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan indefinitely after that 2014 deadline for ending the war and withdrawing from that war-torn land.

Just to make it clear what we’re talking about here, 10,000 troops would represent an army half the size of the entire army of either the Netherlands or Denmark, two countries which currently have troops assigned to the NATO forces posted in Afghanistan as allies in the 12-year-long US war there.

The notion that these 10,000 post-2014 soldiers would just be “training” the Afghan military is simply absurd. Parris Island, the famed boot camp in South Carolina for the US Marine Corps, which boasts what ...

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: Tuesday 30 October 2012
It would be insane to compound the damage by raising taxes on the middle class and not on the rich.

 

As we go into the final days of a dismal presidential campaign where too many issues have been fudged or eluded — and the media only want to talk about is who’s up and who’s down — the biggest issue on which the candidates have given us the clearest choice is whether the rich should pay more in taxes. 

President Obama says emphatically yes. He proposes ending the Bush tax cut for people earning more than $250,000 a year, and requiring those with high incomes to pay in taxes at least 30 percent of any income over $1 million (the so-called “Buffett Rule”).

Mitt Romney says emphatically no. He proposes cutting tax rates by 20 percent, which would reduce taxes on the rich far more than anyone else. He also wants to extend the Bush tax cut for the wealthy, and reduce or eliminate taxes on dividends and capital gains. 

Romney says he’ll close loopholes and eliminate deductions used by the rich so that their ...

Published: Saturday 13 October 2012
“Romney’s personal wealth came up, but many issues were missing, including poverty, global warming, immigration, gun control and the country’s staggering incarceration rates.”

Our "Expanding the Debate" special series continues as we open the discussion to include two third-party vice-presidential candidates who were excluded from the "official" debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan: Cheri Honkala of the Green Party and Luis Rodriguez of the Justice Party. With the general election just weeks away, Biden and Ryan squared off in their only debate Thursday night, aggressively challenging each other on foreign and domestic policy issues asked by moderator Martha Raddatz of ABCNews. Raddatz pressed them with questions on the deaths of Americans at the U.S. embassy in Libya, taxes, Medicare, Social Security, the budget deficit, terrorism and Afghanistan. Raddatz also asked each of the candidates, both of whom are Catholic, about how their personal beliefs affect their views on abortion. Romney’s personal wealth came up, but many issues were missing, including poverty, global warming, immigration, gun control and the country’s staggering incarceration rates. Democracy Now! poses many of these same questions today to Honkala and Rodriquez in order to bring new voices into the discussion. Democracy Now! first broke the sound barrier during the presidential debate on Oct. 3 by pausing after answers offered by President Obama and Mitt Romney to get real-time responses from Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

Transcript:

Published: Wednesday 10 October 2012
“This is very bad news to the tens of millions of people who depend on Social Security now or expect to in the near future.”

President Obama definitely had a bad night when he faced Gov. Romney in Denver for the first presidential debate. However for many listeners the worst moment was not due to his atypical inarticulateness. Rather the worst moment was when he quite clearly told the country that there was not much difference between his position on Social Security and Gov. Romney’s. He also expressed his desire to “tweak” Social Security to improve its finances.

This is very bad news to the tens of millions of people who depend on Social Security now or expect to in the near future. It’s also bad news to the hundreds of millions of people who have been counting on the Social Security system to provide a degree of financial security to their retired or disabled family members.

After all Gov. Romney clearly does not seem to have warm feelings toward the program. His vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, has been the most ardent proponent of privatization in the House. If Romney is committed to Social Security, picking Rep. Ryan as his running mate would be a strange way of showing it.

When President Obama links arms with Romney on Social Security, it is not good news for supporters of the program. Nor was the situation made better by the desire to “tweak” the system.

In Washington, "tweak" is a code word used by people who want to cut Social Security but lack the courage to say it explicitly. For example, their favorite “tweak” is changing the cost-of-living adjustment formula in a way that reduces retirees’ benefits by 0.3 percentage points annually. This would add up to a 3 percent cut in benefits after 10 years, a 6 percent cut after 20 years and a 9 percent cut after 30 ...

Published: Saturday 6 October 2012
“There are two disturbing problems with Axelrod’s statements.”

 

Many centuries ago, the Jewish scholar Hillel posed a question that is as prescient as any Nostradamus prophecy: "If not now," he asked, "when?" It's a rhetorical query many of us contemplate during the high holy days, which concluded last month. And after a revealing comment by President Obama's top political aide, it's a question that now haunts Social Security.

The remark in question came during last week's debate about fiscal issues on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." In an otherwise forgettable conversation, things became newsworthy when the conversation turned to Obama's position on Social Security reforms. At that point, the president's consigliere, David Axelrod, responded not with a clear position, but instead by trying to halt the conversation.

"I'll tell you what, when you get elected to the United States Senate and sit at that table, we'll have that discussion," he told the panel.

When pressed, Axelrod insisted that the election season meant no debate should proceed. "This is not the time, he said. "We're not going to have that discussion right now."

There are two disturbing problems with Axelrod's statements. First and foremost is his suggestion that a Social Security policy debate should only be conducted between White House officials and U.S. senators — not between all government officials and the general public. It's a fundamentally elitist idea that evokes notions of smoky back rooms and secret deals. Not only that, it both contradicts basic notions of civic engagement and confirms Americans' fears about a government that wholly disregards the citizenry.

Along the same lines is Axelrod's insistence that even if we were to have a public debate about Social Security, we somehow shouldn't "have that discussion right ...

Published: Tuesday 18 September 2012
If the backdrop to this question is not immediately clear, then you should be very angry at the reporters who cover the campaign.

 

That is a pretty simple and important question. Unfortunately most voters are likely to go to the polls this fall without knowing the answer.

If the backdrop to this question is not immediately clear, then you should be very angry at the reporters who cover the campaign. One of the items that continuously comes up in reference to the budget deficit is President Obama’s support for the plan put forward by the co-chairs of his deficit commission, Morgan Stanley director Erskine Bowles and former Senator Alan Simpson. On numerous occasions President Obama has indicated his support for this plan.

One of the items in the Bowles-Simpson plan is a reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustment of roughly 0.3 percentage points. This would be accomplished by using a different index that, by design, would show a lower measured rate of inflation. It is important to recognize that this is an annual cut that would accumulate over time. After a retiree has been receiving benefits for 10 years the cut would be 3.0 percent, after 20 years it would be 6 percent. If a typical retiree lives long enough to get benefits for 20 years the average benefit cut over their years of retirement would be 3 percent.

This is the most immediate cut to Social Security in the Bowles-Simpson plan but not the only one. The plan also would gradually raise the ...

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: Friday 17 August 2012
“Vice President Joe Biden announced yesterday that the ticket would guarantee no changes in Social Security.”

 

It's unclear what effect presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's decision to add Rep. Paul Ryan to his ticket will have on his candidacy, if any. But the choice certainly has had a salutary effect on the Obama re-election campaign.

Naturally, it sparked a full-throated debate on the infamous Ryan and House Republican plan to turn Medicare into a voucher, and force the most vulnerable -- the elderly, the disabled, and seriously ill -- to pay thousands more for health care out of pocket. (The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put the estimate at about $6,500 per person.) Democrats generally can only be delighted as Romney and Ryan and House members struggle to explain why they have to destroy Medicare to save it. ("It's a great reform, but don't worry; it only applies to folks under 55 who might not be watching.")

Equally important, the debate has led the president and vice president to become vocal defenders of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- the centerpieces of the social compact we make with one another, and the glittering crown jewels of the Great Society and the New Deal.

First, the president made it clear that his Medicare reforms – unlike those passed by the Republican House and advocated by Romney/Ryan – don't cut guaranteed benefits. Instead they take on the entrenched hospital, insurance company and doctors lobbies to exact savings. This focus – initiated in Obamacare -- is vital if we are to fix our broken health care system which now threatens to bankrupt everyone – families, companies and government ...

Published: Thursday 16 August 2012
“What does it mean when those words come from the Vice President of an Administration that's been talking for years about a deal to cut Social Security? A lot.”

 

What Vice President Joe Biden said today was, to use his now-famous phrase, "a big effin' deal." No, we're not talking about his "chains" comment which, as usual, has fascinated a press corps obsessed with taking statements out of context and playing "gotcha" games. We're referring to the comments he made about Social Security in a Virginia coffee shop.

From a press corps pool report, as relayed by NBC News:

"Hey, by the way, let's talk about Social Security," Biden said after a diner at The Coffee Break Cafe in Stuart, VA expressed his relief that the Obama campaign wasn't talking about changing the popular entitlement program. "Number one, I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security," Biden said, per a pool report.

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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: Saturday 2 June 2012
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged last month that government hackers had attacked Al Qaeda propaganda sites in Yemen, changing information in ads that talked about killing Americans to show how many Yemenis had died in Al Qaeda attacks.

 

This morning, The New York Times published a report detailing how the Bush and Obama administrations created the cyber weapon known as Stuxnet and used it to disrupt Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

Much has been written about Stuxnet, which, as ProPublica recently reported, remains a threat beyond Iran. But the Times account, based on interviews with unnamed U.S. and Israeli officials, is the most extensive account to date of U.S. cyberwarfare capabilities. Here’s our cheat sheet on what’s new and the fallout:

·       Because of Stuxnet’s complexity, cybersecurity analysts have long suspected it was a U.S.-Israeli effort. The Times story confirms this for the first time, disclosing that the project was code-named “Olympic Games.”

·       Olympic Games began under the Bush administration, and during development, it was known as “the bug.”

·       President Obama has repeatedly expressed concern that if the U.S. acknowledges it is behind Stuxnet, it would give terrorists and enemy states a justification for their own attacks.

·       Stuxnet was introduced into Iran's enrichment facility at Natanz by an unwitting Iranian. “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand," a source told the Times.

·       To test the bug in secret Department of Energy labs, the U.S. used aging centrifuges handed over in 2003 by Libyan dictator Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, making them into ...

Published: Saturday 24 March 2012
“Rather than cheering it on, Americans are divided over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he signed into law two years ago Friday.”

It was the biggest achievement of his first term, the national health care law that had eluded Democrats for 60 years. "A big (bleep)ing deal," in the blunt words of Vice President Joe Biden.

But it could help cost President Barack Obama a second term.

Rather than cheering it on, Americans are divided over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which he signed into law two years ago Friday. The Supreme Court is weighing whether it's constitutional. Republicans vow to repeal it if the court doesn't. And the White House is working overtime to sell the American people on the law, before it's too late.

It may still turn into a political triumph. Republicans, in fact, fear that if left intact, the law could take hold in the American psyche over the years, as Social Security and Medicare did generations ago.

For now, though, it hangs in the political balance, along with the fate of Barack Obama.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Obama won his 2008 election in part on the pledge to finally deliver what ...

Published: Sunday 18 March 2012
“She did not know that Queen Elizabeth II does not run the British government, and she did not know that North and South Korea are different countries.”

At some point while watching HBO’s absolutely smashing (and terrifying) movie “Game Change,” it occurred to me that Sarah Palin has ruined America. The movie has been scalloped out of the book by the same name and focuses on Palin, rather than on the entire 2008 presidential campaign. The decision to do so was absolutely correct. With her selection as John McCain’s running mate, American politics lost its way — and maybe its mind as well.

The movie portrays Palin as an ignoramus. She did not know that Queen Elizabeth II does not run the British government, and she did not know that North and South Korea are different countries. She seemed not to have heard of the Federal Reserve. She called Joe Biden “O’Biden” and she thought America went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein, not al-Qaeda, had attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Not only did she know little, but she was determinately incurious and supremely smug in her ignorance.At the same time, she was a liar. In the movie, she was called exactly that by McCain’s campaign chief, Steve Schmidt, who came to realize — a bit late in the game — that one of Palin’s great talents was to deny the truth. When confronted, she ...

Published: Wednesday 8 February 2012
“One Obama adviser says Obama’s decision to openly endorse his super PAC has had an immediate effect.”

It has been said there is no high ground in American politics since any politician who claims it is likely to be gunned down by those firing from the trenches. That’s how the Obama team justifies its decision to endorse a super PAC that can raise and spend unlimited sums for his campaign. 

I understand the White House’s concerns. Obama is a proven fundraiser – he cobbled together an unprecedented $745 million for the 2008 election and has already raised $224 million for this one. But his aides figure Romney can raise almost as much, and they fear an additional $500 million or more will be funneled to Romney by a relative handful of rich individuals and corporations through right-wing super PACS like “American Crossroads.”

The White House was surprised that super PACs outspent the GOP candidates themselves in several of the early primary contests, and noted how easily Romney’s super PAC delivered Florida to him and pushed Newt Gingrich from first-place to fourth-place in Iowa.

Romney’s friends on Wall Street and in the executive suites of the ...

Published: Monday 12 September 2011
Throughout, there was sense of quiet resolve, even pride that the United States did not buckle as terror mastermind Osama bin Laden had hoped.

With simple and solemn ceremony, the United States marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks Sunday in emotional tributes that recalled the sacrifice of thousands of lives, not just on that day a decade ago, but in the bloody conflicts that have raged since.

Americans of every stripe, from presidents to firefighters to average citizens, paused to honor the dead in churches, at the sites of the attacks, and in living rooms across the country. Church bells rang. Prayers were read aloud. Choirs sang.

In New York, the focus was on those killed in the World Trade Center, their names now engraved on bronze panels that will long bear witness to the tragedy.

In Pennsylvania, it was on the passengers who sacrificed their lives seizing United Flight 93 from terrorists before it could hit the Capitol or White House.

And at the Pentagon in Virginia, eyes moistened at the memory not only of the 184 killed there, but also for the 6,000-plus members of the armed services who’ve died in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Throughout, there was sense of quiet resolve, even pride that the United States did not buckle as terror mastermind Osama bin Laden had hoped.

“Al Qaida and bin Laden never imagined that the 3,000 would inspire three million to put on the uniform and hardened the resolve of 300 million Americans,” Vice President Joe Biden said at the Pentagon.

“We have remained at war ever since,” said Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “visiting upon our enemies the vengeance they were due.”

At a memorial concert Sunday night at the Kennedy Center, the last official event of the long day of remembrance, President Barack Obama recalled “what has not changed.”

“Our character as a nation has not changed. Our faith — in God and each other — has not changed. Our belief in America...has only been strengthened, “ ...

Published: Sunday 11 September 2011
Politics isn’t rocket science; it doesn’t require an advanced degree or specialized expertise.

The marvelous paradox of politics is that it is the only field in which lack of experience is considered a job qualification. Or, conversely, in which extensive experience is cited as a negative.

Consider Mitt Romney’s latest line, a none-too-subtle jab at Texas Gov. Rick Perry: “Career politicians got us into this mess and career politicians can’t get us out!” Sarah Palin took a similar swipe in Perry’s direction, inveighing against a “permanent political class.”

One could point out that Romney’s critique is a bit odd coming from someone who’s been in political office or running for one for the better part of two decades. One could note that Palin, other than her early stint as a sportscaster and later role in reality TV, has worked mostly in government jobs, from the Wasilla City Council to the Alaska governorship.

My point is different: that the attack on the “career politician” is as misguided as it is familiar. Your career politician is my devoted public servant.

Imagine this line of argument applied to ...

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