Originally Published: 11/2/2013
NSA Protests: Thousands of people rallied in Washington, D.C. last weekend to protest the NSA spying on citizens. You hear about it? No? Thousands of people marching from Union Station to the Capitol and you didn’t hear about it? (Huffington Post) If 35 Tea Partiers with tea bags hanging from their hats had gotten together it’d be all over the news.
Australia: Jodie Gummow, writing at AlterNet, did a great piece on 10 things we don’t know about Australia. The minimum full-time wage is almost $17 per hour. Youth are paid to study and look for jobs. Healthcare is a universal right. They receive up to 30 paid days of vacation every year. The government pays people to have babies and for other incidences where people need assistance. Prostitution is legal. Bike gangs are outlawed. Gun laws are restrictive and effective. It is ranked #1 in happiness. But it’s still one of the most obese countries in the world.
Germany: It now appears that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone may have been tapped for the past 10 years by the NSA. German secret service officials came to the U.S. to get an explanation. (Guardian)
Spain: Last week Germany and France summoned the U.S. ambassadors to explain the U.S. spying on them. (TWW, France, Germany, 10/26/13) This week it’s Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy who summoned U.S. Ambassador James Costos. (Guardian)
Syria: According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria has “destroyed or rendered inoperable all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament program.” (Reuters)
Foreign Phone Tapping: According to “unidentified U.S. officials,” after Snowden’s leak exposed all the wiretapping of foreign leaders, Obama ordered a halt to the monitoring. This occurred last summer. The CNN article says that Obama didn’t know about it until Snowden leaked it. I don't believe it.
Arizona: Infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio now wants drones. He’s going to get the money for them from drug busts. He says he won’t be using them to find and arrest undocumented immigrants. (Raw Story) Yeah. Right.
California: As the first state to legalize medical marijuana, California now has 17 years of experience. “Warnings voiced against partial legalization - of civic disorder, increased lawlessness, and a drastic rise in other drug use - have proved unfounded.” There is evidence, however, that marijuana has become a substitute for alcohol for younger people - in California and other states that have legalized it - “and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.” (NY Times)
New York: A panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision that New York’s stop & frisk policy was unconstitutional was biased. (TWW, Stop & Frisk, 8/17/13) “The 3-judge panel’s ruling had no implications for the merits of the case and instead was a rebuke of [Judge Scheindlin]. The judges faulted Scheindlin for failing to appear impartial in public statements and media interviews in which she answered critics of her ruling.” Stop & frisk will go back into effect until March when the court will have a full hearing on the matter. (Chicago Tribune)
Texas: U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel declared Texas’ new abortion restrictions unconstitutional. The law requiring abortion clinics to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals was to go into effect on Tuesday, so Judge Yeakel ruled on Monday. The law also required doctors to use an outdated protocol to administer the abortion pill. The state was sued by more than a dozen women’s health providers. Judge Yeakel wrote that “the regulations violated the rights of abortion doctors to do what they think is best for their patients and would unreasonably restrict a woman’s access to abortion clinics.” (CBS) But on Thursday a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans - all Bush appointees - reversed the decision, “saying the rule should take effect while the case is argued in the months to come.” (NY Times) What they mean is that this is going to the Supreme Court and they’ll allow the restrictions to take place during the years it’ll take to get the case heard and a decision handed down. See also No More Birth Control? below.
Wisconsin: Governor Scott Walker’s (R) rejection of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) money to expand Medicaid “has pushed health care exchange rates up to 99% higher than in neighboring Minnesota.” (Madison Capital Times) Good job, Scott.
Budget Deficit: The deficit for FY 2013 is the smallest in 5 years. It’s about 4.1% of the gross domestic product. (See The Budget Deficit) More revenue accounts for 79% of the decline in the deficit, probably due to higher employment but also due to the increase in income tax on the highest-earning households. Also FNMA (Fanny Mae) and FMCC (Freddie Mac) paid back a large part of the $187 billion federal bailout. And, of course, due to the sequester, spending was down. (CNN)
A Milestone: We have reached a “milestone in the war on terror.” 1 million veterans have been injured fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. “But you haven’t heard this reported anywhere else. Why? Because the government is no longer sharing this information with the public. . . In March, VA abruptly stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal casualties to the public.” (International Business Times)
Air Force: The Air Force Academy has declared the phrase “so help me God” at the end of the cadet honor code optional. (Raw Story)
The Land of Plenty: Fewer people believe that we live in the Land of Plenty than used to believe that. A new poll by Gallup found that only 52% say the country “has plenty of economic opportunity,” down from 57% in 2011, from 81% in 1998, and 87% in 1952. When asked if our economic system is fair, only 50% said it was, down from 68% in 1998. Interestingly, this broke down to 67% of Republicans, 52% of Independents, and only 38% of Democrats. While the percentages are lower than they were in 1998, the rankings are the same. So, Republicans like the way things are.
SNAP: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, was cut this week. No, this isn’t a budget deal. When SNAP was expanded in 2009 as part of the stimulus plan, $5 billion of the $80 billion was pre-set to expire on November 1, 2013. Currently about 14% of all U.S. households - 47 million people - receive the aid. All family size groups will see a cut. Check out the Washington Post chart. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated that the will effect about 900,000 veterans. Something you’ll hear frequently is that we should make these people work for their aid. There’s a problem with that. First, many of these people aren’t able to work. Second, many of these people are already working more than 40 hours a week but they don’t make enough money.
Academic Shills: Lee Fang, reporting in The Nation, has exposed the academicians who shill for Wall Street without disclosure. He starts the piece exposing George Mason University Law Professor Todd Zywicki, “who is vying to be the toughest critic” of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which was set up by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act. Fang goes on to describe other shills and describes how these people get to testify before congressional committees. Last year House Republicans changed an ethics rule “which removed a requirement that those giving expert testimony reveal their private sector ties.” And, in true Republican fashion, they dubbed the new rule as “Truth in Testimony.” Another factor in the rise of academic shills was a decision by the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit which “scolded regulators for failing ‘adequately to assess the economic effects’ of the Securities and Exchange Commissions’ proxy access rule, which was mandated by Dodd-Frank.” In that case the plaintiff was represented by Eugene Scalia, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Lee Fang’s article goes on to list firms that hire themselves out to find so-called scholars. The shills are paid immense sums for their services - such as Darrell Duffie, “a professor of finance at Stanford University,” who is paid more than $200,000 in cash and stock every year for his board membership at Moody’s rating agency. These people are having terrific success in blocking implementation of Dodd-Frank. One wonders how much of this is going on in other industries.
No More Birth Control?: A panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit handed down a decision holding that the provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires companies to provide health care coverage that includes contraception “trammels” the religious freedom of an Ohio-based food service company, Freshway Foods. Freshway claimed that the mandate violated its Catholic faith. (MSNBC) A company with a faith? Oh, yeah. Corporations are people. I forgot. Wonder if it goes to church. Does it pray? The justices were Janice Rogers Brown (appointed by Dubya), Harry T. Edwards (appointed by Carter), and A. Raymond Randolph (appointed by Bush I). Brown was the one who swayed the decision and wrote it. Remember her? The right-wing appointee who’s nomination damned near shut down the Senate? That is until the Democrats acquiesced. Now you see why federal court appointments are so important. See also Texas above for another right-wing court decision against women.
Obamacare: It appears to be quite successful already, in spite of the computer glitches. “Intense price competition among health plans in the marketplaces for individuals has lowered premiums below projected levels. As a result of these lower premiums, the federal government will save about $190 billion over the next 10 years.” The Center for American Progress also estimates that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will lower the number of uninsured by an additional 700,000 people.
Insurance Cancellation: Many people who buy their own health insurance policies are getting cancellation notices. Kaiser Health News decided to address this. The main reason is that the old policies “fall short of what the Affordable Care Act requires starting Jan. 1. Most are ending policies sold after the law passed in March 2010. At least a few are canceling plans sold to people with pre-existing medical conditions. By all accounts, the new policies will offer consumers better coverage, in some cases, for comparable cost - especially after the inclusion of federal subsidies for those who qualify.” [Emphasis added.] The Washington Post also did a good job of describing all the details.
Climate Change Pact: The governors of Washington, Oregon, California, and the premier of British Columbia have signed an agreement “committing the Canadian province and the 3 states to coordinate global-warming policies.” Each promised to take certain actions, “including streamlining permits for solar and wind projects, better integrating the electric power grid, supporting more research on ocean acidification, and expanding government purchases of electric vehicles.” (McClatchy)
Great Barrier Reef: Australia is launching an investigation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the agency responsible for protecting the Great Barrier Reef. An investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation found that some board members have ties to the coal and gas industries. (AFP)
Fracking: H.R. 2728, Protecting States’ Rights to Promote American Energy Security Act, proposed by Rep. Bill Flores (R, TX), “would prevent the Department of the Interior (DOI) from enforcing regulations related to hydraulic fracturing in any state where those activities are governed by state regulations.” There are currently no federal regulations directly related to hydraulic fracturing although DOI has proposed them on federal and Indian lands. “If those, or similar regulations, were to go into force in the future, H.R. 2728 could limit the implementation of those regulations.” (Congressional Budget Office)
Attack on Workers: The Economic Policy Institute has put together a report on the attacks on wages and labor that occurred in 2011 and 2012. 4 states passed laws restricting the minimum wage. 4 states lifted restrictions on child labor. 16 states imposed new limits on unemployment benefits. 2 states passed laws repealing or restricting rights to sick leave. EPI states that all these measures “drag down wages and erode working conditions, legal protections, and bargaining power. Legislation like this gives employers too much power, and undercuts workers’ ability to make a middle-class living.” Zoë Carpenter has a great piece at The Nation on all the things the states taken over by right-wing Republicans have done. It’s a good piece but it’ll depress you and, hopefully, fire you up.
The Fed: It has decided to extend its stimulus program since the economy is still stalling “in part because the government shutdown delayed and distorted key economic indicators.” It will continue with asset purchases and low interest rates. (NY Times)
JPMorgan Chase: It’s settling with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) for $5.1 billion over its “misleading” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about the “quality of mortgages it sold to them during the housing boom.” (Guardian)