Nel's New Day

May 4, 2017

Make America Suffer Again

The House passed its “We Don’t Care” bill this morning to take health insurance away from tens of millions of people in the United States. The 217-213 had 20 GOP “no” votes from those smart enough to know how furious their constituents would be with a “yes” vote. Only one of them belonged to the scorched-earth Freedom Caucus. Voters didn’t even have an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office to help them make a decision.

In their race to the bottom, the GOP also ignored the impact the 100+ million people who get insurance from employers. Because the bill allows large employers to offer the same benefits as state requirements, companies can skimp on benefit standards in states that get waivers to opt out of current ACA regulations. The same employers can also bypass any limits on out-of-pocket expenses for expensive illnesses and impose lifetime limits of cost. Premiums may cost less, as Republicans promised, people would have little health care covered. Congressional members and staff are lucky: the new bill exempts them from losing quality insurance.

In the time of DDT and the GOP, governance means voting for a bill that has a life-or-death impact with no information on costs and other affects. The legislators who voted for it hadn’t even read it and don’t want to know the outcome of their legislation that affects one-sixth of the U.S. economy. Republicans leaders didn’t let anyone read the legislation in advance. All people know about the bill is that gives massive tax breaks to the wealthiest in the nation and guts protections for everyone else. Now that it’s passed, people know what’s in the bill, and it looks even worse than previously believed.

Trumpcare winners:

  • The rich and corporations getting $600 billion in tax breaks.
  • Millionaires getting a $50,000 tax break each year for a total of $275 billion to the richest two percent.
  • The 400 richest families each getting an average $7 million each year.
  • Insurance companies getting $145 billion in tax breaks over ten years.
  • Drug companies rewarded with $25 million in tax breaks over ten years.
  • The richest two percent getting a $117 billion tax cut.

Trumpcare losers are the 24+ million low-income sometimes DDT supporters who lose health care (24 million) or people who will pay up to $13,000 more for premiums. No one will have protection from huge increases in drug costs, and the loss of $117 billion in revenue shortens Medicare’s ability to pay full benefits by at least three years.

Eight years ago, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) said this about the Affordable Care Act on MSNBC:

“I don’t think we should pass bills that we haven’t read, that we don’t know what they cost.”

At the same time, Mike Pence ridiculed the Democrats:

“Don’t blame us, we didn’t read the bill we voted for.”

In 2009, House Republicans had a fit about the possibility of voting for the ACA without a CBO score, and Ryan demanded that the CBO analysis be expedited before a vote. In fact, Congress and President Obama and spent 14 months writing that bill in 2009 and 2010 with dozens of hearings, committee markups, and consultation with the health care system that won support from hospitals and doctors while waiting for multiple CBO scores. No one in the health care system wants Trumpcare, and Republicans’ only rationale for voting in favor of the bill is that they promised to do it. Oh yes, and it gives massive cuts to the wealthy.

Perhaps most prescient is DDT’s 2014 tweet:

“It’s Thursday. How many people have lost their healthcare today?”

Today is Thursday, and we don’t know the affect of the House vote, but it’s sure to be tens of millions of people if the House bill passes the Senate.

According to DDT’s statements last Sunday, he hasn’t read the revised plan to satisfy the scorched-earth Republicans. On Face the Nation, DDT told John Dickerson that the bill keeps pre-existing conditions and “I mandate it.” Pressed for clarification, DDT added, “We actually have a clause that guarantees [protections to those with pre-existing conditions].” [No, “we” don’t.] The GOP bill clears the way for states to remove this benefit. DDT said that “Obamacare” “doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions.” [Yes, it does.] Even VP Mike Pence said that Republican policymakers are “keeping our promises to protect people who have pre-existing conditions.” Of course, he believed that Michael Flynn didn’t have anything to do with the Russians.

According to a Harvard study about the health care bill, Trumpcare would “effectively end enrollment in the insurance markets for families that make less than $75,000 a year.” In 2015, that was over 70 percent of the people in the United States.

Another population that would suffer from Trumpcare are students needing special education help. Medicaid provides schools districts with such services as physical therapists and feeding tubes as well as preventative care like vision and hearing screenings. Republicans voting to do away with these services may not know about this issue because the House did not allow any public testimony before the vote.

If DDT and Congress are successful in repealing the ACA, discrimination can be the law of the land. One section is the ACA stops federal funds from going to anyone or any group discriminating on the basis of race, skin color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. That includes pregnancy, sex stereotyping, gender identity; religious-connected providers could deny contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, or anything else against “religious” beliefs. People could be turned away from emergency rooms for any reason. At this time, 20 percent of the hospitals in the nation have an affiliation with religion—up 50 percent since 2010, and many times small communities have only these hospitals. At the same time, the federal and state governments are rapidly closing non-religious clinics such as those operated by Planned Parenthood.

In addition to ethical reasons to keep and repair the ACA, its loss will result in the loss of 1.8 billion jobs.

Oregon’s only GOP representative was a leader in destroying the ACA. Greg Walden is now proud of his part in doing away with the small hospitals in his rural district and losing insurance for the largest number of people in his state. DDT acknowledged the part that Ryan and Walden played in taking insurance from Walden’s constituent when he said, “This is the group.” Walden’s district added more Medicaid recipients than any other GOP district and more than all except three Democrat-held districts. That makes it fourth out of 435 districts in helping people under the ACA.  One of Walden’s colleagues pointed out that 640,000 people with pre-existing conditions could lose their insurance, but Walden claimed, “We are protecting people with pre-existing conditions. Those conditions continue to be protected.” Either he has not read the bill, or he lies. People have said he’s a nice man. So sad.

The GOP is backing a losing horse with its argument for less government. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that a majority of people, 57 percent, thinks that government should do more—not less—to help solve the nation’s problems. That’s an increase of 14 percent in just two years and almost double the percentage since 1996. In that time the number of people who think that the government should do less has dropped by over one-third. A study from Baylor University has also found that more government enhances human happiness.

Last month the New York Times’ hired climate denier Bret Stephens. Now the NYT equates Ryan’s lie (“under no circumstance can people be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition”) and Pelosi’s statement (“up to 17 million children … who have pre-existing conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurers” thanks to the ACA) as both “misleading.” It may be possible that Rupert Murdoch bought the newspaper while I wasn’t paying attention.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) (3rd L)  after signing legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to cut off federal funding of Planned Parenthood at the U.S. Capitol January 7, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The bill that passed today and moved on to the Senate was even more draconian that the earlier bill, and that one got only 17 percent approval. Yet Republicans are celebrating their success at taking insurance away from 24 million people and allocating much higher charges for people with pre-existing conditions with cases of Bud Light rolled into the Capitol. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and the other GOP leaders are even giddier than they were over a repeal in January 2016. Following their beer-bust in the Capitol, Republicans took buses for more celebration in the White House Rose Garden, historically a place where bills are signed into law. Never before have House Republicans reveled in passing a bill that may not survive the Senate. And certainly not a bill designed to create misery for millions of people in the United States.

It’s a new time: Make America Suffer Again.

June 20, 2016

How Enduring Are GOP Delusions about Trump?

Why do people support Donald Trump for U.S. president? The answers are all over the place. Demographics show a majority are poor, lack a high school diploma, and hold racist beliefs. They disagree with being racists but use racial slurs and want to get rid of immigrants while keeping America white. Nate Silver, one of the best prognosticators for U.S. elections, tweeted, “Strongest correlate I’ve found for Trump support is Google searches for the n-word.” Others have noticed the same comparison.

Trump promised to pay lawyers to help one of his supporters who attacked a protester, and that promise may have led to other racist supporters. Jan Stachowiak has called for armed volunteers to help him intimidate and even kill black protesters at the GOP convention. He echoed Trump’s declaration that President is a terrorist sympathizer and now calls on “patriots … to defend this nation against a domestic terrorist organization supported by the terrorist in the White House.”

Hate speech and crimes have accelerated since the rise of Donald Trump. People are attacking Muslims and other minorities in his name, and immigrants and Muslims students are increasingly experiencing bullying by their classmates. Children of color are facing “an alarming level of fear and anxiety.” Out of 5,000 comments from a survey of 2,000 K-12 students, over 1,000 mentioned Donald Trump. Jewish journalists are being attacked for articles critical of Trump, and many are targeted with the (((echo))) symbol, used by white supremacists online to single out the names of Jewish people and coordinate attacks against them.

Republicans try to claim that they like Trump because he says what he thinks—although much of what he expresses on one day is reversed the next. Another reason they gave for their Trump votes is that he will get jobs. Below are some self-delusions from Trump supporters that don’t hold up to the light:

Trump will get everyone jobs. The massive reduction of taxes for the wealthy could financially ruin people in the nation. Higher interest rates could cause housing prices to tumble, by as much as $100,000, and undermine the economy, destroying over 3 million jobs. Trump has a pattern of cheating hundreds of employees, contractors, and bondholders when he refuses to pay his debts. If Trump runs the country like he runs his businesses, the nation is headed for bankruptcy.  But that’s a topic for an entire blog!

Trump will either change his impossible proposals or Congress will stop him. One of his ideas is a tax plan that would increase the debt by $10 trillion. The GOP hasn’t stood up to Trump thus far; there’s no indication that they’ll start if he gets elected. Congress cannot stop his foreign policy—for example, supporting Russia as he has indicated—because the president has control in this area. If the courts and Congress can stop every crazy Trump idea, then the GOP wouldn’t worry about Hillary Clinton’s getting elected.

Trump will be fine no matter how much he changes policies. The GOP has complained about Obama because, they whine, he is divisive, arrogant, delusional, and economically illiterate while he uses executive power for political ends. Trump is all these multiplied by at least 100.   

Trump will understand that he will need to be more “presidential.” After a brief fling with a teleprompter, Trump continues to pick fights with his own GOP and refuses to take any advice in campaigning. He claims that he will spend his time and resources trying to take California and New York along with other blue states for the general election. Instead of backing away from his racist remarks, he has denied media access to his press conferences to at least ten outlets, including the influential Washington Post.

Trump can get smart advisers. Trump takes no advice from anyone for his campaign, and there’s no indication that he will pay attention to advisers if he were president. Trump’s past and current advisers show that he selects the same kind of toxic person as he is. By now, he has alienated almost everyone on his short list for vice-president, and his philosophy of firing everyone who offends him—a simple thing for a thin-skinned person like Trump—means that anyone around him will be short term.

Republicans have no other choice. Thus far, the “Never Trump” keeps looking for a resurgence at the convention, especially if delegates demand that Trump release his tax returns. Mitt Romney could run, or Republicans could vote Libertarian. Supporting Trump is disastrous for GOP candidates like John McCain, past presidential candidate and Congressman for 34 years, who is struggling  in Arizona against his Democratic opponent. Marco Rubio (R-FL), considering another run for senate  after he talked about how much he hated being a senator and didn’t bother to attend to vote, may run again. If he wins, his forced support for Trump may stain him for life.

Republicans can disown Trump in the future. Conservative advisers claim that they need to not worry about this election and look to the future. The GOP looked to the future after their loss in 2012, deciding that the party’s survival needs support from women and minorities. Instead, they’ve gone over the cliff in the opposite direction.

Although Trump claims that he hasn’t “started yet,” he’s been running for president for over a full year, and he wrapped up the GOP nomination in early May. Today Trump fired longtime friend and campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, because he “needs a change.” Lewandowski has no experience with national campaigns and kept Trump away from anyone who does.

Trump’s polls are starting downhill. The Democratic primary in Michigan shows that polls are not infallible, but Trump loved them throughout his campaign because he looked good. By now, he’s behind Hillary Clinton by double digits in some polls although he calls that being “even” with her.

Trump’s problems go far deeper than dropping polls. He promised his voters that he would pay for his entire campaign himself so that nobody could control him, but he seems to be out of money. And donors aren’t flocking to him. The Koch brothers, known for giving to the sleaziest of conservative politicians, refuse to fund Trump. Charles Koch said he can’t give any money to the Trump campaign until there’s a major shift in tone and policy—and he doesn’t expect it to happen.

In the past, Trump lobbed another hand grenade every time he lost positive attention. Last week’s explosion was to accuse U.S. military members of stealing money in Iraq. In the past, Trump had claimed that he was a champion of soldiers and veterans, going so far as to say he was raising money for them that they never received. This accusation hurt Trump’s image. That may be the reason that he called for religious and ethnic profiling on Sunday’s Face the Nation, hoping that a bit of generic racism would help his standing. He’s also called for people to be put into prison if they don’t report on their neighbors.

Trump has already started telling people to snitch on each other in his rallies. http://www.dailywire.com/news/6656/trump-rallies-now-ejecting-fake-trump-supporters-hank-berrien  After he tried that approach, a woman smugly pointed to two people quietly sitting near her. Security took them out after she showed how one of them had held up three fingers and demonstrated. She said she didn’t know what it meant, but the gesture was like the Boy Scout salute.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus says that people don’t care what Trump says. If he’s wrong, there goes the election. If he’s right, the nation is worse than I like to think. Trump has had an amazing influence on the electorate, however.  Since January, Democratic voting registration increased 218 percent in just California. Registration is up 123 percent among Hispanics, an electorate that has an 87-percent infavorability toward Trump.

For almost a year, most of the media went along with Trump’s craziness, always assuming that people tired of it. After a study showed that Trump coverage in eight major outlets pushed him into the nomination, giving him $2 billion of free advertising, journalists are changing the “cute” reporting of the past to now illustrate the danger that is for the United States. Increasing fact-checking shows that Trump tells the truth 3 percent of the time. The tipping point might have been Trump’s racist remarks against an honorable judge, but it’s more likely that they got fed up with Trump’s criticism about the press, calling reporters, among other descriptors, “the worst human beings” he had ever met.

Hopefully more people in the media may more accurately cover Trump. The next questions are how long GOP politicians will put Trump ahead of the country and how long voters will continue to believe him.

June 20, 2015

Congress Struggles with Defense, TPP Bill

Conflicting headlines this past week show the confusion with the defense bill in the Senate. On Thursday, senators passed the $612 billion defense policy bill that would ban torture and authorize weapons for Ukraine. The 71-to-25 vote also tightened restrictions on resettling detainees in other countries, blocking President Obama from closing the Gitmo detention facility by requiring congressional approval. The bill included a $38 billion slush fund for war, the same fund that allowed George W. Bush to spend billions outside the budget for his wars and sidestepped the sequester law restricting expenditures. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), the only Republicans to vote against the bill, joined Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 22 Democrats to oppose the bill. President Obama said he would veto the bill because it violates the sequester law.

Immediately after this vote, the Senate rejected a measure to pay for the defense bill because it didn’t lift spending limits in other areas of the budget. The bill to fund the defense budget failed to overcome a filibuster, 45 to 50, with only the only positive Democratic vote from Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly.

While the Senate was struggling with defense bill, the House passed the TPP fast-track for the second time, still trying to give the president the authority to close trade deals. Last week, the vote was 219-211, but the companion measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help workers displaced by trade failed. This week the vote was the bare minimum of 218 to 208 with the promise the Republicans will support the TAA at some other time.

William Pitt described how the “trade adjustment” works. A worker for a software company gets a living wage and health benefits by doing customer assistance on the phone. The TPP can air-mail the job to the Pacific Rim because those workers get paid much less–$0.56 an hour in Vietnam, for example. All the other jobs have been sent across the ocean, too, leaving the jobless destitute. The “assistance” is the part that didn’t get passed although Republicans said they would get back to it—sometime. It’s a guarantee that TPP will kill jobs, and without the minimal “assistance” for “trade adjustment, ex-workers will have nothing instead of very little.

The GOP-dominated Senate requires two 60-vote majorities to pass the TPA (ability to fast-track the TPP without the bother of amendments or debate) and TAA separately before trying to connect them for return to the House. Representatives will have to vote on it and then provide reconciliation and another passing vote. The president has sworn that he won’t sign the fast-track without the money piece, but he may be desperate enough to get the TPP passed that he may change his mind.

Even legislators with good intentions have folded on their principles. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP to bar Tier 3 nations, offenders of human trafficking, from being a part of the trade deal. The White House called the amendment a “deal breaker” because it wants Malaysia, and Menendez watered down his amendment to state that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, also commonly known as slavery. President Obama is willing to accept slavery in order to get his trade deal.

On the same day last week that Congress slowed down the TPP by voting against the TAA, the House voted to overturn rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat. Support for the law came from a response to 1999 World Trade Organization rules while opposition declared that labeling the meat was “unfair” to foreign countries and worried about sanctions or lawsuits from countries sending meat into the United States. Overturning a labeling law would keep people from being informed consumers, supporting U.S. farmers, or knowing that their meat had been inspected.

The House struck down a law because they were afraid of international tribunals that adjudicate trade disputes. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement process is primarly controlled by corporations and their lawyers.  Trade agreements erase the ability to regulate commerce and finance which raises prices and guts laws for the common good.

Columnist David Brooks’ column about the harm from the defeat of the TPP needs fact-checking:

Claim: Damage the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growth in the nation’s manufacturing exports from earlier trade treaties. Fact: Lori Wallach reports that on NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. has a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada with a related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs and over $360 million paid to corporations because of the “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies. The United States Department of Agriculture has projected that GDP gains from the TPP is approximately zero.

Claim: Stifle future innovation. Fact: Proposed TPP copyright provisions silence businesses, researchers, and artists while expensive cost of enforcement would impede new Internet-based start-ups. Excessive copyright terms prevent artists and creators from accessing, remixing, and recreating new works out of existing ones.

Claim: Imperil world peace. Fact: With the conservative enthusiasm and history in attacking the Middle East, and now considering an attack on Russia because of Ukraine, this statement smacks of hypocrisy. Brooks claims that the TPP protects the U.S. from being controlled by China, yet there’s nothing preventing China from joining the TPP and taking over because corporations are in control of it.

money capitol tppLegislators are making millions of dollars—200 of them, to be exact—from their votes in favor of TPP. The highest paid representative was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who brought in $5.3 million for his yes vote; Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was second at $2.4 million, the same as Paul Ryan (R-WI). Fourth spot was $1.6 million for Pat Tiberi (R-OH), the same as Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who changed to nay and got only $282,710 for that vote. Other House members getting over $1 million for yes votes are Joe Crowley (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Richard Neal (D-MA).

 

For representatives who voted against the TPP, TPP lobbyists—security brokers, investment companies, and bankers—paid over $23 million to oppose them..

Information about the TPP:

With no currency provisions, the TPP will not help U.S. economy. Companies like Walmart and GE benefit from an over-valued dollar, since it allows them to buy and/or produce goods cheaply abroad.

Trade agreement will not increase the number of jobs in the U.S., but it increases barriers in copyright protection for drugs and Hollywood media and raises prices for drugs and media content.

The ballooning trade deficit from trade agreements weighs down economic growth and wages. For example, the agreement with South Korea increased U.S. exports by $1 billion while increasing imports by $12 billion. It cost the United States 75,000 jobs.

The TPP is weaker than the 2007 deals with Peru, Panama, and Columbia.

The TPP allows corporations to sue sovereign governments–such as the United States–for monetary damages in what companies perceive as “expected future profits.”

Only corporations can sue governments; workers don’t have that right.

In seeking to “harmonize” regulations, trade agreements set a regulatory ceiling that will, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said, “punch holes in Dodd-Frank without directly repealing it,” by forcing regulators to roll back capital or leverage requirements. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress, “Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards [on regulations] and that’s something that we just think is not acceptable.” President Obama may try to hold the line, but a future GOP president will definitely use trade deals to further undermine regulations.

Weak “rule of origin” guidelines allow China to import goods into TPP member countries without any tariffs, while freed from following any TPP regulations.

The TPP is a secret deal that most members of Congress have not gone to the effort to read. Even if they have, they are forbidden from telling anyone what is in the agreement.

President Obama’s claim that everyone opposing the TPP is just a “politician” overlooks the fact that the president, too, is a politician. The TPP gives nothing to the United States and erases progress, going so far as to replace parts of the constitution.

January 6, 2014

Congress Debates Unemployment Benefits

On December 28, 2014, the U.S. economy started losing a billion dollars each week. That was the date when 1.3 million no longer received unemployment benefits because they had been unemployed for over six months, and Congress refused to renew these benefits, an average of $256 per week per person. Within six months, another 1.9 million people may lose these benefits if no action is taken. People receiving these benefits will most likely spend the benefits immediately on services and goods.

This emergency unemployment compensation was first passed in 2008 when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Five years after George W. Bush signed the bill the rate is 7 percent, and the duration is 36 weeks. With the expiration of the law, unemployed people can collect benefits for only a maximum 26 weeks.

A bill to renew the emergency benefits was introduced by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV)—two states with the highest unemployment rate—and the Senate has determined it a priority, beginning today. Because of the severe weather, Senate Majority Leader postponed the vote until tomorrow when he hopes to have the necessary 60 votes.

The following map shows the likelihood of people losing benefits in each state until benefits are renewed. The darker the shading, the greater percentage of the population losing the benefits.

Unemployment map

Every state but one—North Dakota—has added more people than jobs since the recession began, totalling 9.2 million jobs for the country. In 33 states, the difference between jobs and population is 5 percent or more. New Jersey takes the biggest hit with 1 percent of the state population losing benefits.

Eligibility and benefits are determined at the state level, meaning that unemployment benefits vary across the nation. This map shows the differences among different states:

Unemployment benefits by stateThe GOP members have several off-the-wall opinions of why they want to eliminate benefits. Some of them want to “get back to normal,” even though the fire of the recession has not been put out yet. They think that the country can be “normal” if they pretend it is. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) pretends that he is trying to get the unemployed back to work because employers discriminate against those who have been out of work for the longest times.

Paul's job advice

Paul has also been insulting to the unemployed by stating that they are unwilling to take lower-paid jobs below their skill level. The senator fails to understand that employers don’t want to hire well-educated people for jobs that don’t require this level of education because they think that the workers will leave as soon as they get a better job. Those who are unemployed for a longer period are also discriminated against because employers think that they don’t want a job or have lost their skills.

GOP theories of keeping the unemployed from having benefits are all debunked by legislative actions in North Carolina. Because this state cut off unemployment benefits earlier than any other state, North Carolina has shown that the result is a shrinking labor force. The unemployed have stopped looking for jobs because they don’t exist. Congress wants to do the same thing.

Congress hides unemployed

Paul used economist Rand Ghayad to prove his point, and Ghayad responded. “Paul cites my work on long-term unemployment as a justification – which surprised me, because it implies the opposite of what he says it does.” The economist further explained that good policy “requires more than a cursory or selective reading of the research.”

Ghayad writes in The Atlantic, “But just because companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed doesn’t mean long-term benefits are to blame. Paul might know that if he read beyond the first line of my paper’s abstract.” Again the economist’s explanation is the same as any reasonable thought, that only if people stopped looking for jobs would cutting benefits drop the unemployment rate. It might hide problems with the labor market, but it won’t cure them. The article concludes:

“A careful reading reveals we can be both hard-headed and warm-hearted in this holiday season.”

The tragedy of unemployment is the large number of people looking for jobs. Each single job averages three job seekers, and the number is much higher in cities. When two new Wal-Marts opened in Washington, D.C. last month, other 23,000 people applied for fewer than 600 jobs—about 40 job seekers per job. The elite GOP in Congress exhort the unemployed to look for lower-paying jobs: that’s what they’re doing at Wal-Mart.

The very people blaming people for unemployment are the ones who caused the problem. Eight months ago, the New York Times reported on how the Congressional austerity measures—those promoted by GOP lawmakers—have kept the unemployment rate from dropping another point. Without the austerity measures, the economic growth would also have most likely grown two additional points in the previous year. This information comes from both private sector and government economists. “Immediate deficit reduction is a drag on full economic recovery.”

The focus of GOP members of Congress was deficit reduction, and they succeeded. The deficit is shrinking faster than at any other time in the past 60 years. At the same time, however, the economy has not grown enough to provide sufficient employment. Spending cuts have reduced demand and taken capital out of the economy while people who could increase demand lost money through payroll tax increases when the breaks were eliminated.  Solutions for unemployment: stop the sequestration cuts, invest in infrastructure, and extend federal aid to prevent the growing public-sector layoff.

When the GOP blocked the president’s American Jobs Act, they also blocked over one million jobs. Sequestration wiped out another 700,000 potential jobs. If the GOP had passed the jobs act and not the sequestration, 15 percent of the unemployed might now have jobs, lowering the unemployment rate below 6 percent.

Almost two months ago, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) distributed the House GOP agenda for 2014—a blank sheet of paper. We can be pretty sure that they will continue with their historic approach of avoidance and obstructionism.

October 18, 2013

GOP Government Shutdown: Some of the Damage

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 7:22 PM
Tags: , ,

After inflicting pain on tens of millions of people in the United States and endangering our global standing, enough Republicans in the House voted against the shutdown to reopen all the agencies. The GOP House refused for six months to conference about the budget while the Democrats already agreed to fund the government at levels demanded by the GOP. Despite the wailing from the GOP, the U.S. deficit has steadily dropped since 2009 with a $450 billion decrease this year—at least until the GOP threatened to not raise the debt ceiling.

Only one issue was raised in the debacle—that of denying affordable health care to the working poor. By focusing on an area in which they knew they could not succeed, federal GOP legislators postponed dealing with any other issues such as immigration, gun control, and jobs for at least a month. They are simply stalling until the 2014 elections with the hope that they will then control both congressional chambers.

A majority of people aren’t opposed to the Affordable Care Act. One poll shows that 58 percent oppose Congress cutting off funding to stop Obamacare. CBS/NY Times found that 56 percent of voters want Congress to uphold the law, and a Gallup poll shows that 64 percent wants the Affordable Care Act kept as is or kept with some changes.

A summary of some damage that misguided, self-centered, controlling, bullying Republicans caused during the past three weeks:

Economy:

  • Spending: After surging to $95 in August, average self-reported daily spending in the U.S. fell back significantly in September to $84, the lowest level since February.
  • Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index: The drop of 12 points last week to  -34 was the largest one-week drop since Lehman Brothers collapsed in five years ago before Barack Obama was elected. Americans’ economic outlook slid 17 points.
  • Small businesses: The shutdown of parks, monuments, and other federal lands was disastrous for all private tourism companies. Government-backed Small Business Administration loans are not being issued. [The shutdown also meant that the KKK could not have their rally at the Gettysburg National Park]
  • Real estate: Agents saw less business, and individuals could not get mortgages.
  • Farms: Lack of a farm bill hurt dairy families and cotton farming.
  • Fishing and king crab fishing boats: These boats are forced to stay docked without government approval of permits and quotas, costing Alaska fisherman potentially “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
  • Biofuels standards: Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the man who claimed that immigrants have thighs the size of cantaloupes from running drugs, complained that the EPA could not just keep writing a standard that he wanted. Iowa leads the nation in corn-based ethanol production, a major contributor to King’s campaigns.
  • Acts of desperation: Sugar daddy websites, focusing on relationships that feature older men who spend lavishly on women, witnessed a spike in interest, attributed to young women losing government benefits.

Safety:

  • Nuclear plants: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission furloughed 3,600 of its employees, roughly 90 percent of its workforce.
  • Border Control: Training stopped.
  • EPA: Cleanup on 62 percent of the nation’s Superfund sites was abandoned 
  • FDA: The food inspection program was stopped, amidst a salmonella outbreak.
  • NASA: The websites were pulled down, keeping the country from knowing weather dangers such as a hurricane headed toward Louisiana.
  • FEMA: After 86 percent of the agency’s employees were furloughed, areas of the country in dire need—such as the aftermath of the South Dakota—failed to receive any aid.
  • Fatal accidents: Investigation on these events, including the church bus accident in Tennessee that killed at least people and the fatal welding accident in the Washington, D.C. subway tunnel, stopped.
  • Pig virus monitoring: This program stopped.
  • Mining: Although corporations were allowed to continue drilling and logging on federal lands, there was no safety supervision or first-responders available. About 90 percent of the workers at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were kept away from their jobs, as were most employees at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, at the same time that three coal miners were killed in equipment accidents.
  • Investigations: The Chemical Safety Board suspended its investigation of the April explosion of a fertilizer facility in West, Texas, and the board’s head said that it would have “no ability to respond” to a new chemical disaster.

 

 

Women, Children, & Families:

  • Food stamps: States discontinued payments to eligible families needing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • Heating assistance: The poor in some states will not receive this help if states have run out of money.
  • Child care subsidies: Some states ran out of money to provide these.
  • Department of Agriculture: The agency no longer supported the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to help 9 million pregnant women and new mothers buy healthy food and provide nutritional information and health care referrals for the needy.
  • Domestic violence programs, Meals on Wheels, and food pantries: These programs suffered as people went hungry and abused victims had no access to shelter.
  • School children: The closure of some roads through the Great Smoky Mountains stopped children from taking buses to school. Head Start children could not attend school in many places.
  • Health care clinics: Some of these could not take on new patients or work with drug companies to get free medicine for indigent people.

Research/Statistics:

  • National Institutes of Health: The lab closures kept a seriously-ill, three-year-old boy from receiving a blood test until Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) stepped in to help. Promising treatment stopped for 30-year-old Michelle Langbehn, with Stage IV sarcoma.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lack of information made the country more dangerous, and CDC could not participate in the flu vaccination program.
  • Other research: Furloughed researchers cannot continue their studies that often rely on time-important investigation—for example projects to study insects just as the pests are finding winter hiding places inside home. NOAA ships were sent back to port, pulled off their surveying research to help the fishing industry.

Jobs:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Court cases were delayed.
  • Furloughs: Over 800,000 “nonessential” people were pulled away from their responsibilities, and over 1.2 million “essential” federal employees worked without pay.

Benefits:

  • Veterans: They could not receive federal tuition assistance. All regional veterans’ offices wereclosed, and processing of any benefits, including health, were greatly slowed.
  • Survivors of military members who die since the shutdown began:  Until a private group stepped in, families did not receive the “death gratuity” of $100,000 promised to immediately reach them within 24 to 36 hours and did not have their family travel covered to Dover Air Force Base where the bodies arrive in the U.S.
  • Native Americans: They could not receive scholarships, and others had nutrition programs, foster care payments, financial assistance for poor, and anti-elder-abuse programs cut.
  • Disabilities: The Social Security administration did not schedule new hearings for those applying for disability benefits, and the Veterans Appeal Board was closed, stopping veterans’ appealing decisions on disability benefits.

Surveillance:

  • The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies: This group could not convene to examine NSA’s surveillance problems.
  • Court cases: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook and LinkedIn had to wait until the shutdown was over to see any movement on their lawsuits against the U.S. government over surveillance transparency.

Global Issues:

  • Trade Accord: The skeletal staffs for government agencies stopped a trade accord with Europe.
  • The dollar: Slowing of the U.S. economy depreciates the dollar and causes the U.S. to lose competitiveness in Europe.
  • Foreign affairs: President Obama’s cancelation of his meeting with world leaders in Asia caused him to miss the opportunity to work with world leaders regarding Syria and Iran, thereby putting the U.S. at greater risk.
  • Russia: After federal websites shut down, other countries considered the adoption of U.S. websites. For example, the Russian Pirate Party offered to host NASA’s downed website during the U.S. shutdown. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration would have celebrated its 55th anniversary on the first day of the shutdown. The Pirate Party of Russia promotes e-democracy, the freedom of information, and the protection of personal privacy, operating on a monthly budget of $200.

It’s the tip of the iceberg, and the thugs in the Tea Party plan to start all over again in less than three months. They need to be stopped.

September 26, 2013

Dumb & Dumber – The Gop Party Can’t Quit

After Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) got to make his long speech, ending yesterday, about defunding Obamacare, the Senate was supposed to vote on the Continuing Resolution. That didn’t happen, but lots of other things did.

The media had a field day comparing Cruz and the real Texas filibusterer Wendy Davis, who fought draconian anti-women state laws. Cruz is “aimless and self-destructive” (New York Times editorial board), elitist (GQ),  and likely guided more by presidential aspirations than principles (CNN). Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, called Cruz, his former Princeton colleague, an “arrogant jerk” — and worse.

Davis, Texas state senator, was the subject of a glowing Vogue profile and became a superstar on almost every major network.  She was the “Sunday Spotlight” for ABC’s This Week and was interviewed by Jeff Zeleny in the dinner theater where she once waited tables. Even conservative columnist Peggy Noonan described Davis as “so spirited, she has such energy and she seems to have such commitment.” As Dylan Byers wrote on Politico, “When a Democrat like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters against abortion restrictions, she is elevated to hero status, her tennis shoes become totems. When Cruz grandstands against Obamacare, he is a laughingstock in the eyes of many journalists on Twitter, an “embarrassment” in the eyes of The New York Times editorial board.”

Since Cruz’s speech, Huffington Post has discovered that he doesn’t accept government health insurance because his wife’s employment as a regional head of a Goldman Sachs division gives him top-notch health insurance. According to a 2009 New York Times report, top executive officers and managing directors at the bank participate in a health care program that costs Goldman more than $40,000 in annual premiums for each participant’s family.

what a tea partier looks likeAfter yesterday’s vote to move ahead on the Continuing Resolution to keep the government functioning past this coming Monday, GOP greed bogged down the process into inaction by demanding a bizarre set of conditions. Without these, they plan to shut down the government and send the economy into a tailspin. Originally conservatives (aka Tea Partiers to right)  just wanted to defund Obamacare, but their list has vastly expanded just five days before the U.S. shuts down:

  • Approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline: After 3,900 temporary jobs, the pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast would support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs. Annual emissions would be “the equivalent of 6 million cars on the road,” according to the EPA.
  • Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:  The GOP has had a strong yen to promote predatory lending practices from banks and financial institutions.
  • Cut $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade:. In addition to repealing other benefits for health reform, this would increase Medicare costs.
  • Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands: The GOP wants to have new drilling on the entire U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space despite the fact that Congress refuses to make drilling safer after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
  • Block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions: In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide under the 1973 Clean Air Act. With the discovery that exposure to air pollution kills about 200,000 people a year, the GOP wants to reverse the EPA control. Up to 3 million premature deaths could be avoided each year globally by 2100 if aggressive emissions cuts are made.
  • Restrict most forms of federal industry regulation: The GOP wants all major regulations to need Congressional votes and nullify any not approved within 70 days. Such a law would require federal agencies to have Congressional approval for changes  in vehicle safety standards, reductions in greenhouse emissions, or streamlining the FDA’s process for approving new drugs.
  • Pass a tax-reform blueprint that the GOP finds acceptable.
  • Block any ways to combat climate crisis. 
  • Eliminate Net Neutrality for a free and open Internet.
  • Extend destructive sequestration spending cuts.
  • Execute pro-corporatre tort reforms, including limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. 
  • Ban abortions after 20 weeks.

And there may be more! Meanwhile Democrats are asking for nothing except to keep the country functioning.

More Republicans are angry about the behavior of the ultra-conservative legislators. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) lambasted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) after they refused to agree to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) request to move up a cloture vote on a continuing resolution funding the government from Friday to Thursday evening. Corker argued that the Senate should act as soon as possible in order to give their House colleagues more time to avert a government shutdown, criticizing Cruz for putting on a “show” meant to attract attention instead. Corker said:

“It’s my understanding again, relative to this vote tonight happening tomorrow instead, is that my two colleagues, who I respect, have sent out e-mails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and, therefore, they want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is also having a worse week than usual. Because U.S. senators present names to the president for appeals court potential nominees, Rubio and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) are responsible for suggesting qualified professionals to serve on federal district courts in their state. They selected Judge William Thomas after subjecting him to a background check. President Obama’s team agreed, and Thomas was headed to be the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge. Rubio has now announced his opposition to the judicial nominee he selected for the position. Without the approval of both senators, Thomas has lost the nomination. Rubio must still want to be the 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

The GOP also had a bad day yesterday after  the Inspector’ General’s Office issued a report that there was no bias in the independent audit of the attack in Benghazi, contrary to the claims from Republican legislators. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has spent much of his political capital for the last year to prove that the State Department was trying to protect then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The report was overseen by  Acting Inspector General Harold Geisel, assigned to his role by Condoleezza Rice in 2008, and calls for GOP attacks on the Benghazi audit to stop.

ramboldToday is also the day that admitted rapist and former high school teacher Stacey “Sandy” Rambold, 54, walked out of the Montana State Prison after his 31-day sentence for raping 14-year-old Cherice Moralez. That was in 2007, three years after the school district that employed him had told him not to touch or be alone with female students.

BaughAfter the legal process of convicting him, District Judge G. Todd Baugh, said, “He’d suffered enough.” At the same sentencing, he said the victim, Cherice Moralez, was “older than her chronological age.” In response to public outcry, Baugh added, “Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent.” But he continued that this wasn’t “some violent, forcible, horrible rape.” It wasn’t, said the judge, “this forcible beat-up rape.” He also stated that the 14-year-old was “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year-old teacher.

In an almost incoherent defense of his actions, Baugh told the Billings Gazette:

“I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it in that way, it’s crazy. No wonder people are upset. I’d be upset, too, if that happened.”

Judge Baugh made it happen.

Just before her 17th birthday, Moralez, tormented by classmates, killed herself with a gun. After her suicide, the prosecution made a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold. All charges, including the one to which Rambold admitted, would be dismissed if he completed a sex-offender treatment program and met other requirements including no contact with children. When the rapist failed to meet the conditions of the agreement, prosecutors asked the judge for a 20-year sentence. Baugh ruled that Rambold’s violations “were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.”

Hanlon said the pain of her daughter’s death hasn’t faded. Rambold made unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and failed to disclose he was in a sexual relationship with a Washington woman.

State prosecutors are appealing the sentence, claiming that Montana’s state law requires a minimum sentence of two years for Rambold. With no new offenses, however, he will stay out of prison pending the appeal which could take 12 to 18 months. Unless the original sentence if overruled, Rambold must register as a sex offender and stay on probation until 2028.

A formal complaint to remove Baugh from the bench for alleged bias is pending before the state Judicial Standards Commission.

If Baugh’s reaction were unique, it would be horrifying. But even worse, this is a common event. Defense lawyers used the same defense for a juvenile detention guard in Louisiana when he raped a 14-year-old girl in his care. The case won’t be heard again until March 24, 2014, because of a crowded court docket. In 2000, a South Caroline Circuit judge cut a 27-year-old youth minister’s sentence in half to six years because the  14-year-old girl’s body “was [at] an unusual stage of maturity.”

hw. bush witnessLast weekend, former President George H.W. Bush was the official witness at the wedding between Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, long-time friends of the Bushes. It was reported that the Bushes gave the newly-weds Target bake-ware as a gift.

 

bush four

October 13, 2012

Good News for President Obama

While Mitt Romney and other Republicans find it vital to point out the fallacies of President Obama’s policies and actions, the conservatives determinedly ignore the way that the current administration is bringing the country out of the disasters that George W. Bush and the other neocons brought onto the United States. Here’s a sampling:

U.S. consumer sentiment rose up from 78.3 to 83.1 this month, its highest in five years, shortly after the U.S. unemployment rate tumbled to its lowest in nearly four years.

During George W. Bush’s rule, the stock market crashed, and trillions of dollars of private wealth were erased with the market bottoming out at 6,547 in early 2009. Now the stocks have rebounded to almost twice that, closing out last week at 13,329.

A boom in oil production within the United States has the country on a course to cut its reliance on imported crude oil to about 42 percent this year, the lowest level in two decades. Republicans claim that the president’s energy policies drive up the prices because of shortages and regulations, but the reason behind inflated prices is speculation. The CEO of Exxon-Mobil, Rex Tillerson, told a Senate hearing last year that this speculation was driving up the price of a barrel of oil by as much as 40%.

For a while Mitt Romney was using the “are you better off than you were four years ago” question to put down what President Obama has accomplished during his term. Here are some differences

When the economy was in a tail spin in early 2009, the auto industry was on pace to sell 9.3 vehicles that year. Now, GM is coming back, Chrysler is solid, and Ford Motors is on a roll; September car sales in the U.S. reached a 14.88-million annual pace.

By the end of the first quarter of 2009, $16 trillion in home equity had been erased through bad bank methods. Now, home prices are heading up, and home equity has rebounded more than $11.5 trillion.

By February 2008, ten days after the current president took his oath of office, the unemployment had shot up from 5 percent the year before to 8.3 percent. In less than nine months, the unemployment rate topped out at 10 percent. Now the unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, still high but consistently declining.

Compare the current unemployment situation to that of President Reagan, patron saint of the conservatives. Ten days before he took office, the unemployment rate was 7.4 percent; nineteen months later it peaked at 10.8 percent in November 1982. By the time, Reagan started his second term, it had fallen to 7.3 percent, just 0.1 percent of recovery in four years. That’s only 20 percent of what the current president has managed in less time.

Obama inherited a deficit of nearly $1.3 trillion from Bush/Cheney the moment he took the oath of office, a deficit that he has dropped $200 billion this year, the smallest deficit in four years, despite the Republican policies that drive the deficit.

Although the conservatives refuse to admit that the 2009 stimulus benefited the country, “facts matter,” to quote VP Joe Biden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the Romney campaign constantly likes about how much the government has spent during the past four years, it is actually the Republican presidents that spend far more. As the chart shows, only Bill Clinton spent less during the last half century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above chart also shows how unemployment claims grew during the last part of George W. Bush’s rule, only to start shrinking after President Obama’s inauguration.

When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, the nation had a large surplus and was on track to pay off the entirety of its debt, roughly $5 trillion at the time, by the end of the decade. After their election, Bush/Cheney went on a binge, charging the costs of two wars, two tax cuts, Medicare expansion, and a Wall Street bailout with no idea of how to pay for them except to accuse the next Democratic president of having an enormous deficit. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) described the Bush/Cheney era as a time when the GOP decided “it was standard practice not to pay for things.”

It’s against this backdrop that the Romney-Ryan ticket intends to pass trillions in additional tax cuts, increase defense spending, increase entitlement spending, and destroy health care reform, a move that would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the debt. Once again the Republicans want to further bankrupt the United States.

In fact, Ryan has already contributed a grand total of $6.8 trillion to the federal debt during his time in Congress, voting for at least 65 bills that either reduced revenue or increased spending. It’s horrifying to imagine what he would do if he were give more control than he has had as one person out of 435 representatives in the House.

Aside: William Koch is facing a federal lawsuit for allegedly and illegally imprisoning and interrogating an employee. Kirby Martenson, a former executive for a number of Koch subsidiary companies, claims that he was fired, imprisoned, and interrogated for an excessive amount of time at the Old West ghost town replica that Koch built recently. Check out the entire story here.

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