Daily Archive: 09/18/2012

Sep 18 2012

Congress Gets Out of Dodge

The do nothing Congress will slither out of town seven weeks before the election to hit the campaign trail and leaving a pile of work for November when they return for the lame duck session. Not that most of them aren’t lame now. They had originally been scheduled to work through to the first week of October.

The one bill that will be passed is the bill to keep the government funded once the new fiscal year begins Oct.1. It has already passed the House and is set for a vote in the Senate later this week. it will find the government through to March 27, 2013. The other legislation that will pass at least the House is a resolution expressing disapproval of President Obama’s handling of welfare reform. The administration agreed to to waive existing work requirements for those who receive welfare benefits if states can demonstrate better programs for employing and retaining workers. This waiver was requested by Republican governors, as well as, Democrats and the plans must be approved by the administration. In other words the House Republicans are disapproving something they requested.  

Bur much of what won’t be accomplished could drastically hurt the middle class and the economy.

What’s next for farm bill?

Greatest fallout from deadline miss: uncertainty

The 2008 farm bill, a law including crop insurance, disaster programs and other aid for farmers, along with conservation and food stamp programs, is set to expire Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year. Some key programs could cease or run out of money without a new farm bill.

But farmers and ag policy experts say the most dramatic effects won’t happen until 2013. That’s when farmers will start to plant next year’s crop. Many farm programs operate onthe crop year, not the fiscal or calendar years. [..]

If Congress doesn’t do anything, food prices could soar. That’s because without a new farm bill, the law reverts back to a 1949 farm bill that essentially committed the federal government to purchase crops at fixed prices. But with more than 60 years since those prices were set, in most cases the government would be paying far more than what those crops receive today.

There is the legislation that would provide reforms for the Postal Service, which is plagued by financial shortfalls, and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, a normally bipartisan bill that authorizes program funding for victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

The biggie is the expiring tax measures, the Bush/Obama and the Payroll tax holiday, and unemployment benefits, that will end December 31. As reported in Politico the House Ways and means Committee, which generates tax bills will meet in a rare closed session on Thursday. They will also meet with the Democratic-led Senate Finance Committee to discuss capital gains taxes.

David Dayen at FDL News Desk isn’t confident that the talks will include an extension of the Payroll Tax Holiday but thinks that this whole sequester mess will kicked down the road:

There’s no guarantee that the payroll tax cut will factor into these negotiations, but they should – or at least something that brings a commensurate level of fiscal accommodation, which preferably doesn’t put the Social Security Trust Fund at risk. The expiration of the payroll tax cut will take $125 billion out of the economy. That’s less than the Bush tax cuts, although since most of those accrue to the rich, the payroll tax cut could have a higher fiscal multiplier. And it’s a larger pullback in fiscal policy than the first year of the sequester, which would take roughly $110 billion out of the economy. [..]

I would like to find the economist who believes that the US can handle taking $125 billion out of the economy without an effect, especially $125 billion targeted loosely (though not as well as Making Work Pay) at those with a high propensity to spend. [..]

It’s entirely possible that everything gets punted for a period of time while opening up some breathing space for Congress to figure the mess out. But I doubt that includes the payroll tax cut. That’s decent enough news for Social Security, but it’s not really good news for the economy.

As a postscript, you gotta love this from a defense lobbyist:

   “Regardless of who wins, the big deal will have tax increases and spending cuts,” said one defense lobbyist, who asked not to be identified. “The ratio will just be different. With taxes playing a smaller role in a Republican plan, entitlement programs like Medicare will have to play a bigger one to protect defense.”

Surely we can all agree that Lockheed Martin needs the money more than an 85 year-old on a fixed income.

Lets see if Obama sticks to his promise to veto any bill that extends the Bush/Obama tax cuts for those who make over $250,000.

Sep 18 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Rebecca Solnit: Occupy Your Victories: Occupy Wall Street’s First Anniversary

Occupy is now a year old. A year is an almost ridiculous measure of time for much of what matters: at one year old, Georgia O’Keeffe was not a great painter, and Bessie Smith wasn’t much of a singer. One year into the Civil Rights Movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was still in progress, catalyzed by the unknown secretary of the local NAACP chapter and a preacher from Atlanta — by, that is, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Occupy, our bouncing baby, was born with such struggle and joy a year ago, and here we are, 12 long months later.

Occupy didn’t seem remarkable on September 17, 2011, and not a lot of people were looking at it when it was mostly young people heading for Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. But its most remarkable aspect turned out to be its staying power: it didn’t declare victory or defeat and go home. It decided it was home and settled in for two catalytic months. [..]

With Occupy, remarkable things have already happened, and more remarkable systemic change could be ahead. Don’t forget that this was a movement that spread to thousands of cities, towns, and even rural outposts across the country and overseas, from Occupy Tucson to Occupy Bangor. Remember that many of the effects of what has already happened are incalculable, and more of what is being accomplished will only be clear further down the road.

Go out into the streets and celebrate the one-year anniversary and start dreaming and planning for 2021, when we could — if we are steadfast, if we are inclusive, if we keep our eyes on the prize, if we define that prize and recognize progress toward it and remember where we started — be celebrating something much bigger. It’s a long road to travel, but we can get there from here.

Dean Baker: Does President Obama Want to Cut Social Security by 3 Percent?

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.

Pat LaMarche: US Poised to Violate Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

To the best of my knowledge from information gleaned from internet data sources, there are three countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They are India, Pakistan and Israel. One additional country — North Korea — withdrew in 2003 after being a signatory for 18 years.

Iran signed in 1968 and ratified the treaty in 1970. In light of their alleged insistence on starting a nuclear weapons program, some might say that the treaty is a joke. I’d agree to the farcical nature of the document, but not because of Iran’s actions — although hat’s off to the North Koreans for withdrawing publicly in the face of being labeled by George W. Bush as members of the Axis of Evil.

No, this week’s big Washington Post story about the U.S. revamping their nuclear weapons is reason enough to scoff at the legitimacy of the NPT. And it’s not just the nuclear weapons program that the U.S. is improving; it’s the bombs. The Washington Post confirms, “At the heart of the overhaul are the weapons themselves.” And this revamp won’t be cheap. “Upgrading just one of the seven types of weapons in the stockpile, the B61 bomb, is likely to cost $10 billion over five years, according to the Pentagon.”

John Nichols; After 225 Years, It’s Time to Respect the Constitutional Rights of Workers

Americans have for generations accepted the basic premise that labor rights are human rights. And when this country has counseled other countries, and the international community, on how to forge a civil and democratic society, we have long recognized that the right to organize a trade union and to have that trade union engage in collective bargaining as an equal partner with corporations and government agencies must be protected.

When Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas struck down substantial portions of the anti-labor legislation that Governor Scott Walker signed last year, legislation that was written and implemented with the express purpose of undermining trade union rights and constricting collective bargaining rights, the judge grounded his decision in a recognition of the fact that trade unionists in the United States have basic rights that must be respected.

Jim Hightower; Ryan Runs Into the Truth

To borrow from President Lyndon Johnson’s colorful analysis of a Nixon speech, “I may not know much, but I know chicken [poop] from chicken salad.”

Paul Ryan, the GOP’s current vice-presidential nominee, has spent his career in government trying to blur the boundary between the two. Over the years, the ambitious right-wing politico has carefully assembled a stinking salad of positive adjectives to create his public persona: an earnest, straight-shooting, big thinker with integrity and deeply held conservative convictions.

The media swallowed each spurious ingredient, helping push him forth as a tea party rock star and, now, a man who could be next in line for the presidency.

Dennis Jett: Another reason no one trusts Congress

It would be interesting to know if anyone on Capitol Hill ever takes time out from being seduced by lobbyists to wonder about what Americans think of their elected representatives. Congress has the lowest approval rating ever in public opinion polls and only one American in ten is gullible enough to think they are doing an adequate job. If Congress were a company, it would have gone out of business long ago.

The skepticism reflected in the public’s attitude is due in part to the partisan politics that has become the driving force in Washington. The national interest is routinely sacrificed for political gain and even economic recovery can be put on hold if it increases the chances for changing the occupant of the White House.

Another reason for the low esteem of Congress is that much of what takes place there falls somewhere between farce and theater of the absurd. Take for instance congressional hearings. One might think that they would be an opportunity to elicit unbiased information, call attention to problems and explore options for dealing with those problems.

Sep 18 2012

On This Day In History September 18

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

September 18 is the 261st day of the year (262nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 104 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1793, George Washington lays the cornerstone to the United States Capitol building, the home of the legislative branch of American government. The building would take nearly a century to complete, as architects came and went, the British set fire to it and it was called into use during the Civil War. Today, the Capitol building, with its famous cast-iron dome and important collection of American art, is part of the Capitol Complex, which includes six Congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings, all developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As a young nation, the United States had no permanent capital, and Congress met in eight different cities, including Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, before 1791. In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which gave President Washington the power to select a permanent home for the federal government. The following year, he chose what would become the District of Columbia from land provided by Maryland. Washington picked three commissioners to oversee the capital city’s development and they in turn chose French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant to come up with the design. However, L’Enfant clashed with the commissioners and was fired in 1792. A design competition was then held, with a Scotsman named William Thornton submitting the winning entry for the Capitol building. In September 1793, Washington laid the Capitol’s cornerstone and the lengthy construction process, which would involve a line of project managers and architects, got under way.

Sep 18 2012

Romney Campaign Continues to Melt Down

The Romney/Ryan campaign continues to implode. A video has emerged from a private fund raiser in Boca Raton, Florida where GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney let his benefactors know how he really feels about half the country. At first the videos were dismissed as bogus, doctored works that appeared on a bogus You Tube account by someone claiming to be MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. But after the “owner” of the video contacted David Corn at Mother Jones the authenticity of the hour long diatribe against the 47% of voters was confirmed as very real. The Romney campaign is not denying the accuracy of the video. Here is the unedited full speech with transcript. Please read David Corn’s commentary about each segment,

Romney on Obama voters

Romney on treating Obama “gingerly”

Romney on his consultants

Romney on what wins an election

Romney on the economy

The home where this fund raiser was held is owned by private equity manager Marc Leder who likes sex parties. So much for those family values.

And this is where the 47% live:

Non-Payer States

h/t watertiger @ Dependable Renegade

After Mr. Romney comments chastising President Obama while our embassies were under attack and four of our foreign service personnel were killed, he and his vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan continue on the low road. The debates should be very interesting. The first debate is October 3.

Sep 18 2012

Dispelling the Iranian Bomb Myth

Despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bleating  on Sunday’s talk shows about Iran being months away from having a nuclear weapon, there is no hard evidence that Iran is even seeking to build one. I’ve written three articles since January dispelling this myth, yet here we are again. The right wing war hawks and Bibi are at it propagate this fairy tail. Even Israel’s own intelligence community has agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency and U.S. defense and intelligence officials who have said that they believe that Iran has not made a decision on whether to acquire nuclear weapons. So once more here are the facts from historian of the modern Middle East and South Asia Juan Cole:

1. {..} Netanyahu’s own Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, who admitted that Iran has not decided to initiate a nuclear weapons program. Israel’s chief of staff, Benny Gantz, has also admitted that Iran has not decided to build a bomb.

2.  It is often argued that Iran does not need nuclear power. But it uses some petroleum for power generation, and Iranians are driving more and more. [..] Iran’s energy exports provide a crucial financial cushion, allowing the country to remain independent. Other oil giants, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are also building nuclear power plants. There is nothing illogical or unusual about Iran going in this direction.

3. It is alleged that Iran has threatened to annihilate Israel. It has done no such thing. Iran has a ‘no first strike’ policy, repeatedly enunciated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has expressed the hope that the ‘Zionist regime over Jerusalem” would ‘vanish from the page of time.’ But he didn’t threaten to roll tanks or missiles against Israel, and compared his hopes for the collapse of Zionism to the collapse of Communism in Russia. [..]

4. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has given a formal ruling or fatwa against nuclear weapons.

I skipped to 6

6. No, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on inspecting Iran, did not alleged evidence for bomb-making. It certified that no uranium has been diverted to a weapons program.

The last time that Iran launched a war of aggression was in 1826 when it attacked Russia over disputed territory. Iran, like the United States is a signatory of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Israel is not.

Mr. Netanyahu has been beating this drum since 1992. Iran is no closer now than it was then to having, or wanting, nuclear weapons. Yet, he and the right wing war hawks who took us into the Iraq misadventure, would have the world believe this fantasy. Pushing for another war in the Middle East would have very seriously negative consequences for the entire world.

Sep 18 2012

No Dancing VIII

Danielle Dax- Tomorrow Never Knows

Even being a big dance club star remaking a Beatles hit won’t park feet on the parquet unless it’s Twist and Shout (this particular arrangement from Blast The Human Flower (1990)).