Friday Morning Reads

Tina

Good Morning!

Syria is again dominating the headlines.  Here’s a few things that might be slipping under the rug.

If Congressional Republicans have their way, SNAP recipients will only get $3.37 a day for meals.

In July, House Republicans decoupled SNAP from the rest of the farm bill. Now, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, they are working on a food-stamp provision that could cut as much as $40 billion over 10 years, according to reports. Legislative language for the Cantor proposal is not yet available.

The conservative case goes like this: The food-stamp program is abused by recipients who are not meeting eligibility requirements. In particular, conservatives want to tighten loopholes that they contend allow able-bodied adults without dependents to receive assistance; they want to limit coverage for the able-bodied adults to three months within a 36-month period.

“Currently, working middle-class families struggling to make ends meet themselves are footing a bill for a program that has gone well beyond the safety net for children, seniors, the disabled, and families who desperately need the assistance,” said Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper.

Antihunger advocates say House Republicans’ proposed cuts would hit some of the neediest Americans hard, and they argue that the law already contains adequate restrictions against abuse.

At the Capital Area Food Bank, a 100,000-square-foot warehouse facility — a kind of Sam’s Club for food pantries in the metro Washington area — officials say food-stamp funds typically last recipients two and a half weeks. After the benefits run out, many go to food pantries to help make ends meet, according to the Food Bank’s Brian Banks.

Conservatives, meanwhile, argue that food-stamp funding has been rising too quickly. The program cost about $78.4 billion to help feed roughly 47 million participants in 2012, according to the Agriculture Department. That’s up from about $17 billion from 2000, when 17 million Americans participated.

“The national debt has now topped $16 trillion and will continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future. To preserve the economy, government spending, including welfare spending, must be put on a more prudent course,” wrote the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector and Katherine Bradley in a white paper.

Anti-hunger advocates, though, point to a spike in the number of Americans who are “food insecure,” a term used by the government, that correlates to the recession. According to USDA, the number has recently stayed at roughly 15 percent, with 17.6 million households classified as such in 2012, according to a newly released report. With 59 percent of food-insecure households using food stamps, advocates argue that it’s important not to slash SNAP.

Now that Congress has returned, the farm bill and the food-stamp program will compete for scarce legislative time with the situation in Syria, appropriations bills, and a debate over the debt-ceiling limit, which the government is expected to reach sometime this fall. Among antihunger Debbie Harryorganizations, optimism is in short supply.

Indiania seems to hate its pregnant women.  They’re at it again.  This time they want to drug test all pregnant women even if there is no probable cause to believe they might be ingesting something harmful.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is calling on the legislature to help reduce the number of babies being exposed to narcotics while still in the womb.

It is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS, newborns exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs before they are born.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller says treating NAS at Indiana hospitals cost an estimated $30 million in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available, and he says that’s with limited tracking because hospitals are not required to report the condition.

Zoeller says one solution is requiring pregnant women take drug tests to identify the problem and start treatment before birth.

“You can reduce the length of stay for the newly born baby from six weeks to two weeks, the better health of the baby as well as the costs,” he say.s

State Senator Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, says the legislature is exploring different options because of concerns about mandatory drug tests.

“Verbal screening as opposed to the kind of blood or urine analysis that might drive women away from getting prenatal care,” she says, adding that a definitive answer has not been reached and a legislative panel will continue to investigate the issue leading up to next session.

Republicans are gearing up for the fight over the sequester in October.

On Tuesday, House Republicans unveiled their proposal to keep the government running past September 30, when the law that currently funds federal operations expires. It would last through December, at which point the parties would have to come up with yet another extension. As expected, the proposal more or less “locks in” funding levels from budget sequestration—in effect, it keeps the cuts that have been reducing Head Start slotsweakening the economy recovery, and generally wreaking havoc. As you may recall, sequestration cuts were never supposed to happen: They were supposed to be so crude and unpleasant, to conservatives and liberals alike, that the two parties would agree on an alternative way of reducing the deficit. But that hasn’t happened, so the cuts have taken effect this year. And if this new House Republican proposal passes, they will stay in place for at least a little while longer.

The House proposal also includes a provision to withhold funds for implementing Obamacare. Again, this is not a surprise. And, like some previous efforts, this one is mostly an effort of political theater. By design, the Senate could strip out the Obamacare defunding and approve everything else in the House leadership proposal. That would leave a “clean” government-funding bill, as House Republican leaders call it, for President Obama to sign. But House Republican leaders have assured anxious conservatives that a real effort to undermine Obamacare will come soon—proabably sometime in early October, when the federal treasury nears its official borrowing limit. At that point, the leaders say, they will refuse to authorize more borrowing unless Obama and the Democrats agree to certain concessions. The demands will include some kind of effort at defunding or delaying Obamacare—quite possibly, by insisting that the Obama administration postpones the individual mandate (the requirement that everybody get health insurance) by one year.

bruce

Ho Hah David Vitter!!

Senate Democrats have had all they can take from David Vitter and his fixation on Obamacare — and they’re dredging up his past prostitution scandal to hit back.

Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, has infuriated Democrats this week by commandeering the Senate floor, demanding a vote on his amendment repealing federal contributions to help pay for lawmakers’ health care coverage.

But Democratic senators are preparing a legislative response targeting a sordid Vitter episode. If Vitter continues to insist on a vote on his proposal, Democrats could counter with one of their own: Lawmakers will be denied those government contributions if there is “probable cause” they solicited prostitutes.

According to draft legislation obtained by POLITICO, Democrats are weighing whether to force a Senate vote on a plan that would effectively resurrect Vitter’s past if the conservative Republican continues to press forward with his Obamacare-bashing proposal.

And Ho Ha !! Bobby Jindal!!

It is now much easier to make the case that Gov. Bobby Jindal knows his chances of winning the presidency in the 2016 election are securely in his past. In fact, given the record he is now so feverishly and self-destructively building, it is difficult imagining the governor winning another — any — statewide election in Louisiana. In making that case, Exhibits No. 1 through No. 50, at least, are on display in Jindal’s bafflingly deliberate and long-running defiance of orders issued by Baton Rouge state district court Judge Janice Clark in a key public records case.

Over five months ago, on April 25, Judge Clark emphatically ruled in favor of plaintiff newspapers, the Advocate and NOLA.com | Times-Picayune, and ordered the LSU Board of Supervisors to “immediately produce” the documents identifying all those who sought the combined job of LSU president and chancellor. F. King Alexander was selected for the job, and Jindal does not want citizens to know who the other candidates were. Thus he directed his go-to lawyer, Jimmy Faircloth, to burn a trainload of taxpayer money by stiffing the citizenry and the judge … repeatedly … and proudly.

The rarity of observing such a months-long political train wreck was underscored by Lori Mince, the attorney representing the two Louisiana newspapers, in a Sept. 10article by Mike Hasten of Gannett News. Ms. Mince noted, “This is the first public records case I’ve had when the public body refused to comply.” No one else with whom I have spoken or emailed can remember another such instance, either. Such makes sense because once a public records case goes all the way to court, and a judge orders the documents produced, public officials have every reason and need to, well, produce the documents. That is precisely what happened when a group of us in Shreveport sued the highway department for documents, went up against Jindal / Faircloth’s initial opposition, and headed to Clark’s court. When our hearing came up, the requested documents appeared as Faircloth did the opposite.

To grasp how bizarrely foolish the Jindal / Faircloth / Board of Supervisors argument is, it began with Faircloth arguing that the only word in the related law which mattered was “applicant,” and that there was only one of those — the winner, F. King Alexander. Note that Faircloth made this argument to Clark even though Blake Chatelain, the LSU board member who led the search committee, said in his subject court deposition that he and his committee began their work with about 100 prospects, cut that to 35 keepers, then down to “six or seven,” before picking Alexander. All of this was managed via a web portal belonging to a Dallas consultant hired for such purpose, a reported key in the Jindal plan to maintain secrecy throughout the process. (Thanks to Gordon Russell, then writing for the NOLA.com | Times-Picayune, for his April report.)

It is anyone’s guess as to what Jindal is hiding: Was/is Alexander qualified? Was he the best candidate? Who did Jindal really want, and why didn’t that person get the job? Those of us who have been down this road with the man and his team, especially Faircloth, know that the explanation may be much simpler: Jindal has never believed the rules and law and constitution apply to him.

It seems a molasses spill in Hawaii is killing fish.

Officials responding to a spill of 1,400 tons of molasses in Hawaii waters plan to let nature clean things up, with boat crews collecting thousands of dead fish to determine the extent of environmental damage.

The crews already have collected about 2,000 dead fish from waters near Honolulu Harbor, and they expect to see more in the coming days and possibly weeks, said Gary Gill, deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Health.

“Our best advice as of this morning is to let nature take its course,” Gill told reporters at a news conference at the harbor, where commercial ships passed through discolored, empty-looking waters.

So, that’s a little this and that!  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Wednesday Reads: Mummy Lobotomy

d5dc4bcfa8ec173bf86557ad05204d1aGood Morning

Well, my laptop is the shop…I am writing this post on my daughter’s computer, and can’t seem to get the feel of her keypad. There  is news about George Zimmerman, and Hugo Chavez is dead. Meanwhile we have a sequester still going on…and no end in sight.

Since this keyboard is giving me problems, I will give you the news reads in link dump fashion.

George Zimmerman Waives Right To ‘Stand Your Ground’ Hearing In Stunning Twist To Trayvon Martin Case

…in a stunning twist of events Tuesday morning, George Zimmerman’s attorneys waived their client’s right to a scheduled April 22 hearing that was to be held under the law that has sparked so much debate, ABC news reports.

Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer who is facing second-degree murder charges for the shooting of 17-year-old Martin, is awaiting trial set for June 10, 2013. His counsel’s move waiving his right to the April hearing leaves open the opportunity for it to be rolled into Zimmerman’s trial this summer, and gives the defense more time to prepare, an obvious concern after a motion to delay the proceedings was denied.

The Orlando Sentinel reports: George Zimmerman stand your ground hearing: Witness in Zimmerman case caught in lie

Trayvon Martin‘s girlfriend, the state’s most important witness in the George Zimmerman murder case, was caught in a lie, it was revealed Tuesday.

It was not the first piece of misinformation tied to her, but it was the most damaging to date and left prosecutors in a very awkward position.

They had to publicly acknowledge that their star witness had lied under oath and had to answer questions about what they intend to do about it.

Reporters asked: Will you charge the 19-year-old Miami woman with perjury?

The state’s lead prosecutor, Bernie de la Rionda, gave an ambiguous answer: “You can all read the law and make your own decision.”

The woman had told prosecutors she was in the hospital on the day of Trayvon’s funeral.

“In fact, she lied,” defense attorney Don West said.

I don’t know about the girlfriends testimony, but we all know that Zimmerman’s wife lied…guess we just have to see how this plays out.

On to Hugo Chavez, via New York Times: Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan President, Dies

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela died Tuesday afternoon after a struggle with cancer, the government announced, leaving behind a bitterly divided nation in the grip of a political crisis that grew more acute as he languished for weeks, silent and out of sight, in hospitals in Havana and Caracas.

Close to tears and his voice cracking, Vice President Nicolás Maduro said he and other officials had gone to the military hospital where Mr. Chávez was being treated, sequestered from the public, when “we received the hardest and most tragic information that we could transmit to our people.”

You can read the rest of the obit at the link.

About the sequester: Do not resuscitate by Political Cartoonist John Darkow

128195 600 Do not resuscitate cartoons

There is a great link from Andrew Sullivan’s blog,  The Writer’s Wound « The Dish

And on Facebook, this is porn: Facebook Fail: It’s Not Porn, Morans | La Figa

This image has been repeatedly removed from Facebook user profiles because it’s been reported as pornography/nudity. Fail and fie on Facebook, or rather on the blue-stocking, onion-eyed morans who keep reporting it and the overworked outsourced workers who have no clue.

Facebook has a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content and any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved. We also impose limitations on the display of nudity. We aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.

How is an image of double mastectomy survivor with a full-breast plate tattoo any more “pornographic” than a family photo of breast feeding?  And really, who cares? Can’t FB maybe focus on the slew of obvious porn (full closeup insertion) profiles that keep showing up in our  “people you might know” columns (and maybe figure out who is trafficking those women)? Dog-fighting and neo-Nazi hate pages?

On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly loses it: Confronted With Facts, O’Reilly Screams “Bullshit” | Blog | Media Matters for America

Buzzfeed has a story on: Kirsten Gillibrand Is On A Women’s Rights Mission

Let’s end this post with a couple of mummies….fossils.

Here is a story about an ancient grave, this one is about a Woolly rhino site reveals ancient British temperature

This other ancient grave also has been giving up some secrets: New Mummy Analysis Shows Advances in Dark Age Biology | Geekosystem

Mummies are everywhere – not just Egyptian tombs and Hollywood movie sets, but in almost every part of the world. Hailing from China, Peru, Chile, the Canary Islands, the preserved, unwalking dead populate history. Even Italy. If you’ve never seen any specials on the mummies discovered beneath Rome or Sicily (8,000+ mummies in the Capuchin Catacombs alone!), you’re missing out on some mind-blowing cultural views and some spectacular nightmare fuel. The general conclusion is, wow, our ancestors really thought long and hard about death, preservation, and creepy ways to remind us of our own mortality. But sometimes the mummies we find tell us what our ancestors knew about biology — about life – not just the innovations of death. Today’s example: New analysis of a Dark Age mummy reveals that its preparator knew more about science than we thought.

This isn’t the oldest mummy, nor even a complete one, and there’s no funereal wrappings to be found. It’s just the head-and-shoulders of a man with the top of his skull and brain removed. Radiocarbon dated between A.D. 1200 and A.D.1280, it’s the oldest known example we have of “preserved human dissection.” No one knows who the guy was or why he in particular was chosen for anatomical preservation, but the scars on the face — made by rodents and insect larvae — suggest it may not have been a voluntary role. Gruesome, to be sure, but fascinating.

And check this: They found that the arteries and veins of the mummy were filled with a blend of beeswax, lime, and mercury, which formed an ingenious mixture that not only aided in preservation but gave the circulatory system greater visibility and color. Given that this corpse was handled in the Dark Ages — a time in history we tend to associate with ignorance and barbarism — this should sound like some cadaverous form of alchemy, but it’s surprisingly scientific in its effectiveness. Physician and forensic scientist Philippe Charlier at the University Hospital R. Poincare in France told LiveScience, “It’s state-of-the-art [for the time period]. I suppose that the preparator did not do this just one time, but several times, to be so good at this.”

There have been other examples of anatomical study in medieval times, but none quite so far back and none intended to be preserved dissection specimens. In 1308, for example, nuns dissected the body of abbess Chiara of Montefalco (who was sainted more than 500 years later) and allegedly found a tiny crucifix in her heart and three gallstones in her gallbladder (which the nuns took as symbolic of the Holy Trinity). Different reasons for dissection, of course, and very different conclusions.

Isn’t this story interesting?

Enjoy your day, and please let us know what you are reading about this morning…


Lindsey Graham: Trade Health Care for Millions for Sequester’s Military Cuts

Graham 2_0

Senator Lindsey Graham appeared on Fox News Sunday today and put on one of his patented disagreeable and self-righteous displays, apparently in aid of making himself look like a tough guy to the right wing nuts back home in South Carolina.

Graham has been living in fear for quite some time now–terrified that some tea party bot will challenge his seat in the Senate and bring him down like Mike Lee did to Bob Bennett in Utah and Richard Mourdock did to Richard Lugar in Indiana.

Over the past few months, Graham has appeared more and more desperate–joining John McCain in a manic freakout over the Benghazi attacks and ginning up bizarre attacks President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. He even went so far as to claim that Hillary Clinton “got away with murder” in the Beghazi affair. Dana Millbank recently called Graham “the mad dog of Capital Hill.”

Graham’s nasty-guy act seems to be working, according to Politico. So far no one has come forward to primary him, although SC state senator Lee Bright is still thinking about it.

Graham’s recent run is hard to miss: He helped sink U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s chance of becoming secretary of state. He said on Fox that Hillary Clinton “got away with murder” in the aftermath of last year’s terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. In just the past couple of weeks, he’s used his positions on the Armed Services and Judiciary committees to rip into defense secretary-designate Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and witnesses who favor new gun-control measures.

On Tuesday, Graham pounced to discredit Timothy Heaphy, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, during a hearing on gun violence.
His first question: “Do you own a gun?”

Heaphy acknowledged that he didn’t.

“Do any of your close friends own a gun?” Graham pressed….

Never mind that most federal prosecutors have some expertise with gun violence or that U.S. attorneys need special permission from the Justice Department to carry firearms at work. Graham had scored the political point.

I didn’t get the point, but I’m guessing it’s related to Graham’s recent bragging about owning an AK-47. And look out bad guys–Graham also likes Quentin Tarrantino!

“Being from South Carolina, I’ve owned guns all of my life,” Graham said at a press conference. “I own an AR-15. I saw the movie ‘Django [Unchained].’ I like Quentin Tarantino.”

“That may say a lot about my movie taste, but there are many moving parts to this,” he added.

It’s not the first time Graham has invoked his AR-15 while arguing against new gun laws — the senator recently mentioned his semi-automatic rifle while making the case that high-capacity magazines are needed to protect families.

It was, however, the first time Graham has weighed in on Tarantino’s much-debated slavery revenge flick. He appeared to be arguing that violence in the media and video games ought to be discussed, while simultaneously making the case that individuals such as himself could act as both responsible gun owners and consumers of violent cinema.

Today in his Fox News Sunday appearance, Graham really went all out–arguing that preventing cuts to the military is more important than providing health care for Americans. It’s looking more and more as if Republicans will allow the sequester cuts to happen at the end of the month, and Graham claims the defense cuts will “destroy the military.” From Think Progress:

Graham suggested that the sequester’s across-the-board cuts to federal spending, including about a roughly 7.5 percent reduction in military spending, would be “destroying the military.” But rather than agree to President Obama’s proposed alternatives to the sequester, the South Carolina Republican said we should save money by eliminating health care for the 30 million people covered by the Affordable Care Act:

CHRIS WALLACE: Let me just ask you one more question about the sequestration before we let you go, Senator. You know if we go into the sequester, the president is going to hammer Republicans, the White House already put out a list of all the things, terrible things that will happen if a sequester kicks in, 70,000 children losing Head Start. 2100 fewer food inspectors and small business will lose $900 million in loan guarantees and you know, Senator, the president will say your party is forcing this to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.

GRAHAM: Well, all i can say is the commander-in-chief thought — came up with the idea of sequestration, destroying the military and putting a lot of good programs at risk. It is my belief — take Obamacare and put it on the table. You can make $86,000 a year in income and still get a government subsidy under Obamacare. Obamacare is destroying health care in this country and people are leaving the private sector, because their companies cannot afford to offer Obamacare and if you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, look at Obamacare, don’t destroy the military and cut blindly across the board. There are many ways to do it but the president is the commander-in-chief and on his watch we’ll begin to unravel the finest military in the history of the world, at a time when we need it most. The Iranians are watching us, we are allowing people to be destroyed in Syria, and i’m disappointed in our commander-in-chief.

I’m no expert on the “Sequester”–I’ll leave that to Dakinikat–but frankly, I believe the military could be cut plenty and not be “destroyed.” Here’s an analysis by Laura Matthews of the International Business Times from Feb. 8:

Looking at the possible cuts closely, some experts say that these politicians are overreacting, and that, in reality, they are defending the Pentagon’s bureaucratic turf — its value as measured by its annual funding — not the country in opposing the budget cuts.

“The Defense Department will have enough latitude to protect what’s crucial and I don’t think we will be less safe in 2013 or thereafter,” said Mattea Kramer, the research director at the National Priorities Project in Northampton, Mass.

For one thing, the 2011 U.S. defense budget, about $700 billion, dwarfed those of all other nations by a large amount. China, the second-biggest spender, had a defense budget of $143 billion that year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. No other country even breaks into the triple digits of billions of dollars.

For another, because the spending cuts will roll in over a decade, the average yearly cut would be about $45 billion, little more than 5 percent of America’s annual defense spending. And, according to Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington and an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, “even if the defense budget were reduced by the entire $1 trillion, or about $100 billion a year over the next decade, it would amount to a reduction of [the defense budget] of about 15 percent.” Which means that annual defense spending would be about equal to what it was in 2007 — when the U.S. was involved in two active wars.

Matthews writes that the “Sequester” provides an “opportunity” to

revisit the nature of global threats and its response to them, a growing of experts believe. National-security needs have shifted dramatically since the Cold War, from containing a lone rival superpower to combating terrorism, fighting smaller conflicts, and cyberwarfare. In that time, the U.S. has, in many ways, moved away from deterrence to prevention.

The key capability that the Defense Department should focus on in this environment is navigating a more varied, contested, and asynchronous battlefield, the experts say. Instead of ballistic missile defense programs, the Pentagon would be better served and its budget better used by spending more money to train and equip special-operations forces, the kind that killed Osama bin Laden, and to develop more innovative submarines, unmanned and manned stealthy long-range aircraft, and offensive and defensive cyberwarfare systems, said Todd Harrison, a defense and budget expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

In November 2012, Ezra Klein used the following graph to demonstrate that “the sequester’s defense cuts aren’t that scary.”

Military-spending-sequester

Th[e] graph comes from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and it shows real military spending since the Korean War (“real” in that the graph adjusts for inflation).

As you can see, the post-9/11 rise in military spending was larger than the rise during Vietnam and during the Cold War. And even if we implement every single cut in the sequester, the fall in spending would be less than the military experienced after Korea, Vietnam, or the Cold War.

Getting rid of Obamacare, on the other hand, would increase the federal deficit by 109 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

We’re seeing how much it’s worth to Lindsey Graham to save his seat in the Senate. If ever had a soul, he’s sold it now. If that has made him happy, it sure doesn’t show.


Lazy Saturday Afternoon News Reads

michael caine reading

Good Afternoon!!

It’s a perfect day to curl up with a great detective novel. As you can see, Michael Caine up there is deeply engrossed in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. Chandler is terrific for those of us who are connoisseurs of the hard-boiled school of mystery writers; I think his masterpiece was The Long Goodbye. I’ve read it multiple times. Here are a few great one-liners from the book:

“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.”

“The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.”

“I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”

“A man who drinks too much on occasion is still the same man as he was sober. An alcoholic, a real alcoholic, is not the same man at all. You can’t predict anything about him for sure except that he will be someone you never met before.”

“The French have a phrase for it. The bastards have a phrase for everything and they are always right. To say goodbye is to die a little.”

Years later, another hard-boiled detective novelist, Ross MacDonald, wrote a kind of paeon to The Long Goodbye called The Goodbye Look, which I also enjoyed and have read more than once.

These days I tend to prefer female detectives and women writers, but I still prefer the hard-boiled types over the “cozy” ones.

There’s not a whole lot of exciting news out there, but I have a variety of recent reads for you to delve into today if you choose.

I wish John Boehner and Mitch McConnell would read this article in today’s New York Times, although it probably wouldn’t begin to melt their cold cold hearts: Restored Payroll Tax Pinches Those Who Earn the Least.

Jack Andrews and his wife no longer enjoy what they call date night, their once-a-month outing to the movies and a steak dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse in Augusta, Ga. In Harlem, Eddie Phillips’s life insurance payment will have to wait a few more weeks. And Jessica Price is buying cheaper food near her home in Orlando, Fla., even though she worries it may not be as healthy.

Like millions of other Americans, they are feeling the bite from the sharp increase in payroll taxes that took effect at the beginning of January. There are growing signs that the broader economy is suffering, too.

Chain-store sales have weakened over the course of the month. And two surveys released last week suggested that consumer confidence was eroding, especially among lower-income Americans.

While these data points are preliminary — more detailed statistics on retail sales and other trends will not be available until later this month — at street level, the pain from the expiration of a two-percentage-point break in Social Security taxes in 2011 and 2012 is plain to see.

“You got to stretch what you got,” said Mr. Phillips, 51, a front-desk clerk and maintenance man for a nonprofit housing group who earned $22,000 last year. “That little $20 or $30 affects you, especially if you’re just making enough money to stay above water.” So he has taken to juggling bills, skipping a payment on one this month and another next month.

Don’t I know it!

President Obama used his Saturday radio address to once again poke Congress to deal with the upcoming “sequester” cuts.

“If the sequester is allowed to go forward, thousands of Americans who work in fields like national security, education or energy are likely to be laid off,” he said. “All our economic progress could be put at risk.”

Mr. Obama’s remarks echoed a statement issued by the White House Friday that warned the sequester would “threaten thousands of jobs and the economic security of the middle class.”

But, as usual, Republicans are blaming Obama for the problem.

“We know the President’s sequester will have consequences,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement this week. “What we don’t know is when the President will propose a plan to replace the sequester with smarter spending cuts and reforms.”

Sigh…

I hope President Obama reads this op-ed in The Washington Post by Georgetown constitutional law professor David Cole. Cole is the author of the recent book The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable.

There are plenty of problems with President Obama’s targeted killings in the war against terrorism: The policy remains secret in most aspects, involves no judicial review, has resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians, has been employed far from any battlefield and has sparked deep anti-American resentment in countries where we can ill afford it.

But when it comes to the particular legal issue raised in a recently leaked “white paper” from the Justice Department — namely, whether it is legal to kill Americans with drones — one problem looms largest: The policy permits the government to kill its citizens in secret while refusing to acknowledge, even after the fact, that it has done so.

There may be extraordinary occasions when killing a citizen is permissible, but it should never be acceptable for the government to refuse to acknowledge the act. How can we be free if our government has the power to kill us in secret? And how can a sovereign authority be accountable to the people if the sovereign can refuse to own up to its actions?

Cole likens Obama’s assassination policy to the “disappearances” in Argentina in the 1970s.

When Argentina’s military junta secretly abducted and killed its citizens during that country’s “dirty war” in the 1970s, the world labeled these acts “disappearances” and condemned them as violations of human rights. A disappearance is not just an abduction or killing, but an unacknowledged abduction or killing. To “disappear” citizens not only deprives them of their liberty or life without fair process but is deeply corrosive of democratic politics, casting a shadow of fear over all.

Please read the whole thing if you can.

I liked this piece by Gary Gutting at The New York Times, despite my initial hesitation to read anything by a professor at Notre Dame. I finally decided I shouldn’t condemn him by association over the ND football team scandals. Headlined “Depression and the Limits of Psychiatry,” it’s a philosophical discussion of the upcoming changes in the definition of depression in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Night Open Thread: The Calm Before the Storm?

calm before storm

I’ve been having this feeling all weekend that the entire country is holding its breath as we mark time until Washington DC blows sky high. Is anyone else feeling that way or is it just me? I’ve been somewhat out of the loop the past couple of days. I have some kind of sinus thingy and I ended up spending a lot of time updating my computer drivers and other software. But I’ve been surfing around this evening, and everything is looking very weird and wacky in the nation’s capital.

In the first place, why are Republicans all over the place threatening a government shutdown? And why aren’t Democrats countering the Republican lies? Failing to raise the debt limit won’t trigger a government shutdown. If the U.S. defaults on its debts it will trigger a national economic disaster–and perhaps a global meltdown. A shutdown would happen if Congress refused to appropriate funds to keep the government running. Defaulting on the debt would mean another lowering of our credit rating and higher interest on the debt in the future.

I can’t figure out if the Democrats are just giving the Republicans rope to hang themselves or if there is something else going on.

This morning on Dancin’ Dave’s Disco Dance Party, Mitch “Pruneface” McConnell wouldn’t respond to questions about the threatened “government shutdown.”

Pressed repeatedly on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McConnell instead placed responsibility on President Obama for leading the country and avoiding a shutdown.

“I know what your question is,” McConnell said. “What I’m telling you is I haven’t given up on the president stepping up to the plate and tackling the single biggest issue confronting the country.”

Neither Dancin’ Dave nor McConnell addressed the most important issue–raising the debt ceiling. McConnell’s focus is squarely on cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but he wants the President to spell out the cuts. As Josh Marshall writes:

In other words, big cuts to key social insurance programs are not only the price of avoiding what would likely be a catastrophic government shutdown (a real one, not like what we had back in the 90s). But Democrats must also shield Republicans from the political consequences of cutting these programs by cutting them on the Republicans behalf.

McConnell apparently also claimed that “He Doesn’t Want Debt Ceiling Negotiations to Turn Into a Hostage Situation.”

In one of three Sunday talk show appearances, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wasn’t sure whether he’s prepared to “shoot the hostage” by letting the country default on its loans in the next round of the fiscal fight. While some Republicans are threatening to block a debt ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to major spending cuts, McConnell sidestepped the issue on ABC’s This Week. “It’s not even necessary to get to that point,” he said. “Why aren’t we trying to solve the problem? Why aren’t we trying to do something about reducing spending? … Waiting until the last minute is no way to run the government.” He added that he would not accept any new tax revenues in the next deal. “The tax issue is finished. Over. Completed. That’s behind us.”

Hmmmmm….

According to The Hill, some “appropriators” in Congress have been “working quietly to avoid government shutdown.”

House and Senate appropriators have been quietly working behind the scenes for months to craft 12 compromise annual spending bills to avoid a shutdown that is slated to occur when the current six-month stopgap spending bill expires.

That sounds ominous. Are these unnamed Congresscritters working out the details of “entitlement” cuts so they can whip them out at the last minute when everyone is desperate for an agreement?

“We’ve got most of it worked out,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the chairman on Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittee.

A Senate Democratic aide concurred that work is far along and will pick up again when the Senate returns Jan 22. Appropriators had been striving to attach an omnibus to the year-end “fiscal cliff” deal and new Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is ready to continue the effort.
The negotiations mean that disputes over individual programs and policy riders — such as those on abortion and defunding Obama’s health reform — that have exacerbated government shutdown crises like that in April 2011 are being minimized.

Nancy Pelosi did talk about the debt ceiling, and she recommended that Obama just take the bull by the horns and raise it himself.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the president on Sunday to drop his resistance to the idea and simply bypass the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling by deeming the entire cap unconstitutional.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pelosi offered her strongest endorsement to-date of the 14th Amendment option, which holds that Congress doesn’t have the power to use the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking device because the validity of the debt “shall not be questioned.”

Nancy Pelosi: Well, you ask the Republicans, because we always passed the debt ceiling. When President Bush was president, as he was incurring these massive debts, and the Republicans weren’t saying ‘boo’ at the time. There should be, this is a conversation where there should be no doubt. In fact, if I were president, I’d use the 14th Amendment, which says that the debt of the United States will always be paid.
Bob Schieffer: You would just go ahead and do it, you wouldn’t wait for the Congress?

Nancy Pelosi: I would just go do it. But the Congress has incurred much of this debt. And so what are you saying, we incurred it but we’re not going to pay it? If you want to say, ‘We are not going to do it so much in the future,’ well that’s another thing. But you can’t say, ‘I’m not paying my past debts.’

Go Nancy, Go!!

boehner

Now check this out from the Wall Street Journal: The Education of John Boehner.

What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: “At one point several weeks ago,” Mr. Boehner says, “the president said to me, ‘We don’t have a spending problem.'” [....]

The president’s insistence that Washington doesn’t have a spending problem, Mr. Boehner says, is predicated on the belief that massive federal deficits stem from what Mr. Obama called “a health-care problem.” Mr. Boehner says that after he recovered from his astonishment—”They blame all of the fiscal woes on our health-care system”—he replied: “Clearly we have a health-care problem, which is about to get worse with ObamaCare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem.” He repeated this message so often, he says, that toward the end of the negotiations, the president became irritated and said: “I’m getting tired of hearing you say that.”

Boehner, like McConnell announced there will be no more tax increases, period–only tax reform, and by that he means lower tax rates.

The speaker is adamant on two points: First, Republicans won’t be agreeing to any more tax increases during the next two years. “The tax issue is resolved,” he says, and it will be discussed only in the context of a broader debate about tax reform—specifically, lower rates. He dismisses the president’s declaration that any future budget cuts will have to be “balanced” with more tax hikes.

Second, Mr. Boehner says he won’t engage in any more closed-door budget negotiations with the White House, which are “futile.” He adds: “Sure, I will meet with the president if he wants to,” but House Republicans will from now on proceed with establishing a budget for the year following what is known as “regular order,” and they will insist that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats pass a budget—something they haven’t done in nearly four years—before proceeding.

The real showdown will be on the debt ceiling and the spending sequester in March….The debt bill is “one point of leverage,” Mr. Boehner says, but he also hedges, noting that it is “not the ultimate leverage.” He says that Republicans won’t back down from the so-called Boehner rule: that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next 10 years. Rather than forcing a deal, the insistence may result in a series of monthly debt-ceiling increases.

The Republicans’ stronger card, Mr. Boehner believes, will be the automatic spending sequester trigger that trims all discretionary programs—defense and domestic.

It’s a long interview and it provides some insight into Boehner’s thinking, such as it is.

Roll Call has a piece called: Boehner Coup Attempt Larger Than First Thought

A concerted effort to unseat Speaker John A. Boehner was under way the day of his re-election to the position, but participants called it off 30 minutes before the House floor vote, CQ Roll Call has learned.
A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold. Only 17 votes against Boehner were required to force a second ballot, but the group wanted to have insurance.

Even with 24 members, the group would easily have been able to force a second ballot round, but the effort was aborted in frenetic discussions on the House floor.

“Aborted?” I thought Republicans were against that.

And did you hear that Thomas Gibson was arrested for DUI today?

The 50-year-old actor, known for his roles on “Criminal Minds” and “Dharma & Greg,” was driving in downtown L.A. at around 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 6 when he attempted to continue through a part of town that had been sectioned off for a half marathon.

Sources tell The Huffington Post that the race was not over when Gibson drove his Audi SUV right onto the course, interrupting several runners. The race started at 9 p.m., but the road was still blocked off and authorities were making sure no vehicles were let through.

According to TMZ, Gibson was stopped by police and told to go a different way, but he proceeded anyway.

I hope that won’t cause any problems for my favorite TV show, Criminal Minds.

So what are you all hearing? Are we headed for the storm of the century?