Thursday Reads

Einstein reading

Good Morning!

The New York Times has added more fodder for the Republicans’ Benghazi attacks. James Risen Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt report that: U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands.

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.

Of course there’s no evidence that this had anything to do with the Benghazi attacks, but I’m sure that won’t stop Senators McNasty, Huckleberry Closetcase, and their new pal Senator Kelley Ayotte from pretending otherwise.

No evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to the attack that killed four Americans at the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.

Also at the NYT, Jared Bernstein once again explains why politicians (and the media) in the Village need to stop obsessing on taxes and start focusing in increasing employment and, along with it, consumer demand.

WITH the budget-and-tax showdown dominating headlines, most Americans probably missed an even more ominous story: according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, America’s underlying growth rate — that is, the best the economy could do, under optimal conditions, without driving up inflation — has slowed from just under 4 percent a year in 2000 to just under 2 percent today.

Why does this matter? For one thing, the combination of a lower underlying growth rate, which you could think of as the economy’s speed limit, and a less equitable distribution of that growth was a reason middle-income households did so badly and poverty went up in the 2000s.

During the 1990s, in contrast, stronger demand for goods and services led to much faster job growth and the last real gains experienced by middle- and lower-income households. Faster growth in those years also spun off a lot more government revenues, which interacted with slightly higher tax rates to take the budget from deficit to surplus.

Read the whole thing and fantasize what we could be doing if we had smarter leadership in DC.

Back in Republican la-la land, Joel Kotkin at Forbes claims that blue states are committing suicide by supporting raising tax rates on the rich.

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest. The almost uniform support of blue states’ congressional representatives for the administration’s campaign for tax “fairness” represents a kind of bizarre economic suicide pact.

Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers. In fact, when you examine which states, and metropolitan areas, have the highest concentrations of such people, it turns out they are overwhelmingly located in the bluest states and regions.

Really? Then how come we did so much better under the Clinton tax rates in the ’90s? After all, that’s all that is happening–except that the first $250,000 of these poor rich people’s money will still be taxed at the Bush rates. But that’s not how Kotkin sees it.

The people whose wallets will be drained in the new war on “the rich” are high-earning, but hardly plutocratic professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers, small business owners and the like. Once seen as the bastion of the middle class, and exemplars of upward mobility, these people are emerging as the modern day “kulaks,” the affluent peasants ruthlessly targeted by Stalin in the early 1930s.

OMB!! “Wallets…drained!” “Stalin!” Let’s all freak out!

The ironic geography of the Democratic drive can be seen most clearly by examining the distribution of the classes now targeted by the coming purge. The top 10 states with the largest percentage of “rich” households under the Obama formula include true blue bastions Washington, D.C., which has the highest concentration of big earners, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, California and Hawaii. The only historic “swing state” in the top six is Virginia, due largely to the presence of the affluent suburbs of the capital. These same states, according to the Tax Foundation, would benefit the most from an extension of the much-lambasted Bush tax cuts.

Hey Joel, maybe it’s not all about taxes, even though that’s all that seems to matter to you. Maybe some blue state folks think the whole economy would benefit if more people got back to work, earned some money and spent it–as suggested by Jared Bernstein in yesterday’s NYT (see above).

As Zandar notes, Kotkin then goes on to show how Republicans can use the home mortgage deduction and other methods to punish the blue state richies for voting for Obama.

– Keep the tax rate on capital gains the same.

– Raise income taxes on the top income bracket for 2013, those making $398,350 and up (single filers, married joint filers, or head of household).

– Means-test, or eliminate entirely, the mortgage interest deduction (which benefits taxpayers in areas with the highest real estate values and mortgages – i.e., Hawaii, D.C., New York, California and Connecticut).

– Means-test or eliminate entirely the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which is disproportionately utilized by those in high-tax blue states: “In 2005, taxpayers in California and New York together made up 20 percent of those claiming the deduction and accounted for 30 percent of its value. Itemizers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California claimed on average over $12,000 per household.”

Talk about a sore loser! Kotkin must be really bitter about Romney’s failure to get those blue state dopes to vote for him.

Meanwhile all those Romney voters in the red states are dreaming about seceding from the union. But if they did, asks The Nation, “Who’d Pay for Their Massive Government Handouts?”

In the wake of Obama’s victory, citizens in several states submitted petitions to secede from the United States. It is something of an irony that the very states seeking secession from “big government”—like Louisiana and Alabama—have been among the top beneficiaries of that selfsame government. Put bluntly, the government would be far smaller without them, and they would seriously struggle far more without it. Indeed, were they to become independent, most would be failed states in need of a bailout. Only this time their benefactor would be not the federal government but the International Monetary Fund, of which the United States is the principal donor. Louisiana and Alabama would go the way of Greece and Spain.

Oh, the irony of it all! And here’s another irony for Republicans to chew on. From TPM: Why Insurers Are Wary Of Raising The Medicare Age

House Republican leaders want to avoid the fiscal cliff with a proposal that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Democrats are broadly reluctant to cut benefits, but President Obama was willing to accept the policy last year in failed deficit reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, and top Democrats have left the door open to including that measure in a grand budget bargain.

It may seem counter-intuitive: why would an industry threatened by government insurance not want it to shrink?

The reason: hiking the Medicare eligibility age would throw seniors aged 65 and 66 off Medicare and into the private market, forcing insurers, who will soon be required to cover all consumers regardless of health status, to care for a sicker, more expensive crop of patients.

“The risk pool issue is important,” the insurance industry source said. “[I]f you add more older and sicker people to the pool, that’s definitely going to have any impact on premiums.”

The policy would save the federal government $113 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But it achieves that by raising the cost of private insurance: the Kaiser Family Foundation projected that a Medicare age of 67 would raise costs for under-65 patients by an average of $141 in 2014. (In practice it would be phased in.)

Duh!

And even more Republican stupidity: Right wing nutcases are all bent out of shape because their favorite crazy propaganda movie didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

Gerald Molan, the director of the extremely anti-Obama movie, 2016: Obama’s America , is mad that his and Dinesh D’Souza’s film [“2016”] wasn’t on the shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award.

“The action confirms my opinion that the bias against anything from a conservative point of view is dead on arrival in Hollywood circles,” he complained to the Hollywood Reporter.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the movie is based on a pack of lies and right wing conspiracy theories, could it?

To cleanse your palate of right wing and DC craziness, try watching this video from NASA that show views of the Earth from space. Here’s a still shot:

new-view-earth-at-night-usa_62009_600x450

So what are you reading and blogging about today? I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past couple of days, so I look forward to clicking on your links!


Do Delusional Republicans Think They Won the Election?

John+Boehner+Mitch+McConnell+Boehner+McConnell+4a_pMeV_Vxkl

Honestly, I can’t recall ever seeing such childish behavior before in politics. The Republicans in Congress remind me of three-year-olds throwing tantrums because things aren’t going their way. Yesterday, the White House made a proposal for averting the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a fake crisis that the Republicans themselves created last year during the battle over raising the debt ceiling (which has never before been controversial).

CBS News reports on the Republicans hissy fits:

The White House made an offer to House Republicans today to avert the fiscal cliff that Republican aides familiar with the talks panned as “a joke”, “an insult” and “a complete break from reality.”

A Republican aide familiar with the offer that was presented to House Speaker John Boehner by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House congressional liason Rob Nabors confirmed that the $4 trillion package would raise $1.6 trillion in tax revenue up front. Republicans call that number too high and extreme to be offering two weeks into negotiations with a just a month left before the deadline.

The basics of the offer were an immediate return to the Clinton-era tax rates for income over $250,000; cuts in “entitlements, primarily Medicare sometime in the future; $50 billion in stimulus through infrastructure spending as well as extending unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday; and an agreement on raising the debt ceiling again. Mitch McConnell let it be known that he laughed out loud at Geithner’s proposal, and John Boehner and others whined about how mean Democrats are.

“Unfortunately many Democrats continue to rule out spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit” [….]

One Republican aide expressed outrage that the White House would ask for that with no reforms attached at all. Earlier today, Boehner said, that “there is a lot of things that I have wanted in my life but almost all of them had a price tag attached to them.

“If we’re going to talk about the debt limit in this, then there is going to be some price tag associated with it.”

So Republicans must be willing to pay a price too, right? Here’s what McConnell said about that to the Wall Street Journal:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted changes to safety-net programs that focus on altering eligibility requirements, and suggested that if Democrats agreed both sides could move closer to a budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

In an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) said if the White House agrees to changes such as higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a slowing of cost-of-living increases for programs like Social Security, Republicans would agree to include more tax revenue in the deal, though not from higher tax rates.

“Those are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue,” Mr. McConnell said.

So, let me get this straight. Republicans want to force senior citizens to wait longer to get Medicare–meaning many older Americans would have no health coverage, since Obamacare permits insurance companies to charge older people three times as much as younger people. They also want to change the COLA for Social Security, which would, in effect, be a cut in benefits.

In return Republicans would accept mythical, unspecified “revenues” but no rate increases on the richest Americans. That sounds like a pretty bad deal to me, especially since President Obama ran for reelection on increasing the top tax rates and Democratic, Independent, and even Republican voters made it clear that they did not want chances to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.

Since Obama won reelection quite handily, it’s hardly surprising that he isn’t offering specific cuts to social safety net programs. Why should he? Whichever party is responsible for cutting these programs is going to pay a significant price in 2014 and beyond. The White House attitude is that if Boehner and McConnell want such cuts, they should damn well spell out what they have in mind–not expect the President to do it for them.

In response to the tantrums, Ezra Klein writes:

We’re seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren’t going well. When one side begins leaking the other side’s proposals, that’s typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own.

It’s looking more and more like Obama is willing to go over the fiscal cliff and leave the Republicans holding the bag. Polls show it’s Republicans who will be blamed for the consequences.

Peggy-Noonan

The funniest Republican whining today came from Peggy Noonan, who really should stop commenting on politics and become a romance novelist.

At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Boehner looked frustrated. In fact, he looked exactly the way he looked at the end of the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011—like someone who wanted a deal, was willing to gamble to get it, and failed. There has been “no substantive progress” toward an agreement, he said. In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and in a Wednesday night phone call with the president, he saw no willingness to reform or cut entitlement spending. What about an increase in tax rates? “Revenues are on the table.”

In fact the Democratic position on entitlements seems to have hardened.

Which makes all kinds of sense, because everyone knows that voters do not want changes to their “entitlements.” earned benefits. Obama has figured that out, and so have Republicans. Neither side wants to be the one to make proposals for specific cuts in what’s left of the New Deal programs.

But Noonan doesn’t get it anymore than Boehner and McConnell do.

You watch and wonder: Why does it always have to be cliffs with this president? Why is it always a high-stakes battle? Why doesn’t he shrewdly re-enact Ronald Reagan, meeting, arguing and negotiating in good faith with Speaker Tip O’Neill, who respected very little of what the president stood for and yet, at the end of the day and with the country in mind, could shake hands and get it done? Why is there never a sense with Mr. Obama that he understands the other guys’ real position?

Um….maybe because Tip O’Neill was actually willing and able to negotiate in good faith, which Boehner is in thrall to Tea Party crazies?

It’s not as if Mr. Boehner and the Republicans wouldn’t deal. They’ve been weakened and they know it. A year ago they hoped winning the Senate and the presidency would break the stasis. They won neither. Mr. Obama not only was re-elected, it wasn’t that close, it was a clean win. If the president was clear about anything throughout the campaign, it was that he wanted to raise taxes on those he calls the rich. So you might say that a majority of the American people just endorsed that move….

The president would only benefit from showing he has the command and capability to meet, argue, press and come to agreement. It would be heartening to the country to see this, and would impress the world. And the Republicans would like to get it done.

OMG, that’s hysterical! “Those he calls the rich” Peggy says. The rest of her piece is a complaint about how difficult it is to make ends meet with an income of *only* $250,000. She even claims that raising taxes on those she doesn’t think are rich will hurt the economy.

Mr. Obama wants to raise tax rates on those earning $250,000 or more, as we know, on the assumption that they are “the rich.” But if you are a man with a wife and two kids making that salary and living in Westfield, N.J., in no way do you experience yourself to be rich, because you’re not. You pay federal payroll and income taxes, state income and sales taxes and local property taxes, and after the mortgage, food and commuting costs you don’t have much to spare.

Tighten the squeeze on that couple, and they’ll change how they live. They’ll stop sending the struggling son to a neighborhood tutor, they’ll stop going out to dinner once a week, they’ll cut off the baby sitter, fire the guy who once a month does yard work, and hold back on new clothes. Also the guy will peruse employment ads in Florida and Texas, potentially removing from blue-state New Jersey his heartening, taxpaying presence.

Oh boo hoo hoo! I’m sick to death of this shit. You lost the fucking election. You spend four years refusing to cooperate with this president in an all-out effort to deny him reelection. Your plan failed. The people have spoken. Deal with it.


Late Night: Those Wonky GOP Numbers Guys


Behind the Scenes at the Paul Ryan Workout Shoot


Romney/Ryan Tax Plan Revealed!


This is a very serious, wonky, math-infused open thread!!

 

 

 


American Entrepreneurship on the Decline … Yet … not for the reasons you’d think

One of the great symbols of US spirit has always been its small businesses. It’s one of those myths that seems to carry everywhere  including to views of us in other countries.  There are two related memes that go along with this mythic American institution that are not borne out by statistics.  The first is that small businesses are the source of employment growth in the country.  This is not true. Most small businesses that do not fail stay small.  The majority of job growth comes from medium to large businesses.  Midsize business are far more important. (Data from the BLS.) The second meme is that either too much regulation or uncertainty created by the government is causing depressed job growth.  This is simply not true either.

What does this mean? By any reasonable interpretation, it is mid-size companies that are generating the bulk of the jobs in the recovery. From an economic development perspective, it means that job growth is more likely to come from mid-size companies that are adding several workers or perhaps a couple of dozen new employees, rather than the smallest or largest businesses.

And what are these businesses most worried about today? According to a recent survey by the National Federation of Independent Business (here):

“The two principal impediments to current small-business growth are business uncertainty and weak sales… The single most important indicator that would renew small-business owner confidence in business conditions is increased sales in their businesses.”

The economic recovery is a demand issue.

There is also some strange set of lies out there that the increase in taxes proposed by the Obama Administration on those making over $250k is going to kill small business.  Not true again! This tax hike would likely impact only about 3.5% of small businesses. The majority of these are partnerships formed by doctors and lawyers.  They are not your average mom and pop store.  I just heard Haley Barbor repeat this lie on CNN last night.

But to what extent would Obama’s tax plan actually affect small businesses?

In its latest estimate last month, Congress’s nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that in 2013, just 3.5 percent of small business tax filers would pay a higher rate — about 940,000 individuals, many of whom are lawyers and doctors in partnerships. But those few percent account for 53 percent of all small business income.

GOP aides accept those facts but they say those few small businesses are the ones overseeing growing companies whom the nation is counting on to hire. According to a variety of analyses, the lion’s share of the tax hike would be absorbed by Americans earning well over $1 million.

Late in 2010, when the same debate played out, William Gale, co-director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, called it a “myth” to suggest that ending the tax cut on top marginal rates would hurt small businesses.

“This claim is misleading,” Gale wrote in the Washington Post. “If the objective is to help small businesses, continuing the Bush tax cuts on high-income taxpayers isn’t the way to go — it would miss more than 98 percent of small-business owners and would primarily help people who don’t make most of their money off those businesses.”

There’s a new study covered by The Washington Monthly that shows that entrepreneurship and small business ownership is on the decline.  Get ready for this result.  It’s primarily Republican policies that are killing small businesses and not over regulation, over taxation or over anything else.  Here’s some interesting information about the decline and how some of it is due to other things too.

Data kept by the Small Business Administration, for instance, shows that the share of the working-age population that is self-employed has been declining since 1994. The share fell steadily until 2002, stayed level between 2003 and 2006, then began to drop again. Overall, between 1994 and 2009, the share declined nearly 25 percent.

This drop in the number of self-employed citizens relative to the overall working population is also captured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which isolates nonfarm workers. The BLS survey asks workers if they are employed by a private company, a nonprofit organization, or the government, or are self-employed. Self-employed workers are further separated into those who have incorporated their businesses and those who have not.

According to the BLS, the number of Americans who are both self-employed and not incorporated has fallen significantly as a share of the working-age population, from 461 per 10,000 in 1990 to 359 in 2011. This decline—more than 22 percent—reversed a long trend in the opposite direction during the 1970s and ’80s. The BLS data shows a somewhat different picture when it comes to self-employed persons who incorporate their businesses. As a share of the working-age population, their ranks grew 35 percent between 1989 and 2008, before dropping off sharply in 2009. Yet this increase in incorporation may be evidence not so much of rising entrepreneurship as of existing unincorporated one-person firms deciding to change their legal status—to take better advantage of new limited liability laws in many states, for instance, in order to cut their tax bills.

Even if we accept this number without question, however, the total share of the self-employed dropped steadily over the last two decades. In 1994 there were roughly 663 self-employed (incorporated and unincorporated) for every 10,000 working-age Americans; by 2009 this number was down to 606, an 8.5 percent decline.

If anything, there’s good reason to believe that this decline in entrepreneurship is even steeper than government data shows, thanks to what appears to be systematic miscategorization by the government of what counts as a true independent company. Since the 1990s, large companies have increasingly relied on temporary help to do work that formerly was performed by permanent salaried employees. These arrangements enable firms to hire and fire workers with far greater flexibility and free them from having to provide traditional benefits like unemployment insurance, health insurance, retirement plans, and paid vacations. The workers themselves go by many different names: temps, contingent workers, contractors, freelancers. But while some fit the traditional sense of what it means to be an entrepreneur or independent business owner, many, if not most, do not—precisely because they remain entirely dependent on a single power for their employment.

Again, it’s not taxes and it’s not over-regulation responsible for the decline.  Here are the two major reasons.

Perhaps the most common complaint among small business entrepreneurs is a shortage of financing. While the rise of the venture capital business might give the impression that financial support for entrepreneurs has never been easier to obtain, the truth is that only a tiny fraction of start-ups have access to venture funds. To get their businesses up and running, the vast majority of entrepreneurs today tend to rely at first, as they always have, on a combination of personal savings and contributions from family and friends. But with family balance sheets ravaged by stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs for health care and higher education, fewer and fewer average families have the savings needed to invest in a small business.

The effects of the radical consolidation in the banking industry that began in the 1980s are equally dramatic. Relatively few bank officers today have the leeway and local knowledge to lend to established local businesses, much less new ventures. This is especially true in bad times, when big institutions come under great pressure both from Wall Street and regulators. In Maryland, for example, Bank of America made 312 SBA-guaranteed loans to local businesses in 2007. In 2010, it made two. Consolidation also concentrates the power of a few financial institutions over small businesses, and radically raises the risk that entire funding systems can collapse all at once. The near breakdown of CIT Group in early 2009—averted only by a last-minute deal with bondholders—would have cut more than a million small businesses off from some of the most important forms of day-to-day business financing.

The single biggest factor driving down entrepreneurship is precisely the radical concentration of power we have seen not only in the banking industry but throughout the U.S. economy over the last thirty years. This revolutionary remaking of almost every economic activity in the nation was set in motion in 1981, when officials in the Reagan administration all but suspended traditional enforcement of America’s antimonopoly laws, a change in policy then adopted by every subsequent administration. Since then, regulators have done almost nothing to stop the great waves of mergers and acquisitions, with the result that control over most major economic activities is now more consolidated than at any time since the Gilded Age.

The effects have been nowhere more dramatic than in those sectors that have always been most congenial to individual proprietorships, like retail, services, farming, and small manufacturing. These were the activities most affected, for instance, by the type of “roll-up” strategies pioneered by financiers like Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. In the case of the office-supply retailer Staples, Bain’s investment helped propel the company from a one-store operation to a 2,000-store international behemoth. Similar plays resulted in Home Depot capturing a vast proportion of the nation’s hardware business, in Best Buy capturing a vast proportion of America’s electronics business, and in Macy’s capturing a vast proportion of all department store sales. Just one company, Wal-Mart, now controls upward of 50 percent of some lines of grocery and general merchandise business—commerce that a generation ago was divided among tens of thousands of families.

So, next time you think that Republicans are the small business friendly party, think again.  It’s clearly the drive towards monopoly, market concentration and policies that benefit the One Percenters that’s killing US small business.

 


Catholic Republicans to Catholic Bishops: STFU

Ryan to Catholic Bishops: "Are you talking to me?"

On Tuesday I wrote a post about Paul Ryan’s claim that his Catholic faith informed his budget plan.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops responded to this outrageous claim by sending letters to every Congressional Committee affected by the Ryan Budget explaining that Catholic doctrine does not support starving children and elderly people to death in order to give tax cuts to rich people and buy more weapons of war for the Pentagon.

Today Paul Ryan responded to the Bishops’ criticism.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Thursday dismissed criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), falsely claiming the group did not represent all Catholic bishops.

Referencing Matthew 25, the USCCB called on Congress to put the poor first in budget priorities and rethink cuts to programs that benefited the least among us.

“These are not all the Catholic bishops, and we just respectfully disagree,” he said on Fox News after being questioned about the bishops criticism of his budget plan.

Later the Bishops responded to Ryan’s statement by explaining to The Hill:

USCCB spokesman Don Clemmer told The Hill that the letters do represent all Catholic bishops, as they were penned by members of the church that were elected to represent the bishops on policy matters at the national level.

“Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level,” Clemmer said. “The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”

Yesterday, fellow Catholic John Boehner weighed in in support of his budget hit-man:

“I want them to take a bigger look,” Boehner said at a Wednesday press conference. “And the bigger look is, if we don’t make decisions, these programs won’t exist, and then they’ll really have something to worry about.”

Hmmmm…that sounds like a threat.

Boehner, a Catholic, acknowledged that the bishops had a moral argument in pushing to preserve aspects of the budget that provide aid to the poor, but said if the United States can’t get its finances in order, those programs would be completely eliminated through a fiscal crisis.

“There won’t be these programs, and I don’t know how often some of us have to talk about the fact that you can’t spend $1.3 trillion more than what you bring in — that’s what’s going to happen this year, $5 trillion worth of debt over the last five years — and think that this can continue,” Boehner said.

It seems that the opinion of Conference of Catholic Bishops is to be respected on abortion and birth control, but not on economic and social justice issues. I guess Ryan and Boehner are only “cafeteria Catholics.” Just look how Ryan responded last year when a fellow Catholic offered him a Bible so he could read about Jesus’ teachings.

Not a Catholic, but apparently not wanting to look less of a soulless, evil skinflint than Ryan and Boehner, Eric Cantor suggested the solution to the country’s economic problems is raising taxes on the poorest of the poor.

The GOP has repeatedly made the claim that the poorest Americans need more “skin in the game.” Today, response to a question by ABC’s Jon Karl, Cantor made it clear that Republicans are interested in raising taxes on the poor while lowering tax rates for everyone else as part of any comprehensive tax reform plan:

CANTOR: We also know that over 45 percent of the people in this country don’t pay income taxes at all, and we have to question whether that’s fair. And should we broaden the base in a way that we can lower the rates for everybody that pays taxes. […]

KARL: Just wondering, what do you do about that? Are you saying we need to have a tax increase on the 45 percent who right now pay no federal income tax?

CANTOR: I’m saying that, just in a macro way of looking at it, you’ve got to discuss that issue. … How do you deal with a shrinking pie and number of people and entities that support the operations of government, and how do you go about continuing to milk them more, if that’s what some want to do, but preserve their ability to provide the growth engine? … I’ve never believed that you go raise taxes on those that have been successful that are paying in, taking away from them, so that you just hand out and give to someone else.

As Think Progress points out, most of the people who don’t pay income taxes are students, elderly people receiving lower amounts of social security, or people so desperately poor that they don’t earn enough to pay taxes. These people are, however, subject to many taxes, such as gas taxes, property taxes, and federal payroll taxes if they are working.

I wonder what FDR would say about all this?


Cookiegate: Mitt Romney’s Latest Foot-in-Mouth Episode

Turtle Thumbprint cookies from the Bethel Bakery

On Tuesday, Mitt Romney met with several preselected middle-class couples. They sat around a picnic table in Bethel Park, PA and discussed taxes. “over a table of lemonade, pretzels, chips and cookies from Bethel Bakery.” The Bakery is beloved by the community and is considered a local “landmark.”

The meeting got off to a rocky start, however, when the governor sat down at a picnic table set with food and made an apparent attempt at humor.

“I’m not sure about these cookies,” Mr. Romney said. “They don’t look like you made them,” he said turning to one of the women at the table. “Did you make those cookies? You didn’t, did you? No. No. They came from the local 7-Eleven bakery or wherever.”

The cookies, in fact, were donated from the popular Bethel Bakery around the corner from the community center, and once Mr. Romney’s comment was broadcast on local airwaves offended residents took to Facebook and Twitter to complain.

Next, the locals attempted to explain to the oblivious and smirking Mr. Romney the need for community services like teachers and good schools.

One woman at the gathering said she was scared about the fate of her public schools, given deep cuts to the state budget (incidentally, the man who pushed those cuts, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, endorsed Romney today). “I don’t like to see cuts made in anything in education,” she said, citing her daughter’s experience. Another man chimed in, noting that “the fat” had already been trimmed and now important education programs were being hit.

A man then told Romney,

“None of us like to pay more taxes, but sometimes that’s necessary.” Another woman added, “It’s a necessary evil.” “Right, right,” a third person said as everyone in the group nodded.

Later, the Bethel Bakery offered a “Cookiegate special.”

Julie Lytle, the bakery’s sales and marketing assistant, said the popular local fixture since 1955 “turned a negative into a positive” by printing a sign offering customers a “CookieGate Special!” — a free half dozen cookies with the purchase of a dozen cookies today and Thursday.

“I was a little shocked,” Ms. Lytle said. “I didn’t think too much of it at the time, and I didn’t think it would blow up like it has. We decided to have fun with it and not to get offended.”


Thursday Reads: Defense Authorization Bill, Ron Wyden, the Filthy Rich, and Bird Crashes

Good Morning!!

So far I haven’t been locked up in Guantanamo or debtors’ prison. I hope the rest of you Sky Dancers still have your freedom too, such as it is.

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Defense Authorization bill, which includes language permitting indefinite detention by the military of “al Qaeda members” without specific charges or trials. You can read the bill here.

Our craven and cowardly President had promised to veto this bill, but today the White House reneged on that promise, and Obama is set to sign it once it passes the Senate tomorrow or Friday.

The White House backed down from its veto threat of the defense authorization bill Wednesday, saying that the bill’s updated language would not constrain the Obama administration’s counterterrorism efforts.

While the White House acknowledged it still has some concerns, press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama’s advisers wouldn’t recommend a veto, a threat that had been hanging over the Pentagon policy bill for the past month.

Obama and his crew don’t care about the fifth amendment, habeas corpus and all that jazz–just that the president is the one who decides who is an “al Qaeda member” and therefore will be whisked away to indefinite detention. Wanna bet there are suddenly going to be a lot of “al Qaeda members” in the Occupy movement? From Anti-War.com:

As revealed in the Senate deliberations last week, the Obama administration itself requested the principal authors of the provision – John McCain and Carl Levin – to include language authorizing due-process-free military custody for American citizens. The initial threat of veto was apparently nothing more than political theater on the part of the White House.

According to The Hill, the following changes satisfied the White House concerns:

The bill deleted the word “requirement” from the section on the military detention of terror suspects, which was among the most contentious parts of the bill.

The national security waiver allowing the executive branch to move terror suspects from military to civilian courts was placed in the president’s hands rather than the Defense secretary’s, a change Levin said Obama had asked for.

The conference bill was based on the Senate language, which was not as harsh as the House bill when it came to trying terror suspects in civilian courts.

The administration called the provision in the bill that establishes the authority for military detentions unnecessary because the executive branch already was given this authority following Sept. 11.

Carney’s statement said if the administration finds parts of the law “negatively impact our counterterrorism professionals and undercut our commitment to the rule of law,” it expects the bill’s authors will correct those problems.

Oh well, then no worries… Except that lots of people who care about the Constitution aren’t so happy about it. Here’s a statement from Laura Murphy of the ACLU:

“The president should more carefully consider the consequences of allowing this bill to become law,” Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “If President Obama signs this bill, it will damage both his legacy and American’s reputation for upholding the rule of law. The last time Congress passed indefinite detention legislation was during the McCarthy era and President Truman had the courage to veto that bill. We hope that the president will consider the long view of history before codifying indefinite detention without charge or trial.”

Unfortunately, Barack Obama is no Harry Truman.

Here’s a statement from Human Rights Watch:

“By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “In the past, Obama has lauded the importance of being on the right side of history, but today he is definitely on the wrong side.”

The far-reaching detainee provisions would codify indefinite detention without trial into US law for the first time since the McCarthy era when Congress in 1950 overrode the veto of then-President Harry Truman and passed the Internal Security Act. The bill would also bar the transfer of detainees currently held at Guantanamo into the US for any reason, including for trial. In addition, it would extend restrictions, imposed last year, on the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo to home or third countries – even those cleared for release by the administration.

There are currently 171 detainees at Guantanamo, many of whom have been imprisoned for nearly 10 years. As one of his first acts in office, Obama signed an executive order for the closure of Guantanamo within one year. Instead of moving quickly to close the prison and end the use of the discredited military commissions, he supported modifications to the Military Commissions Act.

“It is a sad moment when a president who has prided himself on his knowledge of and belief in constitutional principles succumbs to the politics of the moment to sign a bill that poses so great a threat to basic constitutional rights,” Roth said.

The bill also requires the US military take custody of certain terrorism suspects even inside the United States, cases that previously have been handled by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. During debate over the bill, several senior administration officials, including the secretary of defense, attorney general, director of national intelligence, director of the FBI, and director of the CIA, all raised objections that this provision interfered with the administration’s ability to effectively fight terrorism. In the last 10 years over 400 people have been prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism related offenses. Meanwhile during that same period, only six cases have been prosecuted in the military commissions.

“President Obama cannot even justify this serious threat to basic rights on the basis of security,” Roth said. “The law replaces an effective system of civilian-court prosecutions with a system that has generated the kind of global outrage that would delight recruiters of terrorists.”

The bill also reauthorizes the AUMF that Bush used to get us into Iraq. Emptywheel has a lengthy post in which she wonders: Feinstein’s “Fix” on AUMF Language Actually Authorize Killing American Citizens? You probably should read the whole thing, but here’s the summation:

…by affirming all purportedly existing statutory authority, DiFi’s “fix” not only reaffirmed the AUMF covering a war Obama ended today, but also affirmed the Executive Branch’s authority to use deadly force when ostensibly trying to detain people it claimed present a “significant threat of death or serious physical injury.” It affirms language that allows “deadly force” in the name of attempted detention.

In any case, it’s one or the other (or both). Either the AUMF language became acceptable to Obama because it included American citizens in the Afghan AUMF and/or it became acceptable because it affirmed the Executive Branch’s authority to use deadly force in the guise of apprehending someone whom the Executive Branch says represents a “significant threat.”

My guess is the correct answer to this “either/or” question is “both.”

So DiFi’s fix, which had the support of many Senators trying to protect civil liberties, probably made the matter worse.

In its more general capitulation on the veto, the Administration stated that the existing bill protects the Administration’s authority to “incapacitate dangerous terrorists.” “Incapacitate dangerous terrorists,” “use of deadly force” with those who present a “significant threat of death or serious physical injury.” No matter how you describe Presidential authority to kill Americans with no due process, the status quo appears undiminished.

Finally Al Jazeera asks: Is the principle of indefinite detention without trial now an accepted and permanent part of American life? I wonder if Michelle Obama is still proud to be an American today?

There is some other news, of course. For one thing, it seems as if Rep. Ron Wyden of Oregon must have more energy I can imagine having. As of today he managed to get the decisions on rural post office closings postponed until next May; he joined with Rep. Paul Ryan (!) to propose a medicare overhaul; and he and Darrel Isa (!) have proposed an alternative to the entertainment industry bill that would effectively shut down social networking on the internet. Check out those links if you’re interested.

One of my favorite economists, Robert Reich, has an analysis of Newt’s Tax Plan, and Why His Polls Rise the More Outrageous He Becomes.

Newt’s plan increases the federal budget deficit by about $850 billion – in a single year!

….

Most of this explosion of debt in Newt’s plan occurs because he slashes taxes. But not just anyone’s taxes. The lion’s share of Newt’s tax cuts benefit the very, very rich.

That’s because he lowers their marginal income tax rate to 15 percent – down from the current 35 percent, which was Bush’s temporary tax cut; down from 39 percent under Bill Clinton; down from at least 70 percent in the first three decades after World War II. Newt also gets rid of taxes on unearned income – the kind of income that the super-rich thrive on – capital-gains, dividends, and interest.

Under Newt’s plan, each of the roughly 130,000 taxpayers in the top .1 percent – the richest one-tenth of one percent – reaps an average tax cut of $1.9 million per year. Add what they’d otherwise have to pay if the Bush tax cut expired on schedule, and each of them saves $2.3 million a year.

To put it another way, under Newt’s plan, the total tax bill of the top one-tenth of one percent drops from around 38 percent of their income to around 10 percent.

What about low-income households? They get an average tax cut of $63 per year.

Oh, I almost forgot: Newt also slashes corporate taxes.

Wow!

Dakinikat clued me in to this post at Naked Capitalism: “Let Them Eat Pink Slips” CEO Pay Shot Up in 2010, which links to this article in the Guardian.

Chief executive pay has roared back after two years of stagnation and decline. America’s top bosses enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year, according to the largest survey of US CEO pay. The dramatic bounceback comes as the latest government figures show wages for the majority of Americans are failing to keep up with inflation.

America’s highest paid executive took home more than $145.2m, and as stock prices recovered across the board, the median value of bosses’ profits on stock options rose 70% in 2010, from $950,400 to $1.3m. The news comes against the backdrop of an Occupy Wall Street movement that has focused Washington’s attention on the pay packages of America’s highest paid.

The Guardian’s exclusive first look at the CEO pay survey from corporate governance group GMI Ratings will further fuel debate about America’s widening income gap. The survey, the most extensive in the US, covered 2,647 companies, and offers a comprehensive assessment of all the data now available relating to 2010 pay.

And these oligarchs couldn’t care less if we like it or not. They own the White House and the Congress and we don’t.

I’ll end with a bizarre and very sad story out of Utah:

Thousands of migratory birds were killed or injured after apparently mistaking a Wal-Mart parking lot, football fields and other snow-covered areas of southern Utah for bodies of water and plummeting to the ground in what one state wildlife expert called the worst mass bird crash she’d ever seen.

Crews went to work cleaning up the dead birds and rescuing the injured survivors after the creatures crash-landed in the St. George area Monday night.

By midday Wednesday, volunteers had helped rescue more than 3,000 birds, releasing them into a nearby pond. There’s no count on how many died, although officials estimate it’s upwards of 1,500.

“They’re just everywhere,” said Teresa Griffin, wildlife program manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource’s southern region. “It’s been nonstop. All our employees are driving around picking them up, and we’ve got so many people coming to our office and dropping them off.”

Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about?