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Originally Published: 9/28/2013

NSA Audit:  Senators Patrick Leahy (D, VT) and Chuck Grassley (R, IA) have a sent a letter - signed by 7 other senators, both Republican and Democratic - to the Inspector General of the intelligence agencies asking for a review of 2 spying programs. The programs have been authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the U.S.A. Patriot Act. They want to know “how information about Americans” is being “collected, retained, analyzed, and disseminated.” And they want to know what steps are being taken “to protect Americans’ privacy.” (AP)


Iran:  After a meeting at the UN on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry met privately with Iran’s Foreign Minister Jarvad Zarif. No staff. No press. Just the 2 of them. (ABC News) The next day President Obama had a long telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (NY Times) On Rouhani’s return to Iran, he was greeted by some hardliners who were angry about his dealing with the U.S., but they were “outnumbered by 2 to 3 times as many” supporters. (Guardian) If Obama can get us on good footing with Iran, this would be huge.


Syria:  Inspections on Syria’s chemical weapons stash (TWW, Syria, 9/21/13) will begin next week. (BBC)


Colorado:  The floods have caused many “notable” oil spills. (TWW, Colorado, 9/21/13) “When floodwaters surged into Colorado’s drilling center, they swamped wells, broke pipes, and swept huge oil tanks off their foundations. . . There are about 20,000 oil and gas wells across Weld County, and about 1,900 of them had to be closed off . . . as floodwaters coursed down from the mountains and spread out across the plains, inundating entire communities.” About 37,380 gallons have spilled so far. "But environmental advocates say the groundwater, soil, and rivers may now be stained by oil, and they have criticized state regulations that allowed drilling pads to be set alongside rivers and streams in the first place.” (NY Times)


Illinois:  A Will County judge found the editor of the Orland Park Patch guilty of “minor direct criminal contempt” for not giving up the source of documents he received regarding a double murder in January 2013. The editor, Joseph Hosey, was fined $1,000 plus $300 a day for 3 months, after which time he’ll go to jail. He’s appealing.


Michigan:  The federal government is proposing giving Detroit $300 million in funds from the federal government and private aid, but it won’t go far toward the $18 billion shortfall. (NY Times)


Continuing Resolution:  The Senate began debating the House’s Continuing Resolution (TWW, Continuing Resolution, 9/21/13) on Monday. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) said that the language stripping out spending for the Affordable Care Act would be removed. Ted Cruz (R, TX) wanted unanimous consent to approve the House bill as it is. Reid denied the request. (Washington Post) Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) said he supports a government shutdown over funding Obamacare. (CBS News) But the Senate passed the CR 54 to 44 with language restoring funding for ACA. House Republicans have vowed to reject it and shut the government down. (Washington Post)


ShutdownThink Progress did a good piece on what will happen if the government shuts down - and none of them are stopping Obamacare. Financial Services. The Small Business Administration will stop making loans, federal home loans will go on hold, and students applying for financial aid will see backlogs and delays. Armed Forces. U.S. troops will stop receiving paychecks and, if the shutdown goes on for a while, base stations would be shut down and facility and weapons maintenance would be suspended. Health Care. The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients and delay or stop clinical trials. Medicare and the Veterans Administration will continue to pay out benefits, but new filers will face delays and doctors and hospitals will have to wait for reimbursement. Public Safety. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could stop reviewing environmental impact statements and food inspectors would stop conducting inspections. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms could stop processing applications for permits. Security and Travel. The Department of Homeland Security would suspend the e-verify program, creating hiring delays. The State Department will halt new passport and visa applications. Parks and Recreation. The National Park Service sites and the Smithsonian Institution will be shut down. The author points out that the shutdown during the Clinton administration, which lasted 6 days in 1995, “cost the country 0.5 percentage points of gross domestic product (GDP) growth and more than $2 billion (in today’s dollars) in unnecessary expenses.” Economists estimate that even a short-term shutdown “would do significant economic damage, reducing real GDP by 1.4 percentage points.” A 2-month shutdown could “precipitate another recession.”


Debt Ceiling:  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the Treasury will have exhausted all of its borrowing authority somewhere between October 17th and October 22nd. “The debt ceiling at the beginning of 2013 was $16.394 trillion. The No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013 (Public Law 113-3) suspended the debt ceiling from February 4, 2013 through May 18, 2013. The act also specified that the amount of borrowing in that period should be added to the previous debt limit. As a result, on May 19, the limit was reset to reflect cumulative borrowing through May 18; it now stands at $16.699 trillion.” Since that time the Treasury has had to turn to “extraordinary measures” to allow continued borrowing for a limited period. Now it’s time to raise it again and, once again, House Republicans are threatening to shut down the government rather than raise it. But it’s not just about the debt ceiling. National Review obtained a document originated by “staff to a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee” and dated this week. Republicans’ demands for raising the debt ceiling are this: They will do like they did last spring and not give a dollar amount for the debt ceiling. They want a 1-year delay of Obamacare. They want the Ryan Budget (TWW, Ryan Budget, 3/16/13), particularly the “tax reforms,” put in place and they want it with fast-track authority. They want the Keystone XL pipeline approved, coal ash regulations eliminated, more offshore oil drilling, more drilling on federal lands, and elimination of EPA carbon regulations. They want means testing for Medicare, tort reform, and the elimination of Dodd-Frank. And there’s more. It’s unbelievable. But it seems not to have support by a majority of Republicans. Rep. Tom Cole (R, OK) said: “We still have some challenges. We’ve got an awful lot of support, but clearly at this point we don’t have a final product that’s attracting the number that we need. Hopefully that’ll change, and I think it could.” (The Hill) But Wall Street had a message for the GOP: “Are you nuts?” (Politico)


Austerity:  As you can tell from the above, the Republicans are still preaching austerity, which we know from what has happened in Europe, doesn’t work. Now, Josh Bivens at the Economic Policy Institute shows that austerity doesn’t work here either. Look at this graph. It shows that smaller budget deficits (austerity) have “sucked purchasing power out of an economy that remains severely demand-constrained. . . It’s austerity that is reliably damaging to recovery efforts, not uncertainty. And each year’s fiscal drama has tended to produce another dose of austerity. The very large reduction in the budget deficit between 2009 and 2012 combined with the extraordinarily slow pace of recovery over this same time period is not a coincidence. This should be a lesson to evidence-based policymakers: You should be much more worried about accepting more austerity as the price of ending the fiscal drama than any damage caused by the drama itself.”


Military:  A report by the Stimson Center, a think-tank, has found that the Defense Department could bear a greater burden of the cost-cutting and make significantly deeper cuts than initially proposed. It is proposing reductions of nearly $50 billion, the largest of amount would be about $22.4 billion next fiscal year from cutting overhead costs, like civilian employees and contractors.


Education:  Average scores for college entrance exams didn’t go up this year, “raising anew concerns that today’s high school graduates will be unprepared to compete in a global marketplace.” (USA Today) Yet education spending has been declining in most states. In Alabama and Oklahoma, per-pupil spending has been cut by more than 20%. 5 more states “have cut per-pupil spending by more than 15%” since 2008 - Wisconsin, South Carolina, Idaho, Kansas, and Arizona. (USA Today)


Women:  How are they doing? Well, it depends on which state you’re looking at. Women are almost half of the workforce and a record number ran for public office in 2012. However, “an increasing number” are “either sole breadwinner” or “share the role with their partners.” They are still paid only 77¢ for every dollar a man makes and the pay gap is even worse for women of color. And even though more are running for public office, “women still comprise only 18.1% of Congress, despite making up more than half of the U.S. population. “They also face challenges on health issues, as 2012 saw continued conservative efforts to erode women’s ability to make their own decisions about their health and well-being.” (Center for American Progress)


Rolling Out Obamacare:  As the graph here shows, the reason Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is because our health care costs were running far too high as a portion of our GDP. No other country was facing these kinds of costs. Of course, many of these other countries have some form of national healthcare program. So, now you know why. As ACA goes into effect this week and the Exchanges open up for enrollment, let’s do this once again. Randi Rhodes has a great synopsis of the program. You should be able to get all your questions answered here, or find a link or phone number for where to go to get them answered.


New Average Premiums:  According to recent data, it appears that Americans will pay an average premium of $328 monthly for mid-tier (the silver plan) health insurance. And most of those people will qualify for a government subsidy, bringing the cost even lower. That amount will be lower in states that have more competition and higher in states with less. The data is coming from the  36 states where the federal government will run the exchange. There are about 14 states and the District of Columbia that are running their own exchanges. (Reuters)


Climate Change:  A new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) details its 7 years of research on climate change. It found that there is no doubt that climate change is occurring “and the dominant cause has been human actions in pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.” It also states that “even if the world begins to moderate greenhouse gas emissions, warming is likely to cross the critical threshold of 2C by the end of this century.” (Guardian)


Air Pollution Deaths:  Particles in the air called aerosols - what we refer to in general as air pollution - cause millions of premature deaths every year. Most are emitted from car exhaust and smokestack effluent, “and other industrial, domestic, and natural sources.” A new map from NASA pinpoints the premature deaths across the world. It looks like in the U.S. the unhealthiest places to live are in the Midwest. (Raw Story) According to a new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reducing fossil-fuel emissions “to safer levels” would save millions of lives annually by the end of the century. (AFP)


Elephants:  Did you know that more than 25,000 elephants were killed last year by poachers? And recently more than 80 elephants, and an unknown number of other animals, were killed in a wildlife park in Zimbabwe by poachers using cyanide poisoning. Do you know why? Its for the tusks - the ivory. Importation of ivory and ivory-made products has been banned for years in the U.S. The demand is coming from Asia. (AFP) But it’s not just poachers doing the killing. The NBC Sports Network came under fire after it aired an NRA-sponsored program that included gun lobbyist Tony Makris shooting an elephant in the face and then drinking champagne. Watch the video at Deadspin.


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