Our Federal Government continues to morph into something hostile, xenophobic,and corrupt as we look at yet another weekend where taxpayer money will be filtered into a private resort owned by Kremlin Caligula. The Cabinet is now filled with corrupt and unqualified people. Entire Departments are being defunded and destroyed. First among them is the State Department. This all appears to part of Bannon’s crusade to “deconstruct the administrative state”.
This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.
In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.
Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over Presidents’ Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.
Under Trumps Slash and Burn Budget, everything loses but the military. The EPA will be decimated.
A wide slew of Environmental Protection Agency programs could be under the knife to meet President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requirements, a source told CNN Wednesday night.
The source spelled out details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal that would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. Some of the EPA’s most longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination — including initiatives aimed at improving water and air quality as well as a number of regulations tasked with reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Other programs include the Environmental Justice program, which is meant to help local communities grapple with environmental concerns, and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.
The Clean Power Plan, which could also be recommended for cuts, was an initiative by former President Barack Obama meant to reduce carbon emissions from each state. Fourteen separate EPA partnership programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be on the chopping block.
Also among the programs up for elimination are multi-purpose grants to states and tribes, Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.
Some of the grants recommended for elimination could be matching grants for local projects around the country, the source added.
Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization, told CNN in a statement: “The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters.”
The American Heritage Foundation has been out for the EPA for a long time. Its even had a plan that may be part of the Adminstration’s vision for letting go of any kind environmental controls and regulation.
Right now, the Trump administration is crafting a budget proposal that envisions steep cuts to a number of federal agencies — including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would eliminate one-fifth of its 15,000 jobs.
There aren’t yet any final decisions on exactly which environmental and energy programs will be targeted for elimination; the White House is still discussing with the relevant agencies. But one place to look for clues is this budget “blueprint” put out by the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank. According to multiple reports, Donald Trump’s team has been using Heritage’s blueprint as a rough guide in its search for $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for fiscal year 2018.
The Heritage budget explains how to get cuts of that magnitude — spreading them out across every agency. And it goes particularly hard after energy and environmental programs. The EPA’s climate-change programs? Gone. Federal research into wind, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear, and other clean tech? Gone. Environmental justice programs? Gone. There are cuts to pollution enforcement and EPA programs that deal with surface water cleanup to diesel truck emissions. Plus cuts in aid to poor countries that help deal with ozone depletion and global warming. Taken together, the blueprint’s cuts would amount to a stark change in US environmental policy.
These cuts won’t all necessarily fly with Congress — a few Republicans are already balking at some of the numbers Trump’s team is tossing about. But it’s a useful read as an aspirational document, a look at the programs that some influential conservatives with Trump’s ear would like to see rooted out of the federal government (and why)
It isn’t clear at all that the Pentagon needs that much money or wants it for that matter. It traditionally gets pretty much what it wants already. The nation has been on a war time footing since 9/11 so it isn’t even clear that there’s been any kind of “depletion” of anything.
Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.
Budgets for most federal agencies would be reduced substantially, said an OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters to discuss the proposal.
The announcement marks the beginning of a process in which the OMB will coordinate with agencies to flesh out the plan.
Trump said his budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, will propose “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it will support law enforcement in an effort to reduce crime.
I really don’t think that any one in the administration has a clue what they’re doing in any kind of conventional sense since nearly all of them have no experience in governance at any level. Bannon’s slash and burn the state ideology appears to be driving much of this. The cabinet appointees will have difficulty doing much of anything at this rate because staff is fleeing already.
The career executives who staff and run the approximately 250 federal departments and agencies not only formulate and implement executive orders, they also make choices every day that influence large swaths of public policy — from immigration to law enforcement to education to the environment. They use their legal authority to do what all executives do: interpret the power given them by their board of directors (in this case, Congress), set organizational priorities in formal guidance or memorandums and make decisions about where to allocate people and dollars.
The recent enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) illustrate how agency choices about what to prioritize and how to enforce the law can produce a dramatic policy change.
Trump’s success as president depends in part on his ability to get agencies to behave like ICE and choose to use their power in the ways he would prefer.
A number of agencies have already gone literally rogue on him with employees undermining him every chance they get. This is even true of some of the agencies that are to be used to purge the country of whatever it is Trump fears. Bannon has even indicated that the Cabinet picks were part of the Deconstruction plan.
President Trump’s critics have noted that at least some of his Cabinet picks seem uniquely unsuited to their roles. Scott Pruitt, recently confirmed as head of the EPA, had previously challenged its regulations in more than a dozen suits. Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, operated a company that depended on low wages and faced allegations of labor abuse. Puzder’s nomination was scuttled by the discovery that he had employed at least one undocumented immigrant.
Trump’s FCC chairman and energy secretary have also been critics of the very agencies they’re now tasked with managing. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, famously called to eliminate the department while running for President in 2011.
Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations—George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine.
What’s remarkable here, though, is Bannon’s framing of these moves as more anti-state than pro-business. The CPAC comments about ‘deconstruction’ are a toned-down version of startling statements made last August to the Daily Beast. Bannon impishly declared himself a “Leninist,” saying that the Soviet leader “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
It’s not a stretch to see Bannon’s comments reflected not only in Trump’s cabinet picks, but in his slow progress in filling hundreds of lower-level cabinet positions. Until they’re filled, those positions are staffed by temporary administrators with reduced power, leaving enforcement and other matters in limbo.
This is perhaps though why Paul Ryan–on top of Putin–find the Trump minions to be “useful fools”. Ryan is known as the nation’s premier granny starver and all this chaos and cutting is pretty much right up his ally. This is analysis by Jonathan Chait.
What is the substance of the supposed schism between Trump and the regular GOP? The Times depicts the president and the House Speaker as split over whether to cut “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” But, while Ryan has made it known that he would like to cut Social Security (a position that has won him immense inside-the-Beltway Establishment credibility), he has not persuaded his party to go along. The “Better Way” plan crafted by Ryan and endorsed by House Republicans makes no mention of Social Security at all. It does propose privatizing Medicare, but only for workers who are not retired or are near retirement — which means, despite its long-term significance, it has no impact on the budget over the next decade. And both Trump and Ryan are planning deep cuts to Medicaid.
The similarities continue. Both favor increases in defense spending and dramatically weaker enforcement of labor, environmental, and financial regulation. Both favor deep cuts to anti-poverty spending. Trump is more enthusiastic than the regular GOP about infrastructure spending, but he has decided to postpone that issue until next year and use it as an election messaging vehicle rather than a real legislative priority. Most important, both agree that large, upper-income tax cuts are the party’s highest priority. Trump has even endorsed Ryan’s legislative strategy of sequencing Obamacare repeal first in order to grease the skids for bigger tax cuts. (“Statutorily and for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he said this week.)
It is true, as conservatives say, that Trump’s budget numbers do not really add up. But he is relying on the same voodoo economics assumptions that are de rigeur in his party. “The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.” Remember that ultra-Establishment Republican Jeb Bush promised tax cuts and deregulation would produce 4 percent growth, so Trump’s 3 percent growth promise is actually moderate and realistic by Republican fiscal standards.
The illusion that Trump has radically altered his party’s agenda is convenient for all sides.
Democrats have already sent out a battle cry as have a few Republicans. Lindsey Graham is having none of the cuts to State.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that President Trump’s first budget was “dead on arrival” and wouldn’t make it through Congress.
“It’s not going to happen,” said Graham, according to NBC News. “It would be a disaster.”
Graham, a frequent Trump critic, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget, especially the targeting of foreign aid.
These are trying times. Let’s just hope we have enough leaders in the District with other patriotism or deep seated interests in some of these agencies or our country will never look the same again.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Welcome to Morbid Monday!!
I haven’t had a regular work schedule for years, so why do the days of the week still affect me as they did when I had a 9-5 job or when I was in school? Is it because I need some kind of structure in my life? I still look forward to weekends and I still dislike Monday mornings. Why is that? Is it because the world around me is structured that way? Or is it because I was conditioned from childhood to our society’s weekly scheduling?
Anyway, I’m still recovering from a combination cold and stomach virus, and it’s Monday; so I’m slow on the uptake today, and I just hope this post will make sense. Healthwise, I’m better off than Dakinikat and JJ. Actually, Dakinikat and her computer are both under the weather, so I’m filling in for her today. The photos of giant coffee cups show how I feel about Mondays!
Here are the stories that most interested me this morning.
Did you read that awful New York Times story that reported on leaks from “officials briefed on the federal civil rights investigation” into the shooting of teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson? According to the Times, these “officials” were not members of the Ferguson police department or from “officials whose activities are being investigated as part of the civil rights inquiry.” So does that mean Justice Department “officials?” Or are these “officials” from St. Louis? Who the hell knows. But the slant of the story was toward exonerating Wilson and making it appear that Brown deserved to die.
Here’s a summary of Wilson’s version of events from Newsweek:
The official testimony that Officer Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, gave to authorities was revealed for the first time in a Friday New York Times report.
During the struggle, the officer claimed that Brown reached for his gun. Wilson told investigators that the two struggled over the weapon before the fatal shooting, that Brown assaulted him and he “feared for his life” that day. He also said that Brown had scratched and punched him multiple times, which resulted in cuts and swelling on his face and neck.
According to forensic tests, the gun went off twice in Wilson’s S.U.V., and shot Brown in the arm once. The test also confirmed that Brown’s blood was found in Wilson’s car, his uniform and his gun. The autopsy confirmed that Brown had been shot a total of six times upon his death.
In my opinion we’re being softened up for the blow that will come next month when the Grand Jury fails to indict Wilson. Whoever the “officials” who talked to the NYT are, they apparently don’t want the Justice Department to find that Wilson violated Michael Brown’s rights. Otherwise, why would they be leaking this information? The Washington Post story is also slanted toward Wilson’s version of events, and they cite anonymous “county officials.”
Forensic evidence shows Michael Brown’s blood on the gun, on the uniform and inside the car of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, law enforcement officials said, information they believe potentially corroborates the officer’s story that the unarmed 18-year-old tried to take his gun.
The evidence will make it harder for the Justice Department to prosecute Wilson on federal charges that he violated Brown’s civil rights, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
Such evidence would also make it difficult for a county grand jury to indict Wilson on state charges, such as murder or manslaughter, said county sources who also are prohibited from talking on the record about the pending case.
Multiple media sources are now parroting anonymous sources who claim the “evidence” supports Wilson’s story. I just don’t see it. Of course Brown’s blood would be inside Wilson’s car, since Wilson reportedly shot Brown in the arm at close range. Blood would have spattered all over. It makes sense that it would be on the gun, Wilson’s uniform, and elsewhere in the car. As for the alleged scratches, cuts, and swelling on Wilson’s face (where are the photos?), that could have happened because, as the closest witness–Dorian Johnson–said, Wilson pulled Brown into the car by the neck and tried to choke him. Brown could have been defending himself. Furthermore, none of this justifies Wilson chasing Brown and shooting him as Brown was trying to surrender with his hands in the air, which is what a number of witnesses reported.
Al Sharpton isn’t buying it. From Colin Campbell at Business Insider:
Speaking at his weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, Sharpton panned Wilson’s claim to be in fear of his life as the “same excuse” as others who fatally shot African-American teens.
“We were involved in Trayvon Martin. We were supportive of Jordan Davis,” Sharpton said, ticking off the recent controversies. “The strange thing is that all of them used the same excuse … The only gun there was Darren Wilson’s! Strange parallels with all of these cases.”
“First of all, if you stopped him — Michael Brown and his friend — walking down the street, what led to the scuffle? … Secondly, how does he and you get in your car? You trying to do what by yourself?” Sharpton asked. “Now, if I go with you with your story all the way to that — that Michael Brown was shot, gets up off you in the car — why are you trying to tell me that a man … ran back at you when he knew you had the gun and you already shot him?”
The story makes no sense, but I’m guessing the Missouri Grand Jury will believe it. And then it’s going to get ugly. From The Daily Beast:
The Rev. Carlon Lee, pastor of Flood Christian Church in Ferguson, Mo., was sending out links to a New York Times story Friday night to friends, family and community members who have spent the last two months absorbed in the events surrounding the death of teenager Michael Brown. The story cited forensic evidence offered by federal officials that showed Brown’s blood on officer Darren Wilson’s uniform and gun, which was found to have been fired inside Wilson’s patrol car. Lee’s link came with a personal thought:
“If there has ever been a time to pray, this is it,” he told recipients of texts and emails.
There was really nothing new about the Times’ story—Wilson has maintained since day one that Brown was reaching for the officer’s gun, which led to a struggle ultimately ending in the teenager’s death. Now, though, evidence seen only by a St. Louis County grand jury has been made available for the world, including the residents of Ferguson.
“I believe that when people have received (the Times) article and see what’s going on it will infuriate people and set us back,” Lee said. “No matter what happened in (Wilson’s) car, Michael Brown’s hands were up. No matter if he beat the crap out of Officer Wilson, his hands were up—a universal sign of surrendering.”
Protesters in Ferguson are going to believe Wilson’s story, says St. Louis photojournalist Bradley Rayford.
“The protesters didn’t believe Officer Wilson’s story in the first place, so they’re not going to believe this story,” Rayford said of the Times’ reporting….
It’s impossible to tell whether the story being sent out by Lee on Friday night would result in increased action on the streets of Ferguson, but one thing, as it has all along, remains clear: If Wilson isn’t indicted chaos will once again reign.
“If there’s a non-indictment I think you’ll see an immediate uproar,” Lee said. “I don’t think people have seen the amount of unrest and anger that will come if there’s a non-indictment.”
Check out these photos of black protesters and white St. Louis Rams fans fighting over an American flag. How symbolic is that? Here’s one of the photos:
At the end of the confrontation, white police officers are shown targeting a black woman.
On Saturday, a body that is most likely that of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham was found in Albemarle County a few miles from where suspect Jesse Matthew grew up. WTVR.com reports:
Just four short miles from the abandoned Albemarle County property, now lined with police tape and full of detectives investigating the discovery of human remains, sits the house Jesse Matthew Jr. and his mother once called home.
“She wanted to try to keep Jesse out of the city away from gang activity — if there was any in the city. She was just trying to make it safe for her son,” said neighbor Cliff Hunt.
Hunt said Matthew’s mother wanted the best for her son, who is now the prime suspect in the disappearance of Hannah Graham, who was last seen Sept. 13 on Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall.
Hannah Graham’s parents wanted the best for their daughter too, and so did Morgan Harrington’s parents. How many more women did Jesse Matthew rape and kill? The safest place for him to have been was prison after he was accused of raping college classmates at two Virginia colleges in 2002 and 2003.
More from NBC 12: Albemarle neighbors recall Jesse Matthew and his family.
Jesse Matthew and his family lived at a home on Ponderosa Trail, just a few years ago, according to the neighbors and people who live here now. And this spot is just four miles away from where the remains were found by investigators scouring for any trace of evidence left at the scene….
This area is known to suspect Jesse Matthew, who is charged with Graham’s abduction with intent to defile.
Matthew’s former neighbor Bernard Blue said Matthew, his sister and mother lived in this home just miles from where search crews made the gruesome discovery Saturday. Blue says he’s unsettled that the man he knew is now the main suspect in a high-profile case. “Never dreamed he’d do something like that if he is guilty,” he said. “Never dreamed about it, because he was a fine boy when he was up here.”
Blue said Matthew’s mother also worked at UVA hospital, and that she’s stayed in touch. “She was a sweet lady. She came up to see me about four or five months ago,” he said. But Bernard says Matthew left a somewhat different impression. “He was a little strange. But, fine guy, all I know.”
“Strange,” but “a fine guy”?
Also in this morning’s news, a serial killer has been arrested in Indiana. From the Chicago Tribune: 7 women found dead in Gary, Hammond over weekend.
Bodies of three more women were found in Gary Sunday evening after officials discovered bodies of four women earlier in the weekend at various locations in Gary and Hammond.
One of the recently found women was discovered around 7:50 p.m. Sunday in the 4300 block of Massachusetts Street in Gary, according to a press release from the Lake County coroner’s office. The cause of the woman’s death was strangulation, same as in the case of the first woman found dead Friday night.
Two additional bodies of women were recovered around 10 p.m. in the 400 block of East 43rd Avenue in Gary, according to another press release from the Lake County coroner’s office. The cause of both women’s deaths was unknown.
Deaths of all three women, who were not immediately identified, were ruled homicides, the releases said.
Police have detained a suspect whose name won’t be released until he is charged. The man confessed to the most recent murder and then led police to three more bodies. Fox News reports:
The women were found throughout Hammond and Gary, according to the Lake County coroner’s office. The Chicago Sun-Times cited police sources saying the man in custody is a 43-year-old resident of Gary. Hammond Chief John Doughty said police will have more information at a press conference Monday.
The flurry of grisly discoveries began when Hammond police responded to a call of an unresponsive person Friday evening at a Motel 6 and found the strangled body of a woman identified as Afrika Hardy, 19. As part of the investigation into her death, police executed a search warrant on a home in Gary, where they also took the person of interest into custody, Hammond Police Lt. Richard Hoyda told the Chicago Tribune in an email….
Police discovered the body of Anith Jones, 35, of Merrillville, around 11:20 p.m. Saturday in an abandoned home in Gary. Her family had reported her missing on Oct. 8.
Jones’ sister, Yolanda Nowell, previously described her as “very street savvy” and said she had moved 10 years ago from Chicago to Indiana, where she operated a stand at a nearby flea market.
Police found the next body around 1 a.m. Sunday and a third body less than an hour later, according to the Tribune.
Late Sunday, the coroner’s office confirmed the discovery of three additional Jane Does, all of which were found in Gary.
All seven deaths have been ruled homicides, according to the coroner’s office. Most of the bodies were found in or around abandoned or fire-damaged homes in blighted neighborhoods, according to reports. The house near where Jones was found was described as being located in a thriving neighborhood, although it is unkempt, with overgrown grass and weeds.
As I have often said, it’s a bloodbath out there. Violence against women is a daily reality in this country.
Nazi War Criminals Living on Social Security
From AP via Yahoo News: Expelled Nazis got millions in Social Security.
OSIJEK, Croatia (AP) — Former Auschwitz guard Jakob Denzinger lived the American dream.His plastics company in the Rust Belt town of Akron, Ohio, thrived. By the late 1980s, he had acquired the trappings of success: a Cadillac DeVille and a Lincoln Town Car, a lakefront home, investments in oil and real estate.
Then the Nazi hunters showed up.
In 1989, as the U.S. government prepared to strip him of his citizenship, Denzinger packed a pair of suitcases and fled to Germany. Denzinger later settled in this pleasant town on the Drava River, where he lives comfortably, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers. He collects a Social Security payment of about $1,500 each month, nearly twice the take-home pay of an average Croatian worker.
Denzinger, 90, is among dozens of suspected Nazi war criminals and SS guards who collected millions of dollars in Social Security payments after being forced out of the United States, an Associated Press investigation found.
The payments flowed through a legal loophole that has given the U.S. Justice Department leverage to persuade Nazi suspects to leave. If they agreed to go, or simply fled before deportation, they could keep their Social Security, according to interviews and internal government records.
Like Denzinger, many lied about their Nazi pasts to get into the U.S. following World War II, and eventually became American citizens.
Read more details about the AP investigation in the lengthy article.
Read “brief profiles” of some of these Nazi social security recipients in this AP story via The Elkhart Truth
What if Republicans Win Control of Congress?
Here’s Joan Walsh’s take on the silly argument that losing would be good for Democrats: America’s Looming Freak Show: How GOP Control Will Terrorize a Nation – With No Political Repercussion.
I’m an optimist who’s expert at finding silver linings – American progressives have to be — but the case rapidly picking up steam that another midterm loss will be good for Democrats is both silly and a little dangerous.
Bill Scher made the argument from the left as well as anyone could, while this piece by the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, coming from the center-right, was more predictable and vexing. (Paul Waldman took a shot at it back in August, here.) The Washington Post’s Phillip Bump followed and endorsed Seib’s argument. But those takes rely at least in part on the notion that if Republicans gain the Senate, they’ll either have an incentive to help “govern” – or they’ll shame themselves in the eyes of the American public if they don’t. Unfortunately, neither premise is true.
In fact, I’m concerned that worsening political dysfunction perpetuates itself by convincing more Americans that politics is futile. The Obama coalition in particular – younger, less white, less well off than even prior coalitions of Democrats – has gotten so little that’s tangible from its history-making turnout in 2012 (and yes I’ve read that Krugman piece and I mostly agree.) The prospect of its coalescing to become a permanent force in American politics has been at least postponed, if not thwarted entirely, by the deliberate GOP sabotage of the political process.
For me, the backdrop to this depressing midterm election is not merely ISIS and Ebola, but continued unrest in Ferguson, Mo., where it seems unlikely Officer Darren Wilson will face consequences for shooting Michael Brown. From New York to Los Angeles, the issue of police violence just gets worse. There’s increasing activism on the issue, which is great to see – the crowds that turned out for “Ferguson October” over the weekend, and into Monday, were inspiring.
Read the whole sordid thing at the link. Have I told you lately how much I hate the term “progressive?” I’m a liberal and proud of it. The “progressives” who have been undermining Obama for years and are now rooting for a Republican victory make me sick to my stomach. Maybe that’s why I came down with this virus I have.
I should write something about Ebola, but this post is already far too long. I’ll put those links in the comment thread.
So . . . what stories have caught your attention today?
Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.
We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.
The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.
Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,
I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.
The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcare, supported the government shutdown, dismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”
Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.
This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.
But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.
I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.
Just in time for Halloween, Obama’s nightmare “Grand Bargain” once again rears its ugly head. Yesterday morning Bloomberg’s Joshua Green followed a hunch and attended a briefing by the President’s top economic adviser (who is not an economist). According to Green, Sperling told Democrats “they’ll have to swallow entitlement cuts.”
In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that’s quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they’ll accept entitlement cuts only in exchange for new revenue—something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.
But he dwelt at length—and with some passion—on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term “investment” (the preferred euphemism for “stimulus’) for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats.
Here’s some of what Sperling had to say. He led off with the importance of entitlement cuts. (All emphasis is mine):
“Sometimes here [in Washington] we start to think that the end goal of our public policy is to hit a particular budget or spending or revenue metric—as if those are the goals in and of itself. But it’s important to remember that each of these metrics … are means to larger goals. … Right now, I think there is among a lot of people a consensus as to what the ingredients of a pro-growth fiscal policy are. It would be a fiscal policy that—yes—did give more confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in our long-term fiscal position and that we’re not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation. That is very important.”
After Green’s article was posted, White House spokesperson Amy Brundage tried to minimize the talk of cuts in the safety net in the following e-mail:
“Gene was reiterating what our position has been all along: that any big budget deal is going to have to include significant revenues if Republicans insist on entitlement reforms. And any budget deal needs to have first and foremost the goal of creating good jobs for middle class families and growing the economy—that’s our north star in any budget deal, big or small.”
Uh huh. They know Americans are paying attention to the constant threat of cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We need to stay vigilant and keep pushing back hard.
At Daily Kos, Joan McCarter responded: No, White House advisor Gene Sperling, entitlement cuts are not necessary.
You know what would be a really, really crappy idea? Making cuts to programs that are keeping millions from poverty in order to make a bad economy marginally better. But that’s what President Obama’s top economic advisor—Gene Sperling, director of the White House’s National Economic Council—is telling Democrats they’ll have to swallow….
Yeah, that would upset many Democrats. It would upset a helluva lot of voters, too. Millions and millions of them who have every reason right now to vote against Republicans. It would probably also not go over too well with the next generation who’s going to be far less impacted by the national debt than by having no hope of a secure retirement because a handful of austerity fetishists sold them up the river when they were young.
Sperling is saying that this will have to be done because “we still need to give this recovery more momentum.” Because of course the answer to the recovery is sacrificing some old people. By all means, get their skin in the game. They maybe have an inch or two of skin to spare.
Sign the petition from Senator Bernie Sanders, Daily Kos and an enormous coalition of progressives demanding that Congress and the President oppose any grand bargain which cuts Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
Here’s an article at The Atlantic that Obama and Sperling should read: Raising the Medicare Age: A Popular Idea With Shockingly Few Benefits
Increasing the Medicare age would barely save the government any money, while increasing healthcare spending overall by keeping seniors in less-efficient private insurance (if they even have it). Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the policy is fine.
It may seem obvious that raising the Medicare age should save money. After all, the projected rise of the long-term debt is mostly about the projected rise of federal health-care spending. If we raise the Medicare age, Washington can wait longer to pay for seniors’ health care, which means they’ll pay less, overall.
Any time there’s any chance for any kind of budget bargain, “grand” or otherwise, the discussion inside the Beltway inevitably turns to hiking the Medicare age. (Call it Peterson’s Law: As a fiscal debate grows longer, the probability of a CEO proposing a higher Social Security and Medicare age approaches one). Right on cue, this got trial-ballooned during the debt ceiling talks in 2011, and then again during the fiscal cliff talks in 2012. Professional deficit hawks think of raising the Medicare age as a sign of seriousness. It’s not so much about the money it saves as the message it supposedly sends markets: that the debt will be fixed.
Except it’s all a pack of lies. Read all about it at the link.
It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast and caused so much havoc that it was “the second-costliest hurricane in United States history.” In July 2013, it came out that four charities had been holding back millions in donations that were collected specifically for Sandy relief. Now NY is forcing them to cough up some of the money. From the NY Daily News:
Four charities that had been under fire for sitting on millions of dollars of Hurricane Sandy relief funds have agreed to pony up $10 million to aid victims of the storm.
The charities — including the American Red Cross and a fund created by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees — reached an agreement with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The deal came after revelations in July that 40% of the $575 million in Sandy aid collected by 90 charities had been disbursed within six months of the storm.
“We have been dogged about making sure that when they raise money and tell the world they are going to spend it on Sandy recovery, they in fact spend it on Sandy recovery,” Schneiderman said during an appearance Thursday in hard-hit Long Beach, L.I.
Brees’ charity had seriously dropped the ball, having received a single $300,000 donation but only allocating $75,000 of it, officials said.
Under the agreement with Schneiderman, the Brees Dream Foundation agreed to disperse the remaining $225,000 by October 2014, the second anniversary of the storm.
In less serious news–it IS Saturday after all, Gawker has learned that Fox News’ Shepard Smith began carrying on an office romance with a young producer at Fox, Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. Apparently, the two have been seen together all over Manhattan.
Gawker has learned that Smith is dating a 26-year-old Penn State grad and Fox Business producer named Giovanni “Gio” Graziano. According to multiple sources with knowledge of their relationship, the couple met sometime after Graziano started working at Fox Report in October 2011 as a production assistant. He’s the man with whom Smith frequents Bathtub Gin.
“Yes, that’s Shepard’s boyfriend,” Katya Minskova, the Bathtub Gin waitress Smith berated in March, confirmed to Gawker when shown a photo of Graziano. Another source who had seen them together at the Chelsea speakeasy confirmed Graziano’s identity as well. Both sources say they saw Graziano and Smith together at the bar on multiple occasions, and that they appeared to be romantically involved.
While Smith and Graziano’s boss Roger Ailes, a notorious homophobe, was apparently kept in the dark about the relationship—“higher ups had no idea,” a source close to Graziano said—the pair doesn’t appear to have gone to great lengths to keep the workplace romance from their co-workers.
Shep Smith arranged for Graziano to be transferred to Fox Business a year ago, so the two wouldn’t be directly working together. Now it’s not clear if Graziano is even working at Fox anymore.
Graziano’s current status at Fox is unclear. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he is currently employed at Fox Business (after three years as a production assistant at Fox News, including one year at Smith’s show). But the source close to Graziano claimed that he abruptly left Fox in mid-July. Graziano “dropped off the planet, cut off all his friends, to be with Shep,” the source said. “His former work friends are clueless about his current whereabouts.”
Very interesting . . .
I noticed this story at The Atlantic a few days ago, and saved it for today. Go to the link to check out this GIF of most popular baby girl names from 1960 to the present, based on data compiled by the Social Security Administration. Rebecca Rosen writes:
My friend Judy used to always say that whenever she met another Judy, she knew exactly how old that Judy was—to the day.
Now that level of precision might be a bit of a stretch, but, as the above map wonderfully shows, there’s good reason for that line of thinking. The most popular baby girl names in the United States are flashes in the pan—each one appearing on the map briefly, before being swept out by an up-and-comer.
The map was built in Adobe Illustrator by Deadspin‘s Reuben Fischer-Baum using data from the Social Security Administration. “Color palette,” Fischer-Baum wrote to me over email, “has to be credited to Stephen Few, from his excellent data viz book Show Me The Numbers.” Earlier drafts gave each name a unique color, he says, but in the end “it was a lot cleaner and more interesting to limit the palette to just the most popular name for any given year, and put the rest in grayscale so you could see how the different ‘eras’ of top names progressed.”
Over at Jezebel, Fischer-Baum describes the picture that emerges:
Baby naming generally follows a consistent cycle: A name springs up in some region of the U.S.—”Ashley” in the South, “Emily” in the Northeast—sweeps over the country, and falls out of favor nearly as quickly. The big exception to these baby booms and busts is “Jennifer”, which absolutely dominates America for a decade-and-a-half. If you’re named Jennifer and you were born between 1970 and 1984, don’t worry! I’m sure you have a totally cool, unique middle name.
Finally, here’s a really scary story for you from Talk to Action: A Majority of Americans 18-29 Years Old Now Believe in Demon Possession, Shows Survey.
Are Americans becoming less religious? While church affiliation is probably declining, don’t expect the atheist revolution anytime soon:
Over one half (63 percent, to be exact) of young Americans 18-29 years old now believe in the notion that invisible, non-corporeal entities called “demons” can take partial or total control of human beings, revealed an October 2012Public Policy Polling survey that also showed this belief isn’t declining among the American population generally; it’s growing.
Please read the whole creepy article at the link. It will scare you silly!
Those are my recommended reads for today. Please let us know what stories you’re following today by posting the links in the comment thread.
The President released his budget today, and it includes the promised benefit cuts to Social Security that the White House has tried to conceal by claiming it wants to institute a supposedly “more accurate” measure of cost-of-living, the Chained CPI. Of course at this point, anyone who is paying attention knows that the change will result in the average senior getting $1,000 less per year after 20 years. It’s a benefit cut pure and simple.
What many people don’t know yet is that switching Chained CPI will result in a significant tax increase for working poor and middle-class Americans.
Here’s your soundtrack for this post. Perhaps the great Aretha Franklin can make Obama’s budget slightly less nauseating. I’m also going to try to ease the pain with cartoons and visual aids.
Luckily, Grover Norquist and the folks at Americans for Tax Reform know darn well that Chained CPI amounts to a tax increase for people on the lower end of the income scale. This is right from their website.
The proposal in question is known as “Chained CPI.” The term is a Beltway euphemism for measuring inflation at a different, slower pace. Many tax and budget items are indexed to inflation, so slowing inflation’s measured rate of growth has both spending cut and tax increase implications.
On the tax side, all income tax brackets are subject to inflation. Slowing down the inflation rate slows down the annual rate of growth in all income tax brackets.
This means the Obama budget contains a tax increase on 100 percent of middle class taxpayers—anyone who pays the federal income tax.
Many other tax provisions—the standard deduction, the personal exemption, PEP and Pease, IRA and 401(k) contribution limits, and many others—are also tied to how CPI is measured.
Chained CPI as a stand-alone measure (that is, not paired with tax relief of equal or greater size) is a tax increase and a Taxpayer Protection Pledge violation. Various reports peg the tax increase amount as exceeding $100 billion over the next decade.
Ted Rall explains Chained CPI:
Dylan Matthews broke it all down (with charts) in a December 2012 post. Here’s the gist:
The group getting the biggest tax hike is families making between $30,000 and $40,000 a year. Their increase is almost six times that faced by millionaires. That’s because millionaires are already in the top bracket, so they’re not being pushed into higher marginal rates because of changing bracket thresholds. While a different inflation measure might mean that the cutoff between the 15 percent and 25 percent goes from $35,000 to $30,000, the threshold for the top 35 percent bracket is already low enough that all millionaires are paying it. Some of their income is taxed at higher rates because of lower thresholds down the line, but as a percentage of income that doesn’t amount to a whole lot.
All told, chained CPI raises average taxes by about 0.19 percent of income. So, taken all together, it’s basically a big (5 percent over 12 years; more, if you take a longer view) across-the-board cut in Social Security benefits paired with a 0.19 percent income surtax. You don’t hear a lot of politicians calling for the drastic slashing of Social Security benefits and an across-the-board tax increase that disproportionately hits low earners. But that’s what they’re sneakily doing when they talk about chained CPI.
That’s why watchdog groups like the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities argue that the only fair way to do chained CPI would be to pair it with an increase in Social Security benefits, and to exempt Supplemental Security Income, which provides support for impoverished elderly, disabled and blind people. Otherwise, it’s just a typical “raise taxes, cut benefits” plan, and an arguably regressive one at that.
So basically if you work for a living or depend on Social Security, you’re getting screwed coming and going.
Here’s another cartoonist’s evaluation of the situation:
Chained CPI will disproportionately affects women, according to the AARP (3/6/2013).
The Social Security benefit cut known as Chained CPI remains a piece of the deficit puzzle for reasons that baffle conservatives, veterans, progressives, and almost everyone in between. The $85 billion in sequester cuts for 2013 have begun and many in Washington have still said they’re willing to cut the modest Social Security benefits we’ve earned by $127 billion over 10 years, even though Social Security by law remains separate from the budget and its deficit. Let’s give every woman and anyone who has or has ever had a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, aunt or girlfriend a reason to despise this wretched proposal.
This week AARP began running ads about the impact of what the Chained CPI Social Security benefit cuts would mean to women. Below is a copy of one of those ads.
Here’s what Terri O’Neill, president of NOW had to say about women and Chained CPI.
I’m sure you recall that our previous Republican President (let’s face it, Obama is a Democrat in name only) began his second term with the ambitious goal of privatizing Social Security. It didn’t end well for him. Here’s a cartoon from back then:
And another one:
That’s the kind of reaction politicians tend to get when they attack the most successful and powerful government program in history. That’s why it’s called “the third rail.” Remember in when Texas Gov. Rick Perry attacked Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme?” Look what happened to him?
Obama is already beginning to learn why politicians who step on the “third rail” end up regretting it. He’s out there on a limb all by himself. Democrats hate his budget and so do Republicans, because the vast majority of Americans like Social Security and if it’s threatened they tend to get mad–especially seniors.
Yesterday, Digby recalled what can happen “When seniors get angry …” She referred to an incident in 1989 which Democrat Dan Rostenkowski–the powerful Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee–was chased down the street by enraged seniors.
Andrea Stone told the tale at AOL News in August 2010 after the Illinois Congressman’s death: Rosty’s ‘Catastrophic’ Moment Over Health Care Was a First.
The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, first unveiled by President Ronald Reagan, became law in July 1989. The measure provided seniors on Medicare with protection against catastrophic medical expenses and coverage of prescription drug costs. The benefits were to be paid for exclusively by the elderly receiving them, with high-income seniors paying an extra premium surtax.
Soon after Congress passed the law on an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, Rosty returned to his district. It was there, after a fairly civil meeting with seniors resentful over having to pay higher taxes for coverage they either already had from a former employer or didn’t want, that he was accosted by an angry mob of Social Security recipients.
As the Chicago Tribune reported the next day, Aug. 19, 1989:
Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, one of the most powerful politicians in the United States, was booed and chased down a Chicago street Thursday morning by a group of senior citizens after he refused to talk with them about federal health insurance. Shouting “coward,” “recall” and “impeach,” about 50 people followed the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee up Milwaukee Avenue after he left a meeting in the auditorium of the Copernicus Center, 3106 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the heart of his 8th Congressional District on the city’s Northwest Side.
Eventually, the 6-foot-4-inch Rostenkowski cut through a gas station, broke into a sprint and escaped into his car, which minutes earlier had one of the elderly protesters, Leona Kozien, draped over the hood. Kozien, one of more than 100 senior citizens who attended the gathering, said she had hoped to talk to Rostenkowski, her congressman, at the meeting.
But Rostenkowski clearly did not want to talk with her, or any of the others who had come to tell their complaints about the high cost of federal catastrophic health insurance. “These people don’t understand what the government is trying to do for them,” the 61-year-old congressman complained as he tried to outpace his pursuers.
“This was a setup,” said Jaffe, who can be seen in the video ducking into the backseat of the car. “They were standing with made-for-television signs about how he had sold them out.”
As the Tribune reported, “Kozien was soon on the hood, determinedly holding her sign only inches from the windshield. Except for the glass, she was virtually face-to-face with her congressman. ‘I was a little nervous,’ Kozien said later. ‘But I could see through the car window that he looked more afraid than I was.'”
And there is even video of the incident:
Obama is all alone out there on his limb. The only people who have his back are his apparently not-to-bright advisers. Does he really want to be remembered as the first Democratic President to tamper with Social Security? And BTW, his budget also cuts Medicare significantly. Is this really what he wants as his “legacy?” Is it really good enough to gain the applause of Wall Street and the “Very Serious People” in Washington, DC today but go down in history as a worse president than Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush? We shall see.