Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
News of US politics
Shocking, I know, but Exxon Mobil and Chevron, et al, don’t want to alter their profit streams, asking to be able to continue sending bomb trains throughout the country. The reason? Updating the safety equipment would cost money. What a compelling argument, worthy of a 6th grade debate team.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block key provisions of the rules, which were unveiled this month by Anthony Foxx, the transportation secretary. The petition was filed on Monday.
The trade group, which represents companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron, has long argued that forcing oil producers and shippers to use newer tank cars and replace older models would impose high costs on the industry and lead to a shortfall in tank car capacity.
The petition seeks to block a requirement that older tank cars be retrofitted with new safety features designed to prevent them from spilling oil or rupturing in a derailment. It also challenges a requirement that tank cars be equipped with new electronic braking systems or face operational restrictions.
(click here to continue reading Oil Industry Asks Court to Block Rail Transport Safety Rules – NYTimes.com.)
If Exxon Mobil were forced to spend $100,000,000 updating the bomb cars, ((a number I just pulled out of the air, and probably a lot more than they would actually pay)) would it be a large enough number to reduce their annual profits measurably? In 2014 alone, ExxonMobil reported revenue of $394,105,000,000. Chevron’s reported revenue for 2014 was $211,970, 000,000 by the way. I would hazard a guess their accountants are top notch, and most of the costs of updating bomb trains would be written off as operating expense, right? The oil industry has been making immense, unimaginable profits for decades, or more.
In other words, protesting that updating the rail cars so that they don’t blow up communities and cause fires that last for weeks because updating the rail cars would cost too much is a lame argument. Cries pleading poverty from corporations as wealthy as Chevron is laughable.
Not that the Transportation Department and Barack Obama will listen to me, but my negotiation points would include the tax subsidies the oil and gas industry currently enjoy: fix the bomb trains and you get to keep half of your tax subsidies.
The oil industry’s lobbyists like to argue that its array of tax write-offs (which allow companies to deduct everything from drilling costs to the declining value of their wells) aren’t any different than other deductions for less publicly reviled companies. Cutting them will discourage new exploration and put jobs at risk, they claim.
Yet, some of the breaks are anachronisms that date back almost to the days of John D. Rockefeller. And in a world of permanently high crude prices, there’s very little rationale for subsidizing the bottom lines of companies like ExxonMobil and BP.
Make no mistake, either: Those profits are perfectly healthy. Between drilling and refining, Exxon’s U.S. operations alone earned $7.5 billion after taxes in 2012. California-based Occidental Petroleum Corporation, one of the so-called “independent” oil companies and the top oil driller in Texas, raked in $7.1 billion via its oil and gas division.
(click here to continue reading America’s Most Obvious Tax Reform Idea: Kill the Oil and Gas Subsidies – The Atlantic.)
Electricity is a Bitter Herb…
In a just world, these evil doers would be publicly humiliated, named by name, and forced to stand trial for war crimes at The Hague. The Bush administration too. It’s a travesty that President Obama’s response to war crimes perpetrated by his predecessor was to sweep all the evidence under the rug and shrug, “Bygones…”
The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude.
(click here to continue reading Report Says American Psychological Association Collaborated on Torture Justification – NYTimes.com.)
and why did the Bush thugs do it?
The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to argue in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture, since the interrogations were being monitored by health professionals to make sure they were safe.
Progressives do have a history with Mayor 1%, Rahm Emanuel, and it isn’t a pleasant one. Sadly, it does look like Rahm-bo might squeak out a win over Chuy Garcia, but the special runoff election isn’t until April 7th, so there is still hope.
Digby writes, in part, a bit of the history:
Way back in the day (a decade ago) when the Progressive Netroots were just starting to organize, the first “scalp” any of the left leaning movement activists took was that of a Democratic hack from Maryland named Al Wynn when they backed a progressive challenger by the name of Donna Edwards. Edwards defeated Wynn in 2008 and is now running to replace Senator Barbara Mikulski who recently announced her retirement. In each congressional cycle Netroots progressives have fought a number of hard-fought primaries, losing more often than they won (just like the Tea Party) but slowly managing to make the House of Representatives a bit more progressive than it was before. Congressional representatives like Matt Cartwright, Beto O’Rourke and Senators like Jon Tester were backed strongly by the grassroots of the party and managed to unseat incumbents. Nobody in the beltway noticed or cared, of course. (Progressives always forget to order their tri-corner hats and Betsy Ross wigs…)
But over time, it’s had an effect and not just because of the “scalps” they took, but because all of those hard fought races, whether won or lost, showed the incumbents that there was a restive group of activists out there who could challenge the status quo. And aside from primary challenges, progressives in congress from Keith Ellison and Alan Grayson in the House to Elizabeth Warren and Tammy Baldwin in the Senate were enthusiastically supported by Netroots groups like, Move On, DFA, PCCC and Blue America (disclosure: I am a principal in that group) among a number of others, a support which translates into small donor involvement, campaign volunteering and strategic advice as well as engaged in grassroots activism for progressive congressional initiatives. It’s made a difference. The House and Senate today have progressive wings that are active and vocal in a way they did not a decade ago.
Back in 2006 when all this really started to come together there was one Democrat who quickly determined that this nascent progressive movement was a major threat to the status quo. His name was Rahm Emanuel who was, at the time, an Illinois congressman in charge of candidate recruitment for the congressional Democrats. If there’s anyone who can take credit for being the catalyst for this long term Netroots commitment to elect progressives to congress it is him. His crude dismissal of grassroots concerns was blatant. His contempt for anyone who disagreed with his centrist Blue Dog/New Democrat philosophy was palpable. While his wholehearted support for big money interests was seen as the ultimate in strategic brilliance by the beltway elites, it repelled Democratic activists everywhere.
Despite the fact that lame-duck George W. Bush and the war in Iraq were so unpopular that virtually anyone who could draw a breath who had a D after his or her name could have won, the conventional wisdom said that Emanuel’s DCCC win in the off year election of 2006 was a validation of his political savvy. (In case you were wondering, Emanuel wasn’t elected to congress until after the Iraq war resolution but was on record supporting it, saying that the U.S. needed a “muscular projection of force” there. You can let the shrinks sort out just what that language says about him …)
When the newly elected President Obama tapped him as chief-of-staff, you could hear progressives screaming “nooooooo” across the land. And when he departed to run for mayor of Chicago, the collective sigh of progressive relief (everywhere but Chicago) was just as audible. He is, in other words, the symbol of everything progressives are trying to change about the Democratic Party.
And right now, in Chicago, a progressive is giving him the personal challenge of his political lifetime. Political observers were stunned last month when a longtime Illinois politician by the name of Jesus “Chuy” Garcia forced Emanuel into a runoff for his second term as mayor. Perhaps stunned isn’t really the right word. Apoplectic is more apt. After all, Emanuel has a seemingly unending supply of money with which he tried to buy off every bit of institutional support and his network of elite friendships goes all the way up to the White House. But it turns out that his arrogance and corruption may be too much even for a city that is anything but starry-eyed about such things.
(click here to continue reading Why the left hates this man: Rahm Emanuel’s sins against the progressive movement – Salon.com.)
Will Obama have to resort to veto pen finally, now that Harry Reid is no longer blocking ridiculous GOP bills from getting passed? I guess we’ll soon see. And the real test will be on the non-sexy things, like regulatory reform.
Obama Has Only Vetoed 2 Bills. That’s About to Change—Thanks to Democrats | Mother Jones: “Regulatory reform: By far the least sexy of the topics that might be forced on Obama, changes to how the government writes its rules could pose the biggest trouble for the president. Unlike finance, environmental rules, or health care reform, it’s an obscure topic unlikely to garner an outpouring of public outcry. These are changes portrayed as making government more sensible and business-friendly, always a favorite image to project by moderate Democrats who still cling to Bill Clinton’s mantra of deconstructing Big Government, yet they could stymie efforts to write rules for those specific policy areas.
Changes to how the government writes rules ‘seem both kind of technical and innocent, because they talk about things like cost-benefit analysis, or increasing judicial review, or more economic requirements to help small business’ says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. ‘Things that don’t sound threatening and maybe even ease tensions with constituents who don’t really like the idea of red tape and have this idea that if we change it at the federal level lots would be easier at home.’ But in essence, these rules just offer cover for big business to delay the laws that they don’t want to comply with—continuing to set their own rules and skating by for years after the public thinks they’ve already been kept in check.
Last week, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill that would force all agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each rule. This process tends to favor business interests over consumers. The bill would also make it easier for judges to toss aside rules and force agencies to hold lengthy public hearings for each rule they consider. Past iterations of this bill have received support from Senate moderates like Florida’s Bill Nelson, Maine’s King, and West Virginia’s Manchin.
That group of 10 to 15 Democrats willing to break from the rest of the party aren’t hiding their plans. ‘If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them,’ Manchin said earlier this month, ‘and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them.'”
During the very first week of the 114th Congress, the new agenda was made clear: Bills to end the Affordable Care Act, to restrict abortion rights, to stop Obama’s immigration plan, and a bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
Paul Krugman laughs, and points out the absurdity of the GOP’s Carbon Keynesianism…
It should come as no surprise that the very first move of the new Republican Senate is an attempt to push President Obama into approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands. After all, debts must be paid, and the oil and gas industry — which gave 87 percent of its 2014 campaign contributions to the G.O.P. — expects to be rewarded for its support.
Building Keystone XL could slightly increase U.S. employment. In fact, it might replace almost 5 percent of the jobs America has lost because of destructive cuts in federal spending, which were in turn the direct result of Republican blackmail over the debt ceiling.
Oh, and don’t tell me that the cases are completely different. You can’t consistently claim that pipeline spending creates jobs while government spending doesn’t.
Consider, for example, the case of military spending. When it comes to possible cuts in defense contracts, politicians who loudly proclaim that every dollar the government spends comes at the expense of the private sector suddenly begin talking about all the jobs that will be destroyed. They even begin talking about the multiplier effect, as reduced spending by defense workers leads to job losses in other industries. This is the phenomenon former Representative Barney Frank dubbed “weaponized Keynesianism.”
And the argument being made for Keystone XL is very similar; call it “carbonized Keynesianism.” Yes, approving the pipeline would mobilize some money that would otherwise have sat idle, and in so doing create some jobs — 42,000 during the construction phase, according to the most widely cited estimate. (Once completed, the pipeline would employ only a few dozen workers.) But government spending on roads, bridges and schools would do the same thing.
And the job gains from the pipeline would, as I said, be only a tiny fraction — less than 5 percent — of the job losses from sequestration, which in turn are only part of the damage done by spending cuts in general. If Mr. McConnell and company really believe that we need more spending to create jobs, why not support a push to upgrade America’s crumbling infrastructure?
So what should be done about Keystone XL? If you believe that it would be environmentally damaging — which I do — then you should be against it, and you should ignore the claims about job creation. The numbers being thrown around are tiny compared with the country’s overall work force.
(click here to continue reading For the Love of Carbon – NYTimes.com.)
Infrastructure improvement? Blasphemy! Spending money to fix bridges, roads, water supply pipes, commuter rails – that’s Socialism! But building a massive pipeline to ship oil from Canada to China via the Gulf of Mexico is God’s commandment. If you consider Mammon a God that is…
It is almost amusing how much crazy economic policy was initiated by the expense account of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Without the Laffer Curve, there would be no Supply Side Economic Voodoo theory, and perhaps our country wouldn’t be on a downward spiral. Also, the Laffer Curve, as originally formulated, never claimed to know what the magical tax rate was, and in fact, could be interpreted as arguing that tax rates should increase!
The Laffer Curve came about as the result of a lunch conversation in 1974 among conservative economist Arthur Laffer, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. The curve in question is the relationship between tax revenues and tax rates—at zero percent, no tax revenue will be collected because no income is taxed, while at 100 percent, no revenue will be collected because there is no incentive to work if all income is confiscated. Somewhere in the middle is a sweet spot: the perfect rate of taxation at which revenue is maximized, and where any tax increases past that point will actually result in a decrease in revenue.
The Laffer Curve has been consistently used as justification for the supply-side belief that tax cuts will pay for themselves through the increased economic activity that they will create. This belief is no longer simply a theory, but is now official federal policy: the 114th Congress changed the rules for how budget bills are evaluated from static scoring to what is called “dynamic scoring,” which will mask the actual cost of tax cuts by simply assuming that they will increase economic output.
(click here to continue reading The Laffer Curve has flatlined.)
As an aside, I’m amazed that for years, the PR slogan was that the Republican Party was the business party, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Since World War II, there’s been a strikingly consistent pattern in American politics: The economy does much better when a Democrat is in the White House.
More specifically, since 1947, the U.S. economy has grown at an average real rate of 4.35 percent under Democratic presidents and just 2.54 percent under Republicans
(click here to continue reading The U.S. economy does better under Democratic presidents — is it just luck? – The Washington Post.)
Really though, it seems as if the GOP is better for business executives instead of businesses. The executives make more, by outsourcing jobs, enjoying reduced tax rates and increased tax loopholes for things like private jets and so on. More take-home pay, in other words, and less investing in the business itself. For non-executives, the GOP is not your party, nor are you even invited, except during election season.
Reactionary conservatives like Governor Sam Brownback and Governor Scott Walker have put the Laffer Curve to work, slicing government revenue, with predictably dire results:
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback brought on Arthur Laffer as an advisor to steer his radical experiment of cutting taxes to the bone under the assumption that the cuts would simply pay for themselves through economic expansion. The results, however, have been absolutely horrific: job growth on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metropolitan area is occurring at four times the rate on the Kansas side. Education is being vastly underfunded. And perhaps most tellingly, the state collected far less money in taxes than it expected in December, even after downgrading expectations. In other words, Laffer was wrong in every single way possible.
In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republican Gov. Scott Walker has followed a path nearly has extreme as that of Brownback, but is being forced to scale his ambitions back because the theory just isn’t working:
Earlier this year, just before enacting the half-billion-dollar tax cut, Walker said it was just the beginning — that he wanted to eliminate income taxes. Now, a representative of Walker, asked about the elimination plan said the governor “has only said that he would explore other areas of tax reform.” The state has a projected $2.2 billion deficit for the next biennium, 2015 to 2017. There’s also a transportation funding problem.
Now, not even his top allies in the House think new cuts aren’t possible.
The situation is so bad in Wisconsin that to try to balance the budget in anticipation of a possible 2016 presidential campaign, Walker is rumored to be considering selling off public assets as a stopgap measure just to make the numbers look good. The contrast with states like California, which raised taxes to help balance its budget and cover a shortfall in education, couldn’t be clearer: California’s revenue is surging, while tax-cutting states are figuring out how to mitigate the damage.
(click here to continue reading The Laffer Curve has flatlined.)
Will this example stop the next GOP executive branch from claiming that cutting tax rates will help grow economies? Probably not. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner tries his best to lower tax rates on his own wealth during the next four years. If Rauner was such a good business man, perhaps he’d let facts and history convince him that perhaps the marginal tax rates are too low…
To maximize real economic growth in the United States, the top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%, give or take about ten percent. Preposterous, right? Well, it turns out that’s what the data tells us, or would, if we had the ears to listen.
This post will be a bit more complicated than my usual “let’s graph some data” approach, but not by much, and I think the added complexity will be worth it. So here’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to use a statistical tool called “regression analysis” to find the relationship between the growth in real GDP and the top marginal tax rate. If you’re familiar with regressions you can skip ahead a few paragraphs.
Regression analysis (or “running regressions”) is a fairly straightforward and simple technique that is used on a daily basis by economists who work with data, not to mention people in many other professions from financiers to biologists. Because it is so simple and straightforward, a popular form of regression analysis (“ordinary least squares” or “OLS”) regression is even built into popular spreadsheets like Excel.
(Click here to continue reading http://angrybearblog.com/2010/12/top-marginal-income-tax-rate-should-be.html The top marginal income tax rate should be about 65%…)
If you ever doubted that America has two sets of laws; one for the elite, and one for rest us, look no further than the case of career Republican operative and Pentagon courtier, General David Patraeus.
Petraeus, a retired four-star general who served as commander of American forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has said he never provided classified information to Ms. Broadwell, and has indicated to the Justice Department that he has no interest in a plea deal that would spare him an embarrassing trial. A lawyer for Mr. Petraeus, Robert B. Barnett, said Friday he had no comment.
The officials who said that charges had been recommended were briefed on the investigation but asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.
Mr. Holder was expected to decide by the end of last year whether to bring charges against Mr. Petraeus, but he has not indicated how he plans to proceed. The delay has frustrated some Justice Department and F.B.I. officials and investigators who have questioned whether Mr. Petraeus has received special treatment at a time Mr. Holder has led a crackdown on government officials who reveal secrets to journalists.
(click here to continue reading F.B.I. and Justice Dept. Said to Seek Charges for Petraeus – NYTimes.com.)
Let us be clear: David Petraeus broke laws that he swore to upheld, despite these being fairly mundane leaks, mostly serving to burnish his own mythology. I doubt his biographer damaged national security by allowing Petraeus into her bed, and allowing his biographer access to his classified files, but the bottom line is other, lesser officials have suffered for breaking these same laws, and Petraeus has escaped consequence. If Petraeus was a low-level leaker, or someone like Edward Snowden, he’d be in Gitmo by now. Instead, he’s escaped any consequences. Why is that fair?
I understand that Washington classifies every single document possible, and this is a problem too, but that’s not relevant. Petraeus is avoiding answering for his transgressions solely because he is well known to the public.
And as Trevor Timm write:
It doesn’t matter what Petraeus’s motive for leaking was either. While most felonies require mens rea (an intentional state of mind) for a crime to have occurred, under the Espionage Act this is not required. It doesn’t matter that Petraeus is not an actual spy. It also doesn’t matter if Petraeus leaked the information by accident, or whether he leaked it to better inform the public, or even whether he leaked it to stop a terrorist attack. It’s still technically a crime, and his motive for leaking cannot be brought up at trial as a defense.
This may seem grossly unfair (and it is!), but remember, as prosecutors themselves apparently have been arguing in private about Petraeus’s case: “lower-ranking officials had been prosecuted for far less.” Under the Obama administration, more sources of reporters have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act than all other administrations combined, and many have been sentenced to jail for leaks that should have never risen to the level of a criminal indictment.
Ultimately, no one should be charged with espionage when they didn’t commit espionage, but if prosecutors are going to use the heinous Espionage Act to charge leakers, they should at least do it fairly and across the board—no matter one’s rank in the military or position in the government. So in one sense, this development is a welcome one.
For years, the Espionage Act prosecutions have only been for low-level officials, while the heads of federal agencies leak with impunity. For example, current CIA director John Brennan, former CIA director Leon Panetta, and former CIA general counsel John Rizzo are just three of many high-ranking government officials who have gotten off with little to no punishment despite the fact we know they’ve leaked information to the media that the government considers classified.
Can someone please start a Kickstarter campaign to snatch up Dick Cheney and fly him to The Hague for a War Crimes trial? I know a lot of people that would donate money for that…
In a disturbing interview on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, former vice president Dick Cheney basically taunted ambitious lawyers at the Hague to come after him.
The host of the show, Chuck Todd, read horrific details from the Senate report on “enhanced interrogation” and asked Mr. Cheney if he thought they amounted to torture. Rectal feeding? Keeping a man in a coffin-sized box? Handcuffing another man’s wrists to an overhead bar for 22 hours per day, for two consecutive days?
Mr. Cheney was bullishly nonsensical — refusing to acknowledge a difference between mass murder and torture. Worse, he was unrepentant.
Did any of the details from the report “plant any seed of doubt?” asked Mr. Todd. “Absolutely not,” Mr. Cheney answered.
What about the fact that “25 percent of the detainees” turned out to be innocent?
“I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective” answered Mr. Cheney
(click here to continue reading Dick Cheney Makes a Great Case for Prosecuting Torturers – NYTimes.com.)
I find it really hard to make jokes about how evil Dick Cheney is, but without jokes, he’s a sociopathic monster, and sadly a monster that the rest of the world assumes speaks for America.1 No remorse for torturing innocent people, sometimes to death, no remorse at all. Torture doesn’t provide actionable intelligence in the first place, but torturing people just the heck of it?
As Digby writes:
This went all the way back to the 70s when Cheney was working in the Nixon and Ford White Houses and thought that the USA was becoming soft and the presidency was losing its juice. He was ready to fix that when he got the chance and he has no regrets. He does not care one bit that he’s considered by millions of people to be a war criminal and a sadist. He got what he wanted.
There are Godwinesque restrictions on certain things we can say about Dick Cheney in public. But I don’t think it’s too much to point out that having him on television saying what he said yesterday is the very definition of the banality of evil. Yesterday morning Dick Cheney, torturer, unrepentant war criminal was presented as just another government bureaucrat doing his job. He will be welcomed into the homes of the political elite like any other former VP, as will the man he went to great lengths to say approved it all: George W. Bush. In fact, Jeb Bush is widely hailed as the best man to carry on the “Bush tradition” and cognoscenti of all political stripes are cheering on his candidacy.
Think about that: the political establishment believes that the brother of the president who ordered torture and invaded a country on false pretenses — and who has never shown the slightest daylight between his brother’s policies and decision and his own beliefs — is an excellent candidate for the presidency. It’s not even a question as far as I can tell.
(click here to continue reading Hullabaloo – How Cheney planned his move for decades.)
and an excerpt from a powerful post by Hunter of Daily Kos:
Let us suppose that every one of the assertions is true. Let us suppose that torture, by which we mean the simulated drownings, the broken bones, the medical injuries, the psychological torture, the death in a bitterly cold room—”worked.” It generated irreplaceable results. Valuable results. It was manifestly successful.
Then why are we not continuing it?
Why are we reserving it for suspected Muslim terrorists or collaborators or hangers-on or those named by another tortured suspect, and not, say, against arms smugglers? Against suspected drug importers? Against Swiss bankers who are suspected of laundering money gained in organized crime?
No, forget that—let us presume it to be not a weapon for fighting crime, but a weapon meant only for war. Does that mean that America shall henceforth be torturing wartime prisoners, if we feel they have information we require?
Set aside the relevant laws and treaties—does only America get to torture prisoners? Are we declaring that wartime torture of prisoners work, and therefore should be used, as international policy statement or as statement that America alone ought to benefit from the manifestly successful tool of torture? We are comfortable, then, with the notion that our own soldiers will be similarly interrogated by opposing forces or groups, and due to our understanding of the military significance of the irreplaceable results to be gleaned, we will acquiesce to the treatment, and will not seek to prosecute those that torture our own citizens?
Or are we, indeed, the declared exception to this rule? We may torture to the point of broken bones, blood clots, mental incapacitation or—oops—the occasional death, but only us, due to our manifest and unique need to do so?
That is where I am stumped, and where, over a decade of debate, we continue to make no progress whatsoever in the conversation. Sen. John McCain can ask the question or I can ask the question; it makes no difference. Whether it be the past vice president or any of the various pundits of the punditry litter, the declaration that our torture of prisoners has been manifestly successful is always where the debate abruptly trails off, like the author has suddenly remembered they have somewhere else to be. There is never an answer on why we have used international law to put torturers to death for past interrogations considered similarly manifestly successful by their nations’ advocates, and no opinion given on whether we shall be withdrawing from those treaties in the future or merely ignoring them if we feel it would be manifestly successful to do so. There is no citation as to what ought to be done against those that treat our soldiers similarly in the future. We are simply told that we will torture, perhaps under euphemism if the wordsmiths object to the older word, because it generates “results.” Full stop. The rest is just left hanging in the wind like a noose from a tree.
(click here to continue reading Of all the torture defenses, ‘because it works’ is the most troubling.)Footnotes:
- He doesn’t, for the record [↩]
Oh, Kansas, you so crazy – you elected this clown twice!
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is calling all hands on deck to fix his state’s huge self-imposed budget crisis, which nearly cost him re-election this year, and the staunch conservative is now receiving an assist from an unlikely source: Obamacare.
The state’s well-documented budget troubles came after Brownback’s dramatic reductions in taxes since taking office in 2011. With its revenue drying up and cash reserves depleted, Kansas is staring at a $280 million hole in its $6.4 billion FY 2015 budget, which ends in June.
Brownback offered his proposal for closing that hole last week, a mixture of spending cuts and transferring funds from other parts of the budget to fill it. And second biggest of those transfers is $55 million in revenue from a Medicaid drug rebate program that was bolstered under the Affordable Care Act.
The short version then is this: Obamacare is helping Kansas address its fiscal crisis — even if Brownback’s administration seems loath to admit it.
(click here to continue reading How Brownback Is Relying On O-Care To Close Kansas’ Huge Budget Hole.)
No worries, Kansas will turn into Somalia soon enough, Governor Brownback has 4 more years of wrecking the state’s economy to prove Republican talking points about economics are faith-based. As long as you don’t live in Kansas, or near Kansas, or have any dealings with Kansas, or live in the same country as Kansas, you should be ok…
Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation — in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted — in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom — “Look out, Texas,” he proclaimed.
But Kansas isn’t booming — in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state’s budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody’s downgrade of its debt.
There’s an important lesson here — but it’s not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don’t have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people.
Why, after all, should anyone believe at this late date in supply-side economics, which claims that tax cuts boost the economy so much that they largely if not entirely pay for themselves? The doctrine crashed and burned two decades ago, when just about everyone on the right — after claiming, speciously, that the economy’s performance under Ronald Reagan validated their doctrine — went on to predict that Bill Clinton’s tax hike on the wealthy would cause a recession if not an outright depression. What actually happened was a spectacular economic expansion.
(click here to continue reading Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas – NYTimes.com.)
and as long as the morons in Washington don’t follow Brownback’s lead:
Remember, as far as Brownback is concerned, he has a popular mandate from the Kansas electorate. He ruined the state’s finances, won a second term, and sees no need to change course. So, predictably, he’s keeping the tax breaks that didn’t work and slashing public investments even deeper, since this is entirely consistent with the agenda endorsed by voters.
Shortly after the election, Brownback’s budget director said the administration “has no intention of revisiting the state’s tax policy.” Of course not. Why would failure need to be revisited?
Postscript: Two years ago, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of Brownback’s radical economic experiment, “This is exactly the sort of thing we want to do here, in Washington.” Something to keep in mind.
(click here to continue reading Brownback scrambles to clean up his mess | MSNBC.)
Here are real world consequences of removing all vestiges of restraint of corporate purchase of elected officials, only partially hidden corruption. We are getting the best politicians money can buy, in other words, with the obvious point being it isn’t our money, but corporate dollars that have all the buying power.
The letter to the Environmental Protection Agency from Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma carried a blunt accusation: Federal regulators were grossly overestimating the amount of air pollution caused by energy companies drilling new natural gas wells in his state.
But Mr. Pruitt left out one critical point. The three-page letter was written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of Oklahoma’s biggest oil and gas companies, and was delivered to him by Devon’s chief of lobbying.
The email exchange from October 2011, obtained through an open-records request, offers a hint of the unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers to push back against the Obama regulatory agenda, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Attorneys general in at least a dozen states are working with energy companies and other corporate interests, which in turn are providing them with record amounts of money for their political campaigns, including at least $16 million this year.
(click here to continue reading Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General – NYTimes.com.)
Cheap for corporations, $16,000,000 isn’t very much when gutting environmental law is the end result. Remember your high school history books and how indignant the outrage was when discussing the Teapot Dome Scandal? Well, this is a gazillion or two times worse…
Here’s a brief refresher of the Teapot Dome Scandal via Wikipedia:
In the early 20th century, the U.S. Navy largely converted from coal to oil fuel. To ensure the Navy would always have enough fuel available, several oil-producing areas were designated as Naval Oil Reserves by President Taft. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that transferred control of Teapot Dome Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in Kern County, California from the Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. This was not implemented until 1922, when Interior Secretary Fall persuaded Navy Secretary Edwin C. Denby to transfer control.
Later in 1922, Albert Fall leased the oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil, a subsidiary of Sinclair Oil Corporation. He also leased the Elk Hills reserve to Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. Both leases were issued without competitive bidding. This manner of leasing was legal under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920.
The lease terms were very favorable to the oil companies, which secretly made Fall a rich man. Fall had received a no-interest loan from Doheny of $100,000 (about $1.32 million today) in November 1921. He received other gifts from Doheny and Sinclair totaling about $404,000 (about $5.34 million today). It was this money changing hands that was illegal, not the leases. Fall attempted to keep his actions secret, but the sudden improvement in his standard of living prompted speculation.
(click here to continue reading Teapot Dome scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)
Sound familiar? Except in this case, the public isn’t outraged, or even well informed that elected officials are getting paid off in such a brazen manner.
Out of public view, corporate representatives and attorneys general are coordinating legal strategy and other efforts to fight federal regulations, according to a review of thousands of emails and court documents and dozens of interviews.
“When you use a public office, pretty shamelessly, to vouch for a private party with substantial financial interest without the disclosure of the true authorship, that is a dangerous practice,” said David B. Frohnmayer, a Republican who served a decade as attorney general in Oregon. “The puppeteer behind the stage is pulling strings, and you can’t see. I don’t like that. And when it is exposed, it makes you feel used.”
For Mr. Pruitt, the benefits have been clear. Lobbyists and company officials have been notably solicitous, helping him raise his profile as president for two years of the Republican Attorneys General Association, a post he used to help start what he and allies called the Rule of Law campaign, which was intended to push back against Washington.
(click here to continue reading Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General – NYTimes.com.)
Rudy Giuliani is in the class of professional Trolls On Television that I try to ignore, along with his fellow grifters like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, et al. The odds of any of these losers ever winning a plurality of delegates in a presidential election is extremely slim, in fact, the odds of any of them winning a majority of voters in any state is implausible, and yet they have made careers for themselves appearing on television news programs, spewing bile regarding the political topic du jour.
All that said, Rudy “Nine-Eleven” Giuliani’s latest garbage is disgusting:
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been on a tear since Sunday, turning himself into a B storyline as he offers what you might call unvarnished takes on race and crime in America amid the tension in Ferguson, Mo. It started with a “Meet The Press” panel, when he told a black panelist that white police officers wouldn’t be in black communities if “you weren’t killing each other.”
And he hasn’t let up while a grand jury has decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s shooting and heated protests have followed.
Giuliani isn’t a stranger to racially charged rhetoric, dating back to his time as mayor, but these recent comments were striking even to one of Giuliani’s biographers who was quite familiar with the former mayor’s past rhetoric on these issues.
“Some of this stuff has struck me as a little over-the-top even for him,” Andrew Kirtzman, a former journalist and now a vice president at Global Strategy Group, who wrote a 2001 book about Giuliani, said in a phone interview. “But this is the man who when asked what he had done for the black community in New York, back in the 90s, he said, ‘Well, they’re still alive to begin with.'”
“I used to look at our crime reduction, and the reason we reduced homicide by 65 percent is because we reduced it in the black community,” [Giuliani] said. “Because there is virtually no homicide in the white community.”
(click here to continue reading Rudy Giuliani Uses Ferguson To Take His Race Baiting To Whole New Level.)
Uh, yeah, virtually no homicide in the white community. I went to the FBI’s website, and at random, picked the year 2000 to look at homicide statistics, a year when Giuliani was still Mayor of NYC. I’m not asserting that 2000 was or was not a typical year, but, what a surprise, plenty of incidents of white on white crime.
So when Giuliani bloviates:
“When the president was talking last night about training the police, of course, the police should be trained,” he said. “He also should have spent 15 minutes on training the [black] community to stop killing each other. In numbers that are incredible — incredible — 93 percent of blacks are shot by other blacks. They are killing each other. And the racial arsonists, who enjoyed last night, this was their day of glory.”
he’s just talking out of his ass. 85% of the reported homicides of whites were committed by other whites, btw. Does that mean the president should lecture the white community to stop killing each other too?
Funny to think just a few decades ago, Republicans were, for the most part, interested in breathing non-polluted air, fishing in non-polluted streams, and so on. Contrast that to the current Republicans who would like nothing better than to kill the planet tomorrow in order to wring profits from Earth today…
Of course, polluters will defend their right to pollute, but why can they count on Republican support? When and why did the Republican Party become the party of pollution?
For it wasn’t always thus. The Clean Air Act of 1970, the legal basis for the Obama administration’s environmental actions, passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 73 to 0, and was signed into law by Richard Nixon. (I’ve heard veterans of the E.P.A. describe the Nixon years as a golden age.) A major amendment of the law, which among other things made possible the cap-and-trade system that limits acid rain, was signed in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.
But that was then. Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. Pollution has become a deeply divisive partisan issue.
And the reason pollution has become partisan is that Republicans have moved right. A generation ago, it turns out, environment wasn’t a partisan issue: according to Pew Research, in 1992 an overwhelming majority in both parties favored stricter laws and regulation. Since then, Democratic views haven’t changed, but Republican support for environmental protection has collapsed.
(click here to continue reading Pollution and Politics – NYTimes.com.)
The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a long-delayed environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.
The sweeping regulation, which are aimed at smog caused by power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, is the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama’s administration.
Environmentalists and public health advocates have praised the E.P.A. rules as a powerful environmental legacy. Republicans, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry have sharply criticized them as an example of costly government overreach. The National Association of Manufacturers has called the proposal “the most expensive regulation ever.”
(click here to continue reading E.P.A. Ozone Rules Divide Industry and Environmentalists – NYTimes.com.)
Paul Krugman thinks the shift to become the Party of Pollution has occurred mostly because the GOP is the proud party of the 1%.
And environmental protection is, in part, a class issue, even if we don’t usually think of it that way. Everyone breathes the same air, so the benefits of pollution control are more or less evenly spread across the population. But ownership of, say, stock in coal companies is concentrated in a few, wealthy hands. Even if the costs of pollution control are passed on in the form of higher prices, the rich are different from you and me. They spend a lot more money, and, therefore, bear a higher share of the costs.
In the case of the new ozone plan, the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s priorities. On ozone, as with almost everything these days, it’s all about inequality.
This was a parenthetical statement in a troll-baiting OpEd from Peter Schuck
Impeachment proceedings against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton involved criminal conduct more egregious than Mr. Obama’s policy unilateralism.
(click here to continue reading The Impeachment of Obama on Immigration May Be Legal — But It’s Wrong – NYTimes.com.)
Really? Really? I was never a supporter of Mr. DLC Triangulation, a/k/a Bill Clinton, even going so far as voting for the Green Party candidate1 in 1996, but the whole impeachment travesty over testifying about receiving oral sex from Monica Lewinsky was not equal to Richard Nixon’s criminal conduct. Was there some other criminal conduct besides that perjury? Or just a man trying to keep his blowjobs out of the news media?
As to the more immediate question, will Congress actually impeach Obama? Can they? and should they? Is Obama guilty of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors? What exactly does misdemeanor mean in this context? I guess we’ll see soon enough, as the Republican Party is gearing up to lead the US down the banana republic road…
House Republicans filed a long-threatened lawsuit Friday against the Obama administration over unilateral actions on the health care law that they say are abuses of the president’s executive authority.
The lawsuit — filed against the secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Treasury — focuses on two crucial aspects of the way the administration has put the Affordable Care Act into effect.
The suit accuses the Obama administration of unlawfully postponing a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties. (Larger companies are defined as those with 50 or more employees.)
House Republicans struggled to find a law firm willing to take their case. Two withdrew, but on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner hired Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University.
(click here to continue reading House G.O.P. Files Lawsuit in Battling Health Law – NYTimes.com.)Footnotes:
- Ralph Nader [↩]
Fragile Planet, Handle With Care.
How simply ridiculous. Was this an ALEC bill? A Koch Industry bill? Which industrial baron insisted upon this travesty?
the House on Tuesday quietly passed a bill that environmentalists say would hamper the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to use the best scientific information when crafting regulations to protect public health and the environment.
The House voted 229-191 to pass H.R. 1422, which would change the rules for appointing members to the Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group that gives scientific advice to the EPA Administrator.
Also called the Science Advisory Board Reform Act, the bill would make it easier for scientists with financial ties to corporations to serve on the SAB, prohibit independent scientists from talking about their own research on the board, and make it more difficult for scientists who have applied for grants from the EPA to join the board. The purpose of the bill, according to Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), is to increase transparency and accountability to the EPA’s scientific advisors. Burgess said on the floor Tuesday that the board “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.” With this bill, Burgess said the inclusion of industry interests would erase “any appearance of impropriety on the board.”
But scientists, environmental groups, and health experts have said that the bill compromises the scientific independence of the SAB, and makes it harder for the Board to do its job, thereby increasing the amount of time it takes to implement EPA regulations.
“The supposed intent [of the bill] is to improve the process of selecting advisors, but in reality, the bill would allow the board to be stacked with industry representatives, while making it more difficult for academics to serve,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) on the House floor on Tuesday. “It benefits no one but the industry, and it harms public health.”
(click here to continue reading House Passes Bill That Makes It Harder For Scientists To Advise The EPA | ThinkProgress.)
not to mention there is also HR 4012, the so-called “Secret Science” Reform Act, which is another effort to destroy the EPA, or at least delay it from doing its job:
Under HR 4012, some of the best real-world public health research, which relies on patient data like hospital admissions, would be excluded from consideration because personal data could not, and should not, be made public. Demanding public release of full raw data the agency cannot legally disclose is simply a way to accuse the agency of hiding something when it has nothing to hide. What matters is not raw data but the studies based on these data, which have gone through the scientific process, including rigorous peer review, safeguards to protect the privacy of study participants, and careful review to make sure there’s no manipulation for political or financial gain.
As many politicians have taken pains to point out, they are not scientists, so they should listen to scientific advice instead of making spurious demands for unanalyzed data.
HR 1422, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, sponsored by vocal EPA adversary Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, would similarly erect pointless roadblocks for the agency. The Science Advisory Board, composed of some of our nation’s best independent scientists, exists not to advocate any particular policy, but to evaluate whether the best science was used in agency decisions. This bill would make it easier for experts with ties to corporations affected by new rules to serve on the SAB while excluding independent scientists from talking about their own research.
In other words, academic scientists who know the most about a subject can’t weigh in, but experts paid by corporations who want to block regulations can.
(click here to continue reading Congress Must Block These Attacks on Independent Science | Commentary : Roll Call Opinion.)
Rep.Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) writes:
Over the past few years, the Republican party has engaged in an unrelenting partisan attack on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They have harassed the administrator, attempted to delay every new regulation, questioned the integrity of academic and EPA scientists, and sided with industrial polluters over the American people. Later this week, the Republican Majority in the House will continue this assault by considering H.R. 4012 and H.R. 1422.
H.R. 4012, the Secret Science Act of 2014, is an insidious attack on the EPA’s ability to use the best science to protect the health of Americans and the environment. Republicans will claim that H.R. 4012 increases EPA’s transparency, but in reality it is an attempt to prevent EPA from using the best science to protect public health and the environment. This bill would prohibit EPA from relying on scientific studies that involve personal health information or other data that is legally protected from public disclosure.
Any effort to limit the scope of science that can be considered by EPA does not strengthen scientific integrity, but instead undermines it. It would also increase the likelihood of litigation because EPA’s actions would be based on inadequate and incomplete science, leaving any regulation open to legal challenges which would delay the implementation of important public health protections. The true intent of H.R. 4012 is to delay EPA action because that is what industrial polluters want. H.R. 4012 is not only bad for public health, but it is also bad for the taxpayer. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the bill as reported would cost American taxpayers as much as $1 billion dollars over four years.
(click here to continue reading Another attack on the EPA and public health | TheHill.)
So happy that 18% of the electorate is able to set pollution policy for the entire nation. I mean, who would want clean air or water? Or lakes and streams one could actually fish in? No, much better to destroy our planet and wait for The Rapture…1Footnotes:
- I’m being sarcastic, in case this is not obvious. You cannot see my smirk after all [↩]
So the Senate Republicans blocked legislation ((S.2685: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2014)) that could theoretically protect us from government overreach. What a surprise!
Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked a sweeping overhaul of the once-secret National Security Agency program that collects records of Americans’ phone calls in bulk.
But Tuesday’s vote only put off a debate over security and personal liberties until next year. While a Republican-controlled Senate is less likely to go along with the kinds of reforms that were in the bill, which sponsors had named the U.S.A. Freedom Act, the debate could further expose rifts between the party’s interventionist and more libertarian-leaning wings.
Under the bill, which grew out of the disclosures in June 2013 by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, the N.S.A. would have gotten out of the business of collecting Americans’ phone records. Instead, most of the records would have stayed in the hands of the phone companies, which would not have been required to hold them any longer than they already do for normal business purposes, which in some cases is 18 months.
The N.S.A., Mr. Snowden revealed, was systematically collecting such telephone metadata …from major American phone companies. The program began after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, based on an assertion of unilateral executive power by President George W. Bush. In 2006, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had secretly brought the program under its authority and started issuing orders under the Patriot Act to the companies for their records.
The proposed legislation would still have allowed analysts to perform so-called contact chaining in which they trace a suspect’s network of acquaintances, but they would been required to use a new kind of court order to swiftly obtain only those records that were linked, up to two layers away, to a suspect — even when held by different phone companies.
(click here to continue reading Bill to Restrict N.S.A. Data Collection Blocked in Vote by Senate Republicans – NYTimes.com.)
For all their chants about eliminating Big Gov’ment, Senator Mitch McConnell and his team secretly love expansion of federal reach. For the GOP: expanding government surveillance is good, controlling women’s uteruses is better, expanding defense contractors weaponry program is best. The only kind of government programs the GOP doesn’t like are things like SNAP, EPA, and so on. You know, the stuff that might actually help someone.
Also of note: Senator Rand Paul, Mr. Libertarian himself, voted no on this bill. Wonder how his acolytes will spin it? Especially since Senators Ted “Calgary” Cruz, Dean Heller, Mike Lee and Lisa Murkowski all voted yes…
From Bloomberg Businessweek, the tech industry was pushing for this bill:
The bill was an attempt to force spy agencies to collect only information sought through a court order and exclude the use of broad searches like by ZIP codes. A coalition of Internet and technology companies, which include Google Inc. and Twitter Inc., supported the Senate bill while saying the Republican-backed House version passed in May would still allow bulk collection of Internet user data.
U.S. Internet and technology companies say they’ve already lost contracts with foreign governments over the issue. Forrester Research Inc. estimates the backlash against NSA spying could cost as much as $180 billion in lost business. Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. are among the companies pushing for limits.
Americans learned of the spying in June 2013 when Snowden, a former NSA contractor revealed a program under which the U.S. uses court orders to compel companies to turn over data about their users. Documents divulged by Snowden also uncovered NSA hacking of fiber-optic cables abroad and installation of surveillance tools into routers, servers and other network equipment.
(click here to continue reading Senate Blocks Vote on Curbing NSA’s Bulk Data Collection Program – Businessweek.)