Category Archives: The Budget Deficit

The Frosh and Grover Norquist – by Jack Johnson

Stop the presses. Grover Norquist, that ruddy no-tax zealot of the far right has just had his neatly trimmed beard plucked. Freshman Republican Scott Rigell of Virginia, has openly rejected his insanely rigid no-tax pledge. Why?

Um, because it’s insane.

Rigell carefully explained on his website that such a pledge would be counterproductive when working in a real world environment. Unlike Grover’s world, revenue is sometimes necessary for the functioning of, well, everything, including the government. Rigell points out that such no-tax pledges will prevent Congress from eliminating corporate loopholes or government subsidies because those changes would have to be revenue-neutral. The math, he said, just doesn’t make sense.

A refreshing confession from the ranks of the no tax inquisition: the math just doesn’t make sense. Indeed, ask any moderately conscious ten-year old and you might have gotten the same response. Of course, said ten-year old may also believe in biological evolution and the fact that man-made climate change is as real as you’re neighbor’s Ford Explorer — intellectual advances notably missing from today’s GOP, but we’ll take what we can get.

Norquist, in his role as Grand Inquisitor of the GOP’s no-tax inquisition made wet, forgiving sounds, but there was an edge to it:

Of Rigell’s apostasy, he said, “I think he’ll make it clear he’s not going to raise taxes and he’ll get himself reelected and whatever momentary impure thoughts he had on taxes will pass.”

Good to know those ‘impure’ thoughts –raising revenue for government services –won’t be a hindrance to his political career, although, Norquist added, while twisting the ends of his thin mustache, that he had “been in touch with the Republican Party in [Rigell’s] district, and they aren’t excited about it.” Then, with a hint of menace, “This is not going to be a continuing problem.”

But Rigell is not alone, and despite Grover’s electoral extortion, a few other Freshmen Republican are turning to elementary math and learning to add and subtract.

According to Politico: Freshman Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) never signed the pledge to begin with, making up half of the six House Republicans who refused to sign on.

Woodall argued the pledge was too restrictive because it promises that lawmakers must “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

No word from Inquisitor Grover on whether the Republican Freshmen will be tortured, excommunicated or simply burned at the stake for their tax heresy, but GOP Speaker of the House, Boehner is said to be tearfully praying for their lost souls.

More here from Politico:
GOP rookies buck Grover Norquist

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And more! Has Rigell quit drinking the Kool-Aid?
Virginia Republican Wants To Tie Congress’s Pay To Its Effectiveness

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Iran – Stardate: 3192.1

Eminiar VII

In 1967, I saw the Star Trek episode, Taste of Armageddon. Kirk and Spock beamed onto Eminiar VII, were informed that the Enterprise had been annihilated in a computer simulation, and that the crew were obliged to be executed.

Trying to avoid the destruction of their planets, the inhabitants had decided to have a computer war instead of a real one. When a “hit” by the computer was scored, those living within the strike’s radius went willingly into “antimatter chambers” to be vaporized, making the casualties legitimate. That gives new meaning to save the planet, right? You gotta love Star Trek.

It was a good thought experiment, though. Even today, efforts to desensitize the reality of war leave me cold. I want to see the ugly. Anything else seems condescending or manipulative, neither of which serves the people on this planet. Reality has all its glory and shame in full view.

A seemingly innocent example is Steve Mumford’s work in Iraq as an embedded artist. But Robert Shetterly called him out saying, objectivity is “to present many sides of an issue, and let the viewer try to make sense of the complexity and live with the uncertainty.”

Uncertainty gives rise to choices.

There’s a lot of extra news lately about Iran’s nuclear energy program, so it’s time to ratchet up the fear level and make sure our military has enough money to protect us from the people who live in Iran.

If the supper committee doesn’t do its job of further slashing and dashing the hopes of Americans, the agreement laid out by a “previous congress” was for deep and automatic cuts that included the military. But of course, military spending cuts are frowned upon by some lawmakers just like tax sharing for the wealthy. Therefore, at [a recent meeting of the deficit reduction panel, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, sought assurances that nothing would prevent Congress from changing the mechanism for automatic cuts in military spending. Douglas W. Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, replied, “Any Congress can reverse the actions of a previous Congress.”] And there we have it. The built-in “out” has been revealed.

As for Iran, word has it today out of Tel Aviv, Washington and London that the IAEA will deliver breaking news soon – an already well leaked report that is reminiscent of the pre-Iraq war claims with an ISIS satellite photo of a bus sized metal bomb testing room (think mobile biological weapons labs). France and Russia have both warned Israel against a military strike, warning of irreparable damage to the region – the understatement of a decade.

Looking for an Intelligence Estimate, I found a report from three weeks ago by CSIS, a foreign policy think tank with heavy influence in Washington. It goes through September, but does not end two or three weeks ago. It takes its blazing strategy and analysis into the future. With diagrams, charts and possible scenarios, it describes what might happen if ….

It’s another thought experiment. I looked through the pages and saw what THEY think could happen. It’s ugly. And I think if we stay on this course, if we don’t force our governments to settle their differences without sizing up the people for annihilation, our planet stands to be assessed one country at a time, one city at a time, just like Tehran:

This is a PDF and it’s not for sissies:
Iran’s Strategic Competition with the US and Arab States – Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Capabilities

Update: Here’s the IAEA Iran Nuclear Report. I see too much hype and stale information, and not enough critical thinking or factual explanation for assumptions. I remain concerned about our political persuasion and our recent tendency to rush to judgement in matters of war against the people of other nations. What I consider reasonable breakdown of it can be found here and here.

Find a better way. Save the planet. Peace.
DCKennedy

Big Bad Wolves! Occupy Wall Street!

We’re being dressed for a roasting by the Super Committee while Big Bad Wall Street is blowing the alarm horn on itself. We need to build a brick house … and help is on the way! Support Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Together/October 2011!

JP Morgan buys NYPD for $4.6 million

Report: Super Committee Members Pocketed $41 Million from Finance Lobby During Congressional Careers


Rachel Maddow Attention to Wall Street malfeasance overdue:

  • On Wednesday, October 5, 2011, MoveOn members will join labor and community groups in New York City for a huge march down to the protest site—the biggest yet.
  • October 2011 also begins on Thursday the 6th. “Thousands of concerned Americans will assemble in Freedom Plaza, in Washington DC to take control of our country and our lives.”
  • OCCUPY TOGETHER and spread the word!

George Carlin talked about our national predicament in “Life Is Worth Losing” (2005):

DCKennedy

New Video: Wasting Billions of Taxpayer Dollars on Government Contractors

“So how about those overpaid government workers? We should probably just can the whole unionized lot of them and contract out their jobs to the lean-n-mean private sector. That’d save the taxpayers some serious dough, wouldn’t it? Maybe not. There’s a reason that private contractors are called Beltway Bandits, after all.”

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones.

via New Video: Wasting Billions of Taxpayer Dollars on Government Contractors.

The Deficit Is a Cruel Mistress

On September 19, President Obama will release guidelines for paying for his jobs plan so that all costs are offset. 

From the American Prospect’s Balance Sheet.

Today, President Obama will send his new jobs plan to Congress — a key step in remedying relations between the president and the left-wing of his base. But we’re still waiting for one more proposal from the president, and this one could alienate liberal Democrats all over again. A week from today, Obama has promised a plan on how to pay for his $447 billion jobs proposal.  

If addressing jobs and unemployment are Obama’s best way to shore up his base, then addressing the deficit is Obama’s way to reach out to independents and curb criticism from the right. One way to bring in more revenue from the wealthiest Americans is to raise the capital gains tax rate. In fact, some members of the Super Committee tasked with coming up with a deficit-reduction plan want capital gains to be on the table. But as the Washington Post points out this morning, both parties have been active in lowering capital gains rates over the last two years and making sure they stay low. A second source of revenue progressives would welcome is taxes on the over $1 trillion in revenue American corporations are currently holding overseas, hoping to bring back to the U.S. at a highly discounted tax rate. But as The Wall Street Journalreports today, the Obama administration is leaning towards giving corporations a big tax break on their overseas profits. 

Both capital gains and repatriation taxes were a big part of Mitt Romney’s jobs plan and will undoubtedly be pushed on the 2012 campaign trail. Obama may try to beat them to it. That could be good politics but is certainly bad policy.

 

Pressure Builds on Deficit Panel to ‘Go Big,’ Beyond Its Mandate, in Cuts   The New York Times

 

Capital gains tax rates benefitting wealthy feed gap between rich and poorWashington Post

 

Treasury Weighs New Tax SchemeThe Wall Street Journal

 

Clawbacks Without ClawsThe New York Times


Military soldiers – A Praetorian Guard?

Mercenary, by djwudi

Now that military spending is supposedly going to be cut sufficiently enough to make a difference in our economy, this article, U.S. Relies on Contractors in Somalia Conflict – one that tries to make the case for taxpayer funding of private military contractors, is not surprising or early or late. It’s right on schedule as if surreptitiously written by those profiteers who encourage the war ‘games’ being played around the world at the expense of our politically expressed social morals and our economic security.

The article is a loosely woven account with tokens of the good and the bad information about mercenaries – and with an horrific desensitizing quote thrown into the mix – [“Urban fighting is a war of attrition, you nibble, nibble, nibble,” said Mr. Rouget, the Bancroft contractor … Still, he seems to thoroughly enjoy his work. “Give me some technicals” — a term for heavily armed pickup trucks — “and some savages and I’m happy,” he joked.]  And there’s another spooky quote … “No one, not even the president, knows what the N.S.A. is doing,” he said. “The Americans are creating a monster.”

The reality of huge pro-war lobbies and their agendas – far apart from the interests of the American people, represent a cash-cow industry including companies like Bechtel, KBR (Halliburton), Blackwater/Xe, Boughton Protection Services (BPS), Dyncorp and many more.

Though contracted war services are not new, our increased use and dependence on them is staggering. In 2006, the DOD reported a tenfold increase in Private Military Companies in ten years – and this is an industry “reporting” its worth well in excess of $100 billion a year. Recently, DynCorp was criticized for not properly accounting for $1.2 billion in contracts authorized by the State Department for training Iraqi police, and though the class action case against them was dismissed, Blackwater has also fudged on their taxes by listing employees as subcontractors.

Military soldiers who are not members of a nation’s own forces are fighting because they are paid and paid well to fight and kill on the orders of a private corporation. Where and when we use them, I think they embody the ugly American persona to a tee. They are mercenaries regardless of blurred lines drawn by the media, and by the actions of our own, often financially conflicted representatives and lawmakers. They are considered unlawful combatants in the Geneva Conventions and in the US Military Commissions Act.

Most notable for atrocious criminal behavior – like offensive action against unarmed civilians, is Blackwater/Xe, who has been indited for murdering civilians as well as more than 300 violations of our own weapons export control laws. But when it comes to targeting “evildoers”, Blackwater always gets a pass. Our government – its facets not always seeing eye to eye, intercedes in all cases where Blackwater is indited allowing for a monetary settlement at best.

Some good background on that is here, but for examples, in 2007, when federal prosecutors were investigating allegations that Blackwater employees were smuggling weapons into Iraq, weapons later transferred to the Kurdistan Workers Party – a terrorist organization, the FBI took over the investigation and charges have yet to be filed. In 2008, when the Justice Department charged five Blackwater employees, Judge Urbina threw the criminal case right out of court. In a U.S. District Court in Virginia in 2009, a suit was brought against Blackwater for murder, kidnapping, weapons smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, child prostitution, illegal drug use and destruction of evidence among the many charges. (Allegedly, young Iraqi girls had been brought to the Green Zone to provide oral sex to contractors for $1.) The terms of the settlement were not made public … but Xe reported that it was “pleased” with the resolution.

Blackwater’s New Sugar Daddy: The Obama Administration

“… And a panel that we had said that they can do the job, that they have shaped up their act. So there really was not much choice but to accept that contract.” That was CIA Director Leon Panetta giving contrived and feeble excuses quoted in this excellent article that appeared in The Nation about a year ago when the Obama administration awarded Blackwater/Xe a quarter of a billion dollar contract to work for the U.S. State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan. And here’s Rep. Jan Schakowsky, chair of the House Intelligence subcommittee on investigations and oversight:

It’s just outrageous. What does Blackwater have to do to be determined an illegitimate player? While some of Blackwater’s personnel do good work, its employees have proven to be untrustworthy with weapons in combat zones. Whether they are at the center of a mission or are doing static security, we should not be using Blackwater employees. The CIA should not be doing business with this company no matter how many name changes it undergoes.” And Schakowsky on This Week: “We’re talking about murder, a company with a horrible reputation, that really jeopardizes our mission in so many different ways.

If you missed Jeremy Scahill’s opinion back then, you might enjoy it now before any more articles come out on the benefits of Private Military Companies. The light he shines on Blackwater is applicable to other military contractors and our dependency on them that just continues to grow …. But in case you don’t get to read it, here’s Scahill’s astute last line that I won’t forget:

“… Blackwater has been involved with so many sensitive operations for a decade and knows where the bodies are buried and who buried them. Those are not the kind of people you simply cut loose without fear of consequences.”

I believe it was the Roman Praetorian Guard who were initially helpful protecting generals and Emperors and such. Unfortunately, over time they exploited their position and ended up under a bridge somewhere. They’re not generally remembered for the good among them, or the good they did early on. I guess my point is that we should be looking for ways to control our use of Private Military Companies … or we could start looking around for a big bridge.

DCKennedy

One Washington Devouring the Other

“So here’s a question at a moment when financial mania has Washington by the throat: How would you define the state of mind of our war-makers, who are carrying on as if trillion-dollar wars were an American birthright, as if the only sensible role for the United States was to eternally police the planet, and as if garrisoning U.S. troops, corporate mercenaries, and special operations forces in scores and scores of countries was the essence of life as it should be lived on this planet?” ~ Lowering America’s War Ceiling?

Tom Engelhardt makes a good case for two faces of Washington vying for the control of our decline – each with the same master and ultimately working in tandem. Comparing the dilemma first to a stage production – and then a mental illness, he suggests the game “What’s Wrong With This Picture” as if we are overlooking something very elementary.

Separating Americans into those willing to watch “the show” through the last act, and those who see the “insanity” of war profiteering and want to do something about it, is an inevitable part of the solution when “one Washington is devouring the other”.

The power behind our military and political dysfunction is draining the life out America. At this point everybody should be ready for less game playing and better leadership.

Greeted as if World War II had been won, the killing of Osama bin Laden should have been a reminder of the success of the Global War on Terror for a man with few “troops” and relatively modest amounts of money who somehow managed to land Washington in a financial and military quagmire.

DCKennedy

Friday Grab Bag

“…the military is pursuing a new strategy….” Pentagon discloses largest-ever cyber theft:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/07/14/national/main20079424.shtml?tag=re1.channel
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“Does the administration agree? Or does it have a different plan?”
How to Shave a Bundle Off the Deficit: Spend Less on Nukes
http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/07/how-to-shave-a-bundle-off-the-deficit-spend-less-on-nukes/241844/

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Kevin Drum at MotherJones thinks having the debt ceiling is “goofy”.
“Why wasn’t it repealed long ago by a majority party tired of the opposition using it to score political points?”
Remind me again why we have a debt ceiling:
http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2011/07/remind-me-again-why-we-have-debt-ceiling

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Here’s a February DailyKos on means testing that still works today. Our less than creative options have been downsized and consolidated – which always reminds me of my bedtime way back when. “Which book for tonight … this one or that one?”

The case against means testing Social Security:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/02/20/947639/-The-case-against-means-testing-Social-Security
Means testing is expensive and it’s not the agreement we had when we paid for the policy. Integrity counts. I personally would like to try a voluntary “patriotic” opt-out for those in the upper echelon thoughtful enough to refuse social security because -they -don’t -need -it. Wouldn’t a list of their names be telling? That’ll never happen ….
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Ralph Waldo Emerson ~

We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.

Think about it. Once they start, our kids are in public school about 16,380 hours (P – 12). That only leaves 5.72 years out of 13 for them to experience life awake and not in school before they graduate. Ouch.
540 hrs – preK public school 1 yr
16,380 hrs -180 days in public school per year @7hr k-12
33,215 hrs – sleep @7hrs x 13 yrs
=50135 hrs or 2,089 days or … 5.72 years

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Here’s my favorite video about teaching. Toshiro Kanamori is teaching a class. REALLY teaching a class.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=armP8TfS9Is&feature=related

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And finally this one. Have a nice weekend.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0lZ4d161h0&feature=share

speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class
by Bernie Sanders
art: “Morning In America”, June 18, 2011
artist:  Ligorano/Reese
video: …A THOUSAND CUTS

music: composer/violinist Michael Galasso

DPKennedy

About That Budget.

Dear President Obama,

About That Budget:

So Eric Cantor and Jon Kyle have run away from the negotiating table at the mere whiff of actually increasing revenue so as to reduce the massive national debt.  The same debt that was dropping precipitously  at the turn of the century, and that then skyrocketed do to the Bush tax cuts for the rich, the decade long, ruinously profligate, unfunded wars of convenience in Afghanistan and Iraq and the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, caused in part by a newly unregulated banking industry that Bush then agreed to bail out… in full.  All voted for by these same, suddenly reconstructed deficit hawks, and which was turned over to you, his successor, when you entered office… who then staffed your cabinet with former Bushies and Clintonistas, all with ties to the selfsame banking institutions that caused the crash in the first place… how did that work out?   Which bring us to today’s enormous deficit and the dubious debt ceiling crisis and the kabuki theatre of Congressional negotiations and Cantor and Kyle fluttering their hands and picking up their skirts in outrage.

You see according to the radicals in Congress and all over the TV, under no circumstances can we ever raise taxes, ever.  Tax cuts for the rich, war without end… no problem, but actually raise funds to do it, no way!  Doesn’t matter if Reagan did it, doesn’t matter if Clinton did it, and to good affect, doesn’t matter can’t raise taxes.  Allowing what we were told were temporary tax cuts, easily afforded because of the gigantic surplus handed over to Bush by the Clinton administration and set to expire on schedule last year, well that’s a tax increase, can’t do it.  Doing away with tax loopholes used by the wealthy and big corporations to effectively pay no taxes at all… wait for it…  raising taxes, and therefore impossible for Cantor and the GOP to abide.  They won’t compromise, but for better or worse sir, they know you will, and that’s a problem.

What do they mean in the way of you compromising so as to reduce the debt (but no taxes, no, none, never)? Well let’s start with gutting Social Security and Medicare, the most popular government programs in the country’s history.  Then there’s selling off the national parks system, privatizing large parts of the military and the prison system, de-funding the FDA, SEC, EPA, NIH and NASA… and NPR and anything else for that matter that smacks of pointy headed intellectualism.

And they have allies.  One fears Mr. President that the national media that cares only for the potential political bloodshed from this game of chicken being played at the Capital, has already bought into the narrative that something drastic (which can only mean cutting social programs and entitlements, never the security state or corporate welfare), just has to be done right NOW, and if you sir don’t cave, I mean move to the center, we’ll all be lost.  So now we’re hearing that the Democrats just want everyone to get along and of course the best thing to do is listen to the fiscal advise of the same party that put this country’s economy in the ditch in the first place.  Don’t listen to them!

Mr. President there is another solution, another way.  Instead of listening to the garbage passing for policy known as inside the beltway common wisdom, listen to the people.  We want job security, a fair wage that keeps pace with the cost of living, we want affordable, universal healthcare, we want a rational defense policy, and a science based, forward thinking clean energy policy, we want a lot of things that never get mentioned on the cable talk shows or in the halls of the powerful except with derision.  We want these things and we’ll campaign and we’ll work and we’ll vote for a candidate who stands up for them.  There are a lot of us Mr. President, a lot of us who helped you easily get elected in 2008, and while we’ve been kind of disappointed with the last couple years, you can still win us back.

One great way to start that rapprochement would be if you adopted as a cornerstone of your policy going forward, the People’s Budget put forth by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Budgets are more than collections of numbers; they are a statement of our values. The Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget is a reflection of the values and priorities of working families in this country. The “People’s Budget” charts a path that keeps America exceptional in the 21st century, while addressing the most pressing problems facing the nation today. Our Budget eliminates the deficit and stabilizes the debt, puts Americans back to work, and restores our economic competitiveness.

I know the conventional wisdom says that whatever the progressives want is impossibly out of the “mainstream” and could never fly.  This is tired and counter productive thinking, and God knows it’s never applied to the harebrained schemes of the far right.  Who would have dreamt even a decade ago that people in high office could advance plans to do away with Social Security and Medicare and that these people wouldn’t be laughed out of politics.  It’s a testament to the success of the corporations and the ideologues in making such outrageous, radical demands seem feasible for consideration.   Our ideas by contrast are reasonable, they make sense and they work, they’ve worked for decades in fact, and they’re a lot more popular than putting senior citizens and the disabled at the mercy of Wall Street and the Insurance companies, all for the sake of keeping the wealthy from having to part with even a small portion of their loot.  Come on Mr. President, if you stand up for us, we’ll stand up for you in November 2012.  Support the People’s Budget.

And if you’re taking our votes for granted because you figure we won’t let the crazies on the right take over, you’re making a mistake that can only hurt your legacy and the nation as a whole.

 

S. Price