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WEEKLY WONK

Originally Published: 2/23/2013

Sequestration & Austerity:  Make no mistake about it. Sequestration is austerity. Which is why the conservatives are perfectly fine with letting it go into effect. At the end of the month, if nothing is done, we’ll be thrown into an austerity program that shifts more burdens from the wealthy to the working class. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities) ABC listed 57 “terrible consequences” of the cuts. The Defense Department (DoD) is predicting huge layoffs (McClatchy), even though they could do something like scrap the F-35 program (see below) rather than lay-off workers. And, of course, all these job losses will stall the economic recovery. Senate Democrats have come up with an alternative plan, which Obama supports, which still has some spending cuts, but replaces many of the cuts with revenue increases. (CNN) And, of course, the proposal includes closing the tax loopholes that have made corporations and the wealthiest people even wealthier. (What Went Wrong) So, once again we see congressional Republicans protecting major corporations and extremely wealthy people at the expense of the rest of us.

Who created the sequester? Well, if you remember, we had a Super Committee that couldn’t come to an agreement so the sequester went into effect. And who created it? Congress, at the behest of the Tea Party members. Remember, Obama couldn’t sign it until Congress passed it. In fact, here’s a PowerPoint presentation developed by House Speaker John Boehner’s (R, OH) office and sent to all GOP members that was meant to explain the deal that Boehner cut. (The Daily Beast) Boehner even said that he got 98% of what he wanted. (Raw Story) So, when you hear Republicans calling it Obama’s sequester, you’ll know it’s a flat-out lie.

Simpson-Bowles:  You’ve heard about this. In fact, if you’ve listened to the pundits you’ve heard it called an “act,” a “law,” an “agreement,” and a “report.” It’s none of those things. It doesn’t exist. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles were appointed co-chairs to the failed National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. (See list of committee members.) The committee came up with a plan. But it failed to reach a required super-majority. Voting against the plan were members Senator Max Baucus (D, MT), Rep. Xavier Becerra (D, CA), Rep. Dave Camp (R, OK), Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R, TX), Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D, IL), and Andrew Stern, President, Service Employees International Union. (Wikipedia) Now Simpson and Bowles, being older than dirt and looking for something for people to remember them for, have made another proposal. (The Nation) Thom Hartmann calls it the Catfood Plan 2.0. Their new plan calls for even deeper cuts, this time to include Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, in order to allow for even deeper cuts to taxes.

 

Switzerland:  More than 100,000 Swiss citizens have signed a petition to limit “fat-cat” pay. The referendum would limit top executives’ pay by shareholders. Polls show a majority will vote “yes” on March 3rd. (Bloomberg)

 

Basel III:  EU states and the EU parliament are trying to come to a deal to implement Basel III, “the world’s regulatory response to the 2007-09 financial crisis.” Without an agreement, Basel III cannot be implemented. “The negotiations have dragged on because the European Parliament, in response to anger from investors and the public over the role played by banks in the financial crisis, also wants to peg bonuses to no more than annual fixed pay, a provision not in the Basel accord.” (Reuters)

 

Arizona:  An appeals court overturned a lower court decision and declared that marijuana users don’t have to actually be impaired to be successfully prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI). The ruling relates to the presence of THC, a metabolite. A man tested positive for an inactive marijuana metabolite that remains in the body for weeks after the high from smoking marijuana has worn off. State Superior Court Judge Shilgeyorkyan ruled that the state couldn’t prosecute since the man was no longer impaired. In Arizona v. Shilgeyorkyan, the appeals court ruled that he could be prosecuted, saying: “The legislature intended to create a ‘per se prohibition’ and a ‘flat ban on driving with any proscribed drugs in one’s system. . . We determined that the legislative ban extends to all substances, whether capable of causing impairment or not.” The case will be appealed to the state Supreme Court. (Alternet) So, in Arizona, if you’ve taken any drug, whether prescribed, over-the-counter, or illegal, you would be able to be charged with a DUI for weeks after you’ve ceased taking it. In other words, don’t drive in Arizona.

 

Indiana:  The RU-486 pill, the Morning After pill, allows a woman to take it as little as one week pregnant to terminate. But an Indiana Senate committee wants to stop this. A bill passed this week would force a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before they can swallow the pill. And they would have to take one after they’ve taken the pill. (USA Today)

 

Montana:  A bill floating through the Montana Senate makes it a crime for a federal agent to take any law enforcement steps without first getting permission from the county sheriff. So, a Montana county sheriff could arrest an FBI agent who tries to arrest someone for a federal crime? (Mother Jones) I suspect that this is unconstitutional but what do these yahoos care?

 

North Carolina:  It’s passed a new law cutting unemployment insurance, and many claim that it will result in state workers losing access to the federal unemployment compensation program. (NewsObserver.com)

 

Ohio:  In a Columbus school district, 1 in 25 disabled children have been “held down, physically removed from class, or put in closetlike rooms to calm down.” (Columbus Dispatch)

 

Texas:  Well, the Houston suburb of Missouri City. Rather than make those wealthy people pay their fair share, Houston has decided to institute a “crash tax,” a fee to cover the cost of first responders who come to an auto accident. The cost will be dependent on how much help is needed. The drivers will be charged. And, they’ll get charged even if they don’t call for help. (KHOU.com) Now there’s a healthy revenue stream for ya! But Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw announced that state troopers will no longer be allowed to open fire on suspects from helicopters unless they are fired upon first. This came about as the result of the recent killing of 2 immigrants. (The Monitor)

 

Virginia:  A Richmond cop who reported a fellow officer for threatening President Obama and his wife has been fired. (WTVR) The 20-year veteran cop was supposed to be providing exterior security to the president and first lady. He was on the phone with his supervisor. “The supervisor said to that particular officer, ‘You’re down there, right? So, you can take a couple of shots. You might have to kill yourself, but you can take a couple of shots.’” (WTVR)

 

Wisconsin:  Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal will cut income tax but expand the school voucher program. So, where does the money come from for more school vouchers? From the education budget, of course. (LaCross Tribune)

 

F-35:  We’ve talked about this before. (TWW, Defense Budget, 5/14/11) The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is an unmitigated disaster (TWW, Wasteful Spending, 2/19/11) and costs us more and more money every year. The F-35 is one of the costliest weapons program in human history, with each plane costing $90 million and the project taking more than a decade to complete. (DoD) The price tag for the entire program has nearly doubled since 2001; now it’s at $396 billion. And the price tag is still rising. (Time) The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that, with operating and maintenance costs, the total program is over $1 trillion, more than the cost of Australia. (The Atlantic)

 

Corporate Taxes:  Don’t kid yourself. Corporations are paying less and less, as a proportion of the GDP. (What Went Wrong)

 

Tax Dodging:  Hedge funds are sending their cash to the Bermudas and bringing it back at reduced tax rates. Quite a benefit to millionaires and billionaires. The cash doesn’t even need an escort, it can go by itself. (Bloomberg) Even the NY Post said: Billionaire hedge-fund moguls are getting comfortable with a U.S. tax loophole to fatten their already plump bottom lines.” And what is the federal government doing about it? Nada.

 

McCutcheon:  The Supreme Court has agreed to take another case regarding political donations. If you remember, in the Citizens United decision, the Court decided to look at an issue that wasn’t in the case before them, and came up with the ridiculous campaign finance non-laws we now have. The case of McCutcheon is about limits to individual candidates and groups - $2,500 per election to federal candidates, $30,800 per year to national party committees, $10,000 per year to state party committees, and $5,000 per year to other political committees, all of which McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee are happy with. What they want changed is the limit of $46,200 for candidates and $70,800 for groups in a 2-year period. A decision by a 3-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the law. Given this court’s decision in Citizens United, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they didn’t make money in politics even worse. (NY Times)

 

Economic Recovery:  Only for the wealthy. The top 1% has had an income growth of over 11% since the official end of the recession, while the other 99% has seen a decline of .4%. The top 10% of wage earners took in 46.5% of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917. And that doesn’t include the income earned from investments; it’s just wages. (NY Times)

 

Violence Against Women Act:  The Senate passed it a couple of weeks ago (TWW, Violence Against Women Act, 2/16/13). This week the House passed it, but the Republicans watered it down so badly it may not have a chance. (See bill.) They stripped protections for gays and lesbians and added a loophole for Native American victims.

 

Immigration:  A draft of Obama’s proposal for immigration reform has supposedly been leaked. (And if you believe that, I’ve got some property to sell you in south Florida.) The plan allows for undocumented workers to get a “lawful prospective immigrant” visa so they could remain in the country. They would have to pass a criminal background check and submit to biometric tests. They would be able to stay for 8 years and then apply for a “green card,” which grants permanent residency. After 5 years they could then apply for citizenship. (Guardian) You think this is going anywhere? You think anything Obama proposes is going anywhere?

 

Voting:  President Obama announced the creation of a commission on voting rights. It’s supposed to be bi-partisan, so we know how it will turn out. No one has been appointed yet. (Guardian) I wish he’d think to put some ordinary citizens on it rather than all politicos and ex-politicos. Those people don’t live in the real world.

 

Incarceration:  2.5 million Americans are currently under lock and key. The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but we have 25% of the world’s prisoners. This costs us about $63.4 billion a year. (CBS News)

 

13th Amendment:  This is the amendment that banned slavery. As a constitutional amendment, it needed to be ratified by 27 states to pass. And it did. However, of the states that didn’t ratify it, they’re still catching up. Delaware didn’t ratify it until the turn of the century and Kentucky didn’t ratify it until 1976. Mississippi ratified it in 1995, but forgot to notify anyone so it wasn’t official. This week, Mississippi notified the U.S. Archivist and it’s now official. (AlterNet)

 

Obamacare:  A week ago was the final deadline for governors to decide whether they will set up the insurance exchange in their states or let the federal government do it. The vast majority of GOP governors are doing exactly what they say the hate - turning responsibility for a program over to the feds rather than running it themselves. The federal government will run the exchanges in 26 states and partner with state officials in an additional 7 states to help them set up their marketplace. (Washington Post)

 

Medicaid:  7 Republican governors are going to expand Medicaid in their states under the plan in Obamacare. The U.S. Supreme Court last year decided that the provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand Medicaid was an option for states, not a mandate, and most Republican governors loudly proclaimed they wouldn’t do it. But, under pressure, they are doing it. Under the plan, the federal government will pay the entire cost for the expansion until 2016 and will pay 90% or more thereafter. Republican governors in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Ohio have announced the same decision. (NY Times) Look at the map. To date, 22 states will expand and 4 states that haven’t yet decided are leaning toward expansion. 17 will not expand and another 5 are leaning toward rejecting the expansion. 2 are completely undecided. (NY Times)

 

Medicare & Medicaid:  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has re-estimated its August 2012 estimate of Medicare and Medicaid spending for the next 10 years. They reduced expected costs by $382 billion - 3.5%. It cites 3 reasons for the downward adjustment: “enacted legislation, updates to its economic forecast, and other, technical changes.”

 

Scooter Store:  The FBI, the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, and the Texas Attorney General raided The Scooter Store, claiming it’s been ripping off the taxpayers to the tune of more than a hundred million dollars a year. (CBS News)

 

Deepwater Horizon:  The Justice Department has cut $3.4 billion off what BP was to pay in fines. By making BP accountable for 800,000 barrels less than what was actually spilled, the fine was reduced. Why? Who knows. Maybe it was because BP’s lawyers accused Justice of “making excessive demands.” (Guardian)

 

Tar Sands Leaks:  An internal memo to Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver confirmed that the tailings ponds were leaking and contaminating Alberta’s groundwater. (OCanada.com)

 

Nuclear Leak:  At least 6 of the underground tanks which contain nuclear waste at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state are leaking. We are told there is no problem here. Are you kidding me? (AFP)

 

Arctic Rush:  According to the United Nations’ Environment Program (UNEP), the Arctic needs to be protected from a rush for natural resources as the melting ice makes access easier. “What we are seeing is that the melting of ice is prompting a rush for exactly the fossil fuel resources that fueled the melt in the first place.” Last September, Arctic ice reached its lowest level in the satellite record, “which dates back to 1979, and scientists say there could be an ice-free summer by 2030-2040.” (Reuters)

 

Minimum Wage:  As you know, President Obama has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $9 an hour. He also noted that someone working at the current minimum wage for 40 hours a week wasn’t making enough money to be above the poverty level. This wasn’t always the case. According to David Cooper at the Economic Policy Institute, until the 1980s (what happened then?), “earning a minimum-wage income was enough for a single parent to not live in poverty.” In fact, in 1968 it was higher than the poverty line for a family of 3. But today’s minimum wage “is not enough for single-parents to reach even the most basic threshold of adequate living standards.”

 

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