"Wasted Away in Margaritaville"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Balanced Approach Versus Hedge Fund Managers Getting Off Scot-Free

Winning Progressive
July 25th, 2011

The contrast between the competing approaches of President Obama and the House Republicans to the debt ceiling and deficit reduction was perfectly crystallized when both our President and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) gave speeches on these issues on Monday night.  On the Democratic side is the balanced approach that calls for everyone – including hedge fund managers, corporate jet owners, and other wealthy Americans who have made out like bandits over the past thirty years – to help reduce the deficit.  On the GOP side, Speaker Boehner continues to promote his “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan that lets the wealthy get off scot-free by requiring $0 in revenue increases while imposing $5.5 trillion in cuts on programs that benefit the middle class, working class, and poor.
Below are some highlights from President Obama’s speech.  After you read them, please heed President Obama’s call and contact Congress in favor of the balanced approach:
The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.
If you agree, call your Representative and Senators and let them know how you feel.  We’ve heard that the Congressional switchboard is overloaded with calls, so your best bet is to try the district office numbers, which can be found here.
Here are a few highlights from President Obama’s speech.
First, the President reminded us that how our budget surplus was wasted during the W. Bush Administration, a point that is also well illustrated by this chart:
In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card. As a result, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year I took office.
Next, President Obama explains the balanced approach to deficit reduction:
The first approach says, let’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was President. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare – and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.
This balanced approach asks everyone to give a little without requiring anyone to sacrifice too much. It would reduce the deficit by around $4 trillion and put us on a path to pay down our debt. And the cuts wouldn’t happen so abruptly that they’d be a drag on our economy, or prevent us from helping small business and middle-class families get back on their feet right now.
This approach goes farther on spending cuts than we here at Winning Progressive would like, especially given that the key to reducing the short term deficit is getting the economy moving again, not cutting spending.   But with the GOP holding our entire economy hostage, it is clear that some cuts to government spending and deficit reduction will have to occur in order to avoid default, and this balanced approach is by far more reasonable than anything the GOP is proposing.   Note also that, contrary to the unsubstantiated rumors floating around various blogs, the President has reiterated that he wants to make Medicare more sustainable by rationalizing health care spending, not by cutting benefits.
The President then contrasted his balanced approach with the ask-nothing-of-the-wealthy approach taken by the Republicans:
The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all. And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales, such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about – cuts that place a greater burden on working families.
So the debate right now isn’t about whether we need to make tough choices. Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need. The debate is about how it should be done. Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?
That’s not right. It’s not fair. We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country – things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.
Next, the President explains how the debt ceiling only became a problem when the crazies who run today’s Republican Party decided that taking our economy hostage is a reasonable way to try to achieve their ideological agenda:
In the past, raising the debt ceiling was routine. Since the 1950s, Congress has always passed it, and every President has signed it. President Reagan did it 18 times. George W. Bush did it 7 times. And we have to do it by next Tuesday, August 2nd, or else we won’t be able to pay all of our bills.
Finally, President Obama reminded us all what will happen if the Republican hostage takers succeed in preventing an increase in the debt limit:
If that happens, and we default, we would not have enough money to pay all of our bills – bills that include monthly Social Security checks, veterans’ benefits, and the government contracts we’ve signed with thousands of businesses.
For the first time in history, our country’s Triple A credit rating would be downgraded, leaving investors around the world to wonder whether the United States is still a good bet. Interest rates would skyrocket on credit cards, mortgages, and car loans, which amounts to a huge tax hike on the American people. We would risk sparking a deep economic crisis – one caused almost entirely by Washington.
Increasing the debt ceiling is absolutely imperative, but we also must not give in to the pathological intransigence of the GOP on this issue.  Therefore, contact your Congresspeople and let them know that you want a balance approach to raising the debt ceiling, rather than crashing our economy simply so hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners can get off scot-free.
Copyright 2011 Winning Progressive

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sarah Palin's Blockbuster

I think it needs a new title.

Broadway Carl
Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania
Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Undefeated, the much-hyped Palin documentary, bombed during its second week in theaters, bringing in just $24,000 in ticket sales across 14 screens. The movie’s per theater average, touted as a relative bright spot by promoters, plummeted from $6,513 to $1,713, according to estimates by the industry website Box Office Mojo.

Copyright 2011 Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The GOP’s New-Old Plan to Destroy Medicare & Social Security

ThinkProgress War Room
Progress Report/ThinkProgress
July 19, 2011

A Sneak Attack on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Everything Else

We are now frighteningly close to a default on our obligations with just two short weeks to go until Aug. 2. So what is the GOP doing? Offering up more pointless political stunts and wasting precious time by putting forward radical bills that have absolutely no chance of passing the Senate and which the president has already promised to veto.
The House of Representatives today considered and passed the so-called “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan (more accurately described as the “Duck, Dodge, and Dismantle” plan), a plan that is just like the GOP’s disastrous budget plan passed earlier this year — except much, much worse. This new plan — the GOP budget plan on steroids — is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that would require almost immediate, deep spending cuts. And instead of merely doing this by legislation, this plan would impose the GOP’s budget on America by manipulating our Constitution. Under this plan, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security would come in for deep cuts in the years to come.
Another pernicious element of the plan worth noting is that it also includes re-writing the Constitution in such a way as to make it nearly impossible to raise taxes — ever. While Medicare and Social Security can get slashed by a mere majority vote, raising taxes would require a 2/3 vote in both the Senate and the House. (If that kind of arrangement sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the badly broken budget process in California works.)
What It Means
The centerpiece of the plan is as devious as it is wonky — cap on total government spending at 18 percent of Gross Domestic Product, a level of spending so low it has not been seen since 1966. While this overall cap cleverly disguises the scope and scale of the plan’s cuts, here’s a chart from the Center for American Progress’ Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger that illustrates what the GOP’s “dangerous and disingenuous plan” could mean in practice (hint: massive cuts):
Then Versus Now: Why We Can’t Run the Government Like It’s 1966
It would seem fairly obvious that we can’t go back to the level of government spending we had in 1966, given the numerous differences between then and now.  Here’s how today’s America stacks up against 1966 America (click here for full size):
Instead of radical bills and half-baked gimmicks, it’s time for the GOP to support a reasonable plan — including substantial new revenues — that will reduce the deficit and save us from the economic calamity that would result from a default on our obligations.
© 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bad News For Republicans

JM Ashby
Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog! Go!

According to a new CBS poll released today:
71% of respondents disapproved of Republicans’ handling of the debt talks, with only 21% approving.But beyond the lack of general buy-in to their legislative tactics, CBS reports that they even face a challenge in convincing their own base. [...]
Even half of the Republican respondents (51 percent) voiced disapproval of how members of their own party in Congress are handling the talks. Far fewer Democrats expressed disapproval of their own party’s handling (32 percent) or President Obama’s (22 percent) of the urgent quest to raise the nation’s debt limit ahead of a looming default on Aug. 2 if action isn’t taken.
Only 22% of Democrats disapprove of the president’s handling of debt-ceiling negotiations while 51% of Republicans disapprove of the their party’s handling of negotiations. So whose base is abandoning who here?
Just to add insult to injury — a Gallup poll released four days ago shows that74% of Republicans believe any deficit reduction legislation should also include new revenue.
In hindsight, it should be a no-brainer for Republicans to take the president’s “Big Deal” offer, but they won’t because tax cuts for the Super-Rich are sacrosanct.

Copyright 2011 Bob Cesca's Awesome Blog! Go!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Michele's Bridge to Nowhere

Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania!
Friday, July 15, 2011

Republicans like to say Obama is three years into his Presidency, so using their math, Michele Bachmann is one year into the new Congress -- the Create Jobs Congress. And thus far, she has sponsored seven bills in one year. Yep, seven. And none are titled "Job Creating Bill". From the way she talks, you'd think she has worked tirelessly (like the Founding Fathers on slavery) to create jobs. Nope. Seven bills. None of them job creators. Well, unless you think cutting taxes is a job creator and if you do, well, you don't need to be reading this. Or unless you think building a bridge is a job creator. (In fact, it is a job creator which is why I support federal infrastructure funding. More on that later.)

To be fair to her work ethic, she has co-sponsored 92 bills this year. But that's not really leadership, is it? I mean when you sponsor 7 and co-sponsor 92, ya look like a follower. In fact, she has only sponsored 38 bills ever. Heck, Obama sponsored 121 in only two years -- he sponsored at least one bill for every four bills he co-sponsored when he was in the Senate. In two years.

Now, about that one bill of hers, her one of her many, many (seven) bills that is a job creator. Its goal is

To facilitate a proposed project in the Lower St. Croix Wild and Scenic River, and for other purposes.

Sounds a little like earmarking to me. Hey, she did the proper thing by filing a bill and submitting it to committees. Heck, she even attached a Constitutional Authority Statement. But, still, when someone uses 1/7th of her bill-sponsoring time on a local district project, it's an earmark, because an earmark is an earmark is an earmark. Well, except when it's not. And this one is not.

This bill is not an earmark because there is no money attached to it. The bridge is estimated to cost between $334 and $373 million dollars. (Remember that other bridge that was going to cost the feds about that much?) But all THIS bill does it get permission to build it because it violates some environmental concerns. She's just asking for the green light from the federal government to be able to later ask for funding for it. So, because they can't build it, there's no need to ask for money and that means she can stick to her pledge to

not seek any earmarks this year [emphasis mine]

It seems rather easy to not seek earmarks when you're not really seeking much in general. I mean seven sponsored bills is an easy way to avoid asking for earmarks. Especially when the one you REALLY want earmarks for, isn't approved for funding yet.

Or IS it? I guess it depends on what your def... oops, sorry. Anyway, DID she avoid earmark requests for this bridge? Well, yes and no. She didn't ask for earmarks this year or even over the last two years. What she did do is send out letters requesting grant consideration for federal funding in 2009 in the ... wait for it ... stimulus!! Yes, the OBAMA stimulus. You know, the one she despises and said hasn't created jobs. She sent letters on behalf of her bridge to ask for funding from the very stimulus she spoke out against before, during and after the votes.

Is anyone really surprised? I mean the gal has a lot of "choots pa", after all.

Now, I was actually for the Bridge to Nowhere before I was still for it. It made sense to me considering the need. The problem was that it became a political football and people lost sight of the need. And, instead, they built a road to nowhere with the money. A bridge would have been the better use.

And I support more federal funding for bridges, light rail, broadband, alternate energy source conduits. I am a Democrat (although I was recently told I am not one because I don't agree with the Angry Left and I was told this by a woman threatening to vote third party so yep, I AM a Democrat). I love when the federal government employs people to make things people will use. I don't care where those things are as long as people work to make them and they make lives easier where they are.

So when a "Constitutional Conservative" who believes

that many of our problems result from the federal government's insatiable — and unconstitutional — grab for power and money

actually makes a money and power grab for a bridge in the middle of nowhere while condemning the very funding source she begs to be a part of, I think to myself, "How's that conservativey, hypocrisy thing workin for ya'?"

Oh, wrong Conservative hypocrite. It's hard to keep those two straight.

Copyright 2011 Broadway Carl's Blog-O-Mania!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why the U.S. Government Needs to Investigate News Corp

ThinkProgress War Room
Progress Reports/Think Progress
July 13, 2011

Why This Scandal Matters

For more than a week now, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation (the parent company of Fox News, among many other things) has been rocked by an ever-growing and ever more shockingscandal after it was revealed that the Murdoch-owned News of the World hacked into the phones and personal records of murdered children, the sick four month-old child of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, victims of the 7/7 London terror attacks, the families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, celebrities, politicians, members of the royal family, thousands of other Britons, and even perhaps 9/11 victims. In addition, it has been widely reported that the Murdoch-owned papers bribed police in order to aid their other alleged criminal activities.
Yesterday, ThinkProgress launched a petition (you can sign it here) calling for the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission to launch full investigations into News Corp’s potential criminal activities. Here’s why.
WHO: News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, the Times of London, the News of the World (since closed due to the scandal), the Sun, and many, many other media corporations (see chart below).
WHAT: Illegal hacking into the personal records and phones of thousands of people, potentially including Americans.
WHY IT MATTERS: In addition to being appalling in general, News Corp’s alleged actions may have violated a key U.S. law — the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The landmark anti-bribery law, passed in 1977, bans U.S. companies AND their foreign subsidiaries from paying bribes to foreign officials. News Corporation, which is headquartered in the United States, as a corporation as well as its executives as individuals could therefore be liable under the law if bribes are indeed found to have been paid to police in the U.K. (and/or for a variety of other related offenses under the law).
The Obama administration has stepped up enforcement of the law in recent years, levying billions of dollars in fines against several major corporations and even sending corporate executives to jail.
If News Corporation and its employees are also found to have hacked American citizens on American soil, they could also potentially face a variety of other serious charges.
Finally, Les Hinton, who was previously the top executive in charge of News Corp’s scandal-plagued U.K. newspapers, is now head of Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
WHO ELSE IS ON BOARD SO FAR: Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have all echoed ThinkProgress’ call for a full investigation. And Reps. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and Bruce Braley (D-IA) have joined their Senate colleagues in calling for an investigation as well.
Late this afternoon, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, became the first Republican to call for an investigation, calling the hacking allegations “disgraceful.”
Families of 9/11 victims have also called for an investigation.
NOTABLE QUOTABLE: Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, himself a victim of the hacking, called out News Corp today in the House of Commons for “lawbreaking on an industrial scale.”
FOR MORE: For an excellent backgrounder on the scandal (before it exploded last week), check out this piece from Vanity Fair’s Sarah Ellison. The Guardian is also an excellent resource forminute-by-minute developments in the on-going scandal.
© 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What class warfare really looks like

Dee Dee Myers
July 11, 2011

Here we go again. Democrats single out glaring examples of tax preferences or spending priorities that favor the wealthy and Republicans cry “class warfare!”
The latest round came in the wake of President Barack Obama’s calls to eliminate tax breaks for corporate jet owners. Ending special deductions for the depreciation of corporate aircraft would save roughly $3 billion over the next decade. Republicans argue — correctly — that amounts to less than half of 1 percent of the current national debt. So it was striking how quickly, and passionately, conservative pols and commentators rose to defend the subsidy.

“Dangerous!” “Full-fledged demagoguery!” cried Rush Limbaugh. The president’s “aim is for one group of Americans to hate and despise another!
“Unprecedented class warfare!” claimed Glenn Beck. The president again showed “his sheer, unadulterated disgust for the wealthy, the successful and anyone who’s ever tried to do anything with their life here in America.”

Really? Closing a single loophole worth less than one-half of 1 percent of the national debt is all that?

The knee-jerk conservative response confirms two things. First, they know the president landed a punch. Second, they’re utterly unwilling to acknowledge how much the playing field in American life has now tilted in favor of the haves.

We know the president’s proposal was largely symbolic. He doesn’t believe that eliminating a $3 billion tax break is really going to break the back of a $14 trillion problem.
But he does believe that highlighting small, but galling, inequities can stimulate a broader conversation about fairness. In our collective effort to deal with our very real fiscal challenges, how do we share the burden? The president’s argument resonated with ordinary Americans precisely because it’s a stand-in for their growing sense that things are out of whack.

This is the conversation conservatives don’t want to have.

It’s indisputable that the gap between the rich and everyone else in this country has grown dramatically. The top 1 percent of Americans now take home nearly a quarter of all income and control more than 40 percent of the country’s wealth — roughly the same amount as the bottom 90 percent.

It’s also indisputable that that gap has gotten far bigger in the past 25 years. In the past decade alone, the wealthiest percentile has seen its income grow by a robust 17 percent, while the middle class has seen its real income fall.

What could possibly account for such gross distortions? Are the superwealthy really that much smarter and productive than the rest of us? Are the organic veggies and hormone-free meat that affluent parents feed their children paying off?

Or could it be something else?

How about the tax structure? The 400 Americans with the highest adjusted gross income saw their effective tax rates plummet from 30 percent in 1995 to 17 percent in 2007.
That’s not according to some left-wing think tank. It comes from a recent cover story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. General Electric paid no corporate taxes in 2010. ExxonMobil, one of the most profitable companies in the world, still benefits from hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies — and it still couldn’t explain, let alone prevent, a devastating oil spill in the Yellowstone River.

Even tax breaks that are supposed to help the middle class too often skew toward the wealthy. Consider the mortgage interest deduction. While political leaders in both parties have long considered it untouchable, it actually helps those at the top of the income scale far more than those at the bottom.
First, low- and middle-income earners are less likely to itemize deductions, so most aren’t even eligible for the benefit. If the mortgage interest deduction were eliminated, according to the Tax Policy Center, the bottom 40 percent of earners would be virtually unaffected.

Those in the middle brackets would see a small increase in their taxes. While those in the top brackets — the same folks who have seen their incomes and wealth skyrocket in recent decades — would take the biggest hit.

Second, it provides the biggest benefit to people who buy the most expensive homes. The deduction on a million-dollar loan at an elevated jumbo rate is worth a heck of a lot more than one for a $250,000 conforming loan.

Third, because people in lower brackets pay lower rates, if a person making $50,000 a year and person making $150,000 a year bought the same house, the higher earner would get a bigger tax break.

Reducing the amount of eligible debt from $1 million to, say, $250,000 is now under discussion. That would help. But it would still provide a bigger benefit to people with bigger incomes.

So the dirty little secret is that the pool man, who’s making $30,000 a year, is subsidizing the million-dollar mortgage for the family whose pool he cleans. No wonder people want to get rid of tax breaks for corporate jets.

And no wonder the American people overwhelmingly support raising taxes on the rich — as well as cutting spending — to reduce the deficit and improve income equality. They don’t believe it’s class warfare.

For generations, Americans who aren’t rich have been generous and admiring of their wealthy compatriots — they want a country where people who work hard can succeed, where the same rules apply to everyone. They expect to have their own shot at getting rich. But increasingly, they are seeing that the game is rigged.

So as Republican congressional leaders stand their ground in the battle over raising the debt ceiling and lowering the debt — no net revenue increase! — Obama must stand his. He must ensure that any deal he may be able to strike moves us back toward a society where the burdens are shared equally — by all our people.

The U.S. now lags behind every country in Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” in terms of income equality.

“The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote recently in Vanity Fair, “the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend on the common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security — they can buy these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had.”

That, my friends, is what class warfare really looks like.

Dee Dee Myers, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair, served as White House press secretary in the first two years of the Clinton administration.