Mind and Destiny

“I make no pretension to patriotism. So long as my voice can be heard ... I will hold up America to the lightning scorn of moral indignation. In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot; for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation while sin is a reproach to any people.”- Frederick Douglass

Name:
Location: Delhi, N.Y., United States

The author and his webmaster, summer of 1965.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reasonable Solution


Speaker of the House, John Boehner has claimed that the House has passed two bills, to avoid the sequester, however that was in the 112th Congress, and legally, those bill no longer apply. 

Since January 1st, House Republicans have done absolutely nothing to replace or avoid the sequester in this new Congress.  On the other hand, House Democrats have come forward with a reasonable solution to get things moving, but it will require additional revenues.

Democratic, Congressman Chris Van Hollen has asked Speaker Boehner for a simple vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, to let members vote on a plan that would avoid the sequester, by replacing it with a mix of targeted cuts and revenues.  The cuts would be to excessive agriculture subsidies, and the increased revenues would be achieved by closing tax breaks for very profitable oil companies and applying the Buffett Rule to people who earn more than $2 million a year, so that they would pay at least 30 percent.  

If you do that, you’d get the same deficit reduction benefit of the sequester over a longer period of time in a reasonable way.  And you don’t lose the 750,000 American jobs that the Congressional Budget Office insists, that we’d get with the sequester.

Speaker of the House Boehner seems to be afraid to bring the plan up for a vote because some Republicans might vote for it.  The plan would avoid disruption in the economy, job losses and does it in a balanced way.

The idea that we cannot close a single tax loophole in order to reduce the deficit and help prevent the sequester is ridiculous.  Some Republicans are willing to lose 750,000 jobs in order to protect tax breaks for very profitable oil companies or hedge fund managers.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Golden Goose


Thomas Hungerford, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service reports that capital gains tax cuts are by far the largest driver of income inequality.  Studies show that the income of the top 1% of Americans has been increasing dramatically.  Most Americans depend on wages which are subject to a graduated tax, but capital gains have a rate cap, which is presently 20%.  

Billionaire Warren Buffett advocates a higher tax rate for the wealthy.  He has argued that investors will invest, regardless of what portion the government takes out of their profits, and that we shouldn’t worry about using the tax code to encourage investment.  Instead, he suggests, we should worry that a lower capital-gains rate is unfair to those who make most of their income from labor, which is taxed at a higher rate.  It’s this discrepancy in the tax code, that allows billionaire hedge fund managers to pay a lower tax rate, than a construction worker.

In 2012, the top 1% received 47% of all capital gains.  The money is going to the very top, because capital gains tax rates are lower than the tax rates of average Americans, and this has led to the top one percent of American’s income nearly doubling.

Capital gains have been the golden goose that Republicans refuse to give up.  Congressional Republicans have protected the one percent from tax increases for decades.  Protecting the top 1% from higher taxes is a long-term investment for the Republican Party, because the one percent donate a tremendous amount of money to their party.  It’s the reason Republicans are willing to let the sequester cuts kick in, and allow the working poor and middle-class of our country suffer.  Apparently, the Republicans Party must remain the party of the very rich in order to survive.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Four Lives Lost


Congressional Republicans voted against $300 million request by Hillary Clinton to beef up embassy and consulate security.  That is one of the reasons that people lost their lives in Benghazi.

An independent board established to review the Benghazi attack confirmed, that in the hours and days following the attack in Benghazi, there were "no delays in decision-making.  No denials of support from Washington or from our military.”

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton detailed what the State Department has done to begin implementing the 29 recommendations of the Accountability Review Board to improve security at diplomatic posts in high-threat areas, in addition to a few of her own. 

However, when Republican Senator Ron Johnson pressed Clinton on why the State Department didn't call U.S. personnel who were evacuated from Benghazi to determine whether there was a protest, Secretary Clinton reminded Johnson: "With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans.  Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they'd go kill some Americans?  What difference, at this point, does it make?   It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening." 

Senator McCain wanted to have a Watergate-style hearings, but he didn’t attend a meeting to question former CIA Director, General Petraeus.  In the House Intelligence Committee, Petraeus was asked if the talking points Susan Rice gave was their best intelligence assessment they could do without disclosing classified information. Petraeus testified that the intelligence community got it wrong, and acknowledged that they thought initially that this was a protest that was either hijacked or got out of control, that certainly, terrorists and extremists were involved in, but that it began with a protest. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fair Share


Thomas Hungerford, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service reports that capital gains tax cuts are by far the largest driver of income inequality. 

In order for our government to temporarily avoided the fiscal cliff.  Republicans accepted higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans, and Democrats accepted a higher threshold for how much income will face a higher tax rate.  Obama compromised on his plan to only raise tax rates on annual household income over $250,000 and individual income over $200,000.  He had made raising tax rates on the top 2% of earners in America a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and he was reelected of that platform.  However, under the compromise bill tax rates will go up only for individuals with income over $400,000 and families earning more than $450,000.

In the State of the Union Address, President Obama said: “To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected.  After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks?  How is that fair?  How does that promote growth?”
Income inequality in America has steadily gotten worse.  Presently, we rank in the middle of Latin American countries, which have historically had poor economies and high levels of income equality.  We have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.
Is it acceptable to a majority of the American people, that the top 1% owns 35% of the wealth in America when the bottom 60% owns 2.3 percent of the wealth?   Is it acceptable that the top 1% earns more income than the bottom 50%. 
Middle class families earned more in 1996, but today large corporations are enjoying record-breaking profits, and the very wealthy are doing phenomenally well.  They’re putting huge amounts of money into the political process so they get even more tax breaks, more ability to outsource our jobs, more ability to put their money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands.
President Obama and congressional Democrats have tried, but there seem to be a lot of Republicans voters out there, who are determined to protect the very rich from paying their fair share.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Simply Math


Former conservative Senator Alan Simpson, who was the Fiscal Commissions, Republican Co-chairman reported: “We found that only 10% of the American public, the wealthiest people in America, use them (tax loopholes), because they are the ones that can hire the best lobbyists, go to the finance committee.  The little guy had no idea what they are.  It means nothing to him.  He does the standard deduction and walks away.  We found the top 400 income earners in the United States pay an average of 16% income tax, and it’s absolutely absurd.”

Obama asked the American people: “Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies?  Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers?  Because we can’t afford to do both.  Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires?  Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs?  Right now, we can’t afford to do both... This isn’t political grandstanding.  This isn’t class warfare.  This is simple math.”    

For the last 25 years, 80% of all new income went to the top 1% of Americans.  Those are folks, that you would think Congress would look at to bring new revenue into the system, and not our working families.

One in four profitable corporations don't pay any taxes.  Oil industry subsidies were originally meant to bolster an “emerging” industry a 100 years ago.  Cumulatively, oil companies have benefitted from trillions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies over the last century.  Today, these subsidies are insignificant for a corporation like ExxonMobil, who earned 31 billion in the first quarter of 2011.  The subsidies amount to about 1% of oil company profits.  Those profits amounted to 900 billion in the last two years.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Out of Touch


A recent comprehensive poll by the "USA Today" and the Pew Research Center shows America supports President Obama’s agenda on issue after issue.

Regarding Obama’s “State of the Union” minimum wage proposal, 71% of Americans approve of a $9 an hour increase.  In fact 50% of Republicans support raising the minimum wage.

Expanding the background check laws remains very popular, with 83% of our citizens wanting those laws to be stronger.  Although, the assault weapons ban may not pass Congress, because of strong opposition by the powerful NRA lobby, it still has the support of 56% of our citizens.  Obama’s plan to ban high-capacity magazine clips has the support of 53% of the American people.

On the subject of climate change, 54% of Americans say their top priority is to develop alternative energy sources.  A mere 34% insist, that our top priority should be more fossil fuel reproduction.

On the issue of immigration reform, most Americans agree with our president.  They want a combination of border security and a pathway to citizenship, which most Republicans don’t want to guarantee.

Regarding a balanced approach to solving the issue of deficit reduction, 76% of the American people want a combination of cuts and new revenue.

On August 2, 2011, Obama signed a deal, that was all spending cuts.  The Budget Control Act cut spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.  Except for a small increase in Pell Grants funding, the bill was all cuts, and no tax increases.  Republicans want more, and they continue to refuse to budge on more revenue from closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

It has become obvious, that Republicans are completely out of touch with what most American’s want.  That’s the reason Obama’s overall approval rating is at 55%,

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lose-lose Choice


Andrew Reinbech wrote online: “By adopting their no-regulation posture, gun advocates are doing incalculable damage to the Republican Party, and, so, to themselves.
“It must be clear, by now, that despite what Seward, Magee, and their ilk elsewhere have done, the position adopted by the NRA and its supporters has attracted very little national support within the ranks of our elected representatives in government.
“It's likewise attracted scant support among the people, who say, 85%-15%. that stronger regulation is the common sense response to the drum roll of multi-victim gun murders that have been reported in the wake of Newtown.
“The NRA and its supporters can say they're standing on principle all they want.  But if they lose, as they seem determined to do, they are only minimizing their own influence with the people they need to help them down the road by harming them today.  Being rational actors, the Congressmen, Senators, and state legislators being forced to chose between the NRA and its supporters and their own careers can be counted to chose to survive, while those who support the pro-gun line can expect to hear about it at the next election.
“Thus the national GOP is being pushed to chose between survival by alienating the right-wing base, and supporting no new gun control--given the mod of the country, a lose-lose choice no matter how you look at it.  And since the faction that has been pushing the GOP ever-farther to the right is so closely identified with the NRA position, it's strapping itself to any future electoral losses that can be blamed on NRA support. Those losses are likely to be visible and not easily denied.
“Supporters of new gun control couldn't be happier about this.  They remember what Woodrow Wilson used to say: "Never kill a man who's committing suicide."  The NRA's troops will have to accept the consequences when the bill comes due.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Talking Points


America is a nations that has harmed its citizens, and like abused children, we assume we deserve no better.
Post FDR and preceding Reagan, most Americans were experiencing prosperity.  Today, with a few exceptions, we’re the country with the highest income inequality level.
Republican deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy have gutted the earnings and purchasing power of the middle class and crippled the nation’s economy.  This has resulted in a decaying infrastructure, mandatory two-income families, bad schools, cheap imports, poor health, obesity, job out sourcing, increased consumer debt, privatization of public services, free-market monopolies, a corrupt financial sector and corporate-controlled government.
Republican don’t believe each one of us deserves some basic measure of security and  dignity, especially if that security includes health care.  Some think unemployment insurance is a government handout.
The reason the social safety net that the Democratic Party created over the last 75 years is under attack is that half our country don’t share the value, that every Americans deserve some basic measure of security and dignity. 
Not a single congressional Republicans voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act.  Only three Republican Senators voted for the Recovery Act and Reinvestment Act.  Every House Republican voted against the Recovery Act and they’ve refused to even bring the Jobs Bill up for a vote.
They want people to be enslaved by corporations.  That's the reason, that they oppose the $9.00 an hour minimum wage. 
Every year more than one million students drop out of high school without a diploma. Furthermore, we are slipping further behind when it comes to access to higher education.  These findings have serious implications for young people, the middle class and our nation.
Twenty years ago America had the most educated population in the world, but we’re no longer ranked number one.  Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Norway and Sweden all have a higher percentage of it’s workforce educated than we do.
Education is directly related to salary level later in life.  A recent study found the median income for workers with a high school degree was $32,000, with a four-year college degree $54,000 a year, and the median salary for those with a master's degree or higher was $72,000.  Educated people pay more in taxes, and help pay down our national debt.

Grover Norquist started his anti-tax pledge back in 1986, when Ronald Reagan was President, our deficit was $220 billion.
In 1986, we were the the largest creditor, as well as the largest exporter of manufactured goods, and importer of raw materials on the planet.  As a consequence of Reagan’s “starving beast” ideology, in just 26 years, our county has become the largest importer of finished goods, manufactured goods, and exporter of raw materials. 
In 2001 and 2003, congressional Republicans passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history.  The richest 1% of Americans saw their income go up an average of more than 10% each year between 2002 and 2007.  The middle class saw their income stay about the same, and the number of people in poverty increased.  Those tax cuts resulted in the slowest job growth in half a century, and over eight million Americans lost jobs during the Bush presidency. 
In May 2005, billionaire Warren Buffett warned: “The rich people are doing so well in this county, It’s class warfare, my class is winning, but they shouldn’t be.”
Every single poll indicates that a large majority of voters said, no to cutting Social Security or Medicare.  We’ve begun to get out of a horrendous recession caused by Wall Street greed.  Today, the wealthiest people in our country are doing phenomenally well, and their taxes rates are at an all time low.
One out of four of profitable corporations are paying nothing in taxes.  We’re losing over $100 billion a year because of tax havens in the Cayman Islands, that corporate America and the wealthy take advantage of. 
Congressional Democrats must continue to insist, that the very rich, and corporate America begin to pay more.  They must not allow Tea Party Republicans in the House to balance the budget on the backs of children, the sick, the poor, and elderly,  
The political reality is that the burden of maintaining the liberal successes of Social Security, Medicare and now the Affordable Health Care Act has always fallen exclusively to the creators of those programs.  Republicans were opposed to the creation of Social Security, Medicare, and "Obamacare."  They’re not interested in figuring out how to keep them going or improving them.  Over the last 78 years, Social Security has become a very popular program, and it clearly demonstrates that the Republican claim that "government is the problem," is untrue.  

In 1933, as a result of that Great Depression, FDR and a Democratic controlled Congress put in place the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent future collapse.  In 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act essentially gutted Glass-Steagall.   Not unlike the culture of the 1920’s, the predominate culture in Congress had again become: “Wall Street knows best.”

Former Republican Senator Phil Gramm wrote: “We have a new century coming, we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall came at a time when the thinking was that government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”

Gramm was able to convince Congress and many Americans, that they needed to believe that government isn’t the answer, when in fact it’s the only answer.  The protections in the Glass-Steagall Act were stripped away and big banks and insurance companies were allowed to merge.  In 2001, George W. Bush became president.  There was a new sheriff in town, and the sheriff wasn’t interested in watching Wall Street.

Congressional Republicans have refuse to give up on the economic philosophy they’ve peddled for decades.  That philosophy is to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, cut rules for special interests, while cutting hard working Americans loose to fend for themselves.  Republicans call it the ownership society, however, it boils down to: if you can't find a job, afford college, or get dropped by your insurance company; you're on your own.

That philosophy hasn't work out very well for working folks, because it has racked up record deficits and resulted in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  Bush’s economic policies were responsible for the worst private sector jobs record of any administration in 75 years.

There are some things we can only do as one nation, in order to keep pace with the times.  Lincoln began the first intercontinental railroad. Teddy Roosevelt used the power of government to break up monopolies. Dwight Eisenhower launched the massive government undertaking known as the Interstate Highway System.

Those that claim government is inherently bad ignore the fact, that in a democracy, government is us.  We hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.

Government is the police officers who protects us and our military, who defends us abroad.  Government is the roads that we drive on and the speed limits that keep us safe.  Government also ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them.

The debate between more government and less government doesn't really fit the times in which we live.  Too much government can stifle competition, deprive us of choice, and burden us with debt, but we've also seen the dangers of too little government, when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Letter of Resignation


The following letter of resignation was sent by former President George H.W. Bush to the National Rifle Association on May 3, 1995.
Dear Mr. Washington,
“I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as ‘jack-booted thugs.’  To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as ‘wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms’ wanting to ‘attack law abiding citizens’ is a vicious slander on good people.
“Al Whicher, who served on my United States Secret Service detail when I was Vice President and President, was killed in Oklahoma City.  He was no Nazi.  He was a kind man, a loving parent, a man dedicated to serving his country -- and serve it well he did.
“In 1993, I attended the wake for A.T.F. agent Steve Willis, another dedicated officer who did his duty.  I can assure you that this honorable man, killed by weird cultists, was no Nazi.
“John Magaw, who used to head the U.S.S.S. and now heads A.T.F., is one of the most principled, decent men I have ever known.  He would be the last to condone the kind of illegal behavior your ugly letter charges.  The same is true for the F.B.I.‘s able Director Louis Freeh.  I appointed Mr. Freeh to the Federal Bench.  His integrity and honor are beyond question.
“Both John Magaw and Judge Freeh were in office when I was President.  They both now serve in the current administration.  They both have badges.  Neither of them would ever give the government's ‘go ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law abiding citizens.’ (Your words)
“I am a gun owner and an avid hunter.  Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.
“However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country.  It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.
“You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack.  Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.  
“Sincerely, George Bush”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lock and Load


Yesterday, I posted Wayne LaPierre’s manifesto asking American’s  to arm themselves while there’s still time.  He told people to be afraid of looting after damaging storms like Sandy.  LaPierre’s solution was the same for those concerned about illegal immigration, crime or drugs, the debt crisis, and the chaos that might come afterward.  

Arm yourself, get a gun.  It’s no longer just about the Second Amendment, it’s a duty.  Lock and load, and do it now, there’s not much time left, because they’re coming for you.  

America seems to be divided between the people who think LaPierre is a nut, and those who are listening to him and are very scared. 

It’s incumbent upon the Republican Party leaders to stand up and disavow Wayne LaPierre fear-mongering.  They should announce, that they don’t advocate scaring people with images of Latino gangs and looting after a storm, because those illusion conjure up nothing but racial overtones.

President George H. W. Bush resigned from the National Rifle Association in 1995, after Wayne LaPierre got carried away with his alarmist nonsense.  Basically, LaPierre is again trying to put fear into people’s hearts, but if you read his manifesto carefully, you will realize that it’s basically an advertisement for gun manufacturers.  He’s creating  a distraction, while shooting himself in the foot, and making NRA members look foolish.  

Many congressional Republican are embarrassed and upset about the manifesto, but seem to be afraid to speak out about it.  They’re definitely not in agreement with LaPierre, and apparently some Republicans have seen LaPierre’s remarks as cover to stand up against the NRA.  Congress has prepare some commonsense legislation against trafficking in guns, which is a bipartisan bill.  

Tomorrow, I’ll post the resignation letter, that George H.W. Bush sent to the National Rifle Association on May 3, 1995.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Be Very Afraid


The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre sent out the following manifesto:

“Latin American drug gangs have invaded every city of significant size in the United States.  Phoenix is already one of the kidnapping capitals of the world, and though the states on the U.S./Mexico border may be the first places in the nation to suffer from cartel violence, by no means are they the last.”

“The president flagrantly defies the 2006 federal law ordering the construction of a secure border fence along the entire Mexican border.  So the border today remains porous not only to people seeking jobs in the U.S., but to criminals whose jobs are murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.”

“Ominously, the border also remains open to agents of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.  Numerous intelligence sources have confirmed that foreign terrorists have identified the southern U.S. border as their path of entry into the country.”

“A heinous act of mass murder—either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago—will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.”

“After Hurricane Sandy, we saw the hellish world that the gun prohibitionists see as their utopia.  Looters ran wild in south Brooklyn.  There was no food, water or electricity.  And if you wanted to walk several miles to get supplies, you better get back before dark, or you might not get home at all.”

“Meanwhile, President Obama is leading this country to financial ruin, borrowing over a trillion dollars a year for phony ‘stimulus’ spending and other payoffs for his political cronies.  Nobody knows if or when the fiscal collapse will come, but if the country is broke, there likely won’t be enough money to pay for police protection.  And the American people know it.”

“Hurricanes. Tornadoes.  Riots.  Terrorists.  Gangs.  Lone criminals.  These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe.  It’s not paranoia to buy a gun.  It’s survival.  It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.”

“We, the American people, clearly see the daunting forces we will undoubtedly face: terrorists, crime, drug gangs, the possibility of Euro-style debt riots, civil unrest or natural disaster.”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hagel’s Nomination


Regarding Chuck Hagel’s nomination, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said in the Committee on Armed Services: “We saw with his nomination something truly extraordinary, which is the government of Iran formally and publicly praising the nomination of a defense secretary. I would suggest to you that to my knowledge, that is unprecedented, to see a foreign nation like Iran publicly celebrating a nomination.”

Senator John McCain explained: “They’ll probably get the votes when we return from the recess, unless something pops up.  And that’s doubtful that it will.  But to be honest, there’s a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam war, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people.  People don’t forget that.”

Senator McCain did admit, that no one should impugn this man’s integrity or his patriotism.

The neocons are playing a delaying game with Hagel’s nomination.  For the first time in history, a newly re- elected president has had his nomination for the secretary of defense filibustered.  That sends a signal to the rest of the world that we’re not united in a bipartisan way around the issue of national security, and that is damaging to our national security. 

Regarding the reason Republicans are obstructing Hagel’s nomination, former Senator Richard Lugar said: “Senator Hagel’s main transgression is that he is a Republican who has questioned policies that are sacred among most conservative senators.  The intensity of opposition that Senator Hagel is encountering is grounded in the resentments of some conservatives inside and outside the Senate who regard his independent thinking as political blasphemy for which he should not be rewarded.”

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Minimum Wage Increase


President Obama pointed out: “Increases in productivity in our economy are helping a lot of folks at the top, less folks in the middle, and at the bottom.  And wages and incomes have not gone up even as productivity and the profits from productivity have gone sky high.”

For the last 60 years, worker productivity has gone through the roof, but the minimum wage has not kept pace.  If the minimum wage had actually kept up with productivity, the minimum wage would be at $21.72 an hour. 

Our president has proposed a $9 an hour minimum wage, which is a third of what the amount, that it should.  The lowest income workers are the ones that have been suffering the most.  The only reason the Republican Party is opposing a minimum wage hike is because two of its biggest donors the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the National Restaurant Association are against it. 

The Republican Party believes that those two groups are more important than people living below the poverty line.

Over the last 20 years, corporate profits have gone through the roof, so why won’t Congress do something for the lowest paid workers?   According to every credible study raising the minimum wage has no effect on job creation.  The same representatives in Congress that don’t want to raise the minimum wage want to eliminate taxes on corporate profits, all taxes on capital gains, and all estate taxes, even on estates over $5 million.

In his State of the Union Address, Obama insisted: “We`ve got to make sure hard work is rewarded with a wage that you can live on and raise a family on.”  Obama has made clear, that we can help people that are struggling without having any negative effect on employment.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Options


Democrats are searching to find tax revenue that would improve the economy, but not fall on the backs of working middle - class Americans. 

An idea, that is being considered is a financial transaction tax in the range of one-tenth of a penny to half a penny on the transfer or sale of bonds, stocks, credit default swaps, or any similar financial transaction.  The tax wouldn’t affect trades for retirement, health, or education savings or mutual funds accounts.

The Center for Economic Policy Research estimated the tax could raise about $100 billion a year.  Wall Street handles at least $50 trillion in transactions every year.   The major nations in Europe are implementing a transaction tax, which is actually three times as large as what Democrats have proposed in this country.

Reportedly, 38% of corporations aren’t paying any taxes.  Our government has been giving away money to corporations in the form of subsidies and tax cuts.  Those loopholes, that are being used by very profitable corporations should be eliminated.

A lower tax rate on capital gains is the major reason why many millionaires and billionaires pay a lower effective rates than the middle class.  That proposal to implement the Buffett Rule was blocked by Senate Republicans, but proponents of the millionaire tax vowed to keep the issue alive.  Senate Democrats fell nine votes short of a 60 vote super majority.

We should stop giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs overseas.  Presently, a company that builds a new plant overseas gets a tax deduction for building that plants.  They hire workers in another country, and they get a tax deduction.  All of the overseas moving expense are tax deductible, but the profits, that they make are not taxed.

Obama wants to give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs in our communities, so that people can get back to work.  He suggested: “Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill their job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance anymore.  Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods.   And this year, my administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet.  We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, and education, and housing.  We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest.” 

There are other ways of making sure that Social Security and Medicare work, like cutting down on some of the huge profits that the drug companies are making off some of the drugs that we get in Medicare.  And, we don’t have to raise the retirement age.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Our Fragil Economy


Congress imposed a budget sequestration process on the country, and House Republicans have gone on vacation.  In just 2 weeks our economy will be hit with $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, between now and the end of the year.  More than a million jobs could be lost, depending on how businesses react to the those cuts.  

In the State of the Union Address, President Obama focused on the economy, because our economic recovery is still fragile.  We’ve had 35 months of private sector job growth, with very little help from congressional Republican.  That job growth is in jeopardy, not to mention the impact that those deep cuts would have on discretionary spending.

This year $42 billion of those cuts could be coming from the Defense Department.  It’s not true, that the sequestration cuts are only going to be coming from the Defense Department. 

The fact is we had $1.6 trillion in spending cuts in the Budget Control Act.  Democrats have already offered more in spending cuts than Republicans have offered new revenue.  For every $7 in spending cuts, there has only been $3 in new tax revenues.

House Republicans insist, that they will not accept new revenues as a solution.  They want Democrats to offer new cuts to avoid the sequester, but won’t specify were they expect those cuts to be made.  But, when Republicans say cuts, they actually mean Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. 

Congress has options.  They could end nearly $5 billion a year in oil subsidies.  Oil companies experienced record profit, and don’t need our tax dollars.  Congress could close corporate tax loopholes, by eliminating the carried interest loophole.  And, Congress has the option of  Wall Street traders paying a small fair transaction tax, that would generate billions of dollars.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama’s Proposal


“In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.  These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.  They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research.  They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs.  That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as ‘the sequester,’ are a really bad idea.
“Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.
“That idea is even worse.  Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population.  And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.
“But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful.  We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters.  Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity.  They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.  And that’s the approach I offer tonight.
“On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.  Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs.  The reforms I’m proposing go even further.  We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors.  We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.  And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement.  Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Military Force Authorized


The section of the 16 page Justice Department memo that investigative reporter Michael Isikoff  was able to obtained, that is the most troubling, is the idea of imminent danger, which you would consider in our country would be a hostage situation or a terror threat, where a police officer as a last resort, kills someone. 

The fact of the matter is that people who are with al Qaeda or associate groups are planning attacks on the United States.  Remember, that Congress authorized the use of military action against al Qaeda and its affiliates back in 2001.  The Justice Department or the courts don’t review those military action when you’re waging war in a foreign country.

The Congressional authorization of military force gave President Bush a lot of latitude.  It’s been unfortunate to see a Democratic president who actually opposed that authorization, before he was in the Senate, use those powers.

Acting in self-defense is not an assassination, and a president has the authority to delegate that authority to other people in the chain of command.  But what we do know is this president has been intimately involved in making all those decisions, at least, you know, every time that something comes to light, whether it’s bin Laden or al Awlaki. 

There is going to be collateral damage.  And that’s why the Justice Department’s memo talks about the laws of war.  Before using military force, you look at whether in fact it’s justified and at the possibility of collateral damage.  No matter if you’re using drones or you’re on the battlefield, that’s a decision that needs to be made.

Basically, Congress ought to get involved in providing oversight.  If Congress doesn’t like it, they ought to repeal or put a time limit on the law they passed back in 2001.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Drone Kills


President Obama defended our drone program by claiming: “They have been very precise precision strikes against al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

During his administration, Obama has made unprecedented use of those weapons, with more than 400 CIA strikes against targets in Pakistan and Yemen.  That’s eight times more than under Bush.

Michael Isikoff  was able to obtained a 16-page Justice Department memo that makes the legal argument to justify this administration’s use of drones to kill terror suspects, including American citizens.  Our government can order the killing of its own citizens without due process if those citizens are believed to be senior operational leaders of al Qaeda or an associated force, even if there is no intel indicating they’re involved in an active plot to attack the United States.

Attorney General Eric Holder claimed: “We only take these kinds of actions when there is an imminent threat, when capture is not feasible, and when we are confident that we are doing so in a way that is consistent with federal and international law.”

However, according to the memo, our government has define the word imminent in a very broadly: "The condition that an operational leader present an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future."

The feasibility of capture is also broadly defined by our government, because a decision to capture or kill can be made on a case-by-case basis.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney attempted to defended the drone program by saying: “These strikes were legal.  They are ethical, and they are wise.”

As American citizen, we are all entitled to due process under the law, but the Justice  Department memo gives the president the ability to act as judge, jury and executioner.  That doesn’t meet the moral or the Constitutional standard that we should expect from any administration.

Liberals have come a long way from complaining about the Patriot Act and the FISA court approving listening in on conversations to allowing Obama to take out innocent people around the world.  We’ve lost the moral high ground by permitting this, but even more troubling is that there are people in Washington who are not questioning this process and willing to stand behind the legal opinion of the Justice Department.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Great Oxymoron


The rating agencies on Wall Street will repeatedly claim, we were wrong, but being wrong isn’t a crime. 

Some investment banks and rating agencies marketed worthless financial products, and that debt destroyed our economy.  They knew they were selling investments, that were worthless.  But, they’ll insist that they could have released a revised better version of the rating system if we didn’t have to massage the subprime and all day numbers to preserve market share.

They wanted market share and profits over integrity.  That’s the same story line we heard for over a decade on Wall Street where integrity was thrown overboard to preserve profits.  By claiming, that the  Wall Street ratings agencies would play the role of cop, and keep everybody honest was actually the way, that they were able to deflected any attempt to put in place government regulation.

The old line that self-regulation would make sure the public wouldn’t be defraud is one of the great oxymorons of all time.
Rating agencies are insurance that is paid for by the investment banks, that enables investment banks to pretend that what they’re marketing good investment products.  They’re paying the rating agencies a small fee, so that the rating agencies will put the stamp of approval on the debt.  The rating agencies wanted to get that fee which in aggregate was a lot of money.  

Standard and Poors is a large company, that sold the credibility of the market for that profit.  In essence Standard and Poors was lying.  They were lying about the quality of what investment banks were marketing to the public, and at the end of the day, we the taxpayers had to pick up the tab.

Being wrong isn’t a crime, but lying intentionally in the marketplace is what transforms their fraud into an actionable offense.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Freedoms Carry Responsibilities


As to be expected, Duncan Smith wrote the following thoughtful, civil, and persuasive letter to the editor of the Oneonta Daily Star.  

“All freedoms carry responsibilities, all actions consequences.  It is well past time for thoughtful gun owners to address the responsibilities and consequences that accompany our right to bear arms.  True, gun violence is at root a “people,” not a “tool” problem.  But the easier it is for a criminal; someone suffering from extreme paranoia, delusions or depression; or people who are angry, jealous, intoxicated or just careless to lay their hand on a gun, the more likely it is to play a role in a tragedy. 
“What can we do to reduce that likelihood?  We have already agreed that there should be limits on the kinds of arms in the hands of civilians.  Given the incredible lethality of some modern weapons, isn’t it time to revisit those restrictions? 
“We have already agreed to some controls on gun purchases.  Isn’t it time to look again at the exceptions, loopholes and workarounds that frustrate sensible restrictions?  Isn’t it time to thoroughly assess the price we all pay, or should pay, for the choice we have made to permit ready access to deadly weapons? 
“Is the cost of the right to own guns to be borne by the loss of privacy for anyone who seeks treatment for a mental condition?  How much are we already paying for the cost of homicide investigations and trials?
“Just how much are we willing to tax ourselves to pay for the extra protection we want for ourselves and our children?  And the price of freedom is not only to be reckoned in dollars.  Are we forever going to have to tell people like the Newtown parents that the price of liberty was paid in the blood of their children? 

Friday, February 08, 2013

Everything Collapsed


In 2007, employees at Morgan Stanley were brainstorming via e-mail about what they’d call a new product they were working on.  It was an investment package that they’d eventually sell to a Chinese bank.  They knew their product was worthless, but they went on to sell it for a price that would indicate that it wasn’t worthless.

Those kinds of scam was the reason our financial system eventually collapsed.  Wall Street was selling things for prices that didn’t reflect the true value of the product.

You’re not supposed to be able to sell financial products for far more than they’re actually worth.  Somebody was supposed to be in charge of making sure that the value of investments were at least reasonably related to the price put on them.

There is a whole part of the financial sector whose job it is to do that.  They rate financial products.  They give them ratings to help guide consumers as to what they’re worth.  They issue ratings.  They’re the ratings agencies.

We had a financial collapse because people on Wall Street were buying and selling things at prices that were totally fake.  It was a con game that everybody was in on.

Eventually, people had to acknowledge that the actual value of these things that they’d been trading at these inflated prices wasn’t the value they had been trading them at, and everybody had to admit the real value was of these things they had been buying and selling.  Everything collapsed.

Our government and 17 states are suing Standard & Poor’s over pre-crisis mortgage rating.  Our government is alleging that S &P rating agency knowingly inflated its ratings on risky mortgage investments, giving high marks to mortgage-backed securities because it wanted to earn more business from the banks that issued worthless investments.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Reducing Gun Violence


Obama told an audience in Minnesota: “The only way we can reduce gun violence in this country is if the American people decide it’s important, if you decide it’s important.  If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, hunters and sportsmen, Americans of every background stand up and say, this time it has got to be different, we’ve suffered too much pain to stand by and do nothing.  Tell them there’s no legislation to eliminate all guns, there’s no legislation being proposed to subvert the Second Amendment.  Tell them specifically what we’re talking about, things that the majority of Americans, when they’re asked, support.  And tell them now is the time for action.  That we’re not going to wait until the next Newtown or the next Aurora.”

On FOX News, Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association insisted: “The president’s kids are safe and we’re all thankful for it.  The point of that ad.” 

FOX News’ Chris Wallace pointed out: “They also face a threat that most children do not face.”  

LaPierre responded: “Tell that to the people of Newtown.  Tell that to the people.”

Like any good newsman, Chris Wallace questioned LaPierre’s sense of fairness and logic.  He continued: “Do you really think that the president’s children are the same kind of target as every school child in America?  That’s ridiculous and you know it, sir.  You made it a class argument.  The rich, the elite.  They have bodyguards.  They have security.  And, Mayor Bloomberg has bodyguards.  I’ll tell you somebody else who has security.  You do.  On Capitol Hill you had security.  Today you have security.”

The NRA ad went after the president’s daughters, who are protected because they can be used as hostages against our country.  Not because it’s some kind of plus in their life.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Complete Sham


When the associated press asked Hillary Clinton about the Republican lawmakers who grilled her on Benghazi, she responded: "They just will not live in an evidence-based world, and that’s regrettable.  It’s regrettable for our political system and for the people who serve our government in very dangerous, difficult circumstances." 

During her appearances in front of the congressional committees on Benghazi, the investigation turned into a complete sham because of lies.  Conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin managed to get a falsehood presented as fact by Republican lawmakers.  

Rubin reported, that Deputy Secretary of State, Charlene Lamb said the information came from multiple phone calls to communicate with the annex in Tripoli.  Rubin decided to invent details out of thin air, by writing: "This was the most urgent issue of the moment in which everyone wanted to know what happened in Benghazi.  So why not look at the real-time video?"

Hillary Clinton was asked, that question at the congressional hearing: “At any time, did you see the initial attack on a monitor?  Or the president?”  She responded: “Congressman, there was no monitor.  There was no real-time.  We got surveillance videos some weeks later.  That was the first time we saw any video of the attack.”

Secretary Clinton debunked the misinformation on camera in front of the committee, but that completely bogus and shoddy piece of writing made its way onto FOX News the very same night.  Sean Hannity reported: “Charlene Lamb said they were watching it at the State Department in real time.”

During the same hearings, Clinton was asked about a crazy conspiracy involving gun ruining from Benghazi.  It looks like the false information started on an extreme anti-Islam web site.  The site claimed that Ambassador Chris Steven was coordinating the gun running from his outpost in Benghazi.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Income Inequality


The nation’s economy added 157,000 jobs in January.  The jobs numbers for both November and December were revised upwards significantly.  This means more than 2 million jobs were created last year.  The best number since 2005 and better than seven out of eight years in the Bush era.  The economy has now gained 5.5 million jobs out of the 8.74 million jobs lost in the great recession, but we’ve got a long way to go.

The stock market topped 14,000 for the first time since 2007, 100,000 construction jobs were added in the last four months of 2012, and Chrysler posted its highest sales in five years.

According to "The Wall Street Journal,” Americans are planning to delay their retirement, because of the financial losses, income stagnation and layoffs over the past several years.

Nevertheless, income inequality has gotten worse.  Presently, we rank in the middle of Latin American countries, which have historically had poor economies and high levels of income equality.  In fact, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on earth.  It’s worse than at any time since 1928 before the Great Depression.

As a nation, do we think it is acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 35 percent of the wealth in America when the bottom 60 percent owns 2.3 percent of the wealth?  Is it acceptable that the top 1 percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent. 

Middle class families earned more in 1996, but large corporations are enjoying record-breaking profits, and the very wealthy are doing phenomenally well.  They’re putting huge amounts of money into the political process so they get even more tax breaks, more ability to outsource our jobs, more ability to put their money in tax havens in the Cayman Islands.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Hard-core NRA


At the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, Gayle Trotter, a gun rights activist said: “I would like to begin with the compelling story of Sarah McKinley.  Home alone with her baby, she called 911 when two violent intruders began to break down her front door.  As the intruders forced their way into her home, Ms. McKinley fired her weapon, fatally wounding one of the violent attackers.  The other fled.”

Trotter didn’t mention of the type of weapon Sarah McKinley used.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse inquired: “Ms. Trotter, a quick question.  Sarah McKinley, in defending her home, used a Remington 870 express 12- gauge shotgun that would not be banned under the statute, correct?  Under the proposed statute.”

Trotter: “I don’t remember what type of weapon she used.”  Whitehouse: “Trust me, that’s what it was.  And it would not be banned under the statute.”

Whitehouse insists that if you ask hard-core members of the NRA , they’ll admit that you don’t need an AR-15, assault rifle, to defend your home, hunt or go target shooting. 

Ron Reagan agrees: “They want those guns because the police have those guns.  And they believe that they will have to fight the police, and they want to be as heavily armed as the police when that happens.  That is the underlying philosophy.” 

In 2006, Republicans in Congress got an amendment added to the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.  It made the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives a Senate confirmable position.  Since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives has been politically undermined.  Senate Republicans won’t allow anybody to ensure the safe and legal operation of the multibillion dollar gun market. 

Sunday, February 03, 2013

The Truth


Obama said: “Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time... I’ve profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations.  And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake." 
Regarding gun violence, Obama admitted: “If we’re not doing something to try to have an impact on that, to lessen it, even if it’s not perfect, even if it doesn’t work every time, even if it doesn’t save every person who is a potential victim of gun violence, but we save a few.  You know, if we don’t do that, shame on us.”
Perhaps, Obama is being pragmatic, however nothing will actually change until the Second Amendment is repealed.  Politicians risk more assassination, another Civil War, and needless suffering by thousands of Americans, because right wing extremist believe, whenever the ballot doesn't work their treasured military style weapons will. 
I’ve read: "I am a proud owner of an AK-47.  It's a terrific gun.  Lots of fun to shoot.  I own an AK because of my fascination with the Second Amendment, which I view as a backstop protector of freedom...  Perhaps the notion that people feel safe with our government after over 200 years is a testament to the Second Amendment value in balancing power with the citizens."
On line, 2nd_Defender insisted: "The second amendment is not about hunting or self-defense, it is about defending the constitution against tyranny.”  
If ballots don't work for them, extremist are advocating violence to overthrow of our government.  According to Ron Reagan, they want to have weapons that match those available to our police and military.
I’ve no use for the Second Amendment, because our Constitution with it’s checks and balances have proven trustworthy for 200 years.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Kicking the Can


Tea Party Republicans helped pass a bill extending the debt limit until mid-May.  In return, both House and Senate have got to pass a budget or their pay is going to be withheld.  Republicans have kicked the can down the road again.  They’re still playing games with the debt ceiling. 

In order to get the right wing Tea Party folks, to extend the debt ceiling until late March, the Republican House leadership had to promise them that they were going to slash spending.  The good news is that Republicans recognized that the United States has to pay their bills, but the bad news is, we only have to pay our bills as a country for a few more months, and they’ve left this huge uncertainty hanging over our economy.

Representative Paul Ryan is back in the picture.  He’s stepping back into the political spotlight, and is now in charge of creating a budget that will eliminate the federal deficit within 10 years.  Most Americans didn’t like his budget ideas in the first place, but now, he’s claiming voters didn’t reject Republican principles in the last presidential election.

Ryan told The Wall Street Journal: "We have to do a better job of explaining why we think our ideas are better for everybody and why they’re better for fighting poverty.”  He expects us to believe that he can fight poverty, pay off the debt and balance the budget in just 10 years.

Analysts insist that Ryan will have to cut about 800 billion dollars in federal spending, including defense.  That’s 22% of the federal budge in 10 years.  Those kind of cuts would have to go way beyond anything Ryan suggested during the campaign.  His previous plan balanced the budget in 30 years, and he still wanted to cut programs for the poor by 62 percent.

Ryan’s previous budget proposal would have slashed federal Medicaid funding by almost a third.  His new budget plan will have to be much more drastic and meaner than the last one.  Nevertheless, he claims the numbers will eventually add up.

The only way to make the math work in the way they approached the budget is to violate all the promises we made to our seniors, devastate Medicaid, transfer rising health care costs on to seniors in Medicare, while protecting the tax breaks and loopholes for folks at the high end of the income scale.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Senate Judiciary Committee


The issue of gun regulations has been demagogued by people like Wayne LaPierre, so that any limitation on guns or ammo means that your guns are going to be taken away.
At the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting LaPierre launched into a justification for the need to carry high-powered assault weapons.  He painted a scenario following a natural disaster or riot in which people feel abandoned by their government. LaPierre claimed: “The only way they’re going to protect themselves in the cold, in the dark, when they’re vulnerable, is with a firearm.”
Most people don’t have such apocalyptic paranoia.  However, LaPierre’s job is to stir up those, who are frightened and resentful.  He claimed: “If you’re in the elite, you get bodyguards.  You get high-cap mags with semiautomatics protecting this whole Capitol.  The titans of industry get the bodyguards, it’s only the hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying American that we’re going to make the least capable of defending themselves.”
The gunman in Tucson, Jared Loughner, used a 9 mm Glock pistol with an extended ammunition magazine in the attack that wounded the former congresswoman and killed six.  The handgun would not have been illegal under a federal assault weapons ban that lapsed more than seven years ago, because the magazine that held more than 30 bullets would have been prohibited.
Former Congresswoman Gabby Gifford’s husband, former astronaut and retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly has become a public advocate for gun control.  He testified at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, that the first bullet from Jared Loughner’s gun went into his wife’s head and the 13th. bullet killed 9 year old Christina Taylor Green before the killer had to stopped to reload.   It was only then that 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving more lives.