12/30/2012 archive

Fiscal Cliff as Grim Speed Bump Trigger by Annieli

Van Jones said not so long ago:  “If we want to fix the economy, the first thing we got to do is repeal the Bush tax cuts and pull back our military expenditures to Clinton level expenditures.”   The first corrective action one takes does not have to be a vanguard one, but it is clear that President Obama's second term requires an understanding of the stakes for labor and capital, ones greater than those at the Clinton levels. Critical analyses might require interrogating the problem of how the base economy depends on the superstructure’s contractual complicity in coordinating industries that have regional impacts and cultural effects. In the case of the Fiscal Cliff(FC), a critical political economic analysis of the defense sector and its associated practices including procurement pork-barreling can give us some small insights on the fictive, yet dimensional nature of the capital and labor involved. The myth of the cliff metaphor functions as though lemmings were at risk. But as with everything "we have entered the house of language and the doors are closing behind us".

For those requiring a summary:

“The “fiscal cliff’, however, is an invented term applied by politicians to the date various temporary legislative changes to the country’s tax code and spending policy take effect.   Politicians began instituting temporary tax cuts with the intention of later transforming them into permanent law in the 1990s.   According to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report, this practice exploded during the George W. Bush administration and was accompanied by budget gimmickry to hide their affect on the federal deficit.  The Bush era tax cuts, known respectively as the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 and the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, are at the center of the storm that is raging around the “fiscal cliff’.   The legislation, which was set to expire in 2010 but was extended to 2012, significantly reduced rates on income, estate and dividends and capital gains taxes and exemptions.  After the sunset of the Bush era tax cuts, estate and gift tax exemptions will end raising the tax rates on transferred estates over $1 million to 55%.   Long-term capital gains taxes will rise from its current rate of 15% to 20%. The tax bracket for the country’s wealthiest citizens will rise from the current 35% to 39.6%.  In other words, the tax code will largely return to the rates that were in place prior to the George W. Bush administration.”

The Myth of the Fiscal Cliff: Another False Apocalypse (h/t Jonathan Turley)

For our purposes here, the cliff is more like a speed bump because the funding for defense will continue with little effect because of the contractual aspects of procurement that occur in a spatial and temporal context.

For their part, some defense contractor executives are now making it a point to stress that sequestration, if a fiscal cliff deal isn’t reached by Jan. 1, would be less of a “guillotine” than a “speed bump.” That’s long been the view of military analysts. “The fiscal cliff metaphor just isn’t accurate,” says Todd Harrison, senior fellow in the Defense Budget Studies program at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. “It’s more of a slope – but it is a slippery slope.” Moreover, sequestration does not apply to cases in which defense companies are working now on vehicles and weapons contracts that have already been obligated. “That’s an important point, because if you’re a defense contractor, whatever you’re working on now is something that has already been obligated, and that will continue until the money runs out,” Mr. Harrison says. “There won’t be any immediate impact on Jan. 2.”

   Christian Science Monitor

The Fiscal Cliff is largely such a speed bump in the ever-self-correcting however badly managed capitalist economy, given that it has all the sausage of policy problems derived from trying to constrain one form of the ideological state apparatus (the legislative branch budget power) with another more materially destructive institution like the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Without rehearsing what others have contributed, I want to make a small point on the spatial analysis of the FC with respect to the defense industry if only to make a point concerning the regulation of the firearms industry and citizens. The subsequently mediated cultural effects that produce calls for citizen disarmament illustrate a false consciousness that show that political power (can) grow out of the barrel of a gun, real and digitally imagined because of a lack of awareness of armaments production, or its application abroad. Yet militarization whether domestic or international will continue unabated; an FC agreement will be made, compromises will be achieved, and the continuing path of exploitation and stagnant growth will run through the first quarter(s) of the Second term. Recent domestic historical spectacles of violence have obscured the necessary path to global demilitarization which cannot be called at any moment world peace.  Another diarist came to this spatial contradiction recently.

But of course in a country which cares so little for however much collateral damage we inflict on innocent civilians with drone strikes, so long as none of our boys and girls get hurt, it's hard to expect that emotional pain visited on Afghani non-combatants counts for much in the American scheme of things. We have a national melt down over twenty dead school children in Connecticut. Twenty dead Pakistani school children lost to a drone strike not so much. It's who we are. It's about us. Always about us. Little brown people on the other side of the world are beyond our awareness. I don't have to like it, but that's how it is.

We value things that seem closer to us but as its says in our cars’ right hand mirrors: “objects closer may appear larger than they are”. As it is with tragedy, the proportion of its causes are disproportionate to its scale. Self-defense and self-determination must be bravely seen in their globalized context with a constant goal of nonviolence and choose the appropriate targets for regulation whether individual products or entire industries, tempering social costs with social justice.  Please follow me below the orange squiggle to view exceptionally grim(m) triggers for more moral hazards.

Rant of the Week: George Carlin

You Have No Rights

Congressional Game of Chicken: On the Brink of a Stalemate

Up Date 16:33 EDT: Republican Senators have taken Social Security off the table as part of the negotiations for the “fiscal cliff.”

With the deadline for the expiration of Bush Tax cuts and austere spending cuts, the Senate negotiations have reached a stalemate. At the last minute, the Republicans demanded significant cuts to Social Security benefits. House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who was described as  “shocked and disappointed” and this may well be the “poison pill” that ends the charade of “fiscal cliff” talks.

The development came after a long weekend of negotiations during which the two sides had been making progress.

The aide said Democrats had shown flexibility on the major sticking points involving taxes. They had not ruled out maintaining the tax on inherited estates at the current low rate, as Republicans prefer. And they had been open to a deal that would allow taxes to rise on many fewer wealthy households than President Obama had proposed. Republicans were seeking tax increases only on income higher than $400,000 or $500,000 a year, while Obama wanted to set the threshold at $250,000 a year.

But Obama was pressing for $30 billion in new spending to keep unemployment benefits flowing to the long-term unemployed, and he wanted to postpone roughly $100 billion in automatic spending cuts set to hit agency budgets next months. In exchange for those items, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) insisted Sunday that Democrats put cuts to Social Security benefits on the table, noting that Obama had offered to do so as part of the big deficit-reduction package he had been negotiating with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio.)

Republicans declined to comment on the new offer, but noted that Obama endorsed the adjustment, known as chained CPI, again Sunday, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.

President Obama suggested that he was open to the highly unpopular proposal to cut increases to Social Security by linking it to the “chained CPI” in the context of a larger deal.

The other “monkey wrench” that McConnell threw into the mix was estate taxes which are scheduled to increase to the Clinton level of 55% on estates over one million dollars. The estate tax currently exempts the first $5 million of inheritance and taxes the remainder at 35 percent, which the Republicans want to keep. Pres. Obama wants to make it less generous, reducing the exemption to $3.5 million and taxing the remainder at a 45 percent rate. This tax only affects an extremely small number of people.

Under the Republican proposal, 3,800 people would pay the estate tax year, also near an average of $3.3 million. The GOP proposal would raise $182 billion for federal tax coffers over the next 10 years.

Under Obama’s proposal, 6,500 people would pay the estate tax next year, with an average payment estimated at about $3 million. The president’s proposal would raise $284 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.

No action by Congress would send the estate tax back to what it was in the 1990s – with a $1 million exemption and 55 rate percent for the remaining share. That would affect more than 40 million Americans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-SC) has reached out to Vice President Joe Biden to break the impasse.


Punting the Pundits: Sunday Preview Edition

Punting the Punditsis 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”.

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The Sunday Talking Heads:

Up with Chris Hayes: Steve Kornacki is guest host. Joining him will be:

Sen. Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and leading advocate of filibuster reform; Rep. Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; Jamelle Bouie, staff writer at The American Prospect, fellow at The Nation Institute; Suzy Khimm, reporter for the Washington Post; Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion; Kevin Williamson, deputy managing editor at The National Review and author of “The Dependency Agenda;” Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express; and Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.

This Week with George Stephanopolis: Guests on “This Week” are Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY); Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ);  Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD); and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID.

ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl leads the roundtable with guests the former Vermont governor and founder of Democracy for America, Howard Dean; former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, president and CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable; Politico senior political reporter Maggie Haberman; and Vanity Fair national editor Todd Purdum.

Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer: Mr. Schieffer’s guests are Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Joining him on the panel are the Wall Street Journal‘s Peggy Noonan, Vanity Fair‘s Dee Dee Myers, and TIME Magazine‘s Michael Duffy and Joe Klein who offer their take on the fiscal cliff situation with updates from CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett and CBS News Congressional Correspondent Nancy Cordes.

The Chris Matthews Show: Joining Chris for his annual holiday awards show are Michael Duffy, TIME Magazine Assistant Managing Editor; Helene Cooper, The New York Times White House Correspondent; and Sam Donaldson, ABC Reporter.

Meet the Press with David Gregory: In an exclusive, President Barack Obama sits with David Gregory for his first interview on a Sunday talk show in three years.

The roundtable guests are NBC’s Tom Brokaw; historians Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin; the New York TimesDavid Brooks; and NBC’s Chuck Todd.

State of the Union with Candy Crowley: Joining Ms. Crowley are Chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, John Barrasso (R-Wy), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD).

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warning on a spike in milk prices next year, and why rural America is losing its influence.

And Live at noon, she will talk about the latest news on the fiscal cliff with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID).

Chasing Kitten Tail

What We Now Know

Up with Chris Hayes host Chris Hayes tells some of what we should know for the coming year, including what is on the legislative agendas of lawmakers around the country

Sharing what they know are Richard Wolff, Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University; Susan Crawford, Professor at the Center on Intellectual Property and Information Law Program at Carodozo School of Law; Karl Smith, Assistant Professor of Economics and Government at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Chrystia Freeland, Editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.”

North Carolina Senate Set to Repeal Racial Justice Act

The North Carolina state senate voted to gut a law on Monday that allows death row inmates to argue that racial bias influenced their sentencing. Enacted in 2009, the Racial Justice Act requires judges in North Carolina to commute death row inmates’ sentences to life in prison if they find race played a “significant” role in the initial sentence.

State Republicans have long set their sights on undoing the law, the Wall Street Journal reports. The GOP-controlled North Carolina state house weakened the original law in June, changing its language to require that courts prove that prosecutors acted “with discriminatory purpose” when selecting juries and seeking the death penalty. But proving intent, as one attorney told the Raleigh News & Observer, is exceedingly difficult. And Colorlines‘ Jamillah King reports that the new language “represented a meaningful undermining of the point: The law had moved courts to a focus on racially disparate outcomes, rather than a racist intent.”

In 2012, Executions Hold Steady, But Death Penalty Imposed Less

Convicted killer Michael Hooper’s heart stopped beating in an Oklahoma death chamber from lethal injection on Aug. 14. The country’s next executions happened more than five weeks later on Sept. 20 when Ohio killed Donald Palmer, who’d murdered two strangers, and when Robert Harris was executed in Texas for killing five people.

The long gap between executions made 2012 one of the quietest years on death row, since executions peaked in 1999, according to a study by the Death Penalty Information Center.

In all, 43 death row inmates have been executed in 2012, the same number as in 2011. That’s down by 58 percent from 1999 when 98 condemned prisoners were executed.

“The public still wants it on the books, but they see life without parole as a real alternative,” said Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center’s executive director.

The public considers capital punishment too expensive and doesn’t think of it as a deterrent to crime, he said. “Capital punishment is being clustered and isolated in a few states.”

Minimum Wage Increase Hits 10 States, Boosting Pay For An Estimated One Million Workers

WASHINGTON — New Years Day will bring a small pay bump to some of the lowest-paid American workers, with 10 states set to hike their minimum wages for 2013.

Nearly a million low-wage workers will see their earnings rise because of the increases, most of which come courtesy of state cost-of-living adjustments that account for inflation. Washington State will once again have the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $9.19 per hour, after a raise of 15 cents for the new year. The other states raising their wage floors are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.