Daily Archive: 12/11/2013

Dec 11 2013

The 2 Year Budget Deal In 90 Seconds

A two year budget deal was reached yesterday with congressional leaders announcing the deal that would to replace $63 billion in sequester cuts, a very small part of the $180 billion in cuts that will occur over the next two years. The deal will restore defense cuts by funding from a tax on airline travel and cuts to federal pensions. The budget does not include extension of unemployment funds to the millions of workers who are about to lose their benefits the end of December. There will be no changes to Medicare or Social Security but none of the tax loop holes were closed.

As Ezra Klein puts it:

Whether this deal can be a model for future deals is an open question. The core principle of this deal is that Democrats didn’t have to touch entitlements and Republicans didn’t have to touch taxes. But a lot of the policies that made that possible got used up in this deal. It’s not clear that another deal like this would work in 2016.

DSWright at FDL News Desk notes:

The Republicans got everything they wanted. They get more cuts while none of their friends in the defense industry get hurt – actually they even got to do some damage to the federal pension system. All that while avoiding another shutdown that killed their poll numbers before the 2014 elections. Christmas came early for the GOP.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, sold out its own base to help Republicans maintain power. Why? Who knows? The only thing that is clear is this is an awful deal for majority of Americans.

Once again, the majority of Americans get screwed by their elected representatives.  

Dec 11 2013

Add Bank Tellers to Underpaid Workers List

One would think that the person we speak to behind the bullet proof plexiglass at the bank was paid enough to own his/her own home, put food on the table, have a good pension plan and health care insurance. Apparently, that is a myth. In NYC, one in three bank tellers need some form of public assistance and the average pay is only $11.59 per hour, three dollars below what is considered a living wage in big cities where the cost of living is highest. The recent focus has been on Walmart and fast food workers, now we can add bank tellers to the list of the underpaid

Thirty-nine percent of NYC-based bank tellers and their families rely on at least one government assistance program, like Medicaid, the Earned Income Tax Credit or food stamps, which costs the city a total of $112 million per year (pdf), according to the study from the New Day New York Coalition, a group of progressive organizations. Researchers arrived at their findings through government data, as well as interviews with 5,000 bank workers in the New York area, who answered questions about stress, working conditions, pay practices and how the industry has changed since 2008.  [..]

The study’s findings mirror trends nationwide and are yet another sign that the pool of so-called middle-class jobs is shrinking. Nearly one-third of the almost half-million bank tellers in the country rely on public assistance, according to an analysis by the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center. The Labor Center’s Ken Jacobs estimates that these employees’ reliance on such programs costs taxpayers nationwide roughly $900 million per year. [..]

Activists have been quick to point out that if companies like Walmart, McDonald’s and now big banks paid their workers more, fewer of them would have to lean on public assistance, saving taxpayers money. More than half of frontline fast food workers rely on government assistance, costing the nation $7 billion, according to an October report. A single Walmart store’s low wages could cost taxpayers $900,000 per year, according to a May report from Senate Democrats.

Dec 11 2013

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.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

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

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Maureen Dowd: Ain’t Nothin’ Like a Dame

The halo of smoke clears momentarily to reveal America’s newest sensitive man: John Boehner.

The man known as Capitol Hill’s Dean Martin, surrounded by his Cap Pack, is having a late-night clam bake at Trattoria Alberto. [..]

“Buddy boys,” Boehner says, exhaling a Camel Ultra Light, “we’ve got to do something about our trouble with broads. The way I figure it, it’s the four of us cats against this one city.”

His pallies, Senators Richard Burr and Saxby Chambliss and Congressman Tom Latham, nod in agreement as they attack their steaks.

“I don’t know how Jay-Z and Beyoncé can give up meat to go on a vegan cleanse,” marvels Latham, a proud promoter of Iowa beef.

“You know what my idea of a vegan cleanse is?” cracks Boehner. “Staying far away from all the vegans I know.”

The Cap Pack laughs uproariously, but the guys get serious quickly because they know they have trouble. The worst sort of trouble. Dame Trouble.

Connie Rice: Hail to the Police Chief

William J. Bratton’s Record Bodes Well for New York

WHEN I first met Bill Bratton, at a Christmas party in Los Angeles in 2002, I told him that it was nothing personal but I would soon be suing him, just as I had sued several Los Angeles police chiefs before him. That was my job as a civil rights lawyer, and at that time, we had a rogue police force that refused civilian control, rejected court orders, abused people of color and acted with terrifying impunity. [..]

Mr. Bratton laughed at my opening salvo and said that I should shelve my complaint and come help him at the L.A.P.D. That, I soon realized, was typical of how Bill Bratton works. [..]

The mayor-elect’s choice of Mr. Bratton, who has championed the “broken windows” approach of concentrating police resources on problem neighborhoods, is widely seen as an attempt to calm New Yorkers’ nerves about crime. But Mr. Bratton has also pledged to reform stop-and-frisk and improve relations between the Police Department and minority residents. Can he do both?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Nelson Mandela and his cause weren’t always revered in the U.S.

Leaders from across the world will gather in South Africa this week to pay tribute to the most extraordinary leader of our lifetime, Nelson Mandela. The chorus of tributes, from across the globe and across the political spectrum, cannot hope to do justice to this remarkable man, who emerged from 27 years in prison with a grace, dignity and will sufficient to transform the brutal apartheid system peacefully and spread hope across the world.

But Mandela was not always universally praised. In fact, U.S. administrations of both parties were far from ardent opponents of South Africa’s apartheid regime or supporters of Mandela and his organization, the African National Congress (ANC). Conservatives in particular long saw the apartheid regime as an anti-communist bulwark in the Cold War. After Mandela was sentenced to life in prison, the conservative National Review magazine defended South African courts for sending up “a batch of admitted terrorists to life in the penitentiary.” Conservative Russell Kirk opined that democratic rule in South Africa would bring “the collapse of civilization,” and the resulting government would be “domination by witch doctors … and reckless demagogues.”

Ellen Brown: Amend the Fed: We Need a Central Bank that Serves Main Street

The Federal Reserve is the only central bank with a dual mandate. It is charged not only with maintaining low, stable inflation but with promoting maximum sustainable employment. Yet unemployment remains stubbornly high, despite four years of radical tinkering with interest rates and quantitative easing (creating money on the Fed’s books). After pushing interest rates as low as they can go, the Fed has admitted that it has run out of tools. [..]

The Federal Reserve Act was drafted by bankers to create a banker’s bank that would serve their interests. It is their own private club, and its legal structure keeps all non-members out.  A century after the Fed’s creation, a sober look at its history leads to the conclusion that it is a privately controlled institution whose corporate owners use it to direct our entire economy for their own ends, without democratic influence or accountability.  Substantial changes are needed to transform the Fed, and these will only come with massive public pressure.

Congress has the power to amend the Fed – just as it did in 1934, 1958 and 2010. For the central bank to satisfy its mandate to promote full employment and to become an institution that serves all the people, not just the 1%, the Fed needs fundamental reform.

Claudia Campero: Energy ‘Reform’ in Mexico Will Only Pave the Road for Fracking

In Mexico, as in many countries, information on amounts of recoverable shale gas reserves is uncertain. In 2011, the U.S. Energy Information Administration placed Mexico in fourth place worldwide. In 2013, we slipped to sixth place. Pemex, the Mexican state petroleum company, estimates the quantity to be even more modest. Regardless of how much gas lies beneath our feet, the consequences of the ambitious battle to frack our country is likely to be felt in many communities.

When it comes to hydrocarbon extraction, the context in Mexico is quite different from that in the U.S. In 1938, Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized all oil and gas reserves. For the last few decades, Pemex has been responsible for all fossil fuel extraction in the country. This is central to the government’s income since it represents 32 percent of all federal income. Pemex is so important that it managed to escape the many reforms made to other sectors in Mexico when the country joined the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. However, powerful international energy corporations have been pushing for a share of Mexico’s energy resources over the last decade, and are currently already working with Pemex through service contract arrangements.

But they want much more.

Jessica Weisberg: How Inequality Became as American as Apple Pie

Last week, five days after Black Friday’s Walmart strike and the day before a nationwide fast-food workers strike, President Obama delivered a speech at the Center for American Progress about economic disparity and low wages. The president didn’t mention the strikers,

but his talking points weren’t so different from their rallying cries-he called for a higher minimum wage and supported the right to organize. His speech was too sweeping, too ambitious to focus on the week’s news. He spoke about Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, education and the tax code; he provided statistic after statistic about the severity of inequality in the United States. The thread that tied all these points together was “economic mobility.” (“President Speaks on Economic Mobility,” the banner of the White House website read.) The president may have been speaking to a room full of liberals, but his focus on mobility rather than inequality seemed especially marketed to conservatives. It was Obama at his campaign finest, recasting himself as the great uniter between the two parties. “The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough,” the president said, “But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action.” Poverty, in other words, is a sad but inevitable consequence of a competitive economy-it’s “heartbreaking,” but so it goes-while mobility is essential to the American mission. Children, we can all agree, should at least be given the bootstraps by which they can pull themselves up.

Zoë Carpenter: The Deep South Is the Latest Epicenter of the HIV Epidemic

Miami. Baton Rouge. Jacksonville. Columbia, South Carolina: these are not the places that immediately come to mind when considering America’s HIV epidemic. But in the ranking of US cities with the highest HIV rates, they are numbers one, two, three and six, respectively.

On Thursday The New York Times ran an important story by Donald McNeil Jr. about the “new face” of HIV- young, poor black and Hispanic men who have sex with men. One thing not mentioned in the article-which focuses on New York City-is the geography of the epidemic, which is now concentrated and most deadly in the Southern states. While only 37 percent of Americans live in the South, half of new HIV infections originate there. Eight of the ten states with the highest rate of infection are in the South, as are nine of the ten states with the highest AIDS fatalities rates. [..]

There are two policies on the table that could have a profound effect on the rate of new infections in the United States, which has hovered near 50,000 new cases a year for a decade: the expansion of Medicaid, and comprehensive immigration reform. The implications of these policies for HIV are magnified by the fact that their impact would be particularly strong in the South.

Dec 11 2013

Big Carbon

The Arctic Is the First Line of Defense Against a Climate Transition to an Uninhabitable Earth

By DH Garrett, Truthout

Tuesday, 10 December 2013 09:46

Humanity – and the Earth system it is a part of – is moving toward an Anthropocene Thermal Max (ATM), which will be cataclysmic for the ecosystem and the human societies it sustains. Despite the fact that climate scientists are uniform in stating that remaining hydrocarbon energy resources must be kept in the ground if we are to have a chance of stopping at a peak temperature that affords a chance of adaptation, the world’s major transnational energy companies and the world’s arctic nations are moving at breakneck speed to develop arctic resources. This is the story of three ATMs. First: the earth system can no longer be treated as an ATM; capitalistic economics as currently configured is dangerously out of kilter with real costs. Second: the great focus of both global and local efforts must be on making the ATM (Anthropocene Thermal Max) as low as possible. Third: an ATM (Arctic Transnational Moratorium) must be put in place now if the great majority of humanity is to have a reasonable prospect of adapting to climate-change-induced, nonlinear changes already programmed into the Earth-climate system.

TransCanada Begins Injecting Oil Into Keystone XL Southern Half

By: Steve Horn, Firedog Lake

Tuesday December 10, 2013 1:48 pm

Keystone XL’s southern half is one step closer to opening for business. TransCanada announced that “on Saturday, December 7, 2013, the company began to inject oil into the Gulf Coast Project pipeline as it moves closer to the start of commercial service.”



According to a statement provided to DeSmog by TransCanada, “Over the coming weeks, TransCanada will inject about three million of [sic] barrels of oil into the system, beginning in Cushing, Oklahoma and moving down to the company’s facilities in the Houston refining area.”

In mid-January, up to 700,000 barrels per day of Alberta’s tar sands diluted bitumen (dilbit) could begin flowing through the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada’s pipeline, known as the Gulf Coast Project. Running from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas, the southern half of the pipeline was approved by both a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nationwide Permit 12 and an Executive Order from President Barack Obama in March 2012.



Residents living along the length of the southern half will have no clue about the rest of the start-up process, as TransCanada says it won’t provide any more information until the line is already running. “For commercial and contractual reasons, the next update we will provide will be after the line has gone into commercial service,” the company announced.



The Keystone XL line fill comes just weeks after Public Citizen released an investigation revealing potentially dangerous anomalies such as dents, faulty welding and exterior damage that the group suggests could lead to pipeline ruptures, tears and spills.

Public Citizen] and its citizen sources uncovered over 125 anomalies in that half of the line alone,” DeSmogBlog [reported on November 12. “These findings moved Public Citizen to conclude the southern half of the pipeline shouldn’t begin service until the anomalies are taken care of, and ponders if the issues can ever be resolved sufficiently.”

Transcript

Transcript

Transcript

Chief Seattle is said to have said, “The Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” It is ironic that an American such as myself should quote a Native American, a people we perpetrated genocide upon. It is tragic that an American would quote a fellow human being who had a different relation with nature than the one my culture imposed upon his continent. I do not mean to romanticize traditional lifestyles, but the indigenous view of the world, in terms of the human intimate, important, connection with nature is correct. The understanding of the interconnection of all living things is perfectly scientifically accurate. It is we “moderns” in our boxes, in our cars, in our shopping malls, who have become very sick.

Dec 11 2013

On This Day In History December 11

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

December 11 is the 345th day of the year (346th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 20 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1946, In the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations votes to establish the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an organization to help provide relief and support to children living in countries devastated by the war.

After the food and medical crisis of the late 1940s passed, UNICEF continued its role as a relief organization for the children of troubled nations and during the 1970s grew into a vocal advocate of children’s rights. During the 1980s, UNICEF assisted the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After its introduction to the U.N. General Assembly in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and UNICEF played a key role in ensuring its enforcement.

Of the 184 member states of the United Nations, only two countries have failed to ratify the treaty–Somalia and the United States. Somalia does not currently have an internationally recognized government, so ratification is impossible, and the United States, which was one of the original signatories of the convention, has failed to ratify the treaty because of concerns about its potential impact on national sovereignty and the parent-child relationship.

In 1953, UNICEF became a permanent part of the United Nations System and its name was shortened from the original United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund but it has continued to be known by the popular acronym based on this old name. Headquartered in New York City, UNICEF provides long-term humanitarian and developmental assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.

UNICEF relies on contributions from governments and private donors and UNICEF’s total income for 2006 was $2,781,000,000. Governments contribute two thirds of the organization’s resources; private groups and some 6 million individuals contribute the rest through the National Committees. UNICEF’s programs emphasize developing community-level services to promote the health and well-being of children. UNICEF was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and the Prince of Asturias Award of Concord in 2006.

Most of UNICEF’s work is in the field, with staff in over 190 countries and territories. More than 200 country offices carry out UNICEF’s mission through a program developed with host governments. Seven regional offices provide technical assistance to country offices as needed.

Overall management and administration of the organization takes place at its headquarters in New York. UNICEF’s Supply Division is based in Copenhagen and serves as the primary point of distribution for such essential items as vaccines, antiretroviral medicines for children and mothers with HIV, nutritional supplements, emergency shelters, educational supplies, among others. A 36-member Executive Board establishes policies, approves programs and oversees administrative and financial plans. The Executive Board is made up of government representatives who are elected by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, usually for three-year terms.

Following the reaching of term limits by Executive Director of UNICEF Carol Bellamy, former United States Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman became executive director of the organization in May 2005 with an agenda to increase the organization’s focus on the Millennium Development Goals. She was succeeded in May 2010 by Anthony Lake.

UNICEF is an inter-governmental organization and thus is accountable to governments.