B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Archive for the ‘government’ Category

Our government in action, for good, and mostly for worse

Welfare for the Wealthy, Corn Cobs for the Poor

without comments

Sprang from Shame and Pride
Sprang from Shame and Pride

As a follow up to Paul Krugman’s outrage re the Right’s push toward more food insecurity for citizens of America, Mark Bittman adds his own…

The critically important Farm Bill1 is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged.

The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.

The Farm Bill finances food stamps (officially SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and the subsidies that allow industrial ag and monoculture — the “spray and pray” style of farming — to maintain their grip on the food “system.”

…The current versions of the Farm Bill in the Senate (as usual, not as horrible as the House) and the House (as usual, terrifying) could hardly be more frustrating. The House is proposing $20 billion in cuts to SNAP — equivalent, says Beckmann, to “almost half of all the charitable food assistance that food banks and food charities provide to people in need.2

(click here to continue reading Welfare for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Exposed and Juicy
Exposed and Juicy

Sadly, I doubt much will change, the Christian Taliban currently calling the shots in the Republican Party is too opposed to Christian principles as espoused by Christ: you know, ones about feeding the hungry, and caring for the sick. In stark contrast to the teachings of Christ, we instead have evil hypocrites like Congressman Stephen Fincher:

This pits the ability of poor people to eat — not well, but sort of enough — against the production of agricultural commodities. That would be a difficult choice if the subsidies were going to farmers who could be crushed by failure, but in reality most direct payments go to those who need them least.

Among them is Congressman Stephen Fincher, Republican of Tennessee, who justifies SNAP cuts by quoting 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.

Even if this quote were not taken out of context — whoever wrote 2 Thessalonians was chastising not the poor but those who’d stopped working in anticipation of the second coming — Fincher ignores the fact that Congress is a secular body that supposedly doesn’t base policy on an ancient religious text that contradicts itself more often than not. Not that one needs to break a sweat countering his “argument,” but 45 percent of food stamp recipients are children, and in 2010, the U.S.D.A. reported that as many as 41 percent are working poor.

This would be just another amusing/depressing example of an elected official ignoring a huge part of his constituency (about one in seven Americans rely on food stamps, though it’s one in five in Tennessee, the second highest rate in the South), were not Fincher himself a hypocrite.

For the God-fearing Fincher is one of the largest recipients of U.S.D.A. farm subsidies in Tennessee history; he raked in $3.48 million in taxpayer cash from 1999 to 2012, $70,574 last year alone. The average SNAP recipient in Tennessee gets $132.20 in food aid a month; Fincher received $193 a day. (You can eat pretty well on that.) [4]

Fincher is not alone in disgrace, even among his Congressional colleagues, but he makes a lovely poster boy for a policy that steals taxpayer money from the poor and so-called middle class to pay the rich, while propping up a form of agriculture that’s unsustainable and poisonous.

If there were a god, publicly pious devils like Rep. Fincher would be zapped by lightning, or at least be forced to give back the $3,483,824 he’s collected from the federal government. Instead, they continue to get corporate welfare, and cash from lobbyists to continue the scheme, and the ability to set our national policy. In Rep. Fincher’s world, those children who rely upon food stamps should go to work, preferably in a coal mine or as chimney sweeps.

Dance of the Devil Corn
Dance of the Devil Corn

From USA Today last year:

Who gets food stamps?

The most recent Department of Agriculture report on the general characteristics of the SNAP program’s beneficiaries says that in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2010:

••47% of beneficiaries were children under age 18.

••8% were age 60 or older.

••41% lived in a household with earnings from a job — the so-called “working poor.”

••The average household received a monthly benefit of $287.

••36% were white (non-Hispanic), 22% were African American (non-Hispanic) and 10% were Hispanic.

Update, Feb. 5: USDA data understate these figures, however, because participants are not required to state their race or ethnic background. As a result, 18.9% are listed as “race unknown.” A more accurate estimate of the racial and ethnic composition of food-stamp recipients can be drawn from U.S. Census data, based on a sample of households surveyed each year in the American Community Survey.

For 2010, Census data show the following for households that reported getting food stamp assistance during the year:

•49% were white (non-Hispanic); 26% were black or African American; and 20% were Hispanic (of any race).

Note that Census data somewhat understate the total number of persons receiving food stamps, compared with the more accurate head count from USDA, which is based on actual benefit payments. Survey participants may be reluctant to state that they have received public assistance during the year. So the Census figures on race and ethnic background can’t be guaranteed to be completely accurate. But we judge the Census figures to be a better approximation of reality regarding race and ethnic background than USDA figures.

(click here to continue reading Fact check: Gingrich’s faulty food-stamp claim – USATODAY.com.)

and then there’s this little bit of trickery:

Knowing that direct subsidy payments are under the gun, our clever and cynical representatives are offering a bait-and-switch policy that will make things worse, and largely replace subsidy payments with an enhanced form of crop insurance — paid for by us, of course — which will further reduce risks for commodity farmers. As Craig Cox explained, “The proposed crop insurance would allow — no, encourage — big farmers to plant corn on hillsides, in flood-threatened areas, even in drought-stricken areas, with subsidized premiums and deductibles, and see a big payout if” — should we say “when”? — “the crop fails or is damaged.”

You should get such a deal on insurance: the premiums and deductibles are subsidized and there’s no limit to what can be paid, so bigger farms and bigger risks reap bigger rewards in the event of failure, even if that was a failure of judgment.

Footnotes:
  1. This year going by the fun names of “Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act” (House version) and “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act” (Senate). Note that the titles tell us what matters to each of these bodies, and that food doesn’t cut it in the House. []
  2. “People in need,” by the way, outnumber food stamp recipients, since not everyone eligible for food stamps signs up. So really it’s a bit worse than it sounds, and it sounds bad enough. []

Written by Seth Anderson

June 6th, 2013 at 9:28 am

The Misguided War Against Food Stamps

with one comment

Snappy Snaps
Snappy Snaps

Dr. Paul Krugman writes about the latest Republican culture war: against Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a/k/a food stamps. First, some reasons why SNAP is good for our nation:

Food stamps have played an especially useful — indeed, almost heroic — role in recent years. In fact, they have done triple duty.

First, as millions of workers lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many families turned to food stamps to help them get by — and while food aid is no substitute for a good job, it did significantly mitigate their misery. Food stamps were especially helpful to children who would otherwise be living in extreme poverty, defined as an income less than half the official poverty line.

But there’s more. Why is our economy depressed? Because many players in the economy slashed spending at the same time, while relatively few players were willing to spend more. And because the economy is not like an individual household — your spending is my income, my spending is your income — the result was a general fall in incomes and plunge in employment. We desperately needed (and still need) public policies to promote higher spending on a temporary basis — and the expansion of food stamps, which helps families living on the edge and let them spend more on other necessities, is just such a policy.

Indeed, estimates from the consulting firm Moody’s Analytics suggest that each dollar spent on food stamps in a depressed economy raises G.D.P. by about $1.70 — which means, by the way, that much of the money laid out to help families in need actually comes right back to the government in the form of higher revenue.

Wait, we’re not done yet. Food stamps greatly reduce food insecurity among low-income children, which, in turn, greatly enhances their chances of doing well in school and growing up to be successful, productive adults. So food stamps are in a very real sense an investment in the nation’s future — an investment that in the long run almost surely reduces the budget deficit, because tomorrow’s adults will also be tomorrow’s taxpayers.

(click here to continue reading From the Mouths of Babes – NYTimes.com.)

I’d add that a fabulously wealthy nation such as ours should be able to feed everyone. We have the food, frequently rotting in warehouses, or shipped away to underdeveloped nations. Why not feed our own people in need? The truth is most people don’t want to have to depend upon hand-outs, and would rather be able to earn their own bread.1 Sure, now and again people will abuse the system, but so what? Bankers abused our capitalist economy, we didn’t collectively decide to eliminate banks. 

Jerk City
Jerk City

More Krugman:

So what do Republicans want to do with this paragon of programs? First, shrink it; then, effectively kill it.

The shrinking part comes from the latest farm bill released by the House Agriculture Committee (for historical reasons, the food stamp program is administered by the Agriculture Department). That bill would push about two million people off the program. You should bear in mind, by the way, that one effect of the sequester has been to pose a serious threat to a different but related program [WIC] that provides nutritional aid to millions of pregnant mothers, infants, and children. Ensuring that the next generation grows up nutritionally deprived — now that’s what I call forward thinking.

And why must food stamps be cut? We can’t afford it, say politicians like Representative Stephen Fincher, a Republican of Tennessee, who backed his position with biblical quotations — and who also, it turns out, has personally received millions in farm subsidies over the years.

…and the saddest part is Rep Fincher could continue to slurp at the lobbyist trough of agribusinesses without a hint of shame.

Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, said that Mr. Fincher was being hypocritical. “Not only is he advocating deep cuts to other people’s money while he is getting subsidies, he also voted to increase the subsidies that he benefits from,” Mr. Faber said.

So you say

So you say 

I don’t like corporations getting free cheese, but if agribusinesses excess products were purchased by the government and incorporated into SNAP and WIC, wouldn’t we all benefit? Even slugs like Rep. Fincher?

Footnotes:
  1. I speak from experience; my family was poor enough to qualify for free federally-subsidized lunches when I was in grades 7-11. But once we didn’t need that assistance, we stopped taking it. []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 31st, 2013 at 7:13 am

Illinois sues over business letter scam from Corporate Records Service

without comments

This Is Not A Government Document
This Is Not A Government Document

Amusingly, I received a letter from Corporate Records Service such as described by Ms. Madigan earlier today, and the envelope amused me enough to take the above photograph. I laughed, took the photo, and discarded the entire thing into my recycling bin. However, I did retrieve it just now, if anyone wants a copy…

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit against a company [Corporate Records Service] for allegedly conning businesses into paying unnecessary fees with an official-looking letter.

The bogus letters instructed companies to pay a $125 fee for an “annual minutes records form.” Madigan’s office says the letters were made to look like they were from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

Madigan says companies can toss those letters in the garbage. The fee isn’t required by Illinois law.

(click here to continue reading Illinois sues over business letter scam – Springfield, IL – The State Journal-Register.)

via (on Flickr).

I should have taken a clearer photo, but not worth it to take a second.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 29th, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Posted in government

Tagged with , ,

Government Disaster Relief Should Be Automatic

without comments

Sadly, the idea that government is a problem has consumed American politics to the point that it is ridiculous. Politicians decry the very job they are requesting, then once in office, continue the dismantling of the government from the inside, defunding agencies, reducing government income, and so on. This is often a right wing concept, unfortunately, not exclusively. The hypocrisy is more rank when natural disaster relief becomes a television talking point, such as when enemies of the civilized world like Senator Tom Coburn demand national spending cuts to offset Oklahoma disaster relief, but when this proved to be unpopular with his fellow Senators1, then there were mealy-mouthed phrases from co-conspirator Senator James Inhofe about how Hurricane Sandy relief was filled with pork, and relief for Oklahoma is totally, totally different. 

Remember a day when people became politicians to help their nation? Not line their pockets and their friends pockets?2

Talk about taking the country back, I’d like to take the government away from those who would destroy it. The entire point of having a civilization is to collectivize responsibility, ideally with consent of the governed. Disaster relief, maintaing sewage systems, roads, educating our kids, parks, and so on, paid for with voluntarily collected taxes from all of us. The government should be responsible for more than just fielding a military and monitoring women’s uteruses. 

I Doubt That Is True
I Doubt That Is True

David Sirota writes:

It all suggests that the anti-government zeitgeist in America has become so powerful that public officials now feel compelled to downplay the public sector for fear of being tarred and feathered as a socialist, a Marxist or an opportunist unduly “politicizing” a tragedy.

Of course, avoiding a discussion of the government’s role at times like these is, unto itself, a politicized decision — one promoting the illusion that we don’t need government. And no matter how much anti-government conservatives deny it, that is an illusion.

Think about it: When you find yourself riveted by disaster response coverage on television, what you are really watching underneath all the graphics and breathless punditry is footage of government in action.

Think about it: Whether dealing with a hurricane on the East Coast, a fertilizer plant explosion in Texas or a tornado in Oklahoma, government remains the best, most powerful and most reliable defender against and responder to large-scale emergencies.

Think about it: For every headline-grabbing story of a private citizen rescuing another individual, there are scores of never-told stories of police officers, firefighters, first responders, public school teachers, government-created warning systems, public hospitals and emergency management agencies saving hundreds of lives and/or rebuilding whole communities. Those stories, in fact, are rarely told because for all the petulant anti-government whining that dominates American politics, we’ve come to so expect such a strong public sector response that it’s barely even considered newsworthy.

That expectation, by the way, is not something to lament.

(click here to continue reading There’s no substitute for government disaster relief – Salon.com.)

Steve Benen adds:

It’s worth emphasizing that there may not be a fight over disaster relief because a congressional bill may ultimately be unnecessary — FEMA has not yet exhausted its reserves.

But if a funding bill is necessary, there appears to be little appetite for another political fight like the last one.

Here’s hoping we’ll see a return to traditional American norms when it comes to post-disaster aid. For generations, Congress didn’t fight over offsets in the wake of a crisis, it simply moved to help American communities in their time of need. That changed after Republicans took control of the House in 2010, but given GOP reactions yesterday, we may be seeing the first signs that the party is rethinking the utility of its posture.

(click here to continue reading Steering clear of another disaster-relief fight – The Maddow Blog.)

Division Street Bridge
Division Street Bridge

We’ve written for years about America’s politicians puzzling reluctance to invest in infrastructure repair. Instead of forcing ExxonMobil or General Electric or Apple to pay taxes, Washington diddles, and the infrastructure continues to decay. I guess if a bridge collapsed outside of Tulsa, perhaps some of our nation’s D grade bridges could get repaired. Well, at least those in that state. Maybe if the bridge that collapsed was in Virginia, the government might pay attention. Or not. 

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Illinois’s Report Card Grade is a D+, although our bridges are a C+. 

  • 2,311 of the 26,514 bridges in Illinois (8.7%) are considered structurally deficient.
  • 1,976 of the 26,514 bridges in Illinois (7.5%) are considered functionally obsolete.
  • Illinois received $115.8 million from the Federal Highway Bridge Fund in FY2011.

How’s your state rank?

Footnotes:
  1. remember the Hurrican Sandy relief fiasco? The Republicans do []
  2. Ok, this probably rarely happened, even in the “ole” days []

Written by Seth Anderson

May 24th, 2013 at 9:41 am

Illinois Senate approves bill to legalize medical marijuana

without comments

Venice Beach Physicians
Venice Beach Physicians

Welcome to the 21st century, Illinois! Of course, there won’t be a place like Venice Beach anywhere in Chicago, at least for a few years…

Illinois has come within a signature of becoming the 19th state to allow marijuana use for medical purposes.

On Friday, the state Senate voted 35-21 to approve a medical marijuana measure, which now will head for Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have decriminalized marijuana use for medicinal purposes. California did so in 1996, when the state’s voters approved Proposition 215.

 

(click here to continue reading Illinois Senate approves bill to legalize medical marijuana – chicagotribune.com.)

Keith Richards Drug Free America
Keith Richards – Drug Free America

And the details:

Under the proposal, a four-year trial program would be created to allow doctors to prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions listed in the bill — including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.

They would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be issued a registration ID card. Marijuana use would be banned in public, in vehicles, around minors and near school grounds. Property owners would have the ability to ban marijuana use on their grounds.

Patients could not legally grow marijuana, and would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers, one for every state police district.

If Pat Quinn wants to be re-elected, he should sign this bill quickly.

Written by Seth Anderson

May 18th, 2013 at 7:49 am

Posted in government,health

Tagged with ,

Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform

without comments

Continuous Video Recording in Progress

Continuous Recording in Progress 

This does not make me warm and fuzzy…

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (PDF) is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

 

(click here to continue reading Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform | Threat Level | Wired.com.)

I imagine that if people hear of this proposed plan, there will be bipartisan, vehement objection to it. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 11th, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Brewing Controversy Over Proposal to Make Water Cheaper Than Beer in Czech Republic

without comments

Afternoon Pilsner
Afternoon Pilsner

Probably won’t happen, as the Czech are all shook up about this proposal, but still amusing to an American. We are very familiar with a government that wants to control what and how we eat and drink…

PRAGUE—In most restaurants and taverns across the Czech Republic, a mug of beer is, literally, cheaper than water. The country’s health minister wants to change that as he tries to put Czechs on a lower-hops diet.

It won’t be easy. Here in the birthplace of pilsner, beer is known as “liquid bread.” Czechs drink an average of 37 gallons of the stuff per person per year, the highest per capita consumption in the world and more than double U.S. levels.

Pub patrons go through the sudsy amber liquid so fast that the nation’s largest brewer, SABMiller unit Plzensky Prazdroj, maker of famed Pilsner Urquell, delivers beer with the kind of tank trucks used to haul gasoline, and pumps it into bars’ storage vats.

“Beer is like mother’s milk for adults,” said Marek Gollner, a 36-year-old computer programmer and regular customer at the U Zelenku pub in the Prague suburb of Zbraslav. “For a Czech, it’s like wine for a Frenchman or vodka for a Russian.”

Faced with such attitudes, Health Minister Leos Heger’s campaign to make Bohemia a bit less bohemian is starting with baby steps.

He wants to require restaurants and bars to offer at least one nonalcoholic beverage at a price lower than that of the same amount of beer, primarily to offer teens, who can legally drink at 18, an alternative. The easiest thing to do, Dr. Heger said, would be to offer patrons pitchers of tap water.

 …

For at least a thousand years, beer has been a staple in the Czech lands, and the country’s native hops are renowned for being aromatic and bitter. St. Wenceslas, a martyred 10th-century Czech nobleman, is a patron saint of brewing and malting, in addition to being the patron saint of the nation.

When the city of Plzen, about 60 miles southwest of Prague, got its charter in 1295, its people were given the right to brew beer, helping ensure the settlement’s prosperity.

At a typical local pub, a pint—500 milliliters, actually, in this metric-measuring country—costs about $1. A similar portion of water, juice or soda generally costs twice as much. Offering free tap water as at U.S. eateries is extremely rare.

At U Zelenku, a neighborhood institution for more than a century, for instance, a pint of the cheapest beer goes for 99 cents. The same size of soda water is $1.30. At the fancier Kolkovna restaurant in touristy Old Town, a pint is $2.50, while mineral water is $2.29, for a bottle less than half the size.

 

(click here to continue reading Brewing Controversy Over Proposal to Make Water Cheaper Than Beer – WSJ.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 19th, 2013 at 8:20 am

Social Security History and Life Expectancy

without comments

Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

A frequently repeated assertion by Social Security opponents is that Social Security was not designed for a population such as ours, with advances in medicine, yadda yadda.

Or as Dr. Krugman calls it, the Life Expectancy Zombie

If we look at life expectancy statistics from the 1930s we might come to the conclusion that the Social Security program was designed in such a way that people would work for many years paying in taxes, but would not live long enough to collect benefits. Life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed only 58 for men and 62 for women, and the retirement age was 65. But life expectancy at birth in the early decades of the 20th century was low due mainly to high infant mortality, and someone who died as a child would never have worked and paid into Social Security. A more appropriate measure is probably life expectancy after attainment of adulthood.

As Table 1 shows, the majority of Americans who made it to adulthood could expect to live to 65, and those who did live to 65 could look forward to collecting benefits for many years into the future. So we can observe that for men, for example, almost 54% of the them could expect to live to age 65 if they survived to age 21, and men who attained age 65 could expect to collect Social Security benefits for almost 13 years (and the numbers are even higher for women).

Also, it should be noted that there were already 7.8 million Americans age 65 or older in 1935 (cf. Table 2), so there was a large and growing population of people who could receive Social Security. Indeed, the actuarial estimates used by the Committee on Economic Security (CES) in designing the Social Security program projected that there would be 8.3 million Americans age 65 or older by 1940 (when monthly benefits started). So Social Security was not designed in such a way that few people would collect the benefits.

(click here to continue reading Social Security History.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 6th, 2013 at 7:04 pm

How the Pentagon Screws Taxpayers Out of $170 Billion

without comments

On Leave
On Leave

I laugh at the number of times Defense Department spending is discussed during talks of deficits and tax burdens, and slashing the social insurance of our nation. Rarely, if ever, do either party of our political elites want to mention how many dollars are squandered without oversight, feeding the maw of our military…

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money—and debt—is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority of locals passionately and vocally oppose the new base.)

How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.

How Much Do We Spend?

By law, the Pentagon must produce an annual ” Overseas Cost Summary” (OCS) putting a price on the military’s activities abroad, from bases to embassies and beyond. This means calculating all the costs of military construction, regular facility repairs, and maintenance, plus the costs of maintaining one million US military and Defense Department personnel and their families abroad—the pay checks, housing, schools, vehicles, equipment, and the transportation of personnel and materials overseas and back, and far, far more.

The latest OCS, for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30th, documented $22.1 billion in spending, although, at Congress’s direction, this doesn’t include any of the more than $118 billion spent that year on the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.

While $22.1 billion is a considerable sum, representing about as much as the budgets for the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget, it contrasts sharply with economist Anita Dancs’s estimate of $250 billion. She included war spending in her total, but even without it, her figure comes to around $140 billion—still $120 billion more than the Pentagon suggests.

Wanting to figure out the real costs of garrisoning the planet myself, for more than three years, as part of a global investigation of bases abroad, I’ve talked to budget experts, current and former Pentagon officials, and base budget officers. Many politely suggested that this was a fool’s errand given the number of bases involved, the complexity of distinguishing overseas from domestic spending, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets, and the “frequently fictional” nature of Pentagon figures. (The Department of Defense remains the only federal agency unable to pass a financial audit.)-PDF

Ever the fool and armed only with the power of searchable PDFs, I nonetheless plunged into the bizarro world of Pentagon accounting, where ledgers are sometimes still handwritten and $1 billion can be a rounding error. I reviewed thousands of pages of budget documents, government and independent reports, and hundreds of line items for everything from shopping malls to military intelligence to postal subsidies. 

(click here to continue reading How the Pentagon Spends $170 Billion | Mother Jones.)

Jimi 1961 Army
Jimi  Hendrix 1961 Army.jpg

If logic were part of the budget negotiations in Washington, the Pentagon would not be able to play such games. Why should taxpayers like you and me subsidize the military contractors who profit from bases in Kosovo? or wherever? If Medicaid and Medicare is on the table, why shouldn’t our insanely over-funded military budget be on the table too?

But don’t for a second think that that’s the end of our garrisoning costs. In addition to spending likely hidden in the nooks and crannies of its budget, there are other irregularities in the Pentagon’s accounting. Costs for 16 countries hosting US bases but left out of the OCS entirely, including Colombia, El Salvador, and Norway, may total more than $350 million. The costs of the military presence in Colombia alone could reach into the tens of millions in the context of more than $8.5 billion in Plan Colombia funding since 2000. The Pentagon also reports costs of less than $5 million each for Yemen, Israel, Uganda, and the Seychelles Islands, which seems unlikely and could add millions more.

When it comes to the general US presence abroad, other costs are too difficult to estimate reliably, including the price of Pentagon offices in the United States, embassies, and other government agencies that support bases and troops overseas. So, too, US training facilities, depots, hospitals, and even cemeteries allow overseas bases to function. Other spending includes currency-exchange costs, attorneys’ fees and damages won in lawsuits against military personnel abroad, short-term “temporary duty assignments,” US-based troops participating in exercises overseas, and perhaps even some of NASA’s military functions, space-based weapons, a percentage of recruiting costs required to staff bases abroad, interest paid on the debt attributable to the past costs of overseas bases, and Veterans Administration costs and other retirement spending for military personnel who served abroad.

Beyond my conservative estimate, the true bill for garrisoning the planet might be closer to $200 billion a year.

(click here to continue reading How the Pentagon Spends $170 Billion | Mother Jones.)

Written by Seth Anderson

December 11th, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Posted in government

Tagged with , , , ,

A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy and the 2012 Fiscal Cliff

without comments

Million Dollar Quartets
Million Dollar Quartets

Warren Buffett’s Op Ed begins:

SUPPOSE that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. “This is a good one,” he says enthusiastically. “I’m in it, and I think you should be, too.”

Would your reply possibly be this? “Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you’re saying we’re going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent.” Only in Grover Norquist’s imagination does such a response exist.

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent — and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity that I offered.

(click here to continue reading A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy – NYTimes.com.)

Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

And of course, he’s right, but logic has been banned from the modern conservative party. Historical perspective as well, apparently, unless Regan is involved. At least President Obama has said that Social Security is off the table, in the short term at least. Just waiting for Defense spending to join the deficit party – we could halve our military spending every year for the next ten, and still spend more than any other country on the planet. Even the Democrats never seem to mention slicing defense spending as part of the Grand Bargain.

In a speech at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) , urged progressives to be open to Medicare and Medicaid reforms as part of long-term deficit talks.

But he also said both entitlement programs, along with Social Security, should be off the table during fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Progressives should be willing to talk about ways to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but those conversations should not be part of a plan to avert the fiscal cliff,” Durbin said in his remarks.

“I think the point we tried to make in the campaign was the Paul Ryan approach [turning Medicare into a quasi-voucher program] we think threatens the existence of these programs and the services they provide,” Durbin told reporters later in the day. “That’s unacceptable. There has to be a better, more positive approach that saves money and at the end of the day, is going to keep these programs alive.”

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) agreed with Durbin that Social Security should be off the table, noting that it has not contributed to the debt.

(click here to continue reading For Fiscal Cliff Talks, Medicare Reform Still On Table For Senate Democrats.)

Greg Sargent adds:

Now this is encouraging. I’m told that representatives of major unions and progressive groups met privately this morning with senior Obama administration officials at the White House — and were pleased with what they heard.

Things can always change at a moment’s notice. But attendees at this meeting came away convinced — for now — that the White House firmly believes it has the leverage in the fiscal cliff talks, and has no intention of budging on the demand for higher tax rates from the rich or on other core priorities.

Indeed, one person at the meeting — which included people from the AFLCIO, AFSCME, SEIU, MoveOn and others — came away convinced that the White House would ultimately prove willing to go over the fiscal cliff if necessary, rather than give ground on core demands, though this is not by any means a desired option and isn’t being discussed as a strategic possibility.

…“They remain in the same place: They expect taxes to go up on the wealthy and to protect Medicare and Medicaid benefits,” the attendee added. “They feel confident that they don’t have to compromise.”

White House officials also signaled in the meeting that they are going to insist that Republicans agree to resolve the need to raise the debt ceiling as part of the fiscal talks — and won’t abide a separate fight over it, attendees said. Also key: Attendees got the impression the White House does not view this looming debt ceiling battle in the same terms as the 2011 fight, where Republicans had the leverage.

(click here to continue reading Reasons to be encouraged about fiscal cliff’s endgame – The Plum Line – The Washington Post.)

For the Sake of Security
For the Sake of Security

David Dayen:

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has almost become the liaison to the left for cuts to federal health care programs in the grand bargain, gave a speech today at the Center for American Progress that included a couple important points:

• Durbin sequenced the provisions of the deal, saying that Republicans would have to build the framework on taxes, which includes an increase in the top marginal rates, before any Democrat will even begin to talk about social insurance programs. This seems like a hardline stance, but it just mirrors the dominant conversation, which has focused on taxes to the exclusion of practically everything else.

• Though Durbin has sought to bring rank-and-file Democrats along on a grand bargain that would include cuts to those social insurance programs, he set out some red lines. In addition to rejecting the privatization of Medicare or Social Security and the block granting of Medicaid – a common tactic to reject the extreme view to provide space for more modest but still damaging cuts – Durbin took Social Security almost entirely off the table. This matches White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s statements yesterday. It does appear that’s been filed away for the time being.

In addition, Durbin said, regarding spending cuts on anti-poverty social programs, “Let me be clear: Those cuts will not happen.” And he sought to line up with the Administration’s viewpoint that any changes to Medicare and Medicaid can happen without cuts to benefits, through payment reforms or provider cuts. This would “strengthen” those programs through the reform, he said. He also wanted to exempt infrastructure spending fully from any cuts.

(click here to continue reading Durbin Outlines Democratic Approach on Grand Bargain | FDL News Desk.)

Spare Change
Spare Change

Brian Beutler:

Democratic leaders, frustrated by the GOP’s unwillingness to reckon with the need to raise taxes, are publicly airing the hard-bargaining demands they’re bringing to budget negotiations with Republicans.

The Senate’s top two Democrats, in separate remarks Tuesday, each said that Congress could avoid looming across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts if House Republicans agree to freeze all the Bush tax rates except those benefitting top earners. If that were accompanied by an increase in the debt limit, and the creation of a separate track for reforming the tax code and social safety net programs in 2013, the near-term austerity problem will be solved, and lawmakers can call it a day.

In other words, Senate Democrats are staking out the position that entitlement reform should not be on the table in fiscal cliff negotiations.

“If we fail to reach an agreement, the average middle-class family will see their taxes go up by $2,200 a year,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters at his weekly press availability. “As I’ve indicated, the Senate has already reacted to stop that and the House is one vote away from making that a reality for many millions of Americans who are middle class.”

(click here to continue reading Top Democrats Drive Hard Bargiain In Budget Talks | TPMDC.)

Written by Seth Anderson

November 28th, 2012 at 10:11 am

Social Security and the 2011 VP Debate

without comments

Forget-me-not Social Security
Forget-me-not Social Security

One other point on the VP debate, beyond Paul Ryan’s disturbing call for a theocracy, is that Social Security is not going broke. No matter how many times the beltway press claims it is, no matter how many times the political party that wants to privatize Social Security claims it, no matter how many times the other party which isn’t that enthusiastic a supporter of social welfare agrees: Social Security isn’t about to go broke. It just isn’t.

But it’s domestic policy where Raddatz, like Lehrer, blew it. She started by asking about unemployment, which is at least a gesture at the enormous suffering in the country right now. That set off minutes and minutes of rambling, all of which was boilerplate (though the stuff on the green stimulus was interesting, mostly because Ryan lied his ass off).

Then it was straight to “entitlements,” which, in case you weren’t aware of the Beltway CW, Raddatz introduced by saying, “Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke.” That is just absolutely, empirically false. Medicare is fine out to 2024 and easily fixable after that (it’s medical costs, not Medicare, that are the real problem). And Social Security quite literally cannot go broke. It too can be kept solvent for many decades with small tweaks. Neither is a problem until a decade from now.

Of all the requirements for a debate moderators, surely the very minimum is that he or she not introduce factual errors into the discussion. No?

And then it was on to taxes and the defense budget. I kept thinking, “This is exactly the stuff we went over the other night in the presidential debate! Where are immigration, education, innovation, housing, LGBT issues? Where is energy? Where is, God forbid, climate change?”

(click here to continue reading Questions at VP debate reveal bankrupt Beltway thinking | Grist.)

In honor of Tax Day
In honor of Tax Day

more on the fallacy from John Harvey, of Forbes, no less:

It is a logical impossibility for Social Security to go bankrupt. We can voluntarily choose to suspend or eliminate the program, but it could never fail because it “ran out of money.” This belief is the result of a common error: conceptualizing Social Security from the micro (individual) rather than the macro (economy-wide) perspective. It’s not a pension fund into which you put your money when you are young and from which you draw when you are old. It’s an immediate transfer from workers today to retirees today. That’s what it has always been and that’s what it has to be–there is no other possible way for it to work.

The most obvious and straightforward means is this: set a tax of 30% on the salaries of existing workers and give it directly to the retirees–right now, today, immediately. Have the money come straight out of your paycheck and right into your grandmother’s bank account. This accomplishes the goal neatly and directly–and it’s exactly what we do in real life. This is how Social Security actually operates. As you can see, this needs no prior financing or savings, nor would that appear to be particularly helpful. At the national level, maintaining a class of retirees (whether via Social Security or private pensions) means redistributing existing output, not putting money under your mattress. Although you can run out of money for retirement, we, as a nation, cannot.

What, then, you may ask, is the Social Security Trust Fund, the pool of money that people say will dry up and make it impossible for anyone to receive their Social Security payments? It is the surplus that resulted from having collected more in taxes than was necessary to pay out to retirees. Let me say that again: it is how much existing workers were overtaxed relative to the need to pay retirees in the past. It was never the source of the money we’ve been paying to Social Security recipients all these years. Strictly speaking, it’s completely unnecessary if we are able to precisely and continuously match tax revenues and pay outs.

(click here to continue reading Why Social Security Cannot Go Bankrupt – Forbes.)

Spare Change
Spare Change

Too bad this simple point is not repeated often by those who should know better. In fact, the only politician who I’ve heard correct this error forcefully has been Bernie Sanders, and he isn’t a Democrat or Republican…

Written by Seth Anderson

October 13th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Congress to Face Angry Farmers

without comments

A Little Sigh
A Little Sigh

What a surprise! The anti-American GOP Congress has decided farmers are not a core constituency, or at least are not as important as defense contractors. Since the GOP doesn’t believe in climate change, the drought is just god’s will, and farmers should pray for rain, avoid asking for government assistance. 

When Congress returns to business this week, it will be met not by the Code Pink antiwar protesters or the Tea Party supporters who often gathered near the Capitol last year. Instead, farmers will be out in force, rallying for a bill that lawmakers failed to pass before they recessed five weeks ago.

That unfinished bit of business threatens to cut off aid to farmers across the nation. But lawmakers, fresh off their parties’ conventions, appear to favor action on other bills that emphasize their political agendas over actual lawmaking.

When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, it will move to begin debate on a jobs bill for veterans that is championed by President Obama. The Democratic leadership is also considering yet another vote on Representative Paul D. Ryan’s budget, for no other apparent reason than to embarrass Republicans facing tough re-election battles.

In the House, Republicans will vote on a bill that seeks to phase out the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program that financed Solyndra, the bankrupt maker of solar power equipment. They also want Senate Democrats to come up with a measure like one already passed by the House that would replace the large-scale budget cuts for the Pentagon that are scheduled to take effect with other trims on Dec. 31. The military cuts were set in motion by an agreement to raise the debt ceiling last summer, and they became automatic when a special select committee failed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Over the summer, the Senate passed a bipartisan five-year farm bill that the House declined to take up. House leaders also refused to consider their own Agriculture Committee’s sweeping farm measure, instead pushing through a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for livestock producers and a limited number of farmers. Senate leaders declined to take action on that measure because they said it was too limited, a view shared by many farmers.

Mr. Boehner lacks enough votes to pass a bill because Democrats dislike the $16 billion in cuts to nutrition programs, including food stamps, in the House committee’s bill. And many conservative Republicans would like to see more cuts over all in the measure.

 

(click here to continue reading Congress to Face Angry Farmers – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2012 at 8:04 am

A Crusade Against Toxic Couches

without comments

Can't See the Couch For the Forest
Can’t See the Couch For the Forest

Yes, your couch, and chairs, and bed, and so on, is probably contributing to your mortality, and the ill health of your family and friends as well. The sad part is that the EPA is so toothless it cannot stop this travesty from happening. Occasionally, the EPA can regulate some toxic chemical, after enough people die from it, but never before.

Kudos to Dr. Arlene Blum for her diligence bringing the topic to our attention. Now the question is, what are we going to do about it? 

Heather Stapleton, a Duke University chemist who conducted many of the best-known studies of flame retardants, notes that foam is full of air. “So every time somebody sits on it,” she says, “all the air that’s in the foam gets expelled into the environment.” Studies have found that young children, who often play on the floor and put toys in their mouths, can have three times the levels of flame retardants in their blood as their parents. Flame retardants can also pass from mother to child through the placenta and through breast milk.

The effects of that exposure may be hard to detect in individual children, but scientists can see them when they look across the population. Researchers from the Center for Children’s Environmental Health, at Columbia University, measured a class of flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, in the umbilical-cord blood of 210 New York women and then followed their children’s neurological development over time. They found that those with the highest levels of prenatal exposure to flame retardants scored an average of five points lower on I.Q. tests than the children with lower exposures, an impact similar to the effect of lead exposure in early life. “If you’re a kid who is at the low end of the I.Q. spectrum, five points can make the difference between being in a special-ed class or being able to graduate from high school,” says Julie Herbstman, the study’s author.

There are many flame retardants in use, the components of which are often closely held trade secrets. Some of the older ones, like the PBDEs, have been the subject of thousands of studies and have since been taken off the market (although many of us still have them in our furniture). Newer ones like Chemtura’s Firemaster 550 are just starting to be analyzed, even though it is now one of the most commonly used flame retardants in furniture.

Logic would suggest that any new chemical used in consumer products be demonstrably safer than a compound it replaces, particularly one taken off the market for reasons related to human health. But of the 84,000 industrial chemicals registered for use in the United States, only about 200 have been evaluated for human safety by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s because industrial chemicals are presumed safe unless proved otherwise, under the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act.

When evidence begins to mount that a chemical endangers human health, manufacturers tend to withdraw it from the market and replace it with something whose effects — and often its ingredients — are unknown. The makeup of the flame retardant Firemaster 550, for instance, is considered a proprietary trade secret. At a recent conference, Stapleton discussed a small, unpublished study in which she fed female rats low doses of Firemaster 550. The exposed mothers’ offspring gained more weight, demonstrated more anxiety, hit puberty earlier and had abnormal reproductive cycles when compared with unexposed offspring — all signs that the chemical disrupts the endocrine system.

(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)

the sad thing is: the fire retardant doesn’t even really help in a real-world fire:

That, after all, is the reason TB 117 exists — to keep people from dying when their couch catches on fire. “Deaths caused by furniture fires dropped from 1,400 in 1980 to 600 in 2004; a 57 percent reduction,” Chemtura wrote in response to my questions.

Three years ago, Blum contacted Babrauskas1 and invited him to attend a keynote address she was giving at a scientific meeting in Seattle. Afterward, they went on a hike. By the time the day was over, he had become her most potent ally in the battle against TB 117. It turned out that Babrauskas felt his study results had been distorted. He used a lot of flame retardants, he says, far more than anyone would ever put in a piece of furniture sold to consumers. “What I did not realize would happen is that the industry would take that data and try to misapply it to fire retardants in general,” he says.

In Babrauskas’s view, TB 117 is ineffective in preventing fires. The problem, he argues, is that the standard is based on applying a small flame to a bare piece of foam — a situation unlikely to happen in real life. “If you take a cigarette lighter and put it on a chair,” he says, “there’s no naked foam visible on that chair unless you live in a horrendous pigsty where people have torn apart their furniture.” In real life, before the flame gets to the foam, it has to ignite the fabric. Once the fabric catches fire, it becomes a sheet of flame that can easily overwhelm the fire-suppression properties of treated foam. In tests, TB 117 compliant chairs catch fire just as easily as ones that aren’t compliant — and they burn just as hot. “This is not speculation,” he says. “There were two series of tests that prove what I’m saying is correct.”

Before Blum met Babrauskas, the conventional wisdom was that the clash over flame retardants was a conflict between two competing public interests — the need to protect people from furniture fires and the need to protect them from toxic chemicals. But the more Blum studied the safety benefits of flame retardants, the more elusive their benefits seemed to be.

and the lobbyists for the chemical industries took a page from the tobacco companies, and dug in for a long battle against consumers, and health in the name of profits:

California Senate Bill 147, which would have directed the Bureau of Home Furnishings to develop fire-safety standards for furniture that does not require flame retardants, something along the lines of a yet-to-be-adopted federal standard developed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission that tests whether furniture ignites when exposed to a smoldering cigarette. (Focusing on the entire piece of furniture, rather than the foam, allows manufacturers to use nonchemical solutions like barriers and less-flammable fabrics.) The bill had what seemed like a bulletproof array of supporters — dozens of organizations representing health officers, firefighters, furniture makers and environmental groups. Only three people spoke against it; all three had been compensated by Citizens for Fire Safety. One witness was David Heimbach, a burn doctor at the University of Washington who told a moving story about a 7-week-old baby girl he treated the year before. The baby’s mother had placed a candle in her crib, he said, and the candle fell over, igniting a pillow.

“She ultimately died after about three weeks of pain and misery in the hospital,” he told the senators. He asked them to do “anything to stop little children from being burned.”

But it seems there was no such baby, no such candle and no such pillow. Reporters working for The Chicago Tribune, which published a four-part investigation of the flame-retardant industry in May, could find no record of any infant who matched Heimbach’s description. Heimbach’s lawyer, Deborah Drooz, says that he changed the details of the story to protect patient identity. (The Tribune reporters did find a baby that died in a fire caused by an overloaded electrical outlet — circumstances that have little to do with flame retardants.) In the end, eight of the nine committee members voted against the bill. Those eight had received a total of $105,500 from chemical companies since 2007.

(click here to continue reading Arlene Blum’s Crusade Against Toxic Couches – NYTimes.com.)

Any Questions?
Any Questions?

Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune reported earlier this summer:

The world’s leading manufacturers of flame retardants faced scathing criticism Tuesday from U.S. senators angered by what they called the industry’s misuse of science, misleading testimony and creation of a phony consumer group that stoked the public’s fear of house fires.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pointedly asked one chemical company official: “Don’t you owe people an apology?”

The Tribune series, published in May, revealed how the tobacco and chemical industries engaged in a deceptive, decades-long campaign to promote the use of flame-retardant chemicals in household furniture, electronics, baby products and other goods.

Those efforts have helped load American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility. A typical American baby is born with the highest recorded concentrations of flame retardants among infants in the world.

(click here to continue reading Flame retardants: Chemical companies face Senate criticism over flame retardants – Chicago Tribune.)

scathing criticism, and yet nothing substantive has happened yet.

“Generations of Americans have been asked to tolerate exposure to potentially toxic chemicals in their furniture in the name of fire safety,” Senator Dick Durbin said when he led a hearing on the chemicals in July. At the same hearing, James J. Jones, an administrator with the E.P.A., cited flame retardants as “a clear illustration” of all that is wrong with the Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law that governs the use of chemicals. Several states, including New York, have proposed bans on chlorinated Tris. (So far unsuccessfully, for the most part.)

Abandon All Chairs Ye Who Enter
Abandon All Chairs Ye Who Enter

Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe reported even earlier:

Dr. Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true.

Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn’t exist.

Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.

Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants.

His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

(click here to continue reading Chemical manufacturers rely on fear to push flame retardant furniture standards – chicagotribune.com.)

Footnotes:
  1. fire-safety scientist named Vytenis Babrauskas, who is considered a leading authority on furniture flammability []

Written by Seth Anderson

September 9th, 2012 at 10:40 am

Posted in government,health,science

Tagged with ,

Time Wasters In Congress

without comments

We Deliver - Just not Saturdays
We Deliver – Just not Saturdays, maybe

Our Congress, hard at work…

In the 18 months the 112th Congress has been sworn in, the House has introduced 60 bills to rename post offices. Thirty-eight have passed the House and 26 have become law. During those 18 months, the House has produced 151 laws, 17 percent of which have been to rename post offices, according to Congressional Democrats. Not a single bill has come to the House floor aimed at reforming a Postal Service, which is bleeding billions of dollars because of Congressional mandates. … USPS claims that if Congress does not act, the mail service will default not only on the $5.5 billion payment due [August 1, 2012], but also on another $5.6 billion payment for future retiree’s benefit due September 30. The Postal Service has pleaded with Congress for years to end the requirement that it pre-fund its retiree’s health benefits. But many lawmakers claim that because USPS has such a massive workforce – there are 614,000 Postal Service employees-if it does not pre-fund retirement benefits, it will not be able to pay them in the future.

And as long as these disagreements persist, it looks like naming post offices is the closest Congress will get to passing postal reform.

(click here to continue reading 60 House Bills to Name Post Offices, Zero To Fix Mail Service – Yahoo! News.)

Mail Acceptance
Mail Acceptance

Paul Ryan is one of those time-wasters:

He’s been in Congress for nearly 13 years, but Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has only seen two of his bills pass into law during that time.

Ryan, who Mitt Romney has tapped as his running mate, passed a bill into law in July 2000 that renames a post office in his district. Thanks to Ryan, the post office on 1818 Milton Ave. in Janesville, Wis., is now known as “Les Aspin Post Office Building.”

(click here to continue reading Paul Ryan Only Passed 2 Bills Into Law In More Than A Decade.)

I Won't Mind Waiting
I Won’t Mind Waiting

and speaking of wasting time, the Republican mouth-breathers in Congress have also wasted taxpayer money with symbolic votes re: the Affordable Care Act a/k/a Obamacare:

What grave business is the House of Representatives undertaking today? It is voting to do away with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—or, as the name of the bill puts it, on the Repeal of Obamacare Act. The title has a certain appealing conciseness, relative to what some of the other partial or entire repeal bills have been called, like the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act or the Repealing the Job-Killing Health-Care Law Act—Eric Cantor introduced that one, which stands as a true classic of the bill-title genre. (Reuters has a list of more.)

The names have been the bill-sponsors’ only real accomplishment, even though repeals have passed the House again and again—some thirty times, in various forms, since the G.O.P. got its majority, in 2010. Sometimes it’s been been brazen and loud (the NObamacare Act of 2012—isn’t there a ban on legislative names that rely on capitalization tricks?). And sometimes there’s an amendment that comes to Congress, as the saying goes, on little cat feet, attached to a big bill. All the significant ones have died, though, as everyone knew they would, and as today’s will as well, before getting anywhere near Senate passage, let alone the President’s desk. (If he signed it “NObama,” would that count as a veto?) The Republicans have some legislative options—reconciliation, debt-ceiling-collapsing blackmail—but not good ones. So why do they bother?

(click here to continue reading House Votes on the Repeal of Obamacare Act : The New Yorker.)

Good thing the nation is working perfectly with zero problems of any kind that need fixing so that the fools in Congress can play.

Written by Seth Anderson

September 9th, 2012 at 9:24 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with , , ,

Preckwinkle tells the truth: Reagan deserves special place in hell for war on drugs

without comments

Nancy Reagan - Just Say Yo
Nancy Reagan – Just Say Yo

Kudos to Ms. Toni Preckwinkle for speaking the truth. Earlier editions of this story didn’t mention the subsequent dialing back…

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday said former President Ronald Reagan deserves “a special place in hell” for his role in the war on drugs, but later regretted what she called her “inflammatory” remark.

The comment from Preckwinkle, known more for a reserved, straight-ahead political style, came at a conference led by former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who’s now at the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs.

Preckwinkle was defending the recent move by the city of Chicago to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by allowing police to write tickets, saying out-of-whack drug laws unfairly lead to more minorities behind bars.

Downstate Republican state Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet questioned whether such an approach includes drug treatment for those who are ticketed. Preckwinkle said no, arguing that drug treatment should be part of the health care system, not criminal justice. She said Reagan deserves a “special place in hell” for his involvement in “making drug use political.”

(click here to continue reading Preckwinkle regrets saying Reagan deserves ‘special place in hell’ for war on drugs – chicagotribune.com.)

If I ever have a chance to meet Ms. Preckwinkle, I’d like to shake her hand – too many politicians bend their knee to the War on Drugs, despite the facts.

Patience please
Patience please

While President Richard Nixon is generally credited with starting the war on drugs, critics contend Reagan ramped up the issue for political purposes during the 1980s.

“Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first or the last, but he was certainly the most prominent at the very beginning,” Preckwinkle told the Tribune in a phone interview.

The resulting policies have had the effect of sending young African Americans and Latinos to jail and prison in disproportionate numbers, she said. They also have driven up government costs and damaged communities, she said.

“Drug policy in this country has been in the wrong direction for 30 years,” she said. “I think that’s something they should acknowledge. If I had it to do over again, I certainly wouldn’t say anything quite so inflammatory. But my position basically remains the same.”

Shouldn't That Be a Right Turn?
Shouldn’t That Be a Right Turn?

Jeralyn Merritt, of the seminal blog Talk Left, wrote this about Saintly Ron back in 2004:

three of [Reagan’s] less-than-endearing legacies deserve to be highlighted

Mandatory minimum drug sentences in 1986. This was the first time Congress passed mandatory minimum sentences since the Boggs Act in 1951.

Federal sentencing guidelines: Under this new method of sentencing, which went into effect in 1987, prison time is determined mostly by the weight of the drugs involved in the offense. Parole was abolished and prisoners must serve 85 percent of their sentence. Except in rare situations, judges can no longer factor in the character of the defendant, the effect of incarceration on his or her dependents, and in large part, the nature and circumstances of the crime. The only way to receive a more lenient sentence is to act as an informant against others and hope that the prosecutor is willing to deal. The guidelines in effect stripped Article III of their sentencing discretion and turned it over to prosecutors.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988: This law established a federal death penalty for “drug kingpins.” President Reagan called it a new sword and shield in the escalating battle against drugs, and signed the bill in his wife’s honor… Did the law nab Pablo Escobar? No. The law’s first conquest was David Ronald Chandler, known as “Ronnie.” Ronnie grew marijuana in a small town in rural, northeast Alabama. About 300 pounds a year. Ronnie was sentenced to death for supposedly hiring someone to kill his brother-in-law. The witness against him later recanted.

As a result of these flawed drug policies initiated by then President Reagan, (and continued by Bush I, Clinton and Bush II) the number of those imprisoned in America has quadrupled to over 2 million. These are legacies that groups like Families Against Mandatory Minimums are still fighting today. Even George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s former secretary of state, acknowledged in 2001 that the War on Drugs is a flop.

In Smoke and Mirrors, Dan Baum, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, provides a detailed account of the politics surrounding Reagan’s war on drugs.

Conservative parents’ groups opposed to marijuana had helped to ignite the Reagan Revolution. Marijuana symbolized the weakness and permissiveness of a liberal society; it was held responsible for the slovenly appearance of teenagers and their lack of motivation. Carlton Turner, Reagan’s first drug czar, believed that marijuana use was inextricably linked to “the present young-adult generation’s involvement in anti-military, anti-nuclear power, anti-big business, anti-authority demonstrations.” A public-health approach to drug control was replaced by an emphasis on law enforcement. Drug abuse was no longer considered a form of illness; all drug use was deemed immoral, and punishing drug offenders was thought to be more important than getting them off drugs. The drug war soon became a bipartisan effort, supported by liberals and conservatives alike. Nothing was to be gained politically by defending drug abusers from excessive punishment.

(click here to continue reading Reagan’s Drug War Legacy | Alternet.)

Written by Seth Anderson

August 21st, 2012 at 7:46 pm