Nel's New Day

July 28, 2019

DDT: Week 131 – Disastrous Domestic Events

A second day of false and racist tweets from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) about what he calls the “Cumming [sic] district” came from a slanted video by a guest on Fox & Friends who sought out the most struggling, severely impoverished Baltimore neighborhoods. The heavily gerrymandered district has urban, suburban and rural areas ranging from well-off to poor, but the video focused on only one aspect. DDT’s racist rants followed Cummings’ criticism of southern border detention centers, subpoenas for emails and texts of White House aides including Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, and Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony where Cummings asked people to pay attention to activities of DDT and his associates.

Kushner owns thousands of rental units in Baltimore County providing substandard housing to lower-income tenants and cited for hundreds of code violations. His company made repairs only after threats of fines for mice infestations, mold problems, and maggots. DDT wants Cummings to thank him for low unemployment figures for blacks, but most of the drop in unemployment rates for blacks came during President Obama’s terms (16.8 percent to 7.8 percent) and from Democratic policies.

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended DDT’s racist comments, saying he would have been fired as representative if his district had Cummings’ problems. Compared to Cummings’ district, Mulvaney’s former district, South Carolina’s 5th district, has a lower median household income and a similar poverty rate, 14.9 percent versus 16.6 percent. The Baltimore Sun’s editorial ran with the headline, “Better to have a few rats than to be one.”

Afraid that Congress will see his tax returns, DDT is suing the House Ways and Means Committee, the New York state attorney general, and a New York state tax official to hide state tax returns—although the House has not tried to get the returns. His lawsuit follows a complaint from the House committee to get DDT’s federal tax returns.

A judge also ruled that   a lawsuit against DDT’s alleged deceptive and unfair business practices may proceed. Roberta Kaplan, who successfully argued the Supreme Court marriage equality decision in U.S. v. Windsor, represents the plaintiffs who claim that DDT and three of his children scammed them.

A federal jury convicted Michael Flynn’s former business partner Bijan Rafiekian because of the work that the two men did for Turkish interests during the last months of DDT’s presidential campaign in 2016—acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to the DOJ. Flynn was DDT’s national security adviser for 24 days; his sentencing is pending.

Four automakers—Ford, Honda, VW, and BMW—from three continents have a deal with California to sell the state more fuel-efficient cars after DDT rolled back tougher standards.

Election systems in all 50 states were Russian targets, according to the heavily-redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report. Subsequent volumes will report on Russia’s use of social media for influencing the vote. The committee recommended a paper trail for voter machines and backups for registration systems, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has refused to take any action. A new hashtag #Moscow Mitch came from Joe Scarborough who asked, “How can Moscow Mitch keep denying that Vladimir Putin continues to try to subvert American democracy?” Lobbyists for the two largest electronic voting machine vendors that provide 80 percent of the voting machines in the U.S. donated to McConnell’s campaigns. Fourteen states used electronic voting systems with no paper trail in 2018.

DDT thought he was home free after a judge ruled in favor of his new rule requiring asylum seekers to ask for protection in another country before crossing the southern border, but soon after that ruling, another judge blocked DDT’s rule. The second judge stated that the “new Rule is likely invalid because it is inconsistent with the existing asylum laws.”

In the UN, DDT blocked condemnation of Israel’s demolishing Palestinian homes on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Israel claimed that the 10 apartment buildings were a threat to Israeli armed forces, a barrier outlawed by the UN in 2004. Israelis performed the demolishment operation in the night and displaced Palestine refugees, some of them for a second time. https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/07/1042981

This is “who we are” as a country as DDT brings out the worst in people:

Three million more poor people may go hungry, thanks to Minnesota millionaire Rob Undersander who said he managed to get food stamps. Over 250,000 children won’t receive free school meals, no one with $2,000 in savings can receive food stamps, and people are discouraged from working longer, getting a job with better pay, and saving for education or emergencies. The change, claimed to save $2.5 billion, will require expenditures of extra paperwork, staff hours, and other costs.

DOJ’s AG Bill Barr plans to kill people by lifting the 16-year hiatus on federal capital punishment with five executions in December and January. Conviction for one of them has been described as “unreliable.” Twenty-one states abandoned capital punishment, and several others have frozen them.

Pedro Arriago-Santoya is the seventh person to die in ICE custody in the past nine months. At least 25 people have died in ICE custody since DDT was inaugurated, and another 12 have died in federal immigration custody that includes Border Patrol station and youth migrant detention centers.

ICE posted a job from a for-profit company for “lead physician” of a “facility” who will be “philosophically committed to the objectives of the facility” and “based on the company goals, objectives and philosophy.” That company, GEO, “permitted armed men to forcibly remove the fathers [from their children] from their rooms at the Karnes Detention Center by using bulletproof vests, shields, knee pads, boots, helmets, tear gas equipment and guns” and told them “that they would never see their sons again.” That “general practitioner” can make $400,000 a year without board certification.

Francisco Erwin Galicia, the 18-year-old U.S.-born citizen captured in Texas 75 miles from the Mexican border, was imprisoned in a detention center for 23 days. He lost 26 pounds and considered self-deporting just to escape horrific conditions. Locked up with 60 other men in an area so crowded that some of them slept in the toilet area, he was given only a few “HandiWipes” for cleaning—no showers, no clean clothes, no other hygiene. He had his papers, but, according to their own documents, border agents lied about his telling them that he was a U.S. citizen. Galicia was denied a telephone call to his mother for help and released only after Dallas Morning News reporting.

Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania sent 1,000 threatening letters to parents, telling them their children could go into foster care if the lunch debt of over $10 wasn’t paid. Rep. Omar Ilhan (D-MN) has co-introduced a bill to stop multiple incidences of lunch debt shaming. Oregon gives free lunches to students up to three times above the poverty level.

Carrizo Springs, the “model” detention center for unaccompanied migrant minors used to show how well migrant children are treated, is closing. Opened last month, the facility has a five-year, $8.8 million lease; BCFS Health and Human Services received a $308 million contract through January 2020 to house up to 1,344 children at a cost of $750 to $800 per child per day. Children will be sent from the non-profit facility to for-profit centers like the already-crowded one in Homestead (FL) where inmates have been abused. 

After McConnell was forced by public decency to allow a vote for the House bill passing by 402-2 that provides health care for 9/11 First Responders, it passed that chamber by 97-2. Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart was instrumental in the bill’s House passage and watched McConnell take the bill to the Senate floor. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the no votes, was furious because of no offset costs for the annual $1 billion expenditure. Paul supported the tax cuts for the wealthy and big business that cost taxpayers $1 trillion ever year.

Like deadbeat DDT, VP Mike Pence isn’t paying his bills, this one $24,000 for security at a fundraiser bringing him $700,000. The event was at the Caribou Club in Colorado owned by a gay couple.

The 40-percent tax cuts for big business failed; private-sector investments dropped for the first time in several years in opposition to GOP promises of increased business investment. Tax cuts aren’t paying for themselves, they aren’t boosting economic growth, and they don’t increase private-sector hiring. Businesses bought back their stocks and gave markets a false short term boost before they sheltered their benefits overseas.

The Equifax settlement promising $125 for each person whose personal data was stolen may be $.21 if all 147 million people apply, and the money won’t hide Social Security numbers. Yet people who do nothing automatically waive any right to take legal action against Equifax. People can check here to see if their data was stolen; the deadline is 1/22/2020. People who settle also waive any right to take legal action. Those who want to keep the option of taking legal action must mail a written “request for exclusion,” postmarked by Nov. 19, 2019, to the settlement administrator. Updates available here.

December 25, 2018

DDT’s Version of ‘Merry Christmas’

Day Four of Government Shutdown: Retroactive pay doesn’t mean anything for small businesses when people stop spending for the holidays out of fear that paychecks will not be coming for a long time. No more perks like manicures or more presents. After Christmas, forget sales for clothes and other things that people load up on at the sales. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) says he won’t stop the shutdown until he gets his money. Sounds like blackmail on Christmas Day.

DDT wants people to say “Merry Christmas,” but he debunked Santa Claus to a seven-year-old girl when she called to check on Santa’s progress on NORAD. When DDT answered the phone, he asked While answering telephone calls from children tracking Santa’s progress on NORAD, DDT asked Collman Lloyd of Lexington (SC) if she is “still a believer in Santa Claus.” After she said yes, DDT said, “Because at 7 that’s marginal, right?” Fortunately, Collman doesn’t know the meaning of “marginal,” and she still believes in Santa because the milk and cookies left for him overnight disappeared. DDT, who threw rocks at other toddlers in play pens before he was three years old, just shot down Santa Claus for a lot of people.

The day before DDT tried to burst Collman’s bubble, he moaned on his Twitter account:

 “I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.” [DDT’s version of “all alone.]

Earlier this year, DDT turned down $25 billion in border security, but he claims that “the wall is different” and that it “will be built with shutdown money plus funds already in hand.” He’s missed the fact that the shutdown costs money; it doesn’t increase funding. And that’s just part of the anger-filled, hateful tweets that he sent from the White House in the days before Christmas when he wanted to be cheered on with Mar-a-Lago members.

In several tweets, DDT scapegoated Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for his own mistakes that led to the massive drop in stock markets during December. After a disastrous week, the Dow Jones plunged another 653 points in a half-day session yesterday. Economists have been muttering about an upcoming recession for months, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, formerly king of foreclosures who didn’t let an elderly widow escape when she owed $.27, tried to block the fall. On Sunday, Mnuchin tweeted that the public has plenty of money to borrow because he talked with CEOs of six large banks. The CEOs were confused by his tweet, and the stock market had its worst Christmas Eve in history. The other major stock exchanges dropped in equally disastrous percentages, and crude oil fell over six percent to below $43 a barrel.

DDT added to the roiling market by threatening to fire Powell, his own appointment, and asking if he has the right to carry through with his threats. Mnuchin told DDT Saturday night that Mnuchin didn’t have the right to fire Powell although the law permits the president to fire a Fed board member “for cause.” Mick Mulvaney, Budget Director/acting chief of staff, said Saturday that DDT wasn’t going to fire Powell, whose term as chair ends in 2022 and board member in 2028. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said that DDT’s war on the Fed has caused some of the problems:

“Investors are increasingly spooked by the president’s wrong-headed attacks on the Fed and the Treasury Secretary’s ham-handed efforts to convince everyone Trump doesn’t mean it and that everything is fine.”

Although DDT claimed today that he was happy with Mnuchin, insiders are saying that he is upset with him. Mnuchin may follow former Defense Secretary James Mattis out of the Cabinet.

Christmas 2018 is the date that DDT cut off aid for abused women. Funding for the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) stopped when DDT’s shutdown began. Women lose their resources to be safe just before the holidays, a particularly dangerous time for them.

DDT has cut off paychecks for about 800,000 federal workers as well as planning to cut food stamps from another 800,000 people. Upset because the farm bill did not have provisions to starve people, DDT has announced his own orders last week to circumvent a law passed by Congress. DDT follows the conservative argument that people who get benefits aren’t working because they are lazy. DDT’s proposed rule removes the 20-year-old states’ rights to issues waivers if unemployment is 20 percent over the national average or there are significantly fewer jobs available than people who need work. DDT’s order to remove waivers in areas of unemployment under 7 percent will be made worse with bureaucracy such as Arkansas’s Medicaid overhaul where no waivers can be issued even in places with proof of insufficient jobs. Less than ten percent of food stamp recipients qualify as “able-bodied adults without dependents,” and over half of them work or volunteer enough time for the 20-hour work rules.

The Fox network final salvo in its “war against Christmas” blended with its war on gender identity and came from Tucker Carlson’s diatribe against gingerbread people with his guest Tammy Bruce. She claimed that gingerbread men are “obviously… they’re men.” She did indicate that she couldn’t tell the gender, “because they’re also not wearing clothes. So, it’s hard to say what they are and what they’re doing and not doing.” She probably refers to the fact that gingerbread cookies lack external genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics. Carlson called on people to not participate in the “spiritual neutering” of cookies. Part of the outrage came from false news reporting that the Scottish Parliament had banned the use of the term “men” when referring to gingerbread cookies. With 30 percent of women in the Scottish Parliament building stating they had been sexually harassed, the bakery renamed their cookies in solidarity.

A true war on Christmas this year is the war by DDT and the GOP against immigrants both documented and undocumented, especially those seeking asylum. A Guatemalan child died in DHS custody early this morning, the second one in less than three weeks. The cause hasn’t been announced, but children are put in extremely cold rooms when first in custody, supposedly to kill germs, and experience limited medical screening only for scabies, lice, and chickenpox. Children sleep side-by-side on mats on the floor with only a Mylar blanket. All their belongings are removed. The facilities were built in the 1980s and 1990s to temporarily house migrant adults. The 8-year-old boy’s death went unnoted in DDT’s furious tweets. Felipe González Morales, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, has called for an investigation of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin after her death in custody on December 7, 2018 although the death was kept secret from Congress for almost a week.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) told DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during her testimony to a House hearing that DDT’s immigration policies are unchristian and that they would have blocked Jesus Christ and his family from their flight to Egypt:

“During Christmas, a time in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ—a Jesus Christ who had to flee for his life with Mary and Joseph—thank God there wasn’t a wall that stopped him from seeking refuge in Egypt.”

DDT skipped a presidential tradition on Christmas by avoiding any direct contact with military members on Christmas Day, instead addressing some service members on safe bases. He told them that drugs are flowing across the southern border, the Federal Reserve is endangering the U.S. economy, and Democrats are planning to harass him with oversight hearings. He said, “It’s a disgrace …, but other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.” Merry Christmas to you too, DDT!

On this Christmas Day, 705 days since DDT’s inauguration, I am grateful for a safe home with food and warmth. I don’t live in a war-torn area, I’m not a refugee from violence, I no longer teach where someone could come in to kill me and my students, I have health insurance—I could keep going on and on with the privileges that many of us have, even more privileges after DDT has declared war on every minority. The best gift for my Christmas Day—for my year—is that the nation may have a chance to save a small piece of its democracy. After Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had two malignant nodules removed from her lung last week, she’s back at work in her room at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Doctors say that that there is “no evidence of remaining disease.”

April 15, 2018

GOP Wants People to Go Hungry

Filed under: Congressional legislation — trp2011 @ 10:42 PM
Tags: , , ,

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is finally taking the lead in legislation—the one that helps shred the safety net—and House Republicans are following. DDT’s executive order allowing work requirements for people on food stamps is being replicated as part of the 2018 Farm Bill that does it one better by mandating that most adults between 18 and 59 be required to work part-time or enroll in 20 hours a week of workforce training to receive food stamp assistance. While some House conservatives want to take food from struggling families, they want to give more welfare to struggling farmers, especially if DDT’s threats of tariffs hurts them.

The plan budgets $1 billion per year to fund the training program expansion; cutting the hoped-for 1 million people could save the nation $500 million. The only good thing about the proposed bill is that it doesn’t include DDT’s budget proposal of cutting food stamps and replacing them with a box of non-perishable goods.

The concept of helping people become self-sufficient through training and well-paid jobs is excellent. Consider, however, that the GOP refuses to raise the minimum wage from $7.25, which pays below the food-stamp income level for millions of full-time jobs. Also, quality training programs such as subsidized employment can cost up to $10,000 a year per person, costing $15 billion a year to fund a national employment and training program. The think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated costs for training at $1 billion per month, not per year. Ten state pilot programs are intended to identify best practices, and USDA has not evaluated them yet. Other concerns for the mandatory employment, as Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) voiced, are unreliable transportation, low housing security, and shifting child care and medical schedules.

The GOP goal is to throw people off food stamps and ignore them if they become homeless or starve to death. Anyone failing to meet the criteria would be blocked for a year for the first time and three years for violations after that. Currently, people ages 18 to 49 must work or enroll in a training program for 20 hours a week to get benefits for more than three months every three years. The number of hours would be increased to 25 hours by 2026. This requirement covers 3.5 million of the over 40 million people receiving this benefit, almost nine percent. The new guidelines in the bill extends the age to 59 and includes all parents with school age children.

The object is to increase people working, but 58 percent of households receiving SNAP with at least one disabled adult are employed. Eighty-two percent of SNAP recipients worked in the year before or after enrollment.

DDT’s Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility executive order ordered secretaries across the government to review the safety net from food stamps to Medicaid to housing programs in a search for new regulations, especially work requirements, and ways for states to have more “flexibility” for these programs. Flexibility, however, can be used to reduce states’ budget problems without helping people.

The executive order is meant to mimic what DDT sees as the success of the TANF “flexible” block grants, but he system created over 20 years ago to give lump sums to states has failed. In the early years of block grants, the labor market was strong, but the number of families helped immediately started to sag with an almost two-thirds loss by 2015 while the number of families with children in poverty increased from 5.1 million in 2000 to 6.5 million. The number of families with children in deep poverty increased by 50 percent. In 14 states, ten or fewer families receive cash assistance for every 100 families in poverty. The bottom half of this chart is comprised almost entirely of red states.

As fewer needy families receive assistance, the benefit levels drop to 20 percent less than in 1996. At the same time, housing cost have increased, and states spend little money to help people find and maintain work. Instead the block grants go to programs such as pre-K education or child welfare, freeing state funds for expenditure not related to safety nets. States have also lost 34 percent of the block grants’ value since its inception because their formulas have not changed, and the same formula has not been revised for population growth or economic conditions in each state.

DDT also claims that Kansas and Maine have shown success in food stamp work requirements because of “individuals who left welfare and … saw their income increase.” An audit of these two programs, however, shows that total resources of people cut off to SNAP participants dropped three percent within a year—and that was in a year when the economy was getting better.

The farm bill deadline is September, and, as usual in the current Congress, Democrats are kept out of the planning process. Republicans could pass a punitive bill for people on food stamps in the House, but a successful Senate vote requires Democratic support. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Agriculture Committee chair, has said that he will not consider major SNAP changes.

Three reports from the Bipartisan Policy Center include restrictions on buying sugary drinks, increased incentive for buying healthy food, and coordination between SNAP and federal health programs serving low-income households. They do not suggest a change in eligibility rules.

Internal USDA emails from March suggest that DDT may support mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipient. Wisconsin considered doing this although federal rules prohibit states from adding requirements on SNAP-eligible families. A federal appeals court struck down Florida’s SNAP drug-testing law in 2014, ruling that it was a form of unreasonable search, and Georgia’ law also lost in court. Twelve states have requested permission for drug testing with none granted.

Republicans won’t care if their low-income constituents go hungry, but they may be influenced by the cuts for big corporations if they reduce foot stamps. Supermarkets and superstores get 81 percent of SNAP benefits although they are only 14 percent of companies accepting them. The loss for these companies could be $57.5 billion in the next decade. Wal-Mart alone gets 18 percent of food stamp profits, and Target comes in second with a $4.8 billion to $5.3 billion loss. Kmart closed over 150 of its stores last year, and Food stamp benefit cuts would take away $1.9 billion to $2.2 billion from their tills.

Big banks will also lose money if they distribute less government benefits, but they are paid for distributing cards, balance inquiries, declined for insufficient funds, withdrawals, penalties, fees, etc. The 2014 law changes gave even more money to the banks because it required additional software for controlling foods purchased and fraud. The money all goes to three companies.

The money spent on food stamps almost doubles the dollars in economic activity. Last year, $70 billion fed 40 million people, half of the population that is food-insecure. People complain about fraud, but the total is down to less than one percent of the expenditures–$700 million compared to the $125 billion of waste in the U.S. Department of Defense. The U.S. also loses $40 to $70 billion a year to offshore tax evasion, but the government spent its money on conducting 4,396 undercover investigation of food stamp fraud in 2012 with a 40-percent success. The true “welfare queens” in the United States are corporations that refuse to pay people a living wage while giving hundreds of billions to owners and shareholders.

Republicans want to cut food stamps for two reasons. They believe that anyone not in their “tribe”—all those wealthy people who are their donors—don’t deserve any help. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) terminology of “makers” and “takers”—which he sort of apologized for—set the tone of denigrating all people who need government assistance. He may understand that people don’t want to be dependent on others, but the myth that people who use the safety net are users is prevalent in the conservative world. The use of “entitlement programs” for Social Security and Medicare is commonly among conservatives despite their being insurance programs that people pay into for their old age.

The second reason for cutting food stamps is the desperation that far-right Republicans feel as they run for re-election. Their gift of tax-cut money to the wealthy and large corporations has created a looming deficit, and their solution is to take the money away from the bottom 90 percent in the nation. Trying to cut food stamps is only their first step; a majority GOP Congress will be disastrous for almost everyone in the United States.

August 20, 2015

Pentagon Loses Taxpayer Money, Wants More

More money for defense and less money for taxpayers—that’s what Republicans want. Hillary Clinton’s emails a horrible and deliberate defense disaster—that’s what Republicans want to prove. The Pentagon missing $8.5 trillion? No mention and probably no problem. This expenditure is more than China’s economic output last year. The Defense Department’s budget was $567 billion, but no one knows how much of that money is spent as intended. The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has failed to comply with a two-decade-old law requiring audits of all government departments.

An extensive investigation by Scot Paltrow reveals the way that the U.S. military failed to submit to an audit, flouted federal law, and concealed the loss of billions of dollars through waste and fraud. Employees for the U.S. Department of Defense were told to put input fake data, called “plugs,” to reconcile military books with those of the U.S. Treasury. Now the records are filled with missing, unidentified, and wrong numbers. The same thing happened at the operational level.

The Pentagon consistently ignores warnings about its accounting practices from oversight agencies. It fails “to keep track of its money—how much it has, how much it pays out, and how much is wasted or stolen,” according to Paltrow. “Widespread pay errors inflict financial hardship on soldiers and sap morale, [but] pay errors are only a small part of the sums that annually disappear into the vast bureaucracy that manages more than half of all annual government outlays approved by Congress.” Accounting errors lead to loss of soldiers’ wages from unfounded accusations that soldiers have been overpaid. Without their salary, soldiers are forced to get food from charity pantries.

The Pentagon continues to spend money of supplies it doesn’t need and stores other items that it doesn’t need because it doesn’t keep track of weapons, ammunition, etc. It has a backlog of more than $500 billion in unaudited contracts with outside vendors, but it doesn’t know how much of that money has been paid for real goods and services. The Navy can’t account for ships, submarines, and other physical assets even after the $1 billion it spent to upgrade record-keeping.

Most of the Pentagon’s incompatible accounting and business-management systems—maybe 2,200 or 5,000, depending on who’s counting—were built in the 1970s and use obsolete computer languages on old mainframes. Even if someone could search for data, much of it is corrupted and just plain wrong. The tens of billions of dollars used to upgrade technology failed, adding to the waste. In the meantime, military knowingly signs off on entries that it knows to be false. Corporate managers certifying false financial reports suffer criminal penalties; the Pentagon’s officials have none.

Every year, the Pentagon buys more of what it already has in excess, defined as a three-year supply. In 2008, for example, it had 15,000 parts in stock for the “vehicular control arm” of the Humvees, equal to a 14-year supply. From 2010 through 2012, it bought another 7,437 of them at considerably higher prices as demand dropped by almost half. Nobody knows if these have been stored in the right bins, which makes inventory impossible. Nothing has been done to track employee theft. The Pentagon ordered the Defense Department to have a labeling system, a directive that the DOD ignored.

Obsolete supplies aren’t monitored although the Army is trying to detonate some C4 plastic explosives made in 1979. Nothing has been done with runway flares from the 1940s and warheads for Sparrow missiles not fielded since the 1990s. Rocket-launch systems retired in the 1980s take up space. “Keeping all those useless bullets, explosives, missiles, rifles, rocket launchers and other munitions costs tens of millions of dollars a year,” Paltrow reported.

Despite all these issues, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that a cut of $52 billion in 2014 was “too deep, too steep, and too abrupt.” His claim that “this is an irresponsible way to govern” sounds like the way that the Pentagon manages its finances. Hagel had no idea how much money the Pentagon had. In one office (Columbus, Ohio), duplicate entries across multiple ledgers led to mistakes for the Air Force in 2009, totally $1.59 trillion which included $538 billion for plugs—roughly eight times what the Air Force was allotted for that year.

Efforts to fix the problem have consistently failed. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England established the Business Transformation Agency in 2006 to upgrade business operations and prepare the department for auditing. By 2009, the department had spent over $10 billion a year, but it didn’t stop business as usual. Defense Secretary Gates shut down the project in 2011.

How much of the $3 trillion spent on contracts for goods and services during the past ten years has been wasted in overpayments or never spent is not known. Bills are easily padded because detailed invoices are not required. The tremendous backlog to audit fulfillment of contracts came to 24,722 contracts worth $573.3 billion by the end of 2011. The Army’s backlog was 450,000 contracts in 2012. The Navy and Air Force don’t know what their backlogs are. To take care of the problem, the value at which a contract is automatically audited rose from $15 million to $250 million.

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is campaigning on making the U.S. Department of Education a “whole lot smaller.” As president, she would make the department “justify every single dollar every single year.” Nobody says that about the military. Fiorina also said that she doesn’t know what the Department of Education does. She could easily find the department’s reports and charts about its goals, the sources of its expenditures, and comparisons to previous year. It’s right here.

The Department of Education provides grants, including Pell grant funding; makes sure that states spend federal money as they should; keeps schools from gender discrimination per Title IX; and collects national education data. Without federal oversight, states won’t spend the Title I money as intended to effect education equality. The Department also checks on the for-profit college industry, i.e., fining Corinthian Colleges because it misrepresented job placement data.

Fiorina decried “complicated accreditation” for these for-profit colleges that she found to be “expensive.” These colleges, however, have higher student loan debt and poor completion rates because their accreditation rules are already too loose. HuffPo reported that accrediting boards frequently have executives from for-profit colleges, perhaps the reason that none of the five major companies had the accreditation revoked in the past ten years and fraudulent job placement data was ignored.

The budget for the Department of Education for this year is $68.8 billion, and the agency knows where its money goes because it’s the law. The Department of Defense’s budget is $567 billion—about 12 percent of the budget for the Department of Education—and the DOD has no idea where it goes because it flouts the law. Below is what $8.5 trillion dollars looks like in $100 bills. That’s what the Pentagon has been allotted during the past 20 years with no accountability.

trillions of dollars

Food stamp fraud may account for about $500 million (less than one cent per each dollar of the $82 billion), but the Pentagon has lost $8.5 trillion. That amount has cost each household approximately $70,000. In 2013, about 45.3 million people, including 14.7 million children, lived in poverty in the United States—14.5 percent of the population and the largest number in the 54 years that statistics have been kept. Almost one in five children live in poverty.

Lack of government support has driven tuition for higher education sky-high. The student debt is now at $1.2 trillion in the United States, and the costs will cripple the future for both young people and the economy. People will have to pay down this debt instead of buying houses and cars, shoring up the GDP.

Conservatives caused this inequality, but they are determined to deny help to any of these people. Yet they are willing to distribute over one-half trillion dollars every year to an agency that has no idea how the taxpayer money is spent. For conservatives, a steak or shellfish or shredded cheese is outrageously out-of-bounds for food stamp recipients, but 22,437 extra Humvee front ends are just fine. Billions of taxpayer dollars for failed business systems or excessive purchases of supplies or unfulfilled government contracts or unpaid soldiers or lack of audits that break the law are acceptable. Conservatives need to look at their priorities.

April 15, 2015

Tax Day: Bad, Good, Ugly

Filed under: Budget — trp2011 @ 9:11 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

On Tax Day 2015, far fewer people waiting in line because of electronic filing. Wealthy people increasingly pay less and less since the 90-percent tax rate for the richest filers in the 1950s. Every time that the GOP controls Congress, the wealthy benefit from additional tax breaks, and corporations get more subsidies. Every year, the United States has less and less investment funds for the infrastructure, education, climate change, job creation, etc. Corporations have dropped their share of federal revenues by almost three-fourths since the almost 40 percent in 1943 to only 11 percent now. The less that the wealthy and corporations pay, the more the bottom 80 to 90 percent of the people have to shell out.

The corporate tax rate may be 35 percent, but their actual payment is about 13 percent, less than a large percentage of people pay. Some companies pay no taxes. FedEx made profits of $5 billion between 2010 to 2012 and received $10 billion in federal contracts between 2006 and 2012, yet paid no income taxes. With billions of dollars in profit, Verizon and Pfizer paid no taxes while receiving billions of federal tax refunds. In 2013, corporate tax breaks cost U.S. taxpayers $176 billion in revenue, $1,328 per household. These corporate tax breaks have more than doubled since 1993. More is spent on corporate welfare than traditional welfare. Tax breaks, 17 percent of benefits going to the top 1 percent of households, are equal to more than the entire U.S. discretionary budget each year. The revenue loss of over $1 trillion each year is over 1.6 times the 2013 budget deficit.

estate tax

Instead of trying to close loopholes on Tax day, House Republicans are arranging a gift for the top 0.02 percent of U.S. households. Calling the estate tax the “death tax,” GOP members of the House announced a vote to repeal the tax on 4,700 estates out of 2.6 million deaths—one-fifth of one percent. The median household net worth was only $81,200 in 2014. Instead of paying the 40-percent rate, this 0.02 percent owe a rate of only 16.6 percent estate tax, because it applies to only an estate’s value of over $5.43 million. No taxes are required for the first $5.43 million.

If the law isn’t changed, the estate tax will bring in $246 billion in the next decade. Less than 1 percent of federal revenue, “it is significantly more than the federal government will spend on the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency combined,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A common complaint is that the estate tax hurts small and family businesses, including farms. In 2013, the 20 farms and businesses worth under $5 million paid a tax rate of 4.9 percent.

While House Republicans care for the wealthy, they have a budget to eliminate food stamps for 11 million people through a 34-percent reduction. That $125 billion cut from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) will cost the economy 286,000 jobs. As families have less to spend on food, that reduced purchasing power ripples through the economy, translating into job losses not just in grocery and retail stores but also in trucking, warehousing, food manufacturing, farming, and other industries. Money for the wealthy does nothing for job creation, but a woman testifying about her past experience receiving food stamps said, “Without this program, I wouldn’t have been able to start my new career.” Just one week of the proposed estate tax cuts could feed more than 337,000 children for a year. The GOP answer to helping hungry people is charity. I suggest leaving both laws the way they are and create a GoFundMe collection for the top 0.02 percent who pay estate taxes.

This year’s Tax Day is memorable because Congress passed a sane law to end to the annual need for Medicare “doc fixes”–and in a grandly bipartisan manner. Only eight of 100 Senators voted against the bill, two of them the declared GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The House passed the bill by 392-37. The bill got out of Congress just hours before Medicare providers would have had a 21-percent cut in payments.

The new law also funds the Children’s Health Insurance Program and community health centers for two more years. Republican Senators also failed to get a “repeal Obamacare” amendment attached to the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill’s passage is a sign that Congress is “back to work” under Republican leadership. And it took them only 105 days. (More details about the new law here.)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) spent his time on Tax Day introducing a bill to recoup $590 billion from 83 companies using offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. Senator Elizabeth Warren called on lawmakers to break up big banks and change tax rules that benefit Wall Street.

Abraham Lincoln died 150 years ago today. He is the “Republican” who the GOP drags out into the media to show how wonderful today’s GOP members are. Here is the tweet from the GOP to commemorate his death:

abraham lincoln

And that’s Tax Day 2015.

February 7, 2014

Farm Bill: Poor Lose, Wealthy Win

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:52 PM
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After more than two years of partisan squabbling, Congress passed a five-year farm bill that costs people $100 billion a year.  In the House, 89 Democrats joined 162 GOP members to pass the bill that then received a 68-32 vote in the Senate with 9 Democrats opposing the bill. It’s a bipartisan law that takes from the poor and gives to the rich and the first time that Democrats even considered cutting the food-stamp program.

The $8.6 billion cut in food stamps promotes greater hunger in what citizens like to consider the world’s richest country. The bill also promotes a diet of processed food—or food substitutes—with high levels of sugar, fat, and salt leading to serious health problems. The cut comes on top of the $11 billion lost with the expiration of stimulus funding, the first $5 million at the end of October 2013. Cuts were determined by home-heating assistance. Households must receive at least $20 per year before they automatically qualify for food stamps instead of the $1 threshold now in some states.

Last November, people lost almost $30 dollars a month from benefits; now they lose another $90. Even Walmart noticed the effects of lost funding for food stamps and predicted that the last quarter of 2013 will not meet its sales projections. As studies show and conservatives refuse to believe, each SNAP recipient dollar adds an estimated $1.70 to the economy. Food stamps create jobs from farmer to truck driver to shelf stocker and beyond. The working poor, many of whom work for Walmart, are now many of the people who rely on help to keep them from hunger.

Conservatives always say that they want cuts to make up for programs such as food stamps, but a proposal to cap (not eliminate) the profits of the ten largest farm insurance providers to free up funds to eliminate the cuts to the SNAP program was defeated 2 to 1 in the Senate. Insurance companies pocket profits taken from taxpayers’ risks.

Past changes that kept President Obama from signing a farm bill stayed in the bill that the president now has signed. Instead of a $50,000 annual limit on the primary payments (or double that for married couples), Congress approved a $125,000 limit (again, doubled for married couples).  They also decided not to adopt the House and Senate-passed provisions to close the loopholes that currently allow large, wealthy farms to collect many multiples of the nominal payment limit.

The $5 billion in direct payments for commodities, payments whether farmers grow anything or not, was largely eliminated, but the new insurance “reforms” are largely a bait-and-switch effort that continues giveaways to agribusiness and wealthy investors. A few limited reforms to help both organic and diversified farm operations didn’t stop the crop insurance program from using taxpayer money to protect profits of large farms that produce commodity crops while doing little to protect small integrated farmers who actually grow food. The program pays $1.4 billion annually to 18 companies to sell policies to farmers and then pays 62 percent of the farmers’ premiums. A coup for these companies is the provision that the Agriculture Department cannot renegotiate lesser payments during the five-year term of the bill. Previous negotiations have saved billions in dollars in government savings.

The bill also removes an income cap for receiving crop insurance; thus large farming operations can win more subsidies by claiming additional people are actively engaged in farming. Some of these people are members of Congress who no longer have to disclose the crop insurance money they get from voting for this bill.

Dow succeeded in adding a provision to reverse the prohibition of sulfuryl fluoride despite EPA’s 2011 proposal to phase out its use as a food fumigant. Massive tax subsidies go to corporate agribusiness and wealthy investors, again promoting unhealthy food, genetically engineered crops, confined animal feeding operations, and monoculture farming. Seed and pesticide corporations such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow will benefit from the farm bill’s provisions. The result includes ongoing vulnerability to floods and droughts, aquatic “dead zones,” and fouled drinking water caused by fertilizer runoff from fields, and more. Conservation programs to mitigate these problems were slashed by $6.1 billion, the first decrease since Congress started funding these programs in 1985.

Federal nutrition programs stay the same except for the Pulse Health Pilot Program which adds plant-based protein sources to school meals. That means the National Lunch Program, food stamps, and WIC will continue to push junk foods like processed meat and cheese that fuel epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

More money went to higher rice and peanut subsidies for Southern farmers. People who need the least help get more “aid” through $5 billion in taxpayer funds for livestock farmers when their animals die during natural disasters, another subsidy for the meat and dairy industry.

The almost-1000 pages of the bill show the favors that legislators provide to their constituents—sugar producers, catfish farmers, etc. William Frenzel, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota and a budget analyst at the Brookings Institution, said, “The agriculture industry simply does not need all of these supports.”  He described the farm bill as “bad budget and agriculture policy.” Even current GOP members of Congress were disgusted. “It seems that catfish is one bottom feeder with friends in high places,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said.

The farm bill has a few advantages: $100 million to help bring healthy food to underserved communities; initiatives to encourage purchases of fruits and vegetables by SNAP consumers at retail outlets, including farmers’ markets and food hubs; support for food banks; allowing SNAP recipients to use their benefits to purchase a Community Supported Agriculture share; and a pilot program to support bringing local food into schools. Good programs cut last year were restored: Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers, farmers markets, community food projects, support for local food systems, etc. These, however, are just a few million dollars in an annual $100 billion bill. Conservation requirements were also relinked to the receipt of crop insurance subsidies.

Notable is the rejection of the “King amendment” that would have prevented hundreds of state laws defending food safety, farm workers, animals, and the environment. Also gone is the amendment in the last farm bill from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that protected companies like Monsanto that produce GMOs from being sued.

The farm bill is an excellent example of “cognitive dissonance” that results in Selective Deficit Disorder. Republicans said that they were decreasing the deficit by reducing funding for the food-stamp program, but they ignored the deficit when they handed over billions of dollars to corporate special interests. This is not a continuing phenomenon in politics: ten states made draconian cuts to retiree benefits, pleading poverty, but in a report, “Good Jobs First,” in the same states, “the total annual cost of corporate subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes exceeds the total current annual pension costs.”

The five-year farm bill is largely a win-lose situation: the wealthy and corporations win, and the poor lose.  Basically the law cuts food stamps, gives wealthy farmers more money, and hides the way that farmers pollute the ground.The one great advantage is that the Tea Party opposed it. Republicans ignoring the extremists may not be a trend, but it is happening now. 

November 25, 2013

Wal-Mart, Not a Place to Give Thanks

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:29 PM
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In less than four days Wal-Mart opens its doors at 6:00 am on Thanksgiving day and stays open for 41 hours, trying to entice all the Black Friday shoppers into its stores. Almost 200,000 people have signed petitions protesting the new hours. If the company were not unfair to its 2.1 million workers, two-thirds of them in the United States, people might not be as upset. But the corporation has a reputation for paying its employees under the poverty level, an average of $8.81 per hour, and opposes any union structure.

Workers in 28 stores across 12 states went on strike, and a probe by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is siding with the company’s labor force. Wal-Mart may have to rehire its fired workers because the company “unlawfully threatened employees with reprisal if they engaged in strikes and protests on November 22, 2012” and at other times. NLRB can also force Wal-Mart to tell workers of their rights to unionize.

Things are so bad at Wal-Mart that CEO Mike Duke quit this morning before tomorrow’s shareholders meeting.

Some Wal-Mart facts

  • Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the federal government.
  • The majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line, and the children qualify for school free lunches.
  • One-third of the employees are part-time, limited to less than 28 hours per week and thus ineligible for benefits such as health care.
  • Employees make 25 percent less after two years at the job than their unionized counterparts working for other companies.
  • Employees take home on average under $250 per week.
  • Last year, only 18 percent of hourly workers received any pay raise at all.
  • When the United Food and Commercial Workers tried to organize workers across the country, labor experts were brought in for “coaching sessions” (aka intimidation sessions) with personnel who support unionization. Employees complained that these were intimidation sessions.
  • Full-time employees are eligible for benefits, but the employees are required to pay 35 percent of the health insurance package.
  • Not one in 50 workers has amassed as much as $50,000 through the stock-ownership pension plan although Wal-Mart matches 15 percent of the first $1,800 in stocks purchased. (Voting power for these stocks remains with Wal-Mart management.)
  • Over 85 percent of its goods are made outside the U.S. and often in sweatshops.
  • Musicians are frequently forced to create “sanitized” versions of their albums specifically for Wal-Mart.
  • Wal-Mart has forced many U.S. manufacturers out of business.
  • The company has been the primary distributor of many goods attracting controversy, including Kathie Lee Gifford’s clothing line, Disney’s Haitian-made pajamas, child-produced clothing from Bangladesh, and sweatshop-produced toys and sports gear from Asia.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart makes over $13,000 in pre-tax profits per employee (after paying them), which comes to more than 50 percent of the earnings of a 40-hour-per-week wage earner. At the same time, Wal-Mart costs taxpayers $5,815 per employee for food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, etc. That’s over $1.7 million per year for just one store. Wal-Mart has over 4,000 stores in the U.S.

The six Walton heirs together own as much wealth as 40 percent of the U.S. population. Last year, four members of the Wal-Mart family made a combined $20 billion from their investments. Less than half that would have increased the salary for each Wal-Mart worker by $3 an hour, enough to end the taxpayer contributions for these employees.

When Wal-Mart stores arrive, small businesses close, and employees in other stores have their wages lowered. An example is the experience of supermarket employees in Los Angeles: just the possibility of a Wal-Mart opening there dropped the pay scale markedly for new hires. After public opposition kept Wal-Mart stores from coming into most of L.A., the pay scale went back up.

Thirty years ago, Wal-Mart displayed “Buy America” and “Made in America” signs, but the marketing program was fraudulent. Even then, the corporation was shifting its purchasing to Asia. At the beginning of this year, the company declared that it would put $50 billion into buying domestic goods over the next decade. That’s really 1.5 percent of its expenditure on inventory.

Most of this $50 billion will go into its expansion in groceries. With Wal-Mart taking over the grocery business—25 percent of it at the beginning of the year—other grocers lose business and buy less. The result is no new jobs but lower wages for workers. In the past decade, Wal-Mart’s gross from groceries has increased from 24 percent in 2003 to its current 55 percent, and the company plans to take over more of the grocery share with its Neighborhood Market stores and new supercenters.

Georgia towel maker, 1888 Mills, will provide Wal-Mart with “American-made towels” but will maintain its overseas workforce of 14,000. The U.S. factory will add only 35 jobs at $12-$14 per hour.

Wal-Mart has often been compared to its competitor Costco which  offers its employees an average wage of $21.96 an hour, about 40 percent more than Wal-Mart employees make. Wal-Mart’s profits sank the second quarter of the year while Costco saw a 19-percent increase. There’s another company, however, that should be a model for Wal-Mart as it goes into the grocery business.

WinCo, a small privately-held chain of 100 supermarkets in western United States, manages to undercut Wal-Mart prices. And how?

  • It cuts out distributors and other middle “men” by buying many goods directly from farms and factories.
  • It doesn’t accept credit cards.
  • Customers bag their own groceries.
  • Stores are organized and minimalist without frills and a tremendous variety of merchandise.
  • Employees have decent health care benefits for those who work at least 24 hours a week.
  • Some of WinCo’s 400 nonexecutive workers, including cashiers and produce clerks, have pensions worth over $1 million because WinCo puts an amount equal to 20% of employees’ annual salary into a pension plan.

And WinCo is going to Texas, competing with Wal-Mart and offering lower prices.

During the recession, Wal-Mart cut employees hours so deeply that stores could not keep their shelves stocked causing customers to go elsewhere. In the past five years, the U.S. workforce dropped by 120,000 while the company opened 500 new stores. With longer check-outlines, backlogged inventory, and poor customer service, Wal-Mart will move 35,000 part-time workers to full-time and another 35,000 temps, who have to re-apply for their jobs every 180 days, to part-time.

The Affordable Care Act will require new full-time employees to get health insurance after 90 days instead of the usual six months. Workers still have to be employed an average of 30 hours a week for a year to get the benefits; most “associates” at Wal-Mart don’t have the opportunity to work this many hours.  

Food for thought as you schedule your shopping this week.

September 23, 2013

GOP House Saves $29 per Taxpayer to Starve Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:17 PM
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People should not eat if they don’t work. That’s the conservative mantra that I talked about yesterday. Welfare is bad for freedom: it takes away their independence. Where do we find welfare in the United States?

One place is in Congress, where GOP legislators give money to themselves, money that they have not earned. GOP Rep. Stephen Fincher represents Tennessee, one of the ten poorest states where the population gets $1.10 of federal funding for every $1 that they send into the government. He’s one of those who quoted Thessalonians out of context this week during a debate about food stamps: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” He also  got $3.5 million in farm subsidy welfare during the past four years.

Giant agricultural firms will receive $939 billion in welfare over the next decade if Republicans like Fincher get their way. Farm welfare recipients include 374 people on the wealthy Upper East Side of New York City and others who own farms such as Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Ted Turner. Wealthy heir Mark Rockefeller got $342,000 in welfare to NOT farm.

Republicans in Congress get $172,000 each year, but they refuse to work. They vote over and over to defund a law that helps people and decreases the deficit and refuse to do anything about the sequester that they agree is bad for the country. According to what these GOP legislators say, they shouldn’t receive a salary.

While GOP legislators don’t do any work, each family in the United States pays an annual average $6,000 welfare subsidy to corporations. These are the same companies that doubled their profits and cut their taxes in half during the past ten years while sending 2.9 million jobs out of the country. It’s true that the poor don’t pay that much in taxes, but any household making over $72,000 pays more than $6,000 of welfare to these corporations. Here’s how you pay welfare for these corporations:

The federal government spends $100 billion on corporate welfare, an average of $870 for each one of the country’s 115 million families. The Cato Institute notes that the money includes “cash payments to farmers and research funds to high-tech companies, as well as indirect subsidies, such as funding for overseas promotion of specific U.S. products and industries…It does not include tax preferences or trade restrictions.” Welfare in the form of fossil fuel subsidies, possibly greatly underestimated, can be from $10 billion to $41 billion. This sum doesn’t count the $502 billion in fossil fuel welfare subsidies, almost $4,400 per U.S. family, from “the effects of energy consumption on global warming [and] on public health through the adverse effects on local pollution.”

Business incentives at state, county, and city levels cost each family another $696 in welfare. The $80 billion in welfare business benefits are from “virtually every corner of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains,” according to a New York Times investigation.

More welfare goes to banks, $722 per household. According to the Huffington Post, the “U.S. Government Essentially Gives The Banks 3 Cents Of Every Tax Dollar.” The taxpayer welfare subsidy to banks when they borrow, through bonds and customer deposits and other liabilities comes to $83 billion in welfare. The wealthiest five banks—JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs—get three-quarters of the total welfare subsidy.

Another $350 per household goes to welfare because of retirement accounts. Over a lifetime, bank fees can “cost a median-income two-earner family nearly $155,000 and consume nearly one-third of their investment returns.” Fees are well over one percent a year. The Economic Policy Institute notes that the average middle-quintile retirement account is $34,981. A conservative one percent annual management fee translates to about $350 per family. Many families have no retirement account, but many others pay far more than 1 percent in annual fees.

Another $1,268 welfare subsidy per household goes for overpriced medications. Monopolies provided to drug companies raise the costs of prescription drugs by almost $270 billion a year compared to the free market price. People in this country pay almost twice the average cost of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries who pay an average of $460 per person.

Special tax provisions for corporations cost taxpayers $100 billion, $870 for each household. That welfare comes from Graduated Corporate Income, Inventory Property Sales, Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, Accelerated Depreciation, and Deferred taxes. Another guess at this welfare is $181 billion, which would be $1,600 per family.

Welfare for corporate tax havens adds another $1,026 per family. Assuming that each household has 1.2 taxpayers of the 138 million in the U.S., the total welfare costs assigned to families is $1,231.

The GOP Congressional legislators refuse to touch any of the above welfare to save taxpayers money. Instead, they voted to cut $4 billion in food stamps, which costs each taxpayer less than $29. That’s less than 2 percent of what Congress could save if they decreased the $6,000 welfare that each family provides to corporations.

Ever since Ronald Reagan’s war on food stamp recipients, conservatives have made false claims about them. Demographics show that the overwhelming majority of those who receive food stamps are white and many of them are Republicans. Mitt Romney won 213 of the 254 counties where the number of food stamp recipients doubled between 2007 and 2011.

Kentucky’s Owsley County, which gave Romney 81 percent of its votes, had the largest proportion of Romney’s food stamp communities. More than half the county’s population, 52 percent, received food stamps in just 2011, and the county is 97.6 percent white. The median household income of $19,344 is far below the national one of $52,762; four in ten of the county’s residents live below the poverty line. The county’s U.S. representative, Hal Rogers, won with 84 percent of the vote and joined the GOP majority in cutting food stamps—for more than half his constituents in this one county.

Two-thirds of the 39 legislators who represent the country’s 100 hungriest counties voted to cut food stamps. The bill passed 217-210.

Conservatives always talk about food stamps taking away people’s freedom. As Paul Krugman wrote, conservatives believe “that freedom’s just another word for not enough to eat.”

Why has this safety-net program grown so rapidly in the last five years? The 2007-2009 recession was the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression that began in 1929. The recovery has been weak because controlling Republicans supported the austerity measures that stopped economic growth. Food stamps have actually saved hundreds of thousands of jobs for people who grew and produced and transported and sold the food obtained by the government program. Every $1 in food stamps results in $1.70 added to the economy.

As I pointed out last week, only the very small percentage at the top of the nation’s food chain sees any financial improvement. The income of the top 1 percent rose 31 percent from 2009 to 2012 while the real income of the bottom 40 percent actually fell 6 percent. The food stamps, which Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency,” provides $4.45 a day, mostly for children, elderly and disabled, and adults with children.

In addition to cutting out corporate welfare, the U.S. could save money by eliminating a few other things:

  • The F35—Joint Strike Fighter: It costs $1.5 trillion, it hasn’t been affected by sequester cuts,–and it flies only in good weather.
  • War on Drugs: The $15 billion cost each year is about $500 per second.
  • Nuclear Arsenal: The U.S. plans to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. This arsenal of 7,700 weapons will never be used because they could destroy the Earth hundreds of times over. Billions could be saved by reducing the nuclear submarine fleet and land-based intercontinental ballistic missile force from 420 to 300.
  • ‘Tax Breaks for the Rich: By capping the amount that the rich can save tax-free in IRAs at $3 million would save $9 billion over ten years. Taxing hedge fund managers like nurses would save as much as $100 billion.

In studying the impact of food stamps during the 1960s and 1970s, economists Hilary Hoynes and Diane Whitmore Schanzenback found that children with early assistance became healthier and more productive adults—and less likely to need the government safety net.

Hunger results in depression, listlessness, inability to concentrate, apathy, and social withdrawal. Serious mental changes in hungry people cause impaired decision-making skills. In children, hunger delays development in reading, language, memory, and problem-solving capabilities. Children who experience hunger early on are more likely to perform poorly academically, repeat a grade, and/or require special assistance while in school. Hungry children can have a lower IQ and less developed brain than well-nourished children have.

And 217 GOP members in the House are willing to do this to children for less than $30 per year per taxpayer.

September 22, 2013

Religion Confronts Politics

Good news for the separation of church and state. According to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, corporations can’t belong to a religion even if they are persons, the second time that a federal appeals court has supported President Obama in the mandate to provide contraceptive services. A third court, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, granted the Hobby Lobby crafts franchise an injunction from the rule until it hears the merits of the case. The decision of that case will show whether the courts are split on the issue.

The Michigan-based manufacturing company Autocam must comply with the Obamacare mandate although its president, John Kennedy, protested because he is Roman Catholic.  “The Kennedys’ actions with respect to Autocam are not actions taken in an individual capacity, but as officers and directors of the corporation,” the 6th Circuit panel wrote. Houses of worship are exempt from the contraception mandate, and religious nonprofits have been extended an “accommodation” that would divorce corporate owners from managing or paying for their employees’ contraception coverage.

Judges on the 3rd Circuit ruled that a Pennsylvania-based company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, had to comply with the mandate. Over 40 secular, for-profit corporations, have alleged that providing contraception coverage in their employee health care plans at no cost violates their religious rights, and a total of 70 federal lawsuits have been filed by opponents to the birth control benefit.

A Tennessee’s religious ruling was overturned last Wednesday. During a paternity hearing between a mother and father over which last name a child should have, child support magistrate LuAnn Ballew ordered that the first name of the child, Messiah, should be changed. She claimed, “‘Messiah’ is a title that is held only by Jesus Christ.” Her ruling was overturned on the basis that it violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution (aka separation of church and state). According to records, 2,957 boys in the United States have been named Messiah since 1880 with 762 people given the name in 2012 alone.

Talk shows have been obsessed this week with Pope Francis’ statement that the Catholic Church should stop being obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. The lack of obsession was short-term: a day later the pope denounced abortions and encouraged Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them. So much for his ranting about the church’s obsession with “small-minded rules” that are driving away the faithful.

Speaking about women, the pope said, “The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. … We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.” U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, translated the pope’s words as, “He warned against the feminine machismo.” The question now is what the pope will do about the U.S. nuns, led by Sister Simone Campbell, who worry about the poor and hungry rather than abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. A Seattle bishop still has the pope’s mandate to control the nuns.

The U.S. bishops don’t need to change just because the pope made this statement, according to Terrence Tilley, a theologian at Fordham University. Interviews with bishops across the country indicate that there will be no change in their push against abortion, marriage equality, and contraception.

While the U.S. media hangs on every word translated from the pope’s statements, we should consider that the Holy See, the government of the Roman Catholic Church, has a status at the United Nations unlike any other religion. Because of the Vatican’s role as a Nonmember State Permanent Observer,  the pope’s representatives have special access to the leadership of the U.N. and vote along with the world’s countries at UN conferences. It is the only U.N. member that requires all its citizens to belong to one religion—although the United States conservatives would like to mandate only Christianity for all the country’s citizens.

In the U.S. House, 230 “Christians” including 60 Catholics, who voted to take food stamps from 3.8 million people last week, may be remembering Jesus’s mandate in the Bible that he wasn’t going to give bread to a hungry man because the man should get a job. (He really didn’t!)  Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) managed to dredge this quote out of 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” The reference is actually to Christians who stopped working in the false belief that Christ was returning soon; instead of working the fields, they gossiped and pried into the lives of others. Paul was warning those Christians to care for their crops.

  • Who goes hungry with the loss of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)? A child, elderly person, or disabled person is in 76% of SNAP households which  receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.
  • How about the “lazy freeloaders,” who don’t earn their calories according to conservatives? All unemployed able-bodied adults without dependents receive only three months of SNAP benefits during any three-year period unless they work in a qualifying job training program. For every additional dollar a SNAP participant earns, benefits decline by 24 to 36 cents.

Cramer is really following Joseph Stalin’s 1936 Constitution:  “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Rep. Michele Bachmann has also quoted Stalin to support her anti-SNAP position. In November 2011 she said, “Self reliance means, if anyone will not work, neither should he eat.”

The good Christians missed some of these verses from the Old Testament:

  • Proverbs 14:31 – “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”
  • Proverbs 22:16 – “He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich – both come to poverty.”
  • Proverbs 29:7 – “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

GOP representatives, especially from the South, might want to examine the percentage of SNAP users in their states before they vote against them. Note that four of the five states that have doubled food stamp usage in the past five years have Republican governors.

food-stamp-map again

The Congressional conservatives love to create laws as a method of propagandizing their falsehoods. In the midst of House plans to defund Obamacare and shut down the government, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) plans to introduce the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act next Thursday to “ensure that any religious institution, organization or church that believes that marriage should continue to remain between one man and one woman will not be discriminated against by the federal government.” With 60 co-sponsors, including two conservative Democrats, the bill insinuates that the federal government is discriminating against religious groups through the overturn of DOMA. It isn’t.

More fundamentalist “Christian” stories:

Self-identified television prophet Cindy Jacobs proclaimed that her faith caused a woman to re-grow a cheek bone in seconds and that she self-healed a grapefruit-sized tumor “near—or behind my female organs or whatever”caused by Satan.

After Bill Nye the Science Guy told Bill Maher’s audience that the moon is not a “great light,” as the Bible claims, because it reflects the sun, Australian Pastor Ken Ham took umbrage. Known for his Kentucky Creation Museum that presents dinosaurs living at the same time as humans, Ham tried to explain that “Bill Nye still doesn’t understand the difference between historical science and observational science.” I’m guessing that Nye understands; he just doesn’t believe in unsubstantiated science.

The City Council of Porterville, California, removed Mayor Virginia Gurrola from office last week because she signed a declaration of LGBT Pride Month for last June. After people protested, the council declared June 2013 as “a month of community charity and goodwill to all in Porterville.” Gay rights activists protesting at the meeting were arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.

As far back as 1977 when Anita Bryant blamed the LGBT community for the California drought, LGBT people have been blamed for environmental disasters. They  must now take responsibility for the Colorado floods, according to Pastor Kevin Swanson. He was particularly incensed about the Denver Post cover photo of State House Majority Leader Mark Ferrandino kissing his partner, Greg Wertsch. Swanson’s criticism was of state legislators who “committed homosexual acts on the front page of the Denver Post,” which, along with marijuana and abortion rights, prompted the “worst year ever in terms of flood and fire damage in Colorado’s history.”

Today’s winner for the most offensive statement, however, comes from a speech at Patrick Henry College, a school with close ties to the Christian homeschooling movement. At the annual “Faith and Reason” lecture, with mandatory attendance for all students, government professor Stephen Baskerville delivered a treatise entitled  “Politicizing Potiphar’s Wife.” His premise was that laws against rape, domestic violence, and child abuse are an attempt to put fine, upstanding white men in prison. Baskerville purports that the government has become a “matriarchal leviathan” manipulated by “the temptress, the seductress who lures men into a “honeytrap” by offers of pleasure before springing a trap that today can mean decades in prison.”

Meanwhile church membership keeps dropping in younger people. One-third of adults under the age of 30 are unaffiliated. Reading the above shows why.

July 11, 2013

Perry an Example of Conservatives

What’s worse than cutting the amount of food stamp funding from the farm bill? Eliminating them entirely. And that’s what the GOP House members did this afternoon in a 216-208 vote—no Democrats for the bill and 12 Republicans voting against it. The farm will has always been a total package: subsidies and benefits to farmers and nutritional programs such as SNAP to the poor, but House GOP leaders hope that separating them will entirely get rid of this help for hungry people.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) pointed out that the bad policy ignored the bipartisan policy of the House Agriculture Committee. The farm bill that the House passed is for five years, but the food stamps would be on an annual basis if it could even pass, which is most unlikely. The biggest cuts to food stamps in history came in 1996 when then Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed turning the program over to the states, but the bill had to provide food stamps for it to pass the Senate. The law authorized SNAP for only two years.

Republicans are perfectly happy spending the bulk of taxes to make military toys that don’t work and to go into other countries to kill people while denying food the poor—primarily women, children, and elders. Stuart Varney, who hosts a Fox “business show,” rants against providing help to people while ignoring the fact that many of them are hard-working employees at places like Walmart with salaries below the poverty level.

Texas is a fine example of poverty, both physical and intellectual, in this country. The state has known only the devastation of George W. Bush and Rick Perry as its leaders for almost two decades. Last Monday, Perry announced that he will not run for another term, and instead finish by  “working to create more jobs, opportunity and innovation.” He may be considering another run for president so that he can destroy a much larger area of the world.

Only 18 percent of Texas Republicans support him in this, and a survey showed him coming in sixth with 7 percent. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had 27 percent support. Republican strategist Ford McConnell said that Perry was pretty much gone after the famous “oops” episode when the governor failed to remember the third government agency (EPA) that he wanted to eliminate even after his co-debaters tried to help him. I also remember the time in Vermont when he had a goofy smile on his face while cuddling a small bottle of maple syrup. Another “oops” moment was when he couldn’t remember how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Perry’s legacy in the state of Texas shows how he would rule the nation if such a disastrous event were to occur:

Self-identified “pro-life” Perry presided over more than 260 executions—thus far—more than any other governor in history. After vetoing a bill banning executions of mentally disabled people, he executed a Mexican national who had been denied his right from the Mexican consulate and at least one man who was probably innocent.

Perry supported the state in its immunity for corporations and obsessive deregulations that resulted in the disaster of the fertilizer plant explosion in West.

Perry lambasted the government’s so-called socialist policies and swore he would gut FEMA while he begged the president for federal assistance after the fertilizer plant’s explosion.

Perry decried the 2009 federal recovery package, recommending that the state reject the money for the sake of independence, but balanced the state’s budget with billions of dollars from federal stimulus funding.

Perry called climate change a “contrived phony mess and a scam to make money.”

Perry, after the horrific drought and heat in 2011, tried to solve the problem by betting Texas residents to “pray for rain.”

Perry called evolution “just a theory that’s out there.”

Perry’s latest debacle is that his vigorous fight for the bill to close clinics in favor of ambulatory surgical centers would greatly profit his sister. In 2011 he pushed for and signed “emergency legislation” requiring women to have unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds before they were permitted to have legal abortions. Texas is also the place where two women were subjected to cavity searches—without a change in plastic gloves—after they were picked up for speeding.

Perry led Texas into becoming the nation’s worst polluter, leading the nation in carbon dioxide emissions and providing the home to half of the worst mercury-emitting power plants. His solution to avoid complying with an EPA ruling when he was in violation of the Clean Air Act was a lawsuit against the federal government. The governor also called the 2010 BP oil spill an “act of God” and then call for more oil drilling.

Perry tried to opt the state out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, claiming that these programs are “Ponzi schemes” and unconstitutional. These programs actually bring billions of dollars into Texas.

Perry worked to continue legal discrimination against LBGT people. A staunch defender of the state’s unconstitutional anti-sodomy law, he blasted the Supreme Court after they overturned the law in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. Calling the justices “nine oligarchs in robes,” he evidently remembers the number of SCOTUS judges ten years ago. During his presidential campaign in 2012, his anti-gay ad against open service by gays and lesbians in the military accused President Obama of holding a “war on religion.” His speech last Monday boasted the state’s defense of “the sanctity of marriage” through writing discrimination into the state’s constitution.

Perry supported nullification of federal laws and threatened the secession of Texas from the United States.

Perry refuses to let the federal government provide healthcare for low-income residents in the state. More than 25 percent of Texans, 6,234,900 and growing, lack health care coverage. Then he has the gall to claim that Texas has the “best health care in the country.”

Perry vetoed bipartisan Equal Pay legislation after a GOP-controlled legislature passed the bill. He stated that he didn’t want regulations regarding women before he pushed through the highly restrictive restrictions against women.

Perry wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to eliminate federal income tax and to stop people from electing federal senators. In his book Fed Up!, he wrote that both were passed only “a fit of populist rage.”

Perry is an example of the wacko, narcissistic Republicans, many of whom are in Congress. Like Perry, they are obsessed with opposing the president, keeping health care from a large number of people in the United States, and creating a government based on fundamentalist Christianity which includes the submission of women to men.

Now they’re readying the fight to take the debt ceiling hostage, demanding big budget cuts from President Obama and other Democrats. Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI), authors of the draconian budget, and John Boehner (R-OH) are meeting with other conservatives such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) who bragged about their talks.

One of their goals is privatizing Medicare; another is drastically cutting spending in  the SNAP food stamp program and block-grant Medicaid while incorporating the chained CPI which would artificially revise the cost of living to disadvantage those on Social Security and Medicare. Another GOP plan raises the eligibility age for Social Security.

Conservatives continue to stall because these plans won’t pass the Senate. While they appear to give options to the White House, they plan rigid positions. As usual, Ryan is the key to debt-ceiling strategy walks. His major problem is that the deficit is falling faster than at any time since World War II which takes away their bargaining power.

The GOP is alienating everyone except white men, mostly older ones. Conservatives refuse to move forward on immigration reform unless all undocumented immigrants are criminalized. Conservatives refuse to do anything about voting rights, hoping that keeping minorities and poor people from the polls will put Republicans into control. Conservatives refuse to pass a reasonable interest rate for student loans, despite the fact that the current rate nets $51 billion for the U.S. Conservatives refuse to help poor people who lack food, shelter, and health care. Conservatives refuse to pass legislation that would improve the economy while they try to control women through taking away their reproductive rights.

Those actions—or inactions—leave them with a base of fewer than 30 percent of the people in the country. Having gerrymandered districts in the majority of states to control state legislators and the U.S. House, the GOP is convinced that it can continue with its lack of responsibility. The election in less than 16 months will show whether they are right.

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