Saturday Quick Hits

Predictions 2014

Predictions 2014

Good Morning!!

I’m really struggling to get going this morning, so I’m going to start you off with a few cartoons and some quick links. I have another post planned for later on today, and I hope you’ll stop by then.

Right wing “Christian” hate was a dominant characteristic of 2013,

so I guess it’s appropriate that the year is ending with an incredibly disgusting and ludicrous example of what some Americans have become.

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

Duck Dynasty Camoflage

The New York Times finally weighed in on the disastrous decision of A&E to revoke their suspension of ridiculous hate monger Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty.

The indefinite suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family at the center of the A&E Network’s huge ratings hit “Duck Dynasty,” became definite Friday — at zero episodes. The network announced he would not be suspended after all.

A&E released a statement, noteworthy both for its concessions to the Robertson family’s refusal to accept the suspension as well as its timing — at close of business on Friday of a holiday weekend on the slowest week of the year in the entertainment business.

The bottom line: Phil Robertson will resume work on the show when it begins taping new episodes in the spring.

The network moved to suspend Mr. Robertson on Dec. 18 after comments he made about gay people in a magazine interview. At the time A&E described the comments, which described homosexual acts in crude terms and labeled them a sin, as extremely disappointing and not reflective of the network, which considered itself “champions of the L.G.B.T. community.”

Shame on you, A&E!! And don’t forget the racism, misogyny, pedophilia, religious bigotry, and general overall ignorance in Roberton’s interview. A&E now tacitly supports those “values” as their “core principles.”

Way back in 1968 when I first saw Kubrick’s magnificent 2001: A Space Odyssey, I never could have imagined that the future of the U.S. would be so pathetic and embarrassing. Sigh . . . We’ve left 2001 far behind us, and this is what has become of the dreams of my generation.

The good news, at least about gay marriage, is that the battle is over and the good guys won.

Josh Marshall:

Since the Supreme Court ruling in June, the writing has been on the wall for banning of marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in the United States. Since June the number of states with marriage equality has jumped from 12 to 18. But last week’s lower court decisions in Utah and Ohio leave little doubt that the political fight over gay marriage is now essentially over and that gay marriage will be the law of the land in every state in the country in the pretty near future.

The fact that gay and lesbian couples are now lining up to get married in Utah of all places – arguably the most conservative state in the country – might tell you this on a symbolic level. But the logic that points to the end of the political fight over gay marriage is more concrete, specific and undeniable.

Utah, rightly, got the most attention. But there were two cases last week. The other one in Ohio dealt with a much narrower question: whether the state had to recognize gay marriages in the issuance of death certificates. But both cases rested on the same essential premise: that if the federal government can’t discriminate against gay couples, states – by definition – cannot either.

As Judge Timothy Black put it in the Ohio case: “The question presented is whether a state can do what the federal government cannot — i.e., discriminate against same-sex couples … simply because the majority of the voters don’t like homosexuality (or at least didn’t in 2004). Under the Constitution of the United States, the answer is no.”

The other huge story of the day (which the mainstream media will probably play down) is that more than a million Americans will lose long-term unemployment benefits today.

Here are some links, and so far I haven’t seen any on Google news from the big media outlets.

The Columbus Dispatch: 1.3 million set to lose U.S. jobless benefits

More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm-election year.

Nudging Congress along, a vacationing President Barack Obama called two senators proposing an extension to offer his support. From Hawaii, Obama pledged yesterday to push Congress to move quickly next year to address the “urgent economic priority,” the White House said.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy might suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.

Voxxi: What you should know about the expiration of unemployment benefits This article lists seven reasons why the decision by Republicans to hurt so many American families will be a disaster. Highly recommended.

11KKTV.com Long-Term Unemployed Face Life Without Emergency Benefits

The federal program, which was expanded in 2008 to provide extra income to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits, lapses Saturday because Congress failed to extend the federal program into 2014. For much of the recession, the government not only offered extended benefits beyond those 26 weeks, but also introduced the EUC program to offer up to 99 weeks of assistance in many states.

In the first six months of 2014, 1.9 million additional Americans will use up their state-funded benefits and find themselves without a federal safety net waiting if the program is not renewed. That number will jump to 3.6 million people. According to a report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors and the Labor Department, in October the average length of unemployment was 36.1 weeks – two and a half months longer than state benefits will last with no extension. The long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, roughly one-third of the overall employment rate of 7.3 percent.

“In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today,” the report says.

It’s also been quite a while since anyone was able to receive 99 weeks of benefits, which average about $300 per week. Over the past two years, the average maximum weeks of available benefits has dropped from 85 to 54, or 36 percent, according to Congressional Research Service data.

That’s just sick. In fact it is so far beyond sick, I don’t even know how to begin to characterize it.

Why are the Republicans doing this?

Christmas GOP and Obama

Christmas GOP and Obama

And don’t forget what’s happening to people on food stamps.

Food Stamps Removed

Food Stamps Removed

I wish I had some cheerful news for you. I’ll look around and try to find some. For now, I’d better get this post published before everyone gives up on me!

Have a great day, and please post any links that have caught your eye in the comment thread.


Wednesday Reads

Good Morning!! We had a big news day yesterday; I wonder what today holds in store?

Right now I’d say the top story is that millions of Americans are going to lose their unemployment benefits, because Congress failed to extend them.

Without a new program, by the end of the year about two million long-term unemployed will lose weekly benefits that are 100% federally funded. About 4.7 million people currently receive these special federal payments, and without an extension, all of these beneficiaries will eventually lose payments in coming months.

While Democrats have been pushing to provide additional benefits through emergency spending, Republicans have criticized widening the deficit.

Lawmakers may consider a new proposal from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, to extend eligibility for federal benefits for one year. However, Republicans are expected to vote against that proposal.

You’d think the President would have been on every network and cable channel today excoriating Republicans about this outrage, but instead President Obama met first with Republican and then with Democratic Congressional leaders, and then he set up another committee. Their job will be to work out a “compromise” on extending the Bush tax cuts–and as a side note, he said maybe they could do something about the unemployment issue too.

President Obama suggested Tuesday that a group of congressional leaders he has asked to work out a compromise on expiring tax cuts will also try to work out a compromise on expiring unemployment benefits.

“We discussed working together to keep the government running this year — and running in a fiscally responsible way,” Obama said. “And we discussed unemployment insurance, which expires today. I’ve asked that Congress act to extend this emergency relief without delay to folks who are facing tough times by no fault of their own.”

Obama first asked lawmakers to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits at the beginning of October, but Congress has failed to prevent the benefits from lapsing at least temporarily. Now it looks as though a deal crafted by the four members of Congress tasked with compromising on tax cuts may be the only way to save the jobless aid.

Well, whoop-de-doo. A little leadership would help, but we don’t have a leader–just this spineless wimp the progs stuck us with.

I love this article from the Boston Globe on Senator Scott Brown’s (R-MA) “feisty speech” on the Senate floor.

imploring his colleagues to put greater emphasis on the economy and chiding Democrats for what he considers to be unwarranted diversions.

“We spent seven days on food safety!” the Massachusetts Republican said, referring to a bill approved earlier in the day. “Listen, I love to eat like the next guy, but give me a break! We should have spent seven days working on the one thing that the people in November sent a very powerful message — and that is getting our economy moving again. Focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs.”

So far so good. Brown continued,

“I have complete and total sympathy and understanding, and I want to help,” Brown said of those whose unemployment benefits could expire. “More than anybody here, I want to help. But to just keep throwing money that’s not paid for at a problem…makes no sense to me.”

“Are we going to do it from the bank account, or are we going to put it on the credit card?” he added. “I know what I want to do. I’ll use the bank account. Let’s use money that’s already in the system and put it to good use immediately, by 12 o’clock tonight. Let’s do it!”

But Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) punctured Brown’s balloon with a bit of reality:

“My colleague from Massachusetts has made a rather vigorous and passionate statement,” Reed said. “What I sense, though, is that he’s quite willing to put $700 billion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans on the credit card, but not extend unemployment benefits — as we have done decade after decade — without offsets.”

Brown supports extending tax cuts for everyone – and without including a method of payment for them – while Democrats want the tax cuts to continue only for those who make less than $250,000.

And so Congress continues to bicker while real people struggle to survive.

What about that food safety bill? I hope Sima will weigh in on this one. The Senate passed the bill today, and the Washington Post has a brief summary of the major parts of the bill. It:

l Would require farmers and food manufacturers to put in place controls to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from contaminating food.

l Would require the Food and Drug Administration to regularly inspect all food facilities, with more frequent inspections in higher risk facilities.

l Would allow the FDA to order a mandatory recall of any product it suspects may harm public health.

l Would improve disease surveillance, so that outbreaks of food poisoning can be discovered more quickly.

l Would require farmers and food-makers to maintain distribution records so that the FDA can more quickly trace an outbreak to its source.

l Would require foreign food suppliers to meet the same safety standards as domestic food-makers.

l Would exempt small farmers and food processors.

l Would add 17,800 new FDA inspectors by 2014.

But Les Blumenthal of McClatchy says the bill doesn’t deal with issues related to meat and egg safety.

…the measure does nothing to sort out the overlapping jurisdictions among the FDA and other federal agencies that regulate food safety. The new bill doesn’t cover meat, poultry and eggs because the Department of Agriculture regulates them.

The Senate bill would give the FDA new powers to recall tainted food, increase inspections of food processors and impose tougher food-safety standards on producers. The action came after contaminated eggs, peanuts and produce sickened hundreds of people this year, and more than 550 million eggs suspected of salmonella contamination were recalled.

But the measure requires the FDA to inspect what it defines as “high risk” producers only once every three years. The bill also exempts small farms from the new requirements.

That doesn’t sound so good.

At CNN, Elizabeth Landau says food safety advocates argue that the bill has “no teeth.”

This bill “clearly gives the FDA authority to prevent foodborne illnesses and not just react to them,” [ Sandra] Eskin (director of food safety campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts) said.

But the FDA cannot file criminal charges against producers who knowingly put contaminated food into the market. That’s something Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety in Washington, sees as a failing of this bill: that the FDA doesn’t get the “teeth” to regulate strongly enough.

A food producer who deliberately allows food to make people sick and even die is “as criminal as it gets,” he said.

It’s also hard to know exactly what kind of funding will end up going to toward these efforts. Greater appropriations are needed to accomplish the food safety goals outlined in the bill, but it’s unclear what dollar amount would support it, Kimbrell said.

An unfunded mandate without sufficient punishments to deter wrongdoing? That doesn’t sound so good either. Again, I hope Sima and others weigh in, because I know nothing about this bill.

The FCC is investigating Comcast based on a charge from

Level 3 Communications that Comcast had unfairly erected a toll booth that “threatens the open Internet.”

Level 3’s claims raise the specter of network neutrality, which the F.C.C. is preparing to take action on.

[….]

Level 3, which provides connectivity for Web sites like Netflix, made the charges in a statement on Monday, days after Comcast allegedly demanded a recurring fee to “transmit Internet online movies and other content to Comcast’s customers who request such content.” Comcast denied that the fee threatened the open Internet, chalking it up to a “simple commercial dispute.”

The dispute comes at a sensitive time. Mr. Genachowski [FCC Chairman] is gearing up for a debate about net neutrality, which posits that Internet traffic should be free of any interference from network operators like Comcast. The issue is thought to be on the December agenda of the F.C.C., which has a meeting scheduled for Dec. 21.

At the Daily Beast, Casey Schwartz has a post about an electostimulation device called the Fisher Wallace Stimulator that is supposed to relieve depression, insomnia, and other problems right in your own home.

The device, which is about the size of a Game Boy, is available with a prescription, which anyone with a license in electrotherapies, whether a doctor or a masseuse, can provide. Its fans include the singer Carly Simon, who has said it helps her stave off depression and mania.

[….]

An enthusiastic convert to the device, Dr. Richard Brown, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, characterizes the effect on brain waves as being similar to that of meditation.

Brown claims to be seeing an 80 percent success rate among the patients to whom he prescribes it, many of whom suffer from major depression that has not responded to any other form of treatment. If Brown’s experience is representative, the Fisher Wallace device has a big future. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, or SSRIs, today’s go-to for treating depression, show a success rate of roughly 50 percent.

Research suggests that the electrical current from the Fisher Wallace device targets the limbic system, which contains brain structures linked to the experiencing of emotions, and that it stimulates the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

No word in the article on how much the device costs.

I guess that’s about it for me. What are you reading this morning?


Thursday Reads

Woman Reading, by Marie Fox

Good Morning!!!

You’ve probably heard about George Soros’ remarks at a meeting for big bucks progressive donors on Tuesday. Sam Stein at Huffpo:

The Hungarian-American financier was speaking to a small side gathering of donors who had convened in Washington D.C. for the annual gathering of the Democracy Alliance — a formal community of well-funded, progressive-minded individuals and activists.

According to multiple sources with knowledge of his remarks, Soros told those in attendance that he is “used to fighting losing battles but doesn’t like to lose without fighting.”

“We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line,” he said, according to several Democratic sources. “And if this president can’t do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else.”

Michael Vachon, an adviser to Soros, did not dispute the comment, though he stressed that there was no transcript of a private gathering to check. Vachon also clarified that the longtime progressive giver was not referring to a primary challenge to the president.

Really? Hmmmm…. So um, who leaked the news from the secret meeting?

And there’s more:

Dissatisfaction with the Obama administration was not limited to Soros’s private gathering with donors. On Wednesday morning, Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina received several tough questions during his address to the Democracy Alliance. According to a source in the room, he was pressed multiple times as to why the administration has declined to be more combative with Republicans, both in communication and legislative strategy.

So Soros and pals are all hunky-dory with Obama? I’m not sure I buy that. Anyway this is being spun as simply a discussion about giving money to outside groups instead of directly to Obama–a change from 2008 when Obama directed his donors to funnel all money through his campaign instead of giving to groups like Move on.org.

Let’s look at some of the reactions to this political bombshell.

Dave Wiegel dismisses out of hand the notion that Soros is unhappy with Obama.

Soros isn’t actually a liberal Democrat — he has a diverse collection of interests, some of which (drug legalization) don’t move at all when Democrats win. There may be some millionaires who want to beat Obama in a primary, but there are more who want to activate the third party pro-Democrat groups that Obama wanted to evaporate in 2008-2010.

Kenneth P. Vogel at Politico:

Soros, a billionaire who has been among the most generous donors to liberal causes over the years, has recently indicated he no longer intends to fund the kind of independent political advertising campaigns he backed in 2004 and that Republican allies used to bombard Democrats in the midterm elections.

During a private session Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference of major Democratic donors organized by the Democracy Alliance, Soros reiterated the position that wealthy liberals should focus their giving on groups that will push President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats on liberal legislative initiatives, rather than groups supporting individual candidates, according to a source in the meeting.

“George was talking about how, in the context of the election, progressives are disappointed, and that they should keep (the administration) focused on certain issues that we should be promoting,” said the source, who did not want to be identified because Democracy Alliance bars attendees from discussing its conferences.

New York Magazine responded with snark:

According to some loose-lipped folks that attended a private event for the Democracy Alliance in Washington today, the hedge-fund billionaire and longtime Democratic donor George Soros is very upset about the last election, not least because his plans to grow a crop of Maui Wowie in his front yard were stymied, and he hinted darkly that the president may not have his support for much longer.

I have to say I agree with Soros on the legalization issue.

In other news, unemployment benefits will soon expire for two million Americans, and since Congress won’t be in session next week (they get whole weeks off for holidays), they will have to do something soon or face the wrath of voters when they go home for Thanksgiving.

Currently five million people are receiving aid under two federally-funded programs for the long-term unemployed.

Yet no clear path forward has emerged in Congress for reauthorizing those programs. Aides have floated the idea of coupling the benefits with a reauthorization of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts for the top two percent of earners.

But it won’t happen if Ben “Scrooge” Nelson gets his way.

Sen. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who sided with Republicans when they blocked the previous reauthorization for nearly two months this summer, said he doesn’t love the tax cut deal.

“That’s a mistake,” said Nelson, who has joined the GOP in opposing the extended benefits unless their deficit impact is offset with spending cuts. “Unless unemployment is paid for, I can’t support it.”

Why don’t you just switch parties, Ben, and take President teleprompter Jesus with you.

Jim Morrison

I love this story: The Charlie Crist wants to pardon Jim Morrison. For those too young to remember:

It was a classic skirmish of the 1960s culture war, pitting a nonconformist rock star and his bohemian fans against clean-cut defenders of acceptable behavior, the counterculture against the mainstream, and Jim Morrison against Anita Bryant.

Now the governor of Florida says he will seek to put an end to it by pursuing a posthumous pardon for two criminal convictions that Morrison, the frontman for the Doors, received after some very bad behavior at a 1969 concert in Miami.

I can get behind that. Why not give Morrison a posthumous Medal of Freedom too? And lets submit his name for the Nobel Peace Prize. Morrison gave me a lot more joy than I ever got from the latest Medal of Freedom winner or the Nobel Peace Prize winning War President.

“The more that I’ve read about the case and the more I get briefed on it,” Mr. Crist said in an interview on Tuesday, “the more convinced I am that maybe an injustice has been done here.”

For those on the other side, the passion has dimmed, but a sour taste lingers. The anger that once brought them to the barricades has dulled to an impatient pique at the notion that the fate of a dead rock star still commands attention 40 years later.

The fight began on March 1, 1969, when the Doors played a raucous concert at Dinner Key Auditorium in Miami. An intoxicated Morrison stumbled through songs like “Light My Fire” and “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” taunted the crowd and threatened to expose himself before fans mobbed the stage. A newspaper review said the singer appeared to simulate masturbation during his performance, and the concert was investigated by a Miami crime commission as six arrest warrants were issued for Morrison, including one for a felony charge of lewd and lascivious behavior.

I’ll end with a great Morrison song with some stirring lyrics that are very relevant today.

Five to one, baby
One in five
No one here gets out alive, now
You get yours, baby
I’ll get mine
Gonna make it, baby
If we try

The old get old
And the young get stronger
May take a week
And it may take longer
They got the guns
But we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah
We’re takin’ over

Come on!

Except maybe we should change that to

“the rich get richer/ and the poor get angrier.”

So what’s on your reading list today?