Nel's New Day

February 12, 2014

Social, Political Issues

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes a short quote tells the whole story. Following are some quotes from around the country during the past few weeks on politics, racism, and just plain stupidity.

Gretchen Carlson on the Fox network about the retail chain CVS no longer selling tobacco products: “Is it OK legally … to restrict tobacco availability in a private store like this. For people who smoke, you know, they have a right to buy cigarettes. It’s not illegal.” [For Carlson’s edification, abortion is also legal, but some states have closed down every clinic that provides the surgical procedure.]

Gary James, former candidate for Enid (OK) city council, about his refusal to serve blacks, gays, the disabled and “welfare people” in his restaurant: “Well if you work, you own a business, pay your taxes, you’re more than welcome here. If you’re on welfare, stay home and spend my money there. I don’t deal with these people walking down the street with no jobs on welfare…. I’ve been in business 44 years, I think I can spot a freak or a f*ggot. I really don’t want gays around. Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.”

Michele M.’s response to James: “Gary James refuses to serve wheelchair bound persons, black people, Hispanics, mixed race couples, gay people, people who wear hats, people who ask for Budweiser, liberals, men with longish hair, people wearing clothes he doesn’t approve of, people with facial piercings, on and on. If you pass first inspection, don’t think you’ve got it made. If he doesn’t approve of an overheard conversation, if he decides you’re effeminate, if your politics don’t agree with his, if you don’t like the way you cheer for the wrong team, etc, etc., Mr. James will charge you more.”

[Followup: Internet social media is now listing Gary James’ restaurant as a gay bar.]

Fox network’s Bill O’Reilly: “[In black precincts, there is] “chaos in the streets, in the schools and in the homes.”

Kirk Cameron (former Growing Pains star) about the 33 couples married at the award ceremony: “How did you like the Grammy’s [sic] all out assault on the traditional family last night?”

Bryan Fischer (American Family Association) on the same subject: “Heads up: Grammy telecast to feature sodomy-based wedding ceremonies.”

Todd Starnes (Fox network) continuing: “I’ve never seen such a display of intolerance, bigotry and hatred. #Grammys #antichristian.”

John Pisciotta (head of Pro-Life Waco): “The Girl Scouts were once a truly amazing organization, but it has been taken over by ideologues of the left, and regular folks just will not stand for it.” [Is that why a man in Temecula, CA pulled a gun on a Girl Scout selling cookies?]

Ryan Zinke (Republican State Senator running for the U.S. House in Montana) who called Hillary Clinton the “Antichrist”: “We need to focus on the real enemy.” [He also claimed that Newt Gingrich is “senior advisor” to his campaign, but Gingrich denied this.]

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to single mothers who receive government assistance: “Maybe we have to say ‘enough’s enough, you shouldn’t be having kids after a certain amount.’”

Illinois Catholic bishop Thomas Paprocki: Gay couples need to be severely “disciplined” for participating in the “redefinition of marriage.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) regarding House reason for no action on immigration reform: “Here’s the issue that all Republicans agree on: We don’t trust the president to enforce the law.” [It’s also a talking point that many other GOP members, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) use.]

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) suggested that the law start in 2017 after President Obama leaves office: We don’t know who’s going to be president in 2017.” [A reason for never passing any legislation.]

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at a GOP Governors Association fundraiser in Chicago: “You want income equality? That is mediocrity. Everybody can have an equal, mediocre salary.”

Mike Huckabee, about free birth control for women: “And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.” [In 2005, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee signed a law mandating Arkansas insurance plans provide contraception coverage, including church-affiliated organizations such as hospitals and universities.]

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who doesn’t know that there is no longer any “Soviet Union”: “It appears that Belarus, which is a nation friendly with the Soviet Union, may have a subcontracting contract to build a part of Obamacare.”

Bachmann on immigration reform: “It isn’t the conservative Republican immigration policy that immigrants don’t like, it’s our stance on fiscal conservatism, the Constitution, patriotism, the fact that we believe in limited government and personal responsibility.”

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) about unemployment benefits: “It is immoral.” 

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong on why his company will no longer match employee 401(k) plans: “We had two AOL-ers that had distressed babies that were born that we paid a million dollars each to make sure those babies were OK in general.” [What? No reinsurance plans for large claims of over AOL’s 5,000 employees? Valleywag posted a visual to show the relationship between Armstrong’s salary and “distressed babies.”]  

distressed babies

Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi (R-OH) about House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) to accomplish anything: “Right now, Jesus himself couldn’t be the speaker and get 218 Republicans behind something, so I think Speaker Boehner is trying his best to come up with a plan that can get close to that.”

Chad Brown (former Polk County Republican Party of Iowa Co-Chair): “My opinion is the ‘Duck Dynasty Wing’ of the Republican Party has taken over the GOP, and they’re not about to retreat in their war on science and common sense.”

The most amazing one on Sunday:

Conservative columnist David Brooks on Meet the Press about the need for immigration reform: “It’s not who runs the Republican Party. Do the leaders who want to have a long term future, a presidential national future, as a multi-racial party, do they run the party or does [Michael Needham of Heritage Foundation] run the party. The truth is Mike runs the party.”

President Obama also managed a few memorable quotes during a ten-minute interview with Bill O’Reilly on the Fox network immediately before the Super Bowl. It is a tradition that the current president sits down for a brief interview with the network that projects the annual game.

When O’Reilly asked about the many times that former IRS Doug Schulman had been to the White House: “That’s not what happened. Folks have again had multiple hearings on this. These kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them.”

When O’Reilly claimed that people thought that the president avoided calling Benghazi a “terror attack”: “They believe it because folks like you are telling them that.”

The night after the Super Bowl, the Fox network played more of the interview. O’Reilly asked, “Do you think I’m unfair to you?”

The president responded, “Absolutely. Of course you are, Bill. But I like you anyway.”

When O’Reilly pressed the president on how he had been “unfair” in the interview, President Obama said, “I think regardless of whether it’s fair or not, it has made Fox News very successful… What are you going to do when I’m gone?”

O’Reilly thinks that the interview will go down in “journalistic history.”

The quote of the week that no one will hear on the Fox network: “Given the military’s preparations on September 11, 2012, majority members have not yet discerned any response alternatives that could have likely changed the outcome of the Benghazi attack.” That’s the conclusion of a report from the GOP House Armed Forces Committee about the four deaths at the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya.  

January 16, 2014

U.S. Has Budget – Unemployed, Nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:44 PM
Tags: , ,

I used to think that a three-month extension of any bill was ridiculously short, worthy of the “kick the can down the road” epithet. Earlier this week, the House passed a three-day continuing resolution to extend the budget so that the government doesn’t close—again–barely a “touch the can.”

Congress, however, somewhat redeemed itself by passing the real 1,582-page omnibus $1.1 trillion budget bill with a 359-67 vote in the House and a 72-26 vote in the Senate. Once President Obama signs the bill, the government can keep paying its bills until the end of September 2014—unless the GOP shuts down the government over raising the debt ceiling.

Some GOP Congressional members are preening at how they’re holding the line and controlling the Democrats by delaying new energy efficiency standards on light bulbs, limiting government travel and conferences, and prohibiting the IRS from targeting people based on their political beliefs. Someone failed to tell Republicans that the IRS cannot legally target people, and the GOP ignored the fact that progressive political organizations were also audited.

The eight-percent cut for the IRS during the past two years for the IRS may be an attempt to protect the wealthy from being audited. In reality, the cut reduces service to people who need it. Although questions for the IRS have dropped 86 percent within the past decade, the agency can answer only 61 percent of the calls looking for help. During the same time, the telephone wait time has gone from 2.6 minutes to 17.6 minutes. There’s much more work now, however; in ten years the number of returns has grown by 11 percent to 146 million.

The military gets more than half of the budget–$573 billion for defense spending and $525 billion for non-defense discretionary spending. At 48 percent of the world’s military spending, the U.S. military budget is equal to the next ten countries’ military budgets combined.

military_by_country_spending-by-country

defense spending ten countries

Some defense spending was allocated to curb sexual assault the military, Head Start education programs are restored, and $1.5 billion in aid goes to Egypt despite the global concern about the crackdown there on activists and journalists. The $600 million for disabled veterans mistakenly cut in the last spending bill was replaced. The U.S. Post Office will keep delivering mail on Saturday, unfortunately with no provision for dealing with the requirement that USPS fund the retirement account for at least 75 years, a major financial difficulty.

The plan developed by House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) parallels in many ways George W. Bush’s 2007 budget—without allowance for inflation. For example, the National Institutes of Health is allocated just $.7 billion more than six years ago, shrinking its budget by almost $3.3 billion. Other science funding was also cut.

The bill makes the United States cheapskates in the world’s eyes: the $315 million pledged in 2010 to the International Monetary Fund is still not funded. That’s only two F-35s, the planes that the defense department is building despite that fact that they don’t work.

Kentucky is happy because the bill doesn’t fund the Army Corps of Engineers to change the regulatory definition of “fill material,” a change that the coal-mining industry opposed. Of course, a Kentucky representative heads the committee that prepares the bill.

Wall Street can breathe easier after the GOP cut back the funding by 30 percent for regulators important to the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Of course, the GOP hit the Affordable Care Act, refusing any additional appropriations for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and taking $1 billion out of another fund so that the president cannot use it for the health care act.

Hidden in the 1,582 pages are some peculiar pieces. The ban on funding for ACORN is not the first time that Congress defunded ACORN since it disbanded four years ago. The bill also prevents any spending to hold Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the United States. The move of the Vatican Embassy has been halted, a move started by George W. Bush to a place closer than the current one and a move that would save the country $1 million.

More strange bits are sure to pop up in the media because Congressional members didn’t read the entire bill before passing it. The GOP will no longer have the right to ridicule Democrats for passing the Affordable Care Act without reading it.

The “Monsanto Protection Act,” slipped secretly into an earlier spending bill by former Monsanto lawyer Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), didn’t make the break this time. An outcry from the public stopped a repeat of the law that would kept Monsanto safe from any judicial action despite its wrongdoings.

Although Congress passed a budget, they failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits to 1.4 million people. It’s been almost three weeks since these benefits expired, and the GOP Senate “deal” to exchange the benefits for continuing the sequestration across-the-board spending cuts for an additional year—into 2024—fell through.

Republicans, however, are running scared because of negative reactions to the abrupt cutoff of unemployment benefits. For example, people in El Paso County (CO), where the conservative religious group Focus on the Family is located along with the military facilities Air Force Academy, NORAD, and Fort Carson. The area’s aerospace and defense industry was hit hard by the sequestration, and the Colorado county has the largest number in people in the state who lost their benefits three days after Christmas.

 Lita Ness, 58, lost her job as a civilian contractor at Peterson Air Force Base in August 2012 and just got her last unemployment check. Taking a break from a computer training class at Pikes Peak Workforce Center, Ness said: 

“I’m registered as a Republican, but if they continue to use this not extending our (aid) I’m probably changing to Democrat. People in our district who vote ‘No’ on this, I’m not going to support them.”

Ness’ representative is Republican Doug Lamborn, who said about unemployment benefits, “It’s $6 billion, doesn’t do anything to create jobs.” The man obviously has no understanding of economic theory.  Taking away these benefits is estimated to destroy 310,000 private sector jobs.

An examination of data from 20 states by Democratic staff on the House Ways and Means Committee shows that benefits-opponents Reps. John Fleming (R-LA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) represent districts with disproportionately high percentages of people needing these emergency benefits. Economists report that the longer-term unemployed are more likely to be older, a demographic important to GOP elections. The GOP should be scared. Depicting people from the middle-class background as lazy moves more voters away from the Republican party.

The Republicans are in a difficult position. Throwing people out of their homes and forcing them to go without food makes them look heartless. But the extremist right-wing people are out for blood in this year’s primaries. Heritage Action, for example, said it will include the vote on continuing unemployment benefits on its “legislative scorecard.”

As for the quid pro quo of replacing the $6.4 billion from other areas, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation system is a contingency measure, not an ongoing spending program. This is the first time that the measure hasn’t received support from both parties. The current version was signed into law by George W. Bush in July 2008. At that time, the unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent, compared to the current rate of 7 percent, and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks, compared to today’s duration of over 35 weeks. At no time in history has Congress stopped special extended benefits with the unemployment as high as it is right now.

The GOP’s elimination of these benefits flies against precedent and economic logic. Almost the entire $6.4 billion reverts to the economy, generating additional spending, hiring, and tax revenues. The program is only temporary; with a growing economy and downward trend in unemployment rates, the benefits can be postponed until the GOP drives the country into another recession.

The benefits keep people looking for work, because that’s a provision of receiving them. Without these benefits, people may simply drop out of the work force and require far more public assistance.

The United States has a budget for the next eight months, but the GOP has now lost the support of two more of their potential constituents—the Tea Party and the unemployed.

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.

December 23, 2013

Budget Deal – Bipartisan But Superficial

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:21 PM
Tags: ,

Last week, many in the United States—including those who buy stocks—gave a huge sigh of relief that the GOP extremists weren’t going to push the country over the cliff. At least not again in 2013. In a hugely bipartisan deal, the Senate passed the budget by a 64-36 vote after the House had moved it on with a 332-94 vote. Nine GOP senators and 169 GOP House members voted in favor of the bill. The GOP presidential wannabes Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) all stuck to their guns with “no” votes, but at least they didn’t scuttle the bill. The $85 billion bill over ten years fell far short, however, of the $4 trillion that deficit hawks wanted. A bonus for Medicare doctors is the .5 percent payment increase through the end of March.

The wealthy didn’t have to shell out a penny for the increased taxes. The bottom 80 percent paid for the cuts when federal employee retirement benefits were sliced by $6 billion and military retiree benefits by another $6 billion. Anyone flying will pay an additional $2.50 to $5.60 per ticket.

The good news is that the country did not shut down during the Congressional holiday recess. The bad news:

  • The two-year budget did nothing about the struggle to provide decent jobs in the United States. The middle class is sinking into the mire, poor wages result in rapidly rising inequality, and continual unemployment provides growing insecurity.
  • Nothing was done to fix the hatchet sequester cuts that equates a bloated defense budget and threadbare domestic programs such as education, infant nutrition, and clean energy.
  • The deal approved the faulty policy that workers have too much money and the wealthy don’t have enough. Federal workers pay for reducing the deficit while global corporations continue to export jobs and profits while evading taxes. Billionaires keep their inordinate tax breaks without investing in the nation. In the last two years, federal workers gave up over $113 billion for deficit reduction since 2011, including a three-year pay freeze, increased pension contributions for newly hired employees, the up to eight furlough days caused by sequestration this summer, and a 16-day shutdown in October.
  • Nothing was done to help the unemployed, the 1.3 million people forced deeper into poverty by being denied unemployment benefits. The issue of food stamps was also not addressed while extremists push to take more money from the safety net.
  • Republicans opposed repeal of sequester, tax increases, expanding investments, and focusing on domestic problems. They won all those. All that Democrats got was preventing deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The American Dream of a budget would pass these:

  • Repeal of sequester cuts.
  • Protection of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and programs for the most vulnerable.
  • Detailed investments for the future in education, infrastructure, clean energy, job training, service programs.
  • Tax reform to require wealthy and corporations to pay a fair share of taxes through removal of loopholes and protections for offshore tax havens.
  • Elimination of fossil fuel subsidies.
  • Increase of the minimum wage.
  • Prevention of the drug company rip-offs with government negotiation for bulk discounts in prices.
  • Unemployment extensions.
  • Alternative energy tax credits and subsidies with carbon tax and carbon reduction targets.
  • Increases in school lunch programs, child-care programs, elderly care programs, and the social security ceiling to $500,000 annual income.
  • Constitutional amendments prohibiting private campaign financing and denying corporate personhood.

Extending unemployment payments is a way to immediately help the country’s economy. Every dollar spent on unemployment insurance contributes $1.60 to GDP while dividends or capital gain tax cuts provides only $.40. The unemployed spend their benefits immediately where as tax cuts for the wealthy go into savings, sometimes in the Cayman Islands. It’s been estimated that the loss of these benefits will lose 310,000 jobs.

The government could solve the long-term unemployed problem:

  • Fund direct employment as people search for new jobs.
  • Increase transportation opportunities so that workers can get to work.
  • Expand work-sharing programs by allocating prorated benefits to help businesses not lay off people.

The threat of a government shutdown isn’t over. The debt ceiling looms in early 2014, and Republicans are again willing to take the country hostage. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said:

“We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), facing stiff competition in his 2014 primary, agrees with Ryan and plans another game of chicken over raising the legal borrowing limit. President Obama has said that he won’t negotiate on the debt limit and that Congress has an obligation to pay the bills for spending it has already authorized.

Last fall, the GOP got the blame for the government shutdown, causing the impetus to pass the two-year budget agreement. The next fiscal fight is closer to elections with extremists nipping at the heels of conservative senators such as John Cornyn (TX), Mike Enzi (WY), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Pat Roberts (KS). Supposedly Republicans have already caved into Dems over the budget; they can’t afford to do it again. But they may not realize that.

The best way to save money at the federal level is to stop privatizing. Contractors from the $6 billion management-consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to Boeing, the defense contractor making $82 billion in global sales, these contractors cost twice as much as civil servants. Boeing and Northrop Grumman are some of those that cost almost three times as much. Last year, contractors were allowed to charge the government as much as $763,029 per worker.

The new budget deal caps contractor salary at $487,000, more than the president’s $400,000 salary. In addition to salary, for-profit contractors get perks such as golf outings and executive retreats in addition to overhead such as renting space or operating buildings that the contractors own. Of the $31.5 billion in invoices to the Army from private contractors, $16.6 billion were for overhead.

Nonprofits get between zero and 3 percent for overhead although overhead costs for nonprofit human services agencies average about 17 percent. They also operate under much more difficult rules than for-profits, who can organize a new business if they are caught in fraudulent financing. About 27,000 Pentagon contractors, 11 percent, get defense contracts after evading taxes.

Congress could save as much as $300 billion annually by replacing corporate contract workers with civil servants, streamlining bureaucratic management, and relying on low-cost nonprofit contractors. Paying unemployment for the 1.3 million people who lose their benefits this Friday costs about $25 billion. The government would have $275 billion left over if they helped the poor people instead of supporting the lifestyle of the wealthy.

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