Friday Reads

Welcome back to the Gilded Age!!!
Well, it’s morning!

It’s more like a mourning morning than anything else.  If you ever needed more proof that voting for Democrats appears to be a waste of time any more, this is it.  Republicans have been overrun by Birchers and the Dems appear to be ready to let them get away with anything.  On top of that we have a president that appears to want to further enact Reaganomics.  It’s really a very sad situation.

Politico has an apt headline from last night’s gruel for every one else spending bill. You know those guys and gals that easily passed the Tax Breaks for Billionaires Bill?  The headline is ‘Democrats concede budget fight to Republicans’.  Senate Democrats don’t fight for the high ground and they sell out everything.

Senate Democrats abruptly abandoned an omnibus budget bill for the coming year, pushing major spending decisions into the next Congress and giving Republicans immense new leverage to confront President Barack Obama priorities.

The decision Thursday night sweeps away months of bipartisan work by the Senate Appropriations Committee which had crafted the $1.1 trillion bill to meet spending targets embraced by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R—Ky.) himself prior to the elections.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R—Utah), an old McConnell friend, worked actively to round up as many as nine potential Republican votes for the compromise, but these numbers rapidly evaporated amid personal attacks and the uproar this week over spending earmarks in the package.

McConnell, embarrassed by reports on his own earmarks in the omnibus, went to the Senate floor Thursday to propose a one page, “clean” two month extension of the current stop gap funding resolution that has kept the government funded since Oct. 1. And as if caught with their hands in the cookie jar, he and other top Republicans vowed to do everything in their powers to kill the omnibus to square themselves with their tea party backers.

It keeps getting worse. This is also from Politico: ‘Democrats keep ‘don’t ask’ on wish list’. Wish list?  They’ve got enough votes to repeal DADT. WTF is holding them up?

Senate Democrats on Thursday moved one step closer to repealing the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduling a key vote Saturday on a bill to end the ban on openly gay service members.

But Democrats are bracing for an enormous backlash from repeal advocates if they fall short again.

As time runs out on the 111th Congress, top Democrats are pointing fingers at Republicans for stalling Senate action, saying if the buzzer sounds before Congress ends the policy, the GOP will be to blame. Still, there are at least four Republican senators on the record saying they’ll vote to repeal “don’t ask” under the right procedural circumstances.

Democrats also are reminding gay-rights activists that they — not their Republican counterparts — have been fighting to overturn the 17-year “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

One Republican senator suggested “he was going to do everything he could to run out the clock,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters. “I don’t think that’s really what the American people want — to run out the clock. I think what they want is for us to get things accomplished.”

They frittered away two years of a supermajority when they could’ve really accomplished things instead of  following–at best–a Reagan/Dubya Democratic president.  Obama’s re-election strategy is going to be to basically run as a Republican.  I hope all those Dems that supported his vanity agenda that gave tons of money to the corporate plutocracy get thrown out of office next time.  At the very least, some special hell realm should await them.

Here’s more information on the passage of the Tax Breaks for Billionaires Act. It also zoomed through the House.  Thanks a lot Nancy!  You are sooooo gonna get lumps of coal in your stockings for the rest of your life!

Congress passed the most far-reaching tax bill in a decade late Thursday, averting across-the-board tax increases, enacting new breaks for individuals and businesses and laying a marker for how Washington might work in an era of divided government.

The bill goes to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature after the House overcame persistent liberal opposition and passed it with an unexpectedly large bipartisan majority of 277-148. The measure passed the Senate earlier in the week also with an overwhelming majority.

The bill reaches deeply into the life and economy of the U.S., more so than might have been expected when Congress first started tackling the matter. Wage-earners will get a new payroll tax break; wealthy heirs get a lower estate-tax rate; and businesses gain an unexpected plum—a big tax write-off for new equipment purchases.

I don’t want to hear any of these jackasses talk about the deficit if they can justify signing this kind of disastrous economic policy.  It’s tax pandering and pork squandering at its absolute worse. There’s absolutely  no economic justification for this.

So, at least one piece of good news is coming out from the Fed. Yup, that’s the FED that all the tea partiers love to hate. The Dodd-Frank Law that extended the FED’s ability to regulate credit is actually having an impact.  If you give the Fed the power to do things, they will do it.  They’re reeling in the extraordinary profits from VISA and MasterCard.

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. may face permanent damage to the fastest-growing part of their business after the Federal Reserve proposed rules that could cut debit-card transaction fees by 90 percent.

“It is negative all around,” wrote Scott Valentin, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, in a note to clients. “This significantly impacts the business model for the networks.”

Visa and MasterCard, the world’s biggest payment networks, plunged more than 10 percent in New York trading yesterday after the Fed proposed capping so-called interchange fees at 12 cents each. Currently, the networks charge merchants an average of 1 percent of the purchase price, regardless of cost, and pass that money along to card-issuing banks.

The change, if approved by the Fed after a public comment period, would wipe out most of an estimated $15 billion in annual revenue for U.S. lenders that issue Visa and MasterCard debit cards, including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.

“These credit-card giants and banks are imposing fees that are in no relation to the actual cost of processing, and the retailers and merchants have no way to bargain or even resist these increases,” U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who pushed for the caps, said in an interview. “This new law brings the Federal Reserve into the picture and changes that dynamic.”

Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of plutocrats!   Here’s a somewhat depressing headline from The Daily Mail :  ‘We’re living longer… but not healthier: Children born today will suffer an extra year of disabilities than those born three decades ago’.

Living longer is not necessarily a bed of roses – it may mean more years spent struggling with disability, researchers say.

Figures show life expectancy is rising but that in return people born now will have to cope with disability or a long-term illness for an extra year compared with those born 30 years ago.

The gender gap is also closing, with women losing their traditional advantage in having better health for longer as they enjoy greater life expectancy.

There is some especially bad news for elderly women.

Men born in 2007 are likely to spend an even greater proportion of their life in poor health, 8.7 years compared with 6.4 years in 1981.

Women today spend 11 years in poor health compared with 10 years in 1981, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Most of these problems will be due to obesity, an increase in hypertension and high cholesterol, more cancer, and more diabetes and cardiovascular disease.   Lifestyle and eating habits as well as exercise are more important than ever.

The Independent has a article up about a new threat to Polar Bears from climate change.   Scientists believe that there will be polar bear-grizzly bear hybrids as the two species have to change their habits to survive the immense loss of habitat.  Polar bears are especially endangered.

The first polar-grizzly hybrid to be spotted in the wild was shot by hunters in 2006. It was a white bear with brown patches and DNA tests subsequently confirmed that it was the result of cross breeding between the two species.

Although hybrids were known from captive bears kept in zoos, none had been confirmed in the wild. However, earlier this year another hybrid was killed by a hunter in the western Canadian Arctic and tests confirmed that it was a second-generation hybrid – the offspring of a hybrid female and a pure-bred grizzly bear male.

Scientists said that more cases of polar-grizzly bear hybrids are probably out there waiting to be discovered because of the change in behaviour of the polar bear brought about by climate change. They are spending more time on shore waiting for the sea ice to form, bringing them into close contact with grizzlies.

Brendan Kelly of the US National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Juneau, Alaska, led a study that found 34 possible hybridisations between discreet populations or species of large mammals living in or near to the Arctic. Twenty-two of these cases involved isolated populations at risk of intermixing.

“The Arctic Ocean is predicted to be ice-free in summer before the end of the century, removing a continent-sized barrier to interbreeding. Polar bears are spending more time in the same areas as grizzlies; seals and whales currently isolated by sea ice will soon be likely to share the same waters,” Dr Kelly and his colleagues report in the journal Nature.

It looks like its going to be one of those days where I’d just like to pull the covers over my head and stay asleep.  A recent report on the war in Afghanistan shows very mixed results.

Already, parts of the country with fewer troops are showing a deterioration of security, and the gains that have been made were hard won, coming at the cost of a third more casualties among NATO forces this year.

Then there are the starkly different timelines being used in Washington and on the ground. President Obama is on a political timetable, needing to assure a restless public and his political base that a withdrawal is on track to begin by the deadline he set of next summer and that he can show measurable success before the next election cycle.

Afghanistan, and the American military, are running on a different clock, based on more intractable realities. Some of the most stubborn and important scourges they face — ineffectual governance, deep-rooted corruption and the lack of a functioning judicial system — the report barely glanced at.

“We have metrics that show increased progress,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul. “But those positives are extremely fragile because we haven’t done enough about governance, about corruption. 2010 was supposed to be a year of change, but it has not changed as much as we hoped.”

It’s not known as the grave yard of empires for lack of evidence, that’s for certain.

Anyway, hug your  loved ones and appreciate the local if you can, because, all I can say is we are so f’d on the national level.

Oh, there’s one thing I’m kind’ve giggling about.   The Obamas are not on the Wedding list for the Prince William/Kate Middleton merger. Next time, some one should tell FLOTUS she’s not to touch the Queen and tell POTUS it’s totally tacky to return a present like a bust of Churchill.  Saying you didn’t know who it was makes the return even worse.

Oh, the humiliation. Once not so long ago one of the world’s top celebrities in his own right, Barack Obama and his wife Michelle did not make the cut for invitations to the royal wedding in London next spring.

On April 29 in Westminster Abbey with all the grace and pageantry sure to capture international imaginations, commoner Kate Middleton will marry Prince William, son of Princess Diana. And don’t forget the horsedrawn carriage perhaps.

But the current residents of the White House will not be there, according to the Daily Mail.

The official excuse provided to the British paper by royal sources is that the royal couple wants to share their special nuptial moment with ordinary citizens. Anyway, it is not an official state event, they said. And, you know, Westminster only seats 2,000.

Nice try.

So then how to explain the invites to French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni?

What goes around eventually comes around.  Karma will out.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Filibuster!

Well, I guess it’s going on long enough we need to open a live blog thread!!!

Senator Bernie Sanders has started a filibuster of the Obama/McConnell behind-closed-doors tax deal.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — a self-described democratic socialist — railed against the plan in a lengthy floor speech that he said “you [can] call … a filibuster.”

“You can call what i am doing today whatever you want, you it [sic] call it a filibuster, you can call it a very long speech … ,” read a message posted on Sanders’s Twitter account after he’d taken to the rostrum at 10:24 a.m.

“I’m not here to set any great records or to make a spectacle,” Sanders said at the top of his speech. “I am simply here today to take as long as I can to explain to the American people the fact that we have got to do a lot better than this agreement provides.”

CSPAN-2 is live streaming the Senate.

Right now, my Senator Mary Landrieu is up and appears to be aiding the effort.  She even has a nifty graph up about my state of Louisiana.

Sanders has called the plan  “virtually a Republican idea”.

Here are the CBO numbers on how much this tax plan will cost.  The number is $858 billion dollars.

The Obama-McConnell tax compromise will cost $858 billion over the next 10 years, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

In other words, the Republican-backed tax plan will cost more than the stimulus bill, which priced out at $787 billion.

For starters, extending all of the Bush tax cuts for two years will cost a total $675.2 billion over 10 years, according to a Dec. 3 Congressional Research Service study. Setting the estate tax at 35%, adding an exemption for estates under $5 million, knocking 2 percentage points off employees’ portion of the Social Security payroll tax, and the cost quickly goes up.

So, how does the U.S. pay the bill?

Twitter Update from CSPAN on the Live Coverage:

cspan CSPAN
Screen grabs from C-SPAN2 HD coverage of Bernie Sanders filibuster http://cs.pn/gveC51 & http://cs.pn/dFZNBq
From Brian Beutler in TPM:

It’s a filibuster as filibusters were originally intended — and, as such, makes a mockery of what the filibuster’s become: a gimmick that allows a minority of senators to quietly impose supermajority requirements on any piece of legislation.

Joined at different times by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Sanders has been decrying the Obama tax cut plan for bailing out the wealthiest people in America. “How can I get by on one house?” Sanders railed, sarcastically. “I need five houses, ten houses. I need three jet planes to take me all over the world! Sorry, American people. We’ve got the money, we’ve got the power.”