Friday, July 30, 2010

POLITICS - Social Security vs the Wealthy

"Americans Look to Wealthy to Help Save Social Security" by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup 7/30/2010

Of six possible ways to address concerns with the Social Security system in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, a majority of Americans favor two, both of which would affect only wealthy Americans. Less than a majority favor proposals that would involve increasing taxes, reducing benefits, or increasing the eligibility age for larger segments of the general public.

The July 8-11 USA Today/Gallup poll testing these ways to fix Social Security found growing doubts among both retired and nonretired Americans about the future of their own Social Security benefits. The poll also found the highest percentage of Americans in a Gallup survey to date saying the Social Security system is "in a state of crisis" or has "major problems."

The lack of support for most proposals to address problems with the Social Security system underscores the difficulty U.S. lawmakers will have in reforming it. Even the Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives are themselves divided on some of these, such as whether to raise the age at which people could receive full Social Security retirement benefits. Sixty-three percent of Americans believe this approach is a bad idea, making it (along with increasing Social Security taxes on all workers) the least popular of the six proposals tested in the poll.

Americans' opinions on various ways to ensure the future of Social Security have not changed much since 2005, when President Bush sought unsuccessfully to modify the system. At that time, as now, the proposals aimed at the wealthy were the only ones to garner majority support. Over the past five years, the only idea to receive a significant uptick in support is reducing retirement benefits for people currently under age 55, though still well less than a majority think this is a good idea.

There is general consensus on the Social Security proposals by age -- those that would primarily affect high-income Americans are the most popular among both young and old. The only notable difference by age concerns the idea of increasing the age at which people are eligible to receive full retirement benefits, which is endorsed by 50% of senior citizens but only 31% of all those under age 65. (For the full results by age, see page 2.)

Political differences exist on some, but not all, of the proposals. Democrats are more likely than independents and Republicans to favor the proposals affecting upper-income Americans, and increasing Social Security taxes on all workers. Still, a majority of Republicans favor the proposals that would target wealthier Americans, and less than a majority of Democrats think raising Social Security taxes on all workers is a good idea.Bottom Line

The future health of the U.S. Social Security system is likely to be a topic of increasing discussion in the next few weeks as Americans acknowledge the 75th anniversary of its signing into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Obama's deficit commission may consider changes to Social Security and other entitlement programs as ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. Americans recognize the future of the Social Security system is in some peril but find few methods for attempting to fix it to their liking, other than those aimed at wealthy Americans.

The article contains pics of actual poll questions and numbers.

IMMIGRATION - Borders, America's Safest Places

"The 'Dangerous' Border: Actually One of America's Safest Places" by Tim Padgett, Time Magazine 7/30/2010

Excerpt

When U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton ruled on Wednesday that key provisions of Arizona's new anti-immigration law were unconstitutional, she could have also declared them unnecessary. That is, if the main impetus behind the controversial legislation was, as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said when she signed it in April, "border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration." The fact is, despite the murderous mayhem raging across the border in Mexico, the U.S. side, from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, is one of the nation's safest corridors.

According to the FBI, the four large U.S. cities (with populations of at least 500,000) with the lowest violent crime rates — San Diego, Phoenix and the Texas cities of El Paso and Austin — are all in border states. "The border is safer now than it's ever been," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press last month. Even Larry Dever, the sheriff of Arizona's Cochise County, where the murder last March of a local rancher, believed to have been committed by an illegal immigrant, sparked calls for the law, conceded to the Arizona Republic recently that "we're not seeing the [violent crime] that's going on on the other side."

Consider Arizona itself — whose illegal-immigrant population is believed to be second only to California's. The state's overall crime rate dropped 12% last year; between 2004 and 2008 it plunged 23%. In the metro area of its largest city, Phoenix, violent crime — encompassing murder, rape, assault and robbery — fell by a third during the past decade and by 17% last year. The border city of Nogales, an area rife with illegal immigration and drug trafficking, hasn't logged a single murder in the past two years.It is true that Phoenix has in recent years seen a spate of kidnappings. But in almost every case they've involved drug traffickers targeting other narcos for payment shakedowns, and the 318 abductions reported last year were actually down 11% from 2008. Either way, the figure hardly makes Phoenix, as Arizona Senator John McCain claimed last month, "the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world" behind Mexico City. A number of Latin American capitals can claim that dubious distinction.

An even more telling example is El Paso. Its cross-border Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, suffered almost 2,700 murders last year, most of them drug-related, making it possibly the world's most violent town. But El Paso, a stone's throw across the Rio Grande, had just one murder. A big reason, say U.S. law-enforcement officials, is that the Mexican drug cartels' bloody turf wars generally end at the border and don't follow the drugs into the U.S. Another, says El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, is that "the Mexican cartels know that if they try to commit that kind of violence here, they'll get shut down."

POLITICS - Prime Example of What the GOP Has Become, SCUM

"Iowa GOP Supports Amendment To Strip Obama’s Citizenship Because He Won The Nobel Peace Prize" by Tanya Somanader, Think Progress 7/28/2010

At its state convention in Des Moines last month, the Iowa GOP adopted a new party platform that includes the repeal of mandatory minimum wage laws, the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and even clarification on the definition of manure. Out of the “387 enumerated planks and principles,” Newsweek’s Jerry Adler found the most “startling” section of the platform calls for “the reintroduction and ratification of the original 13th Amendment.”

Adopted in December 1865, the current 13th Amendment of the Constitution prohibits “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” in the United States or any place under its jurisdiction. The Iowa GOP is not trying to overturn this amendment to reinstate slavery. Instead, it wants to reintroduce the “original 13th Amendment” first offered by senator Phillip Reed of Maryland in 1810. The amendment states that “if any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain any title of nobility or honor” from a “foreign power, such person shall cease to be a citizen” and “shall be incapable of holding any office of trust.” In receiving only 12 out of the 13 votes needed for ratification, the amendment was never adopted.

Traditional supporters of the idea are known as “Thirteenthers,” who seek to prevent those with the title of “esquire,” such as lawyers and bankers, from participating in government. But according to its spokeswoman, Danielle Plogmann, the Iowa GOP supports it as an attack on President Obama’s Nobel Prize win:

There are, of course, other implications of Thirteenthism, such as ensuring that the United States never again suffers the humiliation of having a president win the Nobel Peace Prize. That was just what the Iowa Republicans had in mind, according to Plogmann, who wrote in an e-mail that the plank “was meant to make a statement about the delegates’ opinion about Mr. Obama receiving the prize.” (Presumably they didn’t mind if, in the process, they were also making a statement about any American scientist or writer unlucky enough to win a Nobel.) Unfortunately for them, the Department of Justice looked into whether Obama needed Congressional approval to accept the Nobel under the existing emoluments clause, and based on the meaning of “foreign state” (which would not cover the Nobel Prize Committee) concluded that he did not.

Iowa is currently “the only state where this type of plank has been introduced into the GOP platform.” While chances are indeed remote that such a measure would pass, should the Iowa GOP and “Thirteenthers” successfully push their belief, “every act of federal government since 1819,” including the abolition of slavery, “would be delegitimized.” (HT: Iowa Independent)

POLITICS - Social Security Myths

"MoveOn.org: Top 5 Social Security Myths" Rightardia 7/29/2010

Myth #1: Social Security is going broke.

Reality: There is no Social Security crisis. By 2023, Social Security will have a $4.6 trillion surplus (yes, trillion with a 'T'). It can pay out all scheduled benefits for the next quarter-century with no changes whatsoever. After 2037, it'll still be able to pay out 75% of scheduled benefits—and again, that's without any changes. The program started preparing for the Baby Boomers' retirement decades ago. Anyone who insists Social Security is broke probably wants to break it themselves.

Myth #2: We have to raise the retirement age because people are living longer.

Reality: This is a red-herring to trick you into agreeing to benefit cuts. Retirees are living about the same amount of time as they were in the 1930s. The reason average life expectancy is higher is mostly because many fewer people die as children than they did 70 years ago. What's more, what gains there have been are distributed very unevenly—since 1972, life expectancy increased by 6.5 years for workers in the top half of the income brackets, but by less than 2 years for those in the bottom half. But those intent on cutting Social Security love this argument because raising the retirement age is the same as an across-the-board benefit cut.

Myth #3: Benefit cuts are the only way to fix Social Security.

Reality: Social Security doesn't need to be fixed. But if we want to strengthen it, here's a better way: Make the rich pay their fair share. If the very rich paid taxes on all of their income, Social Security would be sustainable for decades to come. Right now, high earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 of their income. But conservatives insist benefit cuts are the only way because they want to protect the super-rich from paying their fair share.

Myth #4: The Social Security Trust Fund has been raided and is full of IOUs.

Reality: Not even close to true. The Social Security Trust Fund isn't full of IOUs, it's full of U.S. Treasury Bonds. And those bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. The reason Social Security holds only treasury bonds is the same reason many Americans do: The federal government has never missed a single interest payment on its debts. President Bush wanted to put Social Security funds in the stock market—which would have been disastrous—but luckily, he failed. So the trillions of dollars in the Social Security Trust Fund, which are separate from the regular budget, are as safe as can be.

Myth #5: Social Security adds to the deficit.

Reality: It's not just wrong—it's impossible! By law, Social Security's funds are separate from the budget, and it must pay its own way. That means that Social Security can't add one penny to the deficit.

ON THE LITE SIDE - Pledge for Teabaggers

"Take the Teabagger Socialist-Free Purity Pledge" from: "pappy", Rightardia 4/3/2010

I, ________________________________, do solemnly swear to uphold the principles of a socialism-free society and heretofore pledge my word that I shall strictly adhere to the following:

I will complain about the destruction of 1st Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 1st Amendment Rights.

I will complain about the destruction of my 2nd Amendment Rights in this country, while I am duly being allowed to exercise my 2nd Amendment rights by legally but brazenly brandishing unconcealed firearms in public.

I will forswear the time-honored principles of fairness, decency, and respect by screaming unintelligible platitudes regarding tyranny, Nazi-ism, and socialism at public town halls.

Also, I pledge to eliminate all government intervention in my life. I will abstain from the use of and participation in any socialist goods and services including but not limited to the following:
  • Social Security

  • Medicare/Medicaid

  • State Children's Health Insurance Programs (SCHIP)

  • Police, Fire, and Emergency Services

  • US Postal Service

  • Roads and Highways

  • Air Travel (regulated by the socialist FAA)

  • The US Railway System

  • Public Subways and Metro Systems

  • Public Bus and LightRail Systems

  • Rest Areas on Highways

  • Sidewalks

  • Public libraries

  • All Government-Funded Local/State Projects (e.g., see Iowa 2009 federal senate appropriations--http://grassley.senate.gov/issues/upload/Master-Approps-73109.pdf)

  • Public Water and Sewer Services (goodbye socialist toilet, shower, dishwasher, kitchen sink, outdoor hose!)

  • Public and State Universities and Colleges

  • Public Primary and Secondary Schools

  • Sesame Street

  • Public TV and NPR

  • Publicly Funded Anti-Drug Use Education for Children

  • Public Museums

  • Public Parks and Beaches

  • State Parks

  • Public Zoos

  • Unemployment Insurance

  • Municipal Garbage, Water and Recycling Services

  • Treatment at Any Hospital or Clinic That Ever Received Funding From Local, State or Federal Government (pretty much all of them)

  • Medical Services and Medications That Were Created or Derived From Any Government Grant or Research Funding (again, pretty much all of them)

  • Socialist Byproducts of Government Investment Such as Duct Tape and Velcro (Nazi-NASA Inventions)

  • Use of the Internet, email, and networked computers, as the DoD's ARPANET was the basis for subsequent computer networking

  • Foodstuffs, Meats, Milk, Produce and Crops That Were Grown With, Fed With, Raised With or That Contain Inputs From Crops Grown With Government Subsidies

  • Clothing Made from Crops (e.g. cotton) That Were Grown With or That Contain Inputs From Government Subsidies

If a veteran of the government-run socialist US military, I will forgo my VA benefits and insist on paying for my own medical care. I will not use my VA education or mortgage benefits. I will not apply for a VA disability that is service connected under any circumstances or use a VA hospital to cure my service connected illness, disease or condition. I will tear up any disability checks I receive from the VA.

I will not tour socialist government buildings like the Capitol in Washington, D.C. I pledge to never take myself, my family, or my children on a tour of the following types of socialist locations, including but not limited to:
  • Smithsonian Museums such as the Air and Space Museum or Museum of American History

  • The socialist Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson Monuments

  • The government-operated Statue of Liberty

  • The Grand Canyon and other national parks

  • The socialist World War II and Vietnam Veterans Memorials

  • The government-run socialist-propaganda location known as Arlington National Cemetery which was formerly the estate of Robert E. Lee.

  • All other public-funded socialist sites, whether it be in my state or in Washington, DC

I will urge my Member of Congress and Senators to forgo their government salary and government-provided health care.

I will oppose and condemn the government-funded and therefore socialist military of the United States of America.

I will boycott the products of socialist defense contractors such as GE, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Humana, FedEx, General Motors, Honeywell, and hundreds of others that are paid by our socialist government to produce goods for our socialist army.

I will protest socialist security departments such as the Pentagon, FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, TSA, Department of Justice and their socialist employees.

Upon reaching eligible retirement age, I will tear up my socialist Social Security checks. Upon reaching age 65, I will forgo Medicare and pay for my own private health insurance until I die.

SWORN ON A BIBLE AND SIGNED THIS DAY OF ____________ IN THE YEAR ______________.
___________________________ ___________________________ Signed Printed Name/Town and State

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ECONOMY - Job Subsidies

"Job Subsidies Also Provide Help to Private Sector" by CATHERINE RAMPELL, New York Times 7/28/2010

Excerpt

States are putting hundreds of thousands of people directly into jobs through programs reminiscent of the more ambitious work projects of the Great Depression.

But the new efforts have a twist: While the wages are being paid by the government, most of the participants are working for private companies.

The opportunity to simultaneously benefit struggling workers and small businesses has helped these job subsidies gain support from liberals and conservatives. Congress is now considering whether to extend the subsidy, which would expire in September, for an additional year. A House vote is expected on Thursday or Friday.

Despite questions about whether the programs displace existing workers, many economists have argued that direct job creation programs are a more cost-effective way to put some of the nation’s 14.6 million unemployed back to work than indirect alternatives like tax credits and construction projects.

POLITICS - More on Tax Cuts

"White House takes aim at GOP calls to extend all tax cuts" by Michael O'Brien, The Hill 7/28/2010

Excerpt
The White House strongly disputed GOP arguments for renewing high-end tax cuts on Tuesday, arguing that extending them would do little to aid the economy.

Christina Romer, a top economic adviser to President Obama who serves as the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, made the administration’s case for letting tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year run out for high earners, while extending them for middle-class families.

“Recently, some have argued that extending the high-income cuts is necessary for the economy,” Romer wrote in an official blog post. “This is simply wrong.”

Extending tax cuts for high earners would do little to strengthen the economy and add jobs, Romer said, while maintaining the cuts for lower earners would provide an immediate stimulus.

IMMIGRATION - Federal Law

§ 1357. Powers of immigration officers and employees
(a) Powers without warrant

Any officer or employee of the Service authorized under regulations prescribed by the Attorney General shall have power without warrant—

(1) to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien as to his right to be or to remain in the United States;

(2) to arrest any alien who in his presence or view is entering or attempting to enter the United States in violation of any law or regulation made in pursuance of law regulating the admission, exclusion, expulsion, or removal of aliens, or to arrest any alien in the United States, if he has reason to believe that the alien so arrested is in the United States in violation of any such law or regulation and is likely to escape before a warrant can be obtained for his arrest, but the alien arrested shall be taken without unnecessary delay for examination before an officer of the Service having authority to examine aliens as to their right to enter or remain in the United States;

This is just the opening, use link to read the full law

POLITICS - On Taxes, Looking Back 2009

"Who pays taxes - and how much?" by Jeanne Sahadi, CNN 4/16/2009

(Reminder, article refers to 4/2009)
For most Americans, Wednesday is the day they have to make sure they're square with the tax man.

It's also a day that focuses the mind on those perennial questions about the fairness of the U.S. tax system. Are higher-income people paying enough - or would raising their taxes depress their incentive to work? Are the poor getting gouged - or do too many get off without paying a penny? Are those in the vast middle getting squeezed?

The questions are particularly relevant these days, as deficits pile up, demands for government spending soar and many of the past decade's tax cuts near their expiration in 2010.

Going forward, the White House has said it wants to cut taxes for families making less than $250,000, while at the same time start collecting more from families with bigger incomes in 2011.

Of course, the burden of funding the federal government isn't designed to be spread equally. The U.S. tax code is progressive, meaning that higher-income tax filers pay more in taxes than those lower down the income scale.

But just how much more?

The highest earners pay the lion's share of the dollars Uncle Sam collects.

The top fifth of households made 56% of pre-tax income in 2006 but paid 86% of all individual income tax revenue collected, according to the most recent data available from the Congressional Budget Office.

Narrowing in further: The top 1% of households, which made 19% of pre-tax income, paid 39% of all individual income taxes.

The trend is similar if you count income taxes, social insurance taxes, excise taxes and corporate income taxes (such as capital gains) combined. The top fifth of households paid 69% of all federal taxes. The top 1% paid 28%.

But researchers also note that the highest income taxpayers derive the most benefits from the tax cuts put in place since 2001.

Next year, as a result of all those tax cuts, filers making more than $1 million will enjoy a 7.7% average boost in their after-tax income relative to what they would have if the tax cuts weren't in place, according to the Tax Policy Center. Middle-income households, by comparison, will see an average boost of 2.6%.

Many pay no income tax or very little

A Tax Foundation survey found 56% of Americans think the amount of federal income tax they pay is too high. Those most likely to feel that way, according to the survey, include those making between $35,000 and $50,000.

But once the various tax breaks to which they're entitled are counted, the burdens of low- and middle-income tax filers as a group has been fairly low.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that for 2009, 43% of tax units (most of which are lower income households that may or may not file a return) will have no income tax liability or will have a negative income tax liability, meaning the government will actually pay them.

When measuring the tax burdens from income tax and payroll tax combined, the Tax Policy Center estimates nearly 12% of tax units will have zero or negative liability.

As for everyone else, it's likely their net income tax burden will not be high.

For example, in 2005, just under one in 10 filers owed more than 15% of their income in federal income tax, said Roberton Williams, senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center. Roughly 70% of them had incomes over $100,000.

Bold-blue emphasis mine

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

POLITICS - Winning Plan

"Employment stimulus a winning plan for Obama and Democrats" by J. Morton Davis, The Hill 7/27/2010

Excerpt
Long-term unemployment is threatening to become permanent. More people, especially the young, cannot find work. It’s almost impossible to revive economic growth without jobs for the many people constantly entering the market. We need an all-out entrepreneurial initiative to stimulate a dramatic jump in job creation. Long-term fiscal responsibility is important, but we need a big stimulus program now regardless of deficits. It is the only strategy that can avert a depression.

More than 15 million Americans, almost 10 percent of the workforce, are unemployed and can’t find jobs. Including those unemployed for more than six months and too discouraged to seek work, or just doing part-time work, the rate approaches 20 percent, or almost 30 million people. Among teenagers, the rate is 26 percent; among African-American teens not in school, it is 50 percent.

Joblessness depresses economic activity and demand for workers, triggering more joblessness — a vicious downward cycle. It has often taken an external trigger to revive the economy, such as war, that suddenly absorbs all the unemployed and creates new defense jobs. At other times, it takes a Keynesian-stimulus package to boost demand. Or a major technological innovation — such as the automobile or railroads — does the trick, igniting work that generates buying power, rising consumer demand and economic growth.

A complex way of saying you cannot have higher consumer spending (income for companies) without MORE Americans getting a paycheck.

SCIENCE - Talk Causes Stir

Millions of Earths? Talk causes a stir
(22min)

HOMETOWN - "Clyde" Lives!

"San Diego's Geezer Bandit: New version of old story" by Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times 7/28/2010
He's not Bonnie, nor is he Clyde. Also not Dillinger or D.B. Cooper.

But San Diego's Geezer Bandit has caught the fancy of the media and public after 11 bank robberies in the last year. Tellers who have had contact with the robber say he is between 60 and 70 years old and that he's all business when he flashes a gun and demands money.

The FBI is appealing for help in finding him.

WORLDVIEW - Russian Whistleblower

The World is much more than the United States, so.....

"Videos Rouse Russian Anger Toward Police" by CLIFFORD J. LEVY, New York Times 7/27/2010

Excerpt
One day last fall, a police officer here put on his uniform and sat on a drab tan couch before a video camera. In a halting monotone, he recorded two video appeals to Vladimir V. Putin, 13 minutes in all.

He was a nobody cop from a nowhere city, but his words would startle this country.

“How can a police officer accept bribes?” the officer asked. “Do you understand where our society is heading?

“You talk about reducing corruption,” he said. “You say that it should not be just a crime, that it should be immoral. But it is not like that. I told my boss that the police are corrupt. And he told me that it cannot be done away with.

“I am not afraid of quitting. I will tell you my name. I am Dymovsky, Aleksei Aleksandrovich.”

The videos were uploaded to YouTube in November, and a nation that has grown increasingly infuriated by police wrongdoing could not take its eyes off them.

Here, finally, was an insider acknowledging the enveloping culture of corruption in Russia’s police forces — the payoffs large and small, the illegal arrests to extort money, the police chiefs who buy fancy cars and mansions on modest state salaries.

The videos have been watched more than two million times, giving Mr. Dymovsky a kind of fame in Russia similar to that of the police whistleblower Frank Serpico, who in the 1970s spoke out against police corruption in New York City.

OIL SPILL - Light at the End of the Tunnel

"On the Surface, Gulf Oil Spill Is Vanishing Fast; Concerns Stay" by JUSTIN GILLIS and CAMPBELL ROBERTSON, New York Times 7/27/2010

Excerpt
The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.

Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf.

John Amos, president of SkyTruth, an environmental advocacy group that sharply criticized the early, low estimates of the size of the BP leak, noted that no oil had gushed from the well for nearly two weeks.

“Oil has a finite life span at the surface,” Mr. Amos said Tuesday, after examining fresh radar images of the slick. “At this point, that oil slick is really starting to dissipate pretty rapidly.”

The dissolution of the slick should reduce the risk of oil killing more animals or hitting shorelines. But it does not end the many problems and scientific uncertainties associated with the spill, and federal leaders emphasized this week that they had no intention of walking away from those problems any time soon.

The effect on sea life of the large amounts of oil that dissolved below the surface is still a mystery. Two preliminary government reports on that issue have found concentrations of toxic compounds in the deep sea to be low, but the reports left many questions, especially regarding an apparent decline in oxygen levels in the water.

And understanding the effects of the spill on the shorelines that were hit, including Louisiana’s coastal marshes, is expected to occupy scientists for years. Fishermen along the coast are deeply skeptical of any declarations of success, expressing concern about the long-term effects of the chemical dispersants used to combat the spill and of the submerged oil, particularly on shrimp and crab larvae that are the foundation of future fishing seasons.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

POLITICS - Consummated Merger, GOP + Tea Party

"Republicans steeping in 'tea'" by Dana Milbank, Erie Times-News 7/27/2010

Excerpt

On Wednesday, with the blessing of House GOP leaders, Bachmann convened the inaugural meeting of her Tea Party Caucus, where two dozen GOP members of Congress sat down with a similar number of tea party activists behind closed doors in an Armed Services Committee room.

Then it was Bachmann's job to lead the group across the street to the Capitol for an appearance before TV cameras.

"OK, we can just go down the stairs," she called out. "You're doing great, everybody. OK, guys, this way!" She accepted a tube of lipstick from a male aide and applied it as she strode through the hallways of the Rayburn Building. "The press has been following us," she explained.

She continued her march down the Rayburn driveway ("Sorry about this long trip; I know it's warm") and across Independence Avenue ("OK, let's cross when we can!") and finally mustered them a few steps from the TV cameras. "Ready to roll?" she asked.

There and then -- on the Capitol grounds 104 days before the midterm elections -- tea party activists and Republican officeholders set aside any pretense about the two groups being separate. They essentially consummated a merger: The activists allowed themselves to be co-opted by a political party, and the Republican leaders allowed themselves to become the faces of the movement.

POLITICS - The GOP Scam

"Financial Times: ‘Dangerous’ GOP Supply-Side Tax-Cuts Will Destroy America" by Sue, ChattahBox.COM 7/26/2010

Democrats, economists, financial experts, even a former Bush economic adviser, have all sounded the alarm on the danger of the failed Republican economic policies of ignoring the deficit when cutting taxes for the rich, by refusing to cut spending in other areas to pay for them. Republicans have amnesia when it comes to their failed supply-side economics policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations. What is the GOP plan, if they win the House majority in the November elections? Cut taxes for the rich. How will they be paid for? Tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves, insist Republicans. Outside of the GOP rabbit hole, in the reality-based world, tax cuts DO NOT pay for themselves, they add to the deficit.

Martin Wolf, associate editor of the UK Financial Times, penned a provocative piece condemning the failed supply-side economic policies of Republicans, as a “dangerous,” and “irresponsible and unsustainable” calculated political scam that promises voters a “free lunch,” while destroying the American economy. Wolf is fearful that if the GOP regains power in the mid-term elections, they will finish the job that George W. Bush started and nearly succeeded at. And take America into insolvency, dragging down the rest of the world with us.

Some key takeaways from Wolf’s apt doomsday piece:
  • Republican supply-side economic policies are about to take us over a cliff and there are no longer sane voices in the GOP to stop it. “Republicans have no interest in doing anything sensible,” writes Wolf. And when the Democrats under the Clinton administration created a healthy sound surplus, the Republicans pissed it away as soon as they regained power.

  • Republicans are hypocritical when it comes to their deficit concerns. “But no, it is not deficits themselves that worry Republicans, but rather how they are caused: deficits caused by tax cuts are fine; but spending increases brought in by Democrats are diabolical, unless on the military,” says Wolf.

  • The stimulus bill was too small to have a true stimulative effect on our economy. And the U.S. desperately needs more stimulus, NOT more tax cuts. “In any case, the stimulus was certainly too small, not too large.” Wolf concludes that “across-the-board tax cuts are an extremely inefficient way of providing it.”

  • Republican tax-cutting policies have developed into a familiar scam. They cut taxes and the deficit explodes. Republicans then start screeching they need to cut social welfare programs to reduce the deficit, as evidenced by the recent fight over paying for the extension of emergency unemployment benefits. Suddenly, the deficit matters to the GOP when it involves spending money on poor people. And then they cut taxes some more. Supply-side economics is based on a vicious and destructive rationale.

Writes Wolf, “The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch?” [...]

“Finally, if deficits did not, in fact, disappear, conservatives could fall back on the “starve the beast” theory: deficits would create a fiscal crisis that would force the government to cut spending and even destroy the hated welfare state.”

What does this say for the future of America’s economy? Wolf envisions an eventual catastrophe, and he may be right. Paul Krugman,The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-wining economist, said of Wolf’s piece:

“Wolf’s argument and main points are similar to those I made in a recent column; that’s not a criticism, because we need more people saying this.Martin ends on a deeply pessimistic note. I wish I could disagree.”

Wolf concludes, the U.S. economy will continue to deteriorate, as long as Republicans continue to insist tax cuts are self-financing.

“Finally, with one party indifferent to deficits, provided they are brought about by tax cuts, and the other party relatively fiscally responsible (well, everything is relative, after all), but opposed to spending cuts on core programs, US fiscal policy is paralyzed. I may think the policies of the UK government dangerously austere, but at least it can act.”

Perhaps the best takeaway from Wolf’s condemnation of GOP policies, comes in a comment defending himself against attacks that he is a crazy Socialist. He responds by daring Republicans to be honest with their constituents about their tax-cutting, small government policies, by actually admitting what programs they will cut to pay for tax cuts for the rich:

“A number of commentators assume that I am a European socialist (not true) and am attacking the Republicans for this reason (also not true). I believe Americans are entitled to make their own choices. But then make it an honest choice. Let the Republicans stand at the next election on the following principles: abolition of Medicare (and, of course, the recent health care bill); abolition of Social Security; abolition of federal assistance to the states; and radical tax cuts. I think that would be an honest program. I strongly suspect it would be politically suicidal. But promising the tax cuts without specifying the spending cuts is dishonest and dishonorable. Would paying for the promises the US has made to its citizens destroy the economy? No, in my view and certainly not as much as not paying would.”

Yes, indeed. When you hear Republican lawmakers promoting unpaid for tax cuts, ask them point blank what programs they will eliminate to reduce the deficit. So far, the GOP is unwilling to answer that question.

Bold-green emphasis mine

SCIENCE - And From National Geographic

Scientific Adam and Eve

AFGHANISTAN - China's View

China Daily view of Afghanistan

Monday, July 26, 2010

POLITICS - Boehner's Boners

"OBAMA SHINES A BRIGHT LIGHT ON BOEHNER'S 'IDEAS' ON JOBS" by Steve Benen, Washington Monthly 7/24/2010

Excerpt

It was largely overlooked during a busy media week, but House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who's been reluctant to talk about his party's policy agenda in detail, was willing to outline three measures he'd pursue as Speaker to create American jobs. The list made it painfully clear -- to anyone who takes substance even a little seriously -- that Boehner has no idea what he's talking about.

In fact, the remarks were so patently ridiculous, President Obama devoted much of his weekly address to shining a bright light on Boehner's understanding of job creation.

After talking in some detail about his own approach to economic growth, Obama warned against going back "to the same ideas that created this mess in the first place," adding, "Unfortunately, those are the ideas we keep hearing from our friends in the other party."

This from the party that, for 8yrs, dug the national financial hole we are in today.

Yap. Good idea (NOT) to put the GOP back in power so they can dig the the hole deeper, filling in what LITTLE progress in FILLING the hole by Obama and the Democrats.

POLITICS - Yet Another Nail in the Coffin, Arizona's Immigration Law & GOP

"Senate Republicans Lose Bid To Block Suit Against Arizona Law" by ANDREW TAYLOR, Huffington Post 7/21/2010

Excerpt

Senate Democrats on Wednesday turned back a move by Republicans to block the Justice Department from pursuing its lawsuit seeking to overturn Arizona's controversial immigration law.

The bid by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint to nix the lawsuit came out on the losing end of a 55-43 vote. Five Democrats voted to block the lawsuit while two Republicans voted against the measure.


ALSO

"GOP policies not exactly welcoming to Latinos" by Veronica Flores-Paniagua, San Antonio Express-News 7/24/2010

Excerpt

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Munisteri is unabashed in his criticism of his party's failure to reach out to Hispanics.

“You can't lose 95 percent of the African American vote and 75 percent of the Hispanic vote and expect to win an election in this state in the next decade or two,” Munisteri said after this week's launch of the Hispanic Republicans of Texas, a get-out-the-Hispanic-candidate effort.

POLITICS - Small Business Lending

"Small business lending measure clears filibuster" by STEPHEN OHLEMACHER (AP), Michigan Live 7/22/2010

Excerpt

Community banks may soon be able tap a $30 billion government fund to help them increase lending to small businesses.

Democrats in Congress said the banks should be able to use the money to leverage up to $300 billion in loans to small businesses, helping to loosen tight credit markets. GOP opponents called it another unwise bank bailout.

A measure creating the fund overcame a Republican filibuster in the Senate Thursday evening by a 60-37 vote with two Republicans joining Democrats in support of the fund.

The measure, supported by President Barack Obama, will be added to a bill providing a series of tax breaks aimed at small businesses, which could come up for a vote in the Senate next week. The House passed a bill establishing a similar lending fund in June.

The money would be available to banks with less than $10 billion in assets.

Reminder, the filibuster was by the GOP which clams that it's interested in small business.

AFGHANISTAN - Prognosis?

"View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan" New York Times 7/25/2010

Excerpt

A six-year archive of classified military documents made public on Sunday offers an unvarnished, ground-level picture of the war in Afghanistan that is in many respects more grim than the official portrayal.

The secret documents, released on the Internet by an organization called WikiLeaks (Afghan War Diary), are a daily diary of an American-led force often starved for resources and attention as it struggled against an insurgency that grew larger, better coordinated and more deadly each year.

SUPREME COURT - At the 5 Year Mark

"Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades" by ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times 7/24/2010

Excerpt

When Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and his colleagues on the Supreme Court left for their summer break at the end of June, they marked a milestone: the Roberts court had just completed its fifth term.

In those five years, the court not only moved to the right but also became the most conservative one in living memory, based on an analysis of four sets of political science data.

And for all the public debate about the confirmation of Elena Kagan or the addition last year of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, there is no reason to think they will make a difference in the court’s ideological balance. Indeed, the data show that only one recent replacement altered its direction, that of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2006, pulling the court to the right.

There is no similar switch on the horizon. That means that Chief Justice Roberts, 55, is settling in for what is likely to be a very long tenure at the head of a court that seems to be entering a period of stability.

If the Roberts court continues on the course suggested by its first five years, it is likely to allow a greater role for religion in public life, to permit more participation by unions and corporations in elections and to elaborate further on the scope of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. Abortion rights are likely to be curtailed, as are affirmative action and protections for people accused of crimes.

The recent shift to the right is modest. And the court’s decisions have hardly been uniformly conservative. The justices have, for instance, limited the use of the death penalty and rejected broad claims of executive power in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism.

While each of American will and should, have their opinion on this issue, I will always favor erring on the side of a liberal Supreme Court. From what I have witnessed in my 65yrs, it is a liberal Supreme Court that has provided the MOST protection of Human Rights.

POLITICS - Budget, Spending, and Tax Cuts

"Next Big Battle in Washington: Bush’s Tax Cuts" by DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, New York Times 7/24/2010

Excerpts

An epic fight is brewing over what Congress and President Obama should do about the expiring Bush tax cuts, with such substantial economic and political consequences that it could shape the fall elections and fiscal policy for years to come.

Democratic leaders, including Mr. Obama, say they are intent on letting the tax cuts for the wealthy expire as scheduled at the end of this year. But they have pledged to continue the lower tax rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 — what Democrats call the middle class.

Most Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone, and some Democrats agree, saying it would be unwise to raise taxes on anyone while the economy remains weak. If no action is taken, taxes on income, dividends, capital gains and estates would all rise.

The issue has generated little public attention this year as Congress grappled with health care, financial regulation, energy, a Supreme Court nomination and other divisive topics. But it will move to the top of the agenda when lawmakers return to Washington in September from their summer recess, just as the midterm campaign gets under way in earnest. In recent days, intense discussions have begun at the Capitol.

Beyond the implications for family checkbooks, the tax fight will serve as a proxy for the bigger political clashes of the year, including the size of government and the best way of handling the tepid economic recovery.
----
If no tax legislation is passed, all the major tax reductions passed under President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 will expire, with rates reverting overnight on Dec. 31. The top marginal income tax rate, for example, would go back to 39.6 percent from 35 percent now, with corresponding increases in rates for lower income brackets.
----
Some liberals want Mr. Obama to keep his promise to raise taxes on the rich, and the White House’s budget forecasts rely heavily on rolling the top income tax rates back to their pre-2001 levels. Some fiscal hawks warn that extending the tax cuts would add more than $2 trillion to the federal budget deficits at a time when the national debt is becoming an economic concern and a political issue. Political economists are fiercely divided.

So are Democrats. In recent days, fiscal conservatives like Senators Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana expressed support for extending the tax cuts at all income levels, at least temporarily.
----
But the questions go far beyond the basic issue of whether to allow the top two marginal income tax rates to rise.

Congress must also wrestle with the estate tax, which lapsed last year but will automatically be reinstated effectively at a 55 percent rate on Jan. 1 for estates larger than $1 million. Lawmakers must also deal with an array of other provisions, including tax rates on dividends and capital gains, and the Alternative Minimum Tax, which has been adjusted annually to prevent millions of middle-class families from paying higher tax bills. The child tax credit would also be reduced.

There are many permutations of permanent or short-term extensions of various provisions.

Reminder on the Budget Deficits and actual spending. NOT ONE DIME is spent by a budget. Spending is done by a written law or by Appropriations voted by congress each year. In the past (and future) there are budget items that are NOT funded (no money spent).

This is what allows politicians to "brag" to their constituents that a voted FOR a bill, but leaving out that they voted AGAINST funding the same bill when the Appropriations came up for a vote.

OIL SPILL - General Safety Alarm INHIBITED!??

"Oil Rig’s Siren Was Kept Silent, Technician Says" by ROBBIE BROWN, New York Times, 7/23/2010

Excerpt

The emergency alarm on the Deepwater Horizon was not fully activated the day the oil rig caught fire and exploded, killing 11 people and setting off the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a rig worker on Friday told a government panel investigating the accident.

The worker, Mike Williams, the rig’s chief electronics technician, said the general safety alarm was habitually set to “inhibited” to avoid waking up the crew with late-night sirens and emergency lights.

“They did not want people woke up at 3 a.m. from false alarms,” Mr. Williams told the federal panel of investigators. Consequently, the alarm did not sound during the emergency, leaving workers to relay information through the loudspeaker system.

While it is not known whether it would have saved the workers who died in the April 20 disaster, the lack of a fully functioning alarm hampered the effort to safely evacuate the rig, Mr. Williams said.

In a statement, Transocean, which leased the rig to BP, said workers were allowed to set the alarm to prevent it “from sounding unnecessarily when one of the hundreds of local alarms activates for what could be a minor issue or a non-emergency.”

“It was not a safety oversight or done as a matter of convenience,” the company said. Transocean also pointed to a separate audit of the rig in early April, in which inspectors testing the fire detection system found no detectors inhibited.

The last paragraph above, the question NOT answered, is the "fire detection system" alarm separate from the "general safety alarm" system. IF the "general safety alarm" was inhibited would the "fire detection system" alarm still sound?

Then, IF the statement "leaving workers to relay information through the loudspeaker system" is correct, was there a way (and I suspect there is) to manually sound the general alarm? What is the policy for manually setting off the general alarm?

From my 22yrs in the Navy, there is no way that a "general safety alarm" would be allowed to be inhibited in any situation that could effect the safety of the crew, ship, or aircraft. The procedure would be to let the alarm sound THEN manually turn it off AFTER determining that it was a "minor" problem.

HEALTH - 2010 AIDS Conference

"Promising Science Highlights From 2010 AIDS Conference" by Talea Miller, PBS Newshour Blog 7/23/2010

Excerpt

VIENNA, Austria - This year's International AIDS Conference, drawing to a close Friday, produced among other things a high-profile scientific breakthrough, endless policy discussions and plenty of new research to digest.

Jon Cohen, a correspondent for the journal Science, has been attending the International AIDS Society conferences since 1990. He talked to the NewsHour about the areas of research that excite him most coming out of Vienna:

The CAPRISA Microbicide Trial

In the biggest news of the conference, a team of researchers from South Africa presented the first solid evidence that a microbicide gel could provide a significant level of HIV protection for women. Using 1 percent tenofovir, an antiretroviral, the gel reduced HIV infection by 39 percent among all the women in the trial, and 54 percent among women who used the gel in at least 80 percent of sexual encounters.

"In the past dozen years there have been so many failures of not just microbicides but every single biomedical intervention," said Cohen. "The few things that have been successful either required surgery, in the case of circumcision, or the effect was so marginal that people have been arguing about the results every since."

The protection the microbicide gel provided should be improved and it likely won't be rolled out soon, said Cohen, but it's a solid foundation on which to build.

"No one is arguing about whether the effect is real because every way you look at the data, it still holds up."

Cure Research

"Cure" has been treated like a four-letter word by the HIV/AIDS research community for years now, said Cohen, because of past disappointments and the sense that it was sapping time and money away from research for prevention and treatment. But dozens of presentations at the 2010 conference talked with new hope about defeating HIV.

Two of the main approaches being discussed are suppressing the virus to an extremely low level permanently so that medication would no longer be needed, and eliminating HIV from the body entirely.

Even HIV positive patients who have controlled the disease well with antriretroviral drugs still have virus in their bodies that necessitates staying on those drugs, a costly, life-long proposition.

Research is showing that in these patients, a reservoir of HIV can collect in cells that remain dormant and sleeping for years, said Cohen, then suddenly release more virus, especially if treatment is stopped.

"They are coming up with strategies to tickle those cells to spit out the virus so they can mop it up" with medication, he said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

POLITICS - Right-Wing Journalism

"Right Wing 'Journalism' for Dummies" Rightardia 7/22/1010

The problem with right wing journalism is that it is very weak. Remember Jeff Gannon of Talon News during the Bush Administration? He was a pornographer turned journalist. Then there is Rush Limbaugh who failed every class he ever took in college and Glen Beck, the college dropout, who never finished his degree either.

The only credible journalist on Fox news is Shep Smith and perhaps occasionally Bill O'Reilly on Fox News.

Rightardia has seen Tea Party videos edited to make the demonstrations appear larger than they really were, Gretchen Carlson got spoofed by the Taliban monkeys story and Fox also had to apologize about the Al Gore masseuse story. That story was flagged as suspicious when it first appeared.

Fox news is becoming the cable version of the National Enquirer.

Andrew Breitbart who defamed Shirley Sherrod, graduated from Tulane University, but he was never in journalism school. This is a real problem because many of these pseudo-journalists don't understand J-school concepts like libel, reliable sources, and defamation of character. The people who populate mainstream media do understand these concepts.

Even on MSNBC there is a desire to show both sides of the story. If there is a progressive panelist, there is a conservative counter panelist in the split screen.

If conservative media can't start to be more objective about news, perhaps the Fairness Doctrine will need to be restored. Conservative media is just making too many mistakes. It nearly cost a fine women, Shirely Sherrod, her career.

I'll suggest another fair (has interviews from multiple sides of an issue) journalism site, PBS Newshour (PBS TV & WEB).

ECONOMY - How to Rob Shareholders, Among Others

"Federal Report Faults Banks on Huge Bonuses" by ERIC DASH, New York Times 7/22/2010

Excerpt

With the financial system on the verge of collapse in late 2008, a group of troubled banks doled out more than $2 billion in bonuses and other payments to their highest earners. Now, the federal authority on banker pay says that nearly 80 percent of that sum was unmerited.

In a report to be released on Friday, Kenneth R. Feinberg, the Obama administration’s special master for executive compensation, is expected to name 17 financial companies that made questionable payouts totaling $1.58 billion immediately after accepting billions of dollars of taxpayer aid, according to two government officials with knowledge of his findings who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the report.

The group includes Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and the American International Group as well as small lenders like Boston Private Financial Holdings. Mr. Feinberg’s report points to companies that he says paid eye-popping amounts or used haphazard criteria for awarding bonuses, the people with knowledge of his findings said, and he has singled out Citigroup as the biggest offender.

Shucks, blow me down! What do you expect when CEOs and other top officials pack company boards with their friends and supporters?

Hay, shareholders don't care that these eye-popping bonuses take money away from dividends. It's buyer beware after all.

BUDGET - Rethink Military Spending

"Pentagon Faces Growing Pressures to Trim Budget" by THOM SHANKER & CHRISTOPHER DREW, New York Times 7/22/2010

Excerpt

After nearly a decade of rapid increases in military spending, the Pentagon is facing intensifying political and economic pressures to restrain its budget, setting up the first serious debate since the terrorist attacks of 2001 about the size and cost of the armed services.

Lawmakers, administration officials and analysts said the combination of big budget deficits, the winding down of the war in Iraq and President Obama’s pledge to begin pulling troops from Afghanistan next year were leading Congress to contemplate reductions in Pentagon financing requests.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sought to contain the budget-cutting demands by showing Congress and the White House that he can squeeze more efficiency from the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and weapons programs and use the savings to maintain fighting forces.

But the increased pressure is already showing up in efforts by Democrats in Congress to move more quickly than senior Pentagon officials had expected in trimming the administration’s budget request for next year.

And in the longer term, with concern mounting about the government’s $13 trillion debt, a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission is warning that cuts in military spending could be needed to help the nation dig out of its financial hole.

About time. First step is to stop using the expensive contractors for overseas missions. In the long run there use does NOT save money.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

IMMIGRATION - Another Nail in Arizona Law's Coffin

"Judge doubts the constitutionality of Arizona's immigration law" by Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times 7/22/2010

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton says the provision that makes lacking immigration documents a crime may violate prior rulings that bar states from creating their own immigrant registration systems.

A federal judge on Thursday expressed skepticism that a key part of a controversial Arizona law to control illegal immigration is constitutional.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton noted at a hearing that the U.S. Supreme Court has long barred states from creating their own immigrant registration systems. She said the Arizona measure's stipulation that makes a crime of failing to have immigration documents may violate that.

John Bouma, the attorney representing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, tried to convince Bolton otherwise but eventually gave up. "I didn't have the feeling I persuaded you last week either," he said, alluding to a previous hearing.

Bolton did not issue a ruling.

The statements came as Bolton heard arguments from civil rights groups urging her to stop the law from going into effect July 29. The Obama administration has also sought an injunction. Its arguments will be heard later Thursday afternoon.

Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU, argued that the law, SB 1070, ignores the complexities of the federal immigration system to focus on trying to drive illegal immigrants from the state. "What we're facing here," he said, "is an attempt by a state to create an interrelated system of immigration laws that displace the federal" statutes.

Bouma said Arizona was only trying to enforce federal laws the U.S. government is ignoring. He urged Bolton not to enjoin the law.

"We're talking about an extraordinary remedy," he said, referring to the requests to halt SB 1070 from taking effect. "We're talking about imposing on the sovereignty of the state."

In addition to making a lack of immigration documents a state crime, the law requires police officers to determine the immigration status of people they lawfully stop who they suspect are in the country illegally. Supporters argue that SB 1070 is needed to protect Arizona from crime spilling over from Mexico.

But civil rights groups contend that the measure will lead to racial profiling, and the Obama administration has said it is an unconstitutional attempt by a state to regulate immigration, which is a federal responsibility.

POLITICS - GOP X-Dressed Tax Cuts for the Rich

"Don’t let GOP dress tax cuts for rich in populist clothing" by Margaret Krome, Capital Times 7/21/2010

I haven’t a clue how the Republican leadership would describe the responsibility of a minority party. Pure opposition to anything? It certainly looks that way. To offer an alternative to the majority party’s agenda is fine. But this party, at this time, is leaving a trail of destruction that will be felt for many years.

Republicans criticize President Obama for the bad economy, overlooking their strong role in the deregulation that brought about much of the mortgage meltdown. Their spokespeople seem to celebrate the sorrow of unemployment, criticizing the stimulus package, which was inadequate in scope only because they relentlessly whittled it down. They fought health care reform at every turn. They have threatened filibusters on judicial and other administration appointments. Some even have tried to blame the Gulf oil spill on the president, rather than using the disaster as a catalyst to have a serious discussion of our nation’s energy needs.

The financial regulation bill was a product of extensive compromise with Republicans, yet when it passed, only three Republicans voted for it, prompting Vice President Biden to say that he knows what Republicans oppose, but not what they support.

The remainder of the year is certain to get no better. One of the most hypocritical issues of this sorry partisanship will be the Bush tax cuts. Although the Congressional Budget Office and virtually all credible analysts agree that the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were principally responsible for reversing the surpluses of the Clinton administration and bringing about a massive deficit, there was no outcry by Republicans criticizing those cuts as they bemoan today’s deficit. The tax cuts are set to expire at the end of 2010. Instead of supporting this as healthy for our economy, Republicans are misrepresenting the nature of the tax cut beneficiaries.

The CBO says that of all the scenarios it considered to stimulate the economy, retaining the tax cuts is the very last one it would recommend. This is largely because these tax cuts were targeted to benefit the wealthiest Americans, who tend to save rather than spend those dollars. In fact, allowing tax cuts to expire for the top 2 percent of taxpayers (married taxpayers with incomes above $250,000 and single taxpayers making more than $200,000) would reduce the nation’s debt by $826 billion over the next 10 years.

But don’t count on Republicans to say so. Instead, they are representing expiration of these cuts as an assault on the middle class and small businesses. The Bush tax cuts overwhelmingly benefited wealthy taxpayers, and Republican leaders are pressing for their resumption at the expense of the middle class and the unemployed. Indeed, Republicans insisted this spring that to extend unemployment payments should require making budget cuts to pay for them, but to extend the Bush tax cuts they make no such demand. Rarely has more regressive policy been cast in such populist clothing.

As the nation moves slowly through the most difficult economic crisis of my lifetime, it becomes clear to me, as to Biden, what the Republicans oppose: everything. But unlike him, I think I know what they support: doing anything to ensure Republican winners in this November’s election, no matter the cost of bad policy on the public.

AFGHANISTAN - The Double-Edged Sword

"Afghan Deadline Is Cutting Two Ways" by DAVID E. SANGER, New York Times 7/21/2010

Excerpt

When President Obama announced a new strategy for Afghanistan in December, he argued that by setting a deadline of next summer to begin drawing down troops he would create a sense of urgency for the Afghan government to take the lead in the fight, while acknowledging the limits of America’s patience with the longest war in its history.

But over the past two weeks — on Capitol Hill, in Kabul and even in conversations with foreign leaders — Mr. Obama has been reminded how the goal has become what one senior American military commander called a “double-edged sword,” one that hangs over the White House as surely as it hangs over President Hamid Karzai.

The absence of serious progress this year has sown new doubts, here and abroad, that Mr. Obama will be able to reach even the scaled-down goals he set for America’s mission in the time he laid out in his speech at West Point seven months ago. The result is that the fierce debate over whether the war is worth the cost — a debate that Mr. Obama did not want to join until the Taliban suffered some losses — is unwinding one summer earlier than he had hoped.

Mr. Obama has begun losing critical political figures and strategists who are increasingly vocal in arguing that the benefits of continuing on the current course for at least another year, and probably longer, are greatly outweighed by the escalating price.

For two months, Democrats in Congress have been holding up billions of dollars in additional financing for the war, longer than they ever delayed similar requests from President George W. Bush. Most Republican leaders have largely backed a continued commitment, but the White House was surprised the other day when one of Mr. Obama’s mentors on foreign policy issues in the Senate, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, argued that “the lack of clarity in Afghanistan does not end with the president’s timetable,” and that both the military and civilian missions were “proceeding without a clear definition of success.”

OIL SPILL - It Finally Dawns on "Them"


"4 Oil Firms Commit $1 Billion for Gulf Rapid-Response Plan" by JAD MOUAWAD, New York Times 7/21/2010

Excerpt

Four of the world’s biggest oil companies said on Wednesday that they were committing $1 billion to create a rapid-response system to deal with deepwater oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, seeking to restore public confidence in the industry after the BP disaster painfully exposed how unprepared the industry was for a major accident.

The voluntary effort, which involves building a set of modular containment equipment that would be kept on standby for emergency use, comes as oil companies seek to persuade the Obama administration to lift a temporary ban on deepwater drilling. The moratorium was imposed after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20 and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the gulf.

Officials said the spill served as a wake-up call for the industry, which had invested billions of dollars to develop oil and gas resources in ever-deeper waters offshore but neglected to devise spill-response technology that could be effective in thousands of feet of water.

OIL SPILL - Example of Bottom-Line Before Safety

"Workers on Doomed Rig Voiced Concern About Safety" by IAN URBINA, New York Times 7/21/2010

Excerpt

A confidential survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the weeks before the oil rig exploded showed that many of them were concerned about safety practices and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems.

In the survey, commissioned by the rig’s owner, Transocean, workers said that company plans were not carried out properly and that they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, “which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance,” according to the survey, one of two Transocean reports obtained by The New York Times.

“At nine years old, Deepwater Horizon has never been in dry dock,” one worker told investigators. “We can only work around so much.”

“Run it, break it, fix it,” another worker said. “That’s how they work.”

According to a separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, many key components — including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves — had not been fully inspected since 2000, even though guidelines require its inspection every three to five years.

The report cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig that were in “bad” or “poor” condition.

A spokesman for Transocean, who confirmed the existence of the reports, wrote in an e-mail message that most of the 26 components on the rig found to be in poor condition were minor and that all elements of the blowout preventer had been inspected within the required time frame by its original manufacturer, Cameron. The spokesman, Lou Colasuonno, commenting on the 33-page report about workers’ safety concerns, noted that the Deepwater Horizon had seven consecutive years without a single lost-time incident or major environmental event.

Humm... "Most of the 26 components on the rig found to be in poor condition were minor." We have to wonder what their definition of "minor" is. I suspect it's tied to their bottom-line ($) in fixing "minor" problems.

"Deepwater Horizon had seven consecutive years without a single lost-time incident" = did NOT have to stop drilling = continued to make money, BUT that does not mean that there were no "incidents" that SHOULD have stopped drilling.

From this, and other reports in the past, the modus operandi of ALL companies involved with Deepwater Horizon = any shortcut, any delay (inspections, maintenance, etc), anything so they can continue drilling and making money.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

POLITICS - Prediction for Vote 2010?

"Poll Shows Democrats Retake Lead On Generic Ballot" by RTT Staff Writer, RTT News 7/20/2010

Democrats have pulled ahead of Republicans in voters' generic ballot preferences, according to a poll released by Gallup on Monday, with the poll conducted in the same week that Democrats in the Senate passed the financial reform bill despite nearly unanimous Republican opposition.

The poll showed that Democrats lead Republicans on a generic ballot by 49 percent to 43 percent, a notable improvement from the 47 percent to 46 percent lead Democrats held in the previous week and a turnaround from the 46 percent to 44 percent lead that Republicans held earlier in the month.

Gallup noted that the six-point advantage for Democrats represents the first statistically significant lead for the party since it began weekly tracking of the measure in March.

Independents were primarily responsible for the increased support for Democrats, with 39 percent of independents favoring the Democratic candidate, up from 34 percent in the previous week and well above the 29 percent support seen earlier this month.


Nonetheless, 43 percent of independents continue to favor the Republican candidate, although that is down from 48 percent in the previous week.

While the poll showed an increase in support for Democratic candidates, it also showed Republican voters expressing significantly more enthusiasm about voting.

The poll showed that 51 percent of Republicans said they are "very enthusiastic" about voting this fall, a notable increase from 40 percent in the previous week and the highest level since shortly after the passage of the healthcare reform bill. At the same time, Democratic enthusiasm was unchanged at 28 percent.


AND...

"GOP blues: little shot at Senate" by DAVID CATANESE, Politico 7/21/2010

Excerpt

The Republican path to a Senate majority runs through a handful of hostile states, most of which are so deep blue that they haven’t sent a member to the upper chamber in more than a decade.

Boiled down, the problem is this: The first six or seven seats of the 10 necessary for a takeover are within the GOP’s grasp. Winning the final three or four, however, will require something close to a historic wave.

It’s that cold math that has even Republicans acknowledging that their dream of regaining the Senate is just that — even in an election year marked by impressive fundraising tallies, encouraging poll numbers and an exceptionally favorable election environment.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledged Sunday that he views a Senate takeover as a longer-term initiative.

“I think it’s going to be a two-cycle process,” he said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.

Hear that scream in the background? That's the GOP, screaming "NOT TRUE!"

Is the GOP correct, or is this the scream of a drowning party?

POLITICS - From a Raging Moderate

"Republicans spend when they are in charge" by Will Durst, Albert Lea Tribune.com 7/20/2010

What is wrong with the GOP? Are they blind, reckless or just plain mean? They must see that reinforcing their stereotype as the Party Of The Rich is not a good idea. They have unanimously said “No. Hell, no” to every budget proposal floated their way, yet are willing to make an exception to give money to the rich. Rich. Rich. Rich. Rich. Rich. Rich. Rich. Curious mantra. Now. During an election year. It’s like hitting the upstairs maid with a splintered 2-by-4 while conducting interviews for a new butler. Word gets out. People talk. You hear things.

Republican senators are responsible for blocking three attempts to extend unemployment insurance and bragging about it. And determined to continue filibustering until Democrats come up with cuts in other programs to make it budget neutral. Which makes a certain amount of sense. “You want to eat this week? Then put that video game back on the shelf mister. And don’t give me that face. I’ll give you something to cry about.”

The problem is, Republicans triple-lock their wallets only when a Democrat is in the White House. When George W. Bush was president, they used pneumatic tubes to siphon money from the mint as quickly as possible. A trillion for the pharmaceuticals here. A couple trillion for some pre-emptive wars there. Another trillion in tax cuts for rich people. In 2002, somewhere between his third and fourth myocardial infractions, Dick Cheney told Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, “Ronald Reagan taught us deficits don’t matter.” And apparently neither do heart attacks. Does this guy even have a pulse anymore?

Because of Congress’ inaction, 375,000 American workers are losing unemployment benefits every week. It’s obvious Mitch McConnell’s intent is to deny Obama any political victory while sucking up to the Tea Partiers with his newly unearthed fiscal responsibility, but he might want to remember people without jobs can read newspapers, too. As a matter of fact, they often have an excess of free time to campaign and stuff envelopes and get out the vote.

It’s easy to understand why Republicans hate giving money to the poor. Poor people are icky. And they never know which fork to use — and those shoes! But most importantly, poor people seldom top any respected list of major political campaign donors. As opposed to the rich, who understand that money gets you access and access provides influence and before you know it, you’re in the back room of the Capitol Grille on your second pitcher of margaritas helping write regulations that allow lethal doses of magnesium in 2 percent milk.

So though they talk the budget-neutrality talk, they don’t walk the budget-neutrality walk. At the same time they’re wishing the jobless lots of luck fighting with dogs for food, they’re also lobbying to extend Bush’s expiring tax cuts to the rich, and budget neutrality can take a flying leap off a short pier into a crashing sea of toxic sludge.

See, tax cuts are different. That’s not welfare for the rich; that’s playing the magic note on the economic flute that calls the Trickle-Down Fairy to fly from capitalist heaven and carry us away to a nice, warm free-market bath. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a mite suspicious of the alkaline nature of this whole trickle-down thing. Good time to invest in a trickle-down umbrella. Available for one day only this Nov. 2.

ECONOMY - Private Equity Firms

"Potential Risks of Buying Companies on Borrowed Money Examined" PBS Newshour Transcript 6/16/2010

Excerpts

JIM LEHRER (Newshour): Now: a second story about the investment business, this on private equity firms and the companies they buy.

"NewsHour" economics correspondent Paul Solman explains. It's part of his ongoing reporting on Making Sense of financial news.

PAUL SOLMAN: New York City's Times Square, where tourists still flock, despite a terrorism scare this spring.

But business reporter Josh Kosman is spooked by incendiary devices of a different kind, debt bombs, especially from companies like these that were taken over by private equity firms. Kosman, who has written a book on private equity, "The Buyout of America," sees a lit fuse almost everywhere he turns, especially in Times Square.

JOSH KOSMAN, author, "The Buyout of America": Two of the four biggest record companies are owned by private equity firms, EMI and Warner Music. They both have a lot of debt. EMI's close to bankruptcy.

PAUL SOLMAN: Because it was purchased, says Kosman, with too much borrowed money, as was Clear Channel.
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PAUL SOLMAN: And the pitch is: Give us your money. We will then use that to buy a company, not putting too much of it down. We will borrow the rest. We will spiff up the company. It will be more profitable. We will sell it to other investors. We will all make out.

JOSH KOSMAN: Yes. Most of the country's pensions are severely underfunded. They need to find ways to increase their rate of return, especially right now, with interest rates near basically zero. So, they get attractive by this pitch.

PAUL SOLMAN: The problem, says Kosman, is that what private equity firms borrow, the companies they buy have to pay back. And, in the last decade, private equity has bought a huge chunk of corporate America.

JOSH KOSMAN: Since 2000, they have bought companies that employ one out of every 10 Americans in the private sector. That's about 10 million people.

PAUL SOLMAN: And many P.E.-owned, debt-ridden firms are now hurting for cash.

JOSH KOSMAN: The Boston Consulting Group last year predicted half of their companies would default. Let's say the companies that go bankrupt end up laying off a quarter of their people, a third. You know, you can easily get to more than a million people. That's a lot of people.

PAUL SOLMAN: In fact, says Kosman, half of the S&P-rated firms that went bankrupt last year, besides banks, that is, were private equity acquisitions, including Chrysler, Simmons, Six Flags, and "Reader's Digest," where retirees, including executives, had their pensions slashed by a debt-driven bankruptcy.
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JOSH KOSMAN: Permira, a London-based buyout shop, bought Hugo Boss in 2007. It paid a very high price for it. The company borrowed more than $2 billion to fund the acquisition. The credit crisis happens. Luxury good sales fall for everybody.

PAUL SOLMAN: Yet, behind the scenes, Permira had paid itself a $400 million dividend out of that $2 billion it had Hugo Boss borrow. As a result, says union president Bruce Raynor:

BRUCE RAYNOR, president, Workers United: They look around to cut costs and they find a factory in Cleveland where they are paying workers the princely sum of $12 an hour. The workers have health care and a pension, a few paid holidays, and can live. And they decide, we can find workers who can make that for less.
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PAUL SOLMAN: It is the M.O. of many a private equity firm, says Bruce Raynor.

BRUCE RAYNOR: They leverage a company, put much too much debt on the books of the company, making the company long-term unstable. They take money out of the company. They squeeze the company in ways that hurt it.
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PAUL SOLMAN: And, yes, sometimes, the deals work, says Bruce Raynor, as with Blackstone's purchase of Hilton Hotels.

BRUCE RAYNOR: Debt, in my view, is not, in and of itself, a bad thing, if that -- if the borrowed money is used to build the business. It's when the debt is used to enrich a handful of private equity partners, like in the Permira case, that's when it's dastardly.
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PAUL SOLMAN: But the main danger, says Kosman, is that the firms bought in profligate private equity deals now owe so much, they threaten the economy as a whole.

JOSH KOSMAN: Seven hundred billion becomes due between 2012 and '15. It's a lot of money. And in that period, 2012 to 2015, the government is going to have to refinance on its own about $800 billion. Investment grade companies, better rated than these guys, are going to have to repay about $1.2 trillion. So, you have a huge debt wall coming in this country, and these guys will be at the bottom of the list, because these are the companies that are the weakest.

PAUL SOLMAN: But private equity owes just 2 percent of all the debt in America, Doug Lowenstein insists.

DOUGLAS LOWENSTEIN, Private Equity Council: The economy is dynamic. The economy is improving. As the economy improves, companies are stronger. And these firms are in much stronger shape.

PAUL SOLMAN: But, at least for now, Hugo Boss will still be making suits in Cleveland, because the unions' Bruce Raynor worked out a deal.
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PAUL SOLMAN: The workers, however, who used to average $12 an hour, will now make $10, $10.20 next year, $10.40 in 2012, while the company continues to pay back the $2 billion Permira borrowed to buy it, for the workers, a costly victory to pay off debt they never incurred.

Applicable name for private equity firms, Robber Barons.

The rich get richer and the working stiff gets shafted. Welcome to GOP sponsored America.

NATIONAL SECURITY - New DNI

"Intel Chief Nominee Clapper Faces Tough Questioning by Lawmakers" PBS Newshour Transcript 7/20/2010

Excerpt

JEFFREY BROWN (Newshour): And we turn to the latest attempt to fill what has been a complex and even controversial job aimed at keeping the nation safe.

Retired Air Force General James Clapper appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon, bidding to become the nation's fourth director of national intelligence.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), national intelligence director nominee: We are the largest, most capable intelligence enterprise on the planet. It is a solemn, sacred trust of the DNI to make that enterprise work for the sake of this nation and its people.

JEFFREY BROWN: Clapper is currently undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He also served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1990s.

President Obama noted that resume when he nominated Clapper last month.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With four decades of service to America, Jim is one of our nation's most experienced and most respected intelligence professionals.

JEFFREY BROWN: The 9/11 attacks led to the creation of the Cabinet- level post of director of national intelligence, or DNI, after the 9/11 Commission faulted the intelligence community for a lack of coordination that might have prevented the attacks.

The DNI channels all intelligence-related information to the president and oversees the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC. Sixteen separate agencies and departments feed information to the center, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.

But, from the beginning, the job has been fraught with challenges. Turf battles among intelligence agencies have hurt all three of General Clapper's predecessors, including the most recent, Admiral Dennis Blair, who was forced to step down in May.

At today's confirmation hearing, the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, said Clapper is taking on a critical task and a tough one.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN,(D-Calif.): Intelligence growth has not always led to improved performance. Growth in the size and number of agencies, offices, task forces, and centers has also challenged the ability of former directors of national intelligence to truly manage the community.

General Clapper, I want to be clear that we do not question your service, your knowledge, or your capability. We only ask that you clearly indicate your vision and commitment to head the intelligence community this afternoon and work to give it direction and prevent sprawl, overlap, and duplication.

JEFFREY BROWN: The hearing came amid a series in The Washington Post that found that the intelligence community has grown so large since 9/11, no one knows how effective it is and that it's become heavily reliant on private contractors in preserving national security.

Highly recommend readers follow the Post's series Top Secret America.

EDUCATION - From States, National Education Standards

"Many States Adopt National Standards for Their Schools" by TAMAR LEWIN, New York Times 7/21/2010

Excerpt

Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.

Their support has surprised many in education circles, given states’ long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum.

The quick adoption of common standards for what students should learn in English and math each year from kindergarten through high school is attributable in part to the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. States that adopt the standards by Aug. 2 win points in the competition for a share of the $3.4 billion to be awarded in September.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education. “This has been the third rail of education, and the fact that you’re now seeing half the nation decide that it’s the right thing to do is a game-changer.”

Even Massachusetts, which many regard as having the nation’s best education system — and where the proposed standards have been a subject of bitter debate — is expected to adopt the standards on Wednesday morning. New York signed up on Monday, joining Connecticut, New Jersey and other states that have adopted the standards, though the timetable for actual implementation is uncertain.

Some supporters of the standards, like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, worry that the rush of states to sign up — what Ms. Weingarten calls the “Race to Adopt” — could backfire if states do not have the money to put the standards in effect.

“I’m already watching the ravages of the recession cutting the muscle out of efforts to implement standards,” she said. “If states adopt these thoughtful new standards and don’t implement them, teachers won’t know how to meet them, yet they will be the basis on which kids are judged.”

The effort has been helped by financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to most of the organizations involved in drafting, evaluating and winning support for the standards. The common core standards, two years in the making and first released in draft form in March, are an effort to replace the current hodgepodge of state policies.