Originally Published: 9/21/2013
NSA Phone Program: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has declassified one of its opinions in which it upholds the constitutionality of the NSA’s collecting “billions of Americans’ phone records for counterterrorism purposes.” The records are referred to as “all call detail records.” FISC said that this is justified as long as gathering the records can be tied to an authorized investigation into known and unknown terrorists who may be in the U.S. “Moreover, the government need only show that there are ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ the records will be relevant to the investigation, a lower burden than required in ordinary criminal investigations.” (Washington Post) I suppose it can be argued that all the phone records in the entire United States can be tied to an investigation of an “unknown” terrorist, right?
Portugal: The EU’s austerity program has hit Portugal’s poor the hardest. “Spending cuts to European Union food aid programs could leave Portugal’s growing ranks of poor with even emptier plates.” (Reuters) Sound familiar? It’s the same thing right-wingers are trying to do here - save money by starving the poor. But, by God, don’t cut the military or raise taxes on the wealthy.
Syria: We reached an agreement with Russia to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. It’s supposed to be done by the middle of 2014 but given our record of destroying less than 40% of our arsenal in 10 years (TWW, Get Ride of the Chemical Weapons, 9/14/13), I wonder if they can really do it that fast. According to Amy Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, “This situation has no precedent. They are cramming what would probably be 5 or 6 years’ worth of work into a period of several months, and they are undertaking this in an extremely difficult security environment due to the ongoing civil war.” (NY Times) Syria calls the deal a “victory for Damascus won by its Russian allies.” (Reuters) And the UN report on chemical weapons was released. It confirmed that people were killed in a chemical attack and “strongly” implicates the Syrian government. “While the report’s authors did not assign blame for the attack . . . the details it documented included the large size and particular shape of the munitions and the precise direction from which 2 of them had been fired. Taken together, that information appeared to undercut arguments by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that rebel forces, who are not known to possess such weapons or the training or ability to use them, had been responsible.” (NY Times)
Colorado: President Obama signed an emergency declaration to help Colorado with the extensive flooding it’s experienced. This was encouraged by a bipartisan letter from Colorado’s 9-member Congressional delegation. But 4 of these - Reps. Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton - all Republicans - earlier this year voted against emergency aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
Michigan: It experienced an unseasonal heatwave on September 11th, and Detroit suffered its own 9/11 with power outages as the city’s power supply supposedly failed. (WXYZ.com) But, it never failed. On September 12th Bill Nowling, who works for Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager, casually stated that the city’s power outages were intentional. “City grid customers were asked to reduce power, but failed to, so we had to move to intentional outages.” Yeah. Really, he said the people “didn’t respond as fast as we would like them to, so we had to send them a strong message, by turning off the power.” (Addicting Info)
Continuing Resolution: Well, they haven’t got a budget yet for FY 2012. And FY 2013 ends ends September 30th. Do you get this? We’ve been running on Continuing Resolutions. No real budget. And the last Continuing Resolution expires at the end of this month. So, they need another one as no one seems interested in putting out a budget. The Republican-controlled House has passed 230 to 189 a CR that cuts all funding for Obamacare. (NY Times) If it doesn’t pass - and it won’t - that means a government shutdown. The last time they did this it cost us a bunch of money. But they don’t seem to care. It’s Obamacare they’re after. (Watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about it.) Unfortunately for them, a government shutdown won’t stop the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Shutdowns effect only discretionary spending. Obamacare - like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - is mandatory spending. It has to be funded. And most of the money to set up Obamacare has already been spent. Regulations have already been drawn up and money has already been distributed to the states to set up the Exchanges. And the expansion of Medicare and Medicaid are also mandatory. (Politico) But Republicans say if they don’t get what they want, they’ll shut down the government. The damage done by a government shutdown is so severe that even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (you know, the guys behind the Citizens United decision) urged the House to pass a spending bill that can be accepted and not shut down operations. (UPI) Repubs didn’t listen to them and these are the people behind much of their campaign funding. If they don’t care about their own revenue it’s no wonder they don’t care about anyone else’s. And don’t forget that the debt ceiling is coming up in October and House Republicans will probably put us through this again.
Inequality: Forbes came out with its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Together they’re worth a record $2.02 trillion, “roughly equivalent to the GDP of Russia.” It’s a gain of $300 billion from a year ago and more than double what it was a decade ago. The minimum net worth needed to get on the list was $1.3 billion. Sitting on top is Bill Gates with a net worth of $72 billion. Recession hasn’t hurt them any, has it? In fact, the wealthiest have “gained back all that they lost” in the crash. How’re you doing?
SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, was cut by $40 billion (over the next 10 years) by House Republicans, 217 to 210. (NY Times) The appropriation for last year was for $80 billion. This cut would be roughly $4 billion a year, bringing the total cost of the program to $76 billion. Please Note: We spend more than $92 billion on corporate subsidies (Cato Institute) and about $58 billion in tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals. (Citizens for Tax Justice) And don’t forget the bank bail-outs to the tune of $700 billion and the $9 trillion loaned to financial institutions at nearly 0% interest. (CNN Money) But we can’t afford to feed the poor, primarily children, in this, the wealthiest country in the world. According to Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW), 45% of the country is unable to afford basic needs like housing, utilities, food, child care, transportation, health care, and essential household items.
Social Security: According to a recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis, if you were born in the 1940s, 1950s, or 1960s, you’ll pay into Social Security more than you’ll get out. Those born in the 1970s and 1980s will get more than they pay in. Still think taxes are too high?
Medicare: The same CBO analysis above also looked at the pay-in to pay-out ratio for Medicare. While all groups get significantly more in benefits than what they’ve paid in, once again, those born later get more in benefits than they’ll pay in.
Guns and Murder: The largest, long-term study of gun violence has been completed. The authors compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981 to 2010. They also controlled for the largest number of variables ever in a study like this: age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, income inequality, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, hate crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted non-firearm homicide rate, incarceration rate, and suicide rate. The results were predictable: For each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership, firearm homicide rate increased by .09%. Of course, gun ownership didn’t explain all of the gun violence epidemic. Race, economic inequality, and generally violent areas all contribute to an area’s propensity for gun deaths.
Obamacare: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued an analysis, based on the current census data, that found that about 23 million of the nation’s 41 million “eligible uninsured” will have access to low-cost health insurance through the Exchange. It also estimated that the cost will be less than $100 a month. Unfortunately the states with the highest rates of residents with no insurance are the same states that have refused to set up Exchanges. (Economic Policy Institute)
Antibiotic Resistance: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report stating that at least 2 million people every year become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. “Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.” The report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013, states: “The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed. Antibiotics are also commonly used in food animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote the growth of food-producing animals. The use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.” (p. 11)
Sea Change: A research project that set out to rebuild coral reefs found a significant problem - carbon dioxide. “Ocean acidification, the lesser-known twin of climate change, threatens to scramble marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom.” It’s effecting sea life now, when it was thought it wouldn’t have an effect for 50 or even 100 years. (Seattle Times) Watch the video.
Fukushima: Typhoon Man-yi hit the area near the leaking nuclear plant. They “had” to dump more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea. (AFP)
Palm Oil: If you buy packaged snack foods you’re probably contributing to the destruction of the rainforests and the death of orangutans. A report by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) says that nearly half of all food found in grocery stores contains palm oil, the majority of which is directly linked to rainforest deforestation, child labor, slave labor, climate pollution, and other atrocities. “When you eat food that comes out of a bag, a box, or a package of any kind, chances are you are eating palm oil. It is added to chocolate, turned into fry oil, and snuck into snacks of all sorts . . . ”
Colorado Floods: There were 13,500 gallons of oil spilled along St. Vrain River and about 5,250 spilled in the South Platte - just 2 of the releases reported. “[B]ecause so many of the wells are still in deep water, teams from the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission don’t yet know how many may be damaged or leaking.” (The Denver Channel)
TPP: Estimates on the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TWW, TPP, 6/1/13, Free Trade, 5/4/13; Trans-Pacific Partnership, 12/1/12) keep getting worse. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the estimate on economic gains is very small - only .13% of GDP by 2025. CEPR also estimates that there will be an “unequalizing effect” on wages and that “the median wage earner will probably lose as a result of any such agreement. In fact, most workers are likely to lose - the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition.” In fact they estimate that many top incomes will rise. “The long-term losses, going forward over the same period (to 2025), from the failure to restore full employment to the United States, have been some 25 times greater than the potential gains of the TPP, and more than 5 times as large as the possible gains resulting from a much broader trade agenda.”
Employment Gap: The recession and the recovery hit different incomes differently. “Rates of unemployment for the lowest-income families - those earning less than $20,000 - have topped 21%, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930s Great Depression.” But for households with incomes over $150,000 a year, the unemployment rate is 3.2% - “traditionally defined as full employment.” The middle-income workers who were displaced have been pushed into the lower-wage jobs and low-wage workers are out of the workforce entirely. (AP)
The Fed: It decided that the economy isn’t growing quite enough yet to end Quantitative Easing. (TWW, Quantitative Easing, 11/20/10) It decided that it will continue it’s monetary stimulus for at least another month - which means the financial industry can continue to get loans for almost 0%. Wall Street loved it. The S&P 500 rose 1.22%, almost a record high. And interest rates fell again. (NY Times)
SEC and CEOs: The Securities and Exchange Commission approved a plan “that would require companies to disclose how much more their chief executives are paid than their other employees, advancing an initiative that has been years in the making.” The vote was 3 to 2, with the 3 Democratic members voting for the initiative and the 2 Republicans voting against it. (Washington Post)
Ethanol Credits: 8 years ago we created ethanol credits. “It was supposed to help clean the air, reduce dependence on foreign oil, and bolster agriculture. But a little known market in ethanol credits has also become a hot new game on Wall Street.” Isn’t that just the way it is. Nothing can be done that someone won’t bet on it. The plan required refiners to mix ethanol into gasoline or buy credits from companies that do so. “The idea was to push refiners to use the cleaner, renewable fuel, or force them to buy the credits.” This year the ethanol credits skyrocketed 20-fold in just 6 months because “traders for big banks and other financial institutions . . . amassed millions of the credits just as refiners were looking to buy more of them to meet an expanding federal requirement.” (NY Times) Put anything on the stock market and watch the financial wizards screw it up.