Originally Published: 3/21/2015
What Voters Want: GBA Strategies did a poll of likely 2016 voters. The results are remarkable. 79% want the government to negotiate drug prices. Currently there’s a law prohibiting that for Medicare prescriptions. 78% want students to get the same low interest rates that big banks get. 77% want a universal pre-kindergarten program. 75% want a fair trade policy that protects workers, the environment, and jobs. 74% want to end the tax loopholes for corporations that allow them to ship job overseas. 73% want gerrymandering to stop. 72% want homeowners to be allowed to pay down their mortgages with their 401(k)s. 71% want people to be able to buy into Medicare. 71% want corporate spending on politics and lobbying to be disclosed. 71% want the National Security Agency (NSA) to get warrants. 71% want an infrastructure jobs program to the tune of $400 billion a year. I won’t go any further. You get the idea and you can read them all yourselves. The research was conducted January 9th through the 15th. Respondents identified themselves as follows: 38.9% Democrats, 33.8% Republicans, and 25.5% Independents. 25% of the interviews were conducted via mobile phones. The poll was conducted on behalf of the Progressive Change Institute.
If most people want these things, why don’t we have them? Because the money behind the politicians, the oligarchs, don’t want us to have them. And they are running things. Democracy in our country is on life support.
Canada: There’s a bill going through the Canadian Parliament referred to as C-51. “If passed, C-51 would give up to 17 government agencies access to Canadian citizens’ private information, including their financial status, medical history, and religious and political beliefs. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service would also be given the power to spy on Canadians and foreign nationals living in the country, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be granted increased power of preventive arrest.” Preventive arrest? Couldn’t that apply to just about anyone? As you can imagine, protests are going on throughout the country. (Common Dreams)
China: Since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012, his government has jailed powerful executives of China’s coal and oil industry. It has put in place new rules aimed at combating pollution. And, he’s been successful. In 2014 China’s coal use and carbon emissions declined for the first time in more than a decade. (Huffington Post) Won’t find our leaders doing that.
Israel: Netanyahu’s Likud party won a 4th term this week. According to Haaretz, “the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin.”
Oregon: It has become the first state to adopt automatic voter registration. “It puts the burden of registration on the state instead of voters. Under the legislation, every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Driver and Motor Vehicle Services Division since 2013 but hasn’t registered to vote will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.” (AP)
Wisconsin: U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled a state law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals to be unconstitutional. He had temporarily blocked the law in August 2013 (TWW, Wisconsin, 8/10/13) but this decision was a permanent injunction. (Reuters)
Debt Ceiling: It’s that time again. The debt ceiling was hit this week and, once again, Congress has failed to raise it. If you remember, when we went through this last time credit agencies ended up downgrading our credit worthiness. (TWW, Debt Ceiling, 2/15/14) Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is now doing his magic act, moving money around - what he calls “extraordinary measures” - to keep the government going. One of those “measures” is “‘disinvesting’ the largest fund in the Thrift Savings Plan, the 401(k)-style retirement savings program for federal employees and military personnel, the government securities G fund. The fund consists of special-issue Treasury securities that are reinvested each business day and that counts against the debt limit. By not making the reinvestments, the Treasury in effect takes that obligation off the books, freeing up an equivalent amount of money for other uses.” (Washington Post)
House Budget: House Republicans have released their budget proposal. It’s just about the same as the ones Rep. Paul Ryan (R, WI) proposed in 2013 (TWW, Ryan Budget, 3/16/13) and 2011 (TWW, Ryan’s Plan, 4/16/11). This one came from House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R, GA) and the committee has approved it. It hasn’t gone to the floor yet. It has a $5.468 trillion dollar spending cut and interest savings over the next 10 years. It proposes a $613 billion military budget, including war funding, which is larger than that proposed by the president. There are no tax increases. “It assumes Congress will reform the tax code to reduce marginal rates and end many tax breaks, but leaves the details for later.” [Emphasis added.] Here are some other details. It repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and claims a savings of $2.04 trillion over 10 years. However, it doesn’t taken into consideration the increased health care costs which will result from the elimination of ACA. It’s magic, I guess. It cuts $913 billion in Medicaid spending “by shifting it to a grant program to allow states to tailor” it. It proposes the same thing for most social safety net programs, including food stamps (SNAP). Pell grants - student aid - is cut. And it includes Ryan’s proposal to “revamp” Medicare by giving subsidies to seniors for them to buy insurance. (Reuters) The proposed budget also calls for $100 million to be cut over 10 years from “mandatory” spending programs, “which includes the federal-worker retirement and health plans.” However, that was an error. The amount is really $1 billion - 10 times larger. (Washington Post) Interestingly, the numbers don’t add up, primarily because they’re not there. The “blueprint is entirely silent on 2 key questions related to taxes, and at a press conference Tuesday, Price admitted that there are no actual estimates related to either.” Yeah. I’m not kidding. When asked how the proposal deals with lost revenue, Price just said that the “lower burden on taxpayers would spur more growth and therefore bring in more revenue.” Actually, the exact quote is: “We believe in the American people and we believe in growth.” That’s the plan. (Huffington Post) National Priorities Project (NPP) aptly points out that Republicans are ignoring public opinion (see above) and national needs.
New Poll: A new poll by WIN/Gallup International has some interesting findings. The one that struck me: “The U.S. is considered to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, followed by Pakistan and China.”
Fracking: The Department of the Interior issued new rules regarding fracking on federal lands. Fracking companies will have to disclose the mix of chemicals they are using and allow federal workers to inspect the safety of the concrete barriers around the fracking wells. And water from fracking must be disposed in a responsible manner. (Guardian) Since there is little fracking going on in federal lands, this may not impose much hardship on the gas companies. However, when states start adopting the federal standards, we’re going to see fireworks.
Antarctica: “A hundred years from now, humans may remember 2014 as the year that we first learned that we may have irreversibly destabilized the great ice sheet of West Antarctica, and thus set in motion more than 10 feet of sea level rise.” Scary, isn’t it? But that’s not the worst of it. 2015 “could be the year of the double whammy.” According to research by an international team of scientists representing the U.S., Britain, France, and Australia, the Totten Glacier of East Antarctica, the world’s largest ice sheet, is losing ice faster than they thought due to the warm ocean water underneath it. According to the Washington Post, people in the Northern Hemisphere will get the worst of it. “When the bottom of the world loses vast amounts of ice, those of us living closer to its top get more sea level rise than the rest of the planet, thanks to the law of gravity.”
Arctic Sea Ice: It’s at its smallest in winter since satellite records began in 1979, “in a new sign of long-term climate change.” (Reuters)
FEMA: The Federal Emergency Management Agency just made a change. Starting next year, states that want to get money from the federal government for disaster preparedness will have to include plans to address climate change. (Inside Climate News) What will this do for governors who’ve banned the words “climate change” and “global warming?” (TWW, No Climate Change, 3/14/15)
Fukushima: Food from Japan has been showing up with radioactive isotopes. In March 2012 at least 15 tuna caught off the coast of California were found to have the isotopes. (Reuters) (TWW, Fukushima, 6/2/12) And now the isotopes have been detected in green tea shipped from Japan to Hong Kong. (NY Times)
Solar Cell: Researchers at Michigan State University have created a transparent solar concentrator “which could turn any window or sheet of glass (like your smartphone’s screen) into a photovoltaic solar cell.” Researchers are confident that the technology can be made to any size “from large industrial and commercial applications down to consumer devices, while remaining ‘affordable.’” (ExtremeTech)