Originally Published: 10/5/2013
NSA: More Snowden documents are exposing what the NSA is doing. In 2010 the NSA “lifted restrictions” on allowing analysis of phone call and email logs “to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes.” As a result, the NSA has been “exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions, and other personal information.” (NY Times) No matter how much comes out, I’m never surprised.
Syria: International chemical arms experts have arrived in Syria. (BBC)
California: The state has legalized industrial hemp. The bill was in “legislative limbo” for 14 years - blocked by Republicans. (San Francisco Bay Guardian) And Governor Jerry Brown signed AB351, called the California Liberty Preservation Act, which makes it a statewide policy to “refuse compliance with federal attempts to enforce ‘indefinite detention’ made famous by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012.” (Tenth Amendment Center)
North Carolina: The Justice Department is going to sue North Carolina over its recently-enacted voter laws. It’s concerned about the “strict photo identification requirement” and the suit will “seek to reimpose a requirement that North Carolina obtain ‘preclearance’ from the federal government before making changes to its election rules.” (NY Times)
Shutdown Continues: Is it about Obamacare? Yes, but only as it represents something that billionaires hate. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by Congress; signed by the president; in an unprecedented move it was looked at by the U.S. Supreme Court and declared to be constitutional; and finally we had an election where Romney ran on repealing ACA and was soundly trounced. This is democracy in action. But a handful of Republicans, funded by billionaires, don’t like the democratic process. They have shut down the government until a bill they don’t like is repealed. It’s been in effect for 3 years and they want it repealed. However, this tactic isn’t just about ACA. It’s about the philosophy of the role of government in American life. If you remember, Ronald Reagan said, “Government is the problem.” And this started the current mantra of “get government out of our lives.” And it’s worked - to a degree. There’s been lots of deregulation - like the financial industry which led to the 2008 Republican Great Recession. It’s led to the free trade agreements, which have decimated working Americans. It’s led to the reduction in wages, unions, etc., etc. You get the idea. But the 2 things they haven’t been able to ruin - as much as they’ve tried - is Social Security and Medicare. Dubya was the last to try to privatize Social Security by turning the money over to Wall Street. He was shot down quickly. More recently House Republicans proposed giving vouchers to seniors to buy health insurance so they could get rid of Medicare. They were shot down. ACA, which will probably morph into a public health program over time, is the latest fight. This is all coming from Tea Party Republicans who are funded almost exclusively by billionaires who believe that they are entitled to have it all. The rest are “takers.” And they know that another, large, popular social program like ACA will undo their mantra of “government is the problem” and put people back in the driver’s seat. That’s what they’re fighting. They want all the money; they want to pollute without recrimination; they want workers that are more like slaves; and they don’t want to pay for anything. This isn’t what America was meant to be; it isn’t what the majority of Americans want; and, frankly, it’s flat-out immoral. Don’t be fooled. This shutdown represents a takeover of democracy.
Continuing Resolution: The House rejected the Senate’s bill and passed an amended version instead, 231-192. They attached a one-year delay in ACA and a repeal of the new tax on medical devices. (See Medical Devices below.) [By the way, have you noticed the Republicans keep referring to ACA as a “bill.” It’s a law.] They also voted 423-0 to pass a bill that pays military personnel if the government shuts down. (Fox) Yeah. To hell with everyone else just as long as the military gets its money. They also added the “conscience clause” as a amendment to the ACA. The clause would allow employers and insurers to opt out of preventive care for women which they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds. This includes birth control, which most insurers are required to provide for free under ACA rules. It would also give any employer or group health plan the ability to opt out. (CNN) The Senate rejected the bill 54-46 along party lines. (Wall Street Journal) Paul Krugman calls the Republicans “rebels without a clue” and says : “This may be the way the world ends - not with a bang but with a temper tantrum.” Investors were worried “that even a temporary government shutdown could endanger an already weak economic recovery.” And stock markets did fall worldwide on Monday as the crap continued. (NY Times) As you know, at midnight on Monday, the government did shut down, but at 1:00 a.m. the House voted to request a conference with the Senate. The Senate had already adjourned. (NY Times) The Senate has been requesting a conference committee for 6 months and the House wants it at the 11th hour? Watch to see what Jon Stewart had to say about it.
Debt Ceiling: It’s all over by October 17th. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew sent a letter last week to House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) stating that by that date we will no longer have the ability to pay the bills. Lew estimates that as of the 17th he will have just $30 billion on hand each day to pay the nation’s bills. “On some days those bills could be as high as $60 billion.” They’ll be forced to decide who gets paid and who doesn’t. The Washington Post has an illustrative scenario. According to the NY Times, “While the lack of a budget forced the government shutdown this week, failure to raise the debt limit would have worse repercussions, threatening America’s credit rating with a globe-shaking default and risking an economic relapse at home.” Obama met with bank executives on Wednesday. Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, said: “There’s precedent for a government shutdown; there is no precedent for a default.” (Guardian) Apparently Boehner has assured Republicans that he will not allow the government to default. (NY Times)
Negotiations: Obama called congressional leaders to a meeting on Wednesday. It didn’t go too well. Neither side would budge. While House Speaker John Boehner (R, OH) claimed that Obama “will not negotiate,” he neglected to add that he won’t either. The Republicans’ bottom line is that Obama must agree to delay the Affordable Care Act, calling it a “non-negotiable demand.” Obama set out his bottom line: pass a clean Continuing Resolution to re-open the government, raise the debt ceiling, and no add-ons - like fooling with ACA, imposing a “conscience clause,” or any of the other things that Republicans want. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D, NV) noted that Democrats have agreed to the spending levels that House Republicans want, which include an extension of the sequestration cuts that most, if not all, Democrats hate. But they agreed just to get the CR. As Reid said: “My friend John Boehner cannot take ‘yes’ for an answer.” (NY Times) It seems, however, that even the GOP doesn’t know what it’s doing. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R, IN) said: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have got to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” [Emphasis added.] (The Atlantic)
Special Appropriations: The House Republicans, apparently trying to ameliorate the backlash from their destructive government shutdown, have started issuing Continuing Resolutions for particular agencies. House Joint Resolutions (HJR) 70 funds the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, and the Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Congressional Budget Office) HJR 71 funds the District of Columbia. (Legislative Digest) HJR 72 provides funding for veterans’ benefits. (CBO) The Republicans couldn’t get the two-thirds votes to pass them. (McClatchy) However, if you remember, a couple of months ago they passed a Defense Appropriation Bill, so the military is already funded. These Resolutions were obviously done just to embarrass the White House since Obama said that he would veto any piecemeal appropriations. (Roll Call) But the special appropriations kept coming. HJR 73 would keep the National Institutes of Health going (CBO) and H.R. 3230 would keep salaries and allowances going for army reservists. (CBO) HJR 75 would fund the Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Nutrition (WIC) Program. (CBO) HJR 76 would fund the National Nuclear Security Administration. (CBO) HJR 77 would fund the Food and Drug Administration. (CBO) HJR 79 would fund Border Security. (CBO) HJR 80 would fund the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Indian Education, and the Indian Health Service. (CBO) HJR 82 would fund the National Weather Service. (CBO) HJR 83 would fund the Department of Education Impact Aid Program. (CBO) HJR 84 would fund Head Start. (CBO) HJR 85 would fund FEMA. (CBO) There are others but CBO is still working on them since they have a severely depleted workforce. And please note that the funding for these agencies and programs is only for a couple of months. This is not a budget. At the Wednesday meeting, Republicans offered to do more bills to open up parts of government. Obama rejected the offer, saying it was all or nothing. (McClatchy)
TPP: Yes, I’m still railing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (TWW, TPP, 9/21/13) It’s a terrible proposal and yet it looks like it will pass. That is, if Congress can get anything passed. Jim Hightower has a very succinct piece on AlterNet about it. I encourage everyone to read it and get active about stopping this thing.
Education: In case you didn’t know, the Texas school book panel may decide your child’s education. Because Texas is one of the biggest textbook buyers in the country, they can force publishers to rewrite the texts that are then distributed not only in Texas but all across the country. While publishers can now customize their textbooks, “and many states are moving to adopt new science standards with evolution firmly at their center,” it’s still of concern given how many students across the country learn from these texts. That being said, take a look at the Texas panel that’s selecting textbooks. It includes “a nutritionist who believes ‘creation science’ based on biblical principles should be taught in the classroom.” Another is a “chemical engineer who is listed as a ‘Darwin Skeptic’,” and another is a “trained biologist who also happens to be a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based center of the intelligent-design movement and a vice president at an evangelical ministry in Plano, Tex.” (NY Times)
Energy: The U.S. is becoming the world’s #1 producer of oil and natural gas. According to estimates by the Energy Information Administration, we’re “pulling ahead” of Russia and Saudi Arabia in production for 2013. (Guardian)
Obamacare Poll: Jimmy Kimmel asked people on the street which they preferred - Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Of course, they’re the same thing. Watch their responses. (Addicting Info)
Obamacare Exchanges: The Insurance Exchanges opened on Tuesday and apparently there was a pent-up demand for health coverage. The federal Exchange reported more than 4.8 million visitors to the site, much more than expected, causing delays and glitches. (The Hill) The federal Exchange is run for more than 30 states, but some states are running their own Exchanges. New York’s reported several million visitors. (NY Times) People need to be reminded that they have 6 months to sign up and, even if they sign up right now, insurance doesn’t start until January. There’s plenty of time.
Obamacare Talking Points: One of the latest talking points from the right wing is that Congress is exempted from Obamacare. Not true. Here’s what the law says: “Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and Congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are - (I) created under this act (or an amendment made by this Act): (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an Amendment made by this Act).” (See Affordable Care Act) Another talking point is that Obamacare is causing more part-time workers. According to the Economic Policy Institute, this is false. This chart says it all.
Medical Devices: This has suddenly become a big battle for Republicans over Obamacare. (See Continuing Resolution above.) So, what is this? In the early negotiations of the ACA, they went to all the health industry areas and asked what they would give up in exchange for getting 30 to 50 million new customers. Insurance companies are paying an industry-wide fee that is expected to generate $60.1 billion. Pharmaceutical companies agreed to a higher assessment of $80 billion. Medical device makers agreed to a 2.3% tax on sales - sales which, by the way, do not apply to consumers. If you’re buying hearing aids, contact lenses, eyeglasses, etc., you won’t pay the sales tax. (Washington Post)
Disney World: It is offering full-time positions to 427 part-time employees “who worked enough hours to qualify for health benefits.” (Bloomberg)
Fukushima: Another water tank is leaking. It has “overflowed, probably sending the liquid into the Pacific Ocean, in the second such breach in less than 2 months.” (Guardian)
Gulf Oil Spill: Compensation for people effected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico goes on. The ultra-conservative, oil-invested U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans directed U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to “take a fresh look” at the compensation administrator’s evaluation methods. They want “stricter standards” and complained that the payout formula “has been too generous, and compensates people and businesses that were not harmed.” In other words, standards which fewer people meet and, thus, less money that BP has to put out. (Reuters)
Fracking: A recent study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health studied the waste water from fracking at a water treatment facility on Blacklick Creek in western Pennsylvania. They found that outflow from the facility that handles fracking waste “left radioactive hot spots and elevated levels of contaminants in sediment near and downstream from a discharge pipe.” Last May the EPA fined the owner, Fluid Recovery Services, $83,000 for violating provisions of its water-treatment discharge permit. (Christian Science Monitor)
Ocean Acidification: Like I told you a couple of weeks ago (TWW, Sea Change, 9/21/13), ocean acidification is destroying the oceans. A recent audit by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) of the health of the oceans has found that “overfishing and pollution are also contributing to the crisis, in a deadly combination of destructive forces that are imperiling marine life, on which billions of people depend for their nutrition and livelihood.” The report stated that the acidification “is unprecedented in the Earth’s known history. We are entering an unknown territory of marine ecosystem change, and exposing organisms to intolerable evolutionary pressure. The next mass extinction may have already begun.” [Emphasis added.] (Guardian)
Unemployment: New claims for unemployment compensation “edged higher” last week “but remained at pre-recession levels, a signal of growing strength in the labor market.” (Reuters) Wait until next month’s numbers come in. In addition to the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed due to the government shutdown, we’re now seeing private industry, reliant on government contracts, laying off. Lockheed Martin is furloughing 3,000 workers. (AFP)
Betting on Default: Wealthy people are already betting that the U.S. will default on its debts. If it does, their bets will pay out around $3.4 billion. (CNN)