Friday Mashup (9/20/13)

September 20, 2013

  • Stop the presses! It looks like the Repugs FINALLY have their “alternative” to the Affordable Care Act (here)…

    Conservatives representing nearly three-quarters of the House Republican conference unveiled their proposed replacement for President Obama’s healthcare law Wednesday, delivering on a long-delayed GOP promise.

    The bill from the Republican Study Committee would fully repeal the 2010 law and replace it with an expansion of health savings accounts, medical liability reform and the elimination of restrictions on purchasing insurance across state lines.

    Ummm – well, in response, I give you mcjoan here

    To be fair, they include all the other non-reform reforms they’ve been rehashing for years—tort reform, buying insurance across state lines, high-risk pools—all the things that don’t actually don’t do anything to address the real problem in our health care system: the increasing, systemic cost of health care. But they don’t include any provision for lower-income people to purchase affordable insurance. They don’t include any of the popular Obamacare provisions, like young adults being able to stay on their parents’ plan or an end to lifetime limits on what insurance will pay.

    So what they’ve really got is tax cuts, as usual. But at least this time they’ll be for the middle class, too. So, progress?

    Because, when it comes to tax cuts (noted by Joan), never forget the following (and here is more wingnut mythology on this subject).

  • Next, did you know that Mikey the Beloved favored reinstituting a 21st-century version of Glass-Steagall (the Depression-era legislation insuring federal bank deposits and separating commercial and investment banking) in 2011 (here)?

    Of course, since we’re now in 2013…

    More than two-and-a-half years later, Fitzpatrick, vice chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, won’t commit to putting Glass-Steagall back in place.

    The Depression-era act was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which set up the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to insure bank deposits while Glass-Steagall put up a firewall between commercial and investment banks.

    “I support building a wall to protect taxpayers and protect banking customers, I absolutely support that,” Fitzpatrick said.

    But first he wants the administration to implement The Dodd Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which includes the Volcker Rule, proposed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, to prohibit banks from risking institutional money in certain speculative investments.

    More Mikey flim-flam BS (and of course, I’m sure Mikey’s newfound ambivalence has not one thing to do with the fact that this legislation was first championed by Dem U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts)…

    As noted here and here, Mikey’s fellow Repug U.S. House brethren want to do away with both Dodd-Frank and the Volcker Rule. But of course, President Hopey Changey is supposed to ride to the rescue and save this country from Mikey and his same-party playmates in the House, right?

    And I’m sure Mikey would be cheering President Obama on every step of the way.

    Sure he would (and as a point of reference, this tells us who was right and who was wrong about repealing Glass-Steagall in 1999…it was a bipartisan failure – opposing it may have been Byron Dorgan’s finest moment).

    And in other financial news related to Congress, it looks like “Man Tan” Boehner and his caucus in the House wants to play chicken with our economy again over the debt ceiling here, even though, as noted here, he said on five different occasions that he wouldn’t do that.

    Oh, and did you know that Number 44 was responsible for this country’s decline in median income, among other downward numbers, according to something called CNS News here?

    Meanwhile, in the world of reality, it should be noted that median income in this country (for the rest of the 99 percent “rabble,” most definitely including your humble narrator) has been declining for at least the last 10 years (here – more on this is here).

  • Continuing, we have Repug U.S. Senator John Thune propagandizing as follows here

    South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune is calling for the Senate to end the Obama administration’s controversial green vehicle loan program in the wake of news that the Department of Energy is selling off the $168 million loan it gave to financially troubled Fisker Automotive.

    “The Obama administration has gotten into the business of picking winners and losers at a significant cost to taxpayers,” said Thune in a statement. “From Fisker and Vehicle Production Group, to the Chinese-owned A123, this administration should not be making questionable investments with the American people’s hard-earned money.”

    I wonder how many people know that the Fisker loan, as well as the loan program itself, stems from the ruinous reign of Obama’s predecessor (here)? And as noted here, Obama supposedly knew that Fisker was missing milestones in 2010, though neither of the docs mentioned in the AP story cited by Media Matters (and probably released to the AP by the Repugs) confirmed that.

    This is a bit of a rehash, I’ll admit; I already pointed out here, in a response to a WaPo column by that dim bulb Charles Lane, that it’s wrong to blame the Obama Administration for the Fisker loan (and besides, when you’re talking about federal loans to startups, some will pay off and some will go bust; what matters is the percentage of the former as opposed to the latter).

    And on the subject of “questionable” money decisions, this tells us that Thune, being a good little Repug from the Karl Rove/Grover Norquist template, sought to repeal the “death tax,” even though it mostly affected 0.1 percent of the households in this country. Also, Thune argued for more defense spending here, which, given how much we outspend the rest of the world, is beyond laughable.

  • Finally, this tells us the following…

    College freshmen that haven’t decided on a major may want to consider a degree in sales and marketing, medicine, health-care research and renewable energy to increase their odds of getting hired upon graduation.

    According to newly-released data from global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, jobs in these fields will be in high demand come 2018. What’s more, the firm finds that students who concentrate on math, science, engineering and technology will have the largest array of job options post-graduation.

    Concentrating on math, science and technology positions will help college grads secure work because these skills cover a vast array of positions in our jobs economy, says John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

    “When you get into fields that run across every type of company, it gives you such flexibility in your career,” Challenger says. “So many jobs today require people to have so much communication, through companies’ programs and policies, so that is very important as well.”

    I have no factual information to argue with this claims, but I would say that some context is missing here.

    Let’s start with this item, telling us that employers, five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that ushered in this era of economic calamity, are STILL pushing to increase H-1B visas for foreign, temporary workers. That’s one prong of the pitchfork, if you will, stabbing U.S. workers (both new and experienced) in the metaphorical “gut.”

    The other is offshoring, which really hasn’t been reined in much by Number 44 (here), partly because he has supported trade deals that make the problem worse (here), including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as noted here (an update is here).

    I know this isn’t an original observation, but it needs to be shouted from the mountaintops; we have a jobs crisis in this country!


    And with all due respect to our young men and women entering college (who, along with their parents, may benefit from reading this), whether or not you choose to major in a STEM-related curriculum or not won’t mean a damn thing until we start investing in this country once more and do everything we possibly can to resolve it.


  • Friday Mashup (6/21/13)

    June 21, 2013
  • I give you The Daily Tucker here

    Republican lawmakers renewed their push to scrap the federal estate tax this week, saying the move would create jobs and keep family businesses afloat.

    South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune and Texas Republican Rep. Kevin Brady officially re-introduced the Death Tax Repeal Act. The bill would immediately eliminate the estate tax and repeal the generation-skipping transfer tax.

    When I say that the Repugs keep coming back over and over and over with their bad ideas regardless of how truly bad they are, no matter how many times they keep going up in smoke (on the oft-chance that maybe, just maybe, this time will be different, and sometimes it is), this is exactly what I mean (and by the way, when the Repugs talk about a “family business,” here is the standard they use).

    For, as noted here from a couple of years ago…

    Estates larger than $5 million potentially owe estate tax in 2011. Only about 1 in 800 deaths will result in a taxable estate; 99.9 percent of deaths trigger no estate tax. The estate tax will raise over $10 billion from 3,300 deaths in 2011. [Tax Policy Center, accessed 6/29/11]

    (Preliminary estimates from the Tax Policy Center) indicate that the proposed estate tax would hit only 50 “Small Farms And Businesses,” defined as “[e]states for which farms and business assets comprise at least half of gross estate and total $5 million or less.” For these estates, the average tax rate is estimated to be 7.4 percent. For all estates affected by the tax, the average tax rate is estimated to be 14.4 percent.

    This tells us the following from last November…

    In short, only 20 new small farm and business estates would be affected by President Obama’s proposal (to increase the estate tax). The same report notes the effective tax rate is far lower than the headline 45 percent rate due to “special provisions targeted to farm and business estates.” Taking such provisions into account yields an estimated effective tax rate of 11.6 percent, which is lower than the current capital gains rate.

    And just for emphasis, Think Progress tells us the following from here (repeating some of the previously linked info)…

    Only the very richest households in the country ever have to pay the estate tax, since, (as of Nov. 2011), an estate must be worth more than $5 million (or $10 million for a couple) to pay any estate tax at all.…more than half of the estate tax (was) paid by the richest 0.1 percent of households.

    Oh, but Thune tells us that Repug econ guru Douglas Holtz-Eakin says that repealing the estate tax would create 1.5 million jobs, even though the study behind that claim was called “seriously flawed” by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (here).

    Gee, that doesn’t sound “optimistic, uplifting and nice” as BoBo once noted about “pretty boy” Thune (second bullet from here).

  • Next, I give you another metaphorical piñata that the Repugs like to whack at from time to time (here)…

    A sort of domestic Peace Corps, AmeriCorps was created in 1993 to place adult Americans in community service with nonprofit and public agencies, especially in environmental protection, health, education and public safety. President Clinton declared that AmeriCorps is “living proof” that “if we hold hands and believe we’re going into the future together, we can change anything we want to change.” President George W. Bush was a big supporter, too.

    Yeah, Dubya was such a “big supporter” that he just about wrecked the program; as noted here from a 2003 Slate article…

    The maiming of AmeriCorps infuriates its supporters. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Evan Bayh, D-Ind., (co-authors of another national service bill) have criticized the president for backing away from AmeriCorps when continued support became inconvenient. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry recently trotted out his own plan for a massive increase in national service, suggesting AmeriCorps’ promise and failings could become a campaign issue in 2004. But if AmeriCorps can’t make itself accountable to Congress, national service may go the way of Lyndon Johnson’s “community-action”-minded War on Poverty and Richard Nixon’s Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a jobs program abused by the states and killed off by Ronald Reagan. The graveyard of American social policy is abundant with similar decentralized programs that were killed off by horror stories of incompetence and mismanagement.

    Continuing…

    But the halo on AmeriCorps exists primarily because few people have examined what the corps and its members are really up to. The grandiose achievements of AmeriCorps have always been a statistical illusion, full of impressive-looking numbers of people and causes served, and yet—as the Government Accountability Office has pointed out—often missing evidence of real accomplishment.

    Consider the following recent activities:

    • In April, AmeriCorps recruits in Tuscumbia, Mo., released 70 blue balloons outside the county courthouse to draw attention to the plight of abused children.
    • In March, Providence, R.I., AmeriCorps members at the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence hosted a hip hop/poetry competition.
    • Members of a Nevada AmeriCorps program busy themselves these days by encouraging local residents to drink tap water and watch out for bears (“bear awareness”).
    • AmeriCorps members in Austin, Texas, hosted a trivia night in April at a local bar called Cheer Up Charlie’s to whip up enthusiasm for public service.

    There’s a lot of other anecdotal stuff listed here where James Bovard of the Murdoch Street Journal doesn’t bother to cite his sources, so I won’t try and do more of his homework for him – don’t know how much is actual fact vs. urban legend (he mentions something about puppet shows too).

    Continuing…

    During the Clinton era, scandals erupted after AmeriCorps bankrolled the left-wing community-organizing group Acorn and projects that engaged in blatant political campaigning. Federal law bans using tax dollars for advocacy. In 2011, a report prepared by auditors in the office of the inspector general with oversight of AmeriCorps criticized its management for policies that “leave no meaningful recourse against a sponsor that misuses [AmeriCorps] personnel.”

    I couldn’t find any citation from a reputable news organization for the Clinton/AmeriCorps/ACORN stuff, and again, Bovard didn’t provide one himself. And I’m mystified by the inclusion of the other quote, since it really isn’t a reflection of AmeriCorps as an organization or any AmeriCorps workers.

    Oh, and speaking of Number 42, when he wanted to build support for AmeriCorps when it faced a budget cut from congressional Republicans (sound familiar?), who did he go to for help? Why, none other than one-time Massachusetts Governor Willard Mitt Romney, who offered his support as noted here.

    Continuing…

    For most of Mr. Obama’s first term and until last year, AmeriCorps went unsupervised by a permanent inspector general at its oversight agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service. In June 2009, the administration fired IG Gerald Walpin after Mr. Walpin refused to back down from a report condemning a prominent Obama supporter, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, for misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in AmeriCorps grants for his St. HOPE Academy. Mr. Walpin also stirred hostility with a report showing that the AmeriCorps role in one of its largest programs—the Teaching Fellows program at the City University of New York—failed to produce any positive results.

    There were other issues going on with Walpin, by the way, as noted here, namely that Walpin and his staff “did not include” or “disclose” relevant information regarding the case to (the office of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California Lawrence Brown); that Walpin repeatedly discussed the case in the press after being advised “under no circumstance was he to communicate with the media about a matter under investigation”; and that Walpin’s “actions were hindering our investigation and handling of this matter.”

    Continuing…

    When it comes to measuring results, however, the program has always relied on Soviet-style accounting—adding up labor inputs and proclaiming victory. The Government Accountability Office criticized AmeriCorps in 2000 for this reason and rapped the organization again in 2010 for using performance measures that “do not demonstrate results” and are “poorly aligned” with stated goals. The GAO warned that the self-reported data from grant recipients was unverified and unreliable.

    Believe it or not, there’s a bit of truth to the “Soviet-style accounting” charge (only a bit, though). As noted here from the 2003 Slate article…

    The lack of basic information about how many members AmeriCorps had can be blamed on the agency’s decentralized management system and grant-giving authority. This was by design. Clinton had devolved control to state commissions, whose directors are appointed by governors, in order to win the program support from the governors. With cash rolling out to the states in massive annual increases, what was not to like? (Leslie Lenkowsky, named to run AmeriCorps under Dubya) favored such decentralization and wanted to devolve management still further. In a Weekly Standard article published a few months before he was named to run the corporation, Lenkowsky argued that AmeriCorps should be “voucherized,” with payments going directly to grantees rather than to the organizations that doled out the grants. He noted that this scheme might “dismay the auditors” but shrugged that worry off. Once in office, Lenkowsky never implemented his voucher scheme but remained faithfully indifferent to accounting concerns.

    AmeriCorps has garnered its share of wingnut umbrage over the years, including here, from Glenn Beck and Roger Ailes, of course, about how AmeriCorps is really a front for a civilian national security force, an army of Obama community organizers, or something. Prior to that, Pam Geller said that Obama is recruiting an army of 8-year-olds through AmeriCorps here. And Beck, prior to that, claimed that a NY law allowing convicts to work for non-profits had a tie to AmeriCorps (and ACORN!!!, of course) here.

    Here is my question, though: if AmeriCorps is supposedly so awful, then why did “Moon Unit” Bachmann allow her son to go to work for Teach for America (TFA), which is part of AmeriCorps, as noted here (and a commendable action by her son, truth be told).

    And as noted from here (towards the end of the .pdf), AmeriCorps is responsible for the following (from 1994-1996 alone)…

    Education

    • Taught 381,592 students in Head Start, kindergarten, and grades one to 12.
    • Tutored, mentored, or counseled 212,239 students in grades one to 12.
    • Organized speakers, presentations, field trips, or service-learning activities for 672,981 students.
    • Recruited, trained, or placed 145,168 peer tutors and community volunteers.
    • Developed curricula, assembled library collections, or provided instructional materials for 717,640 students.
    • Performed educational case management or conducted home visits for 138,151 students and their families.
    • Taught parenting skills workshops, GED classes, or job counseling workshops for 58,363 parents.

    Health and Human Needs

    • Constructed, rehabilitated, or renovated 1,485 low-income houses and provided housing assistance for an additional 22,843 people. Completed 60 new homeless shelters benefiting 1,422 people and placed an additional 18,687 homeless people in permanent or transitional housing.
    • Organized or packed 3,302,961 pounds of food and clothing, benefiting 591,769 recently homeless people.
    • Organized or staffed community health fairs attended by 1,505,773 people.
    • Provided child care for 42,926 children and their families.
    • Immunized 30,724 children and 4,833 adults.
    • Screened, counseled, or provided health information and services to 1,384,612 children and adults.
    • Recruited and coordinated 64,881 volunteers in support of these health and human needs projects.

    Environmental and Neighborhood Restoration

    • Rehabilitated or repaired 315 community buildings and 1,838 miles of park trails and roads.
    • Planted 22,455 trees in urban areas or rural towns and 80,727 acres of trees in parklands.
    • Restored or conserved 3,061 miles of rivers, beaches, and fish habitats and 90,729 acres or public lands and fowl habitat.
    • Repaired 266 dams or other flood-control systems and responded to 494 forest fires and search-and-rescue missions.

    Public Safety

    • Organized 887 neighborhood watches, recruited 9,511 child or senior escorts, and started 282 community policing programs.
    • Organized or conducted after-school sports and violence-avoidance activities for 93,169 students.
    • Conducted 3,371 conflict mediation and resolution programs.
    • Provided career development and community integration services for 5,346 adjudicated youth and 906 adults on probation.
    • Counseled 29,352 individuals about substance abuse and 74,421 individuals about victims’ rights or child abuse prevention.
    • Worked with 851 community groups to establish better relations and improve communication across racial and ethnic lines.

    I would say that that’s just a little more substantial than whining over puppet shows.

  • Finally, in their never-ending search for a person of color to bolster the claim that they aren’t just a party of elderly, disgruntled white people who are good at not much more than creating a lot of noise for no good reason, it appears that what was once called the “party of Lincoln” has settled on somebody else as the “flavor of the month.”

    And that person’s name is Elbert Guillory (and if your immediate reaction is “who?,” then you win a free commemorate crying towel used by John Boehner and Glenn Beck).

    The Daily Tucker explains here

    Elbert Guillory, an African-American state senator from Louisiana, recently became a Republican. And one week later, he released a video explaining his move — and urging others to join him in “abandoning the government plantation and the party of disappointment.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Guillory is a guy who believes it’s important that he announce to the entire world that he, formerly a Democrat, is now a Republican. Yawn.

    As noted here from last month…

    During debate Wednesday on a bill to expand Medicaid coverage in Louisiana, Sen. Karen Carter Peterson said fellow lawmakers had told her they based their opposition to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, on the race of the president and not on policy.

    “The accusations of racism this week certainly helped push me over the edge. I thought that they were over the edge,” Guillory said in an interview Friday. “It just showed me just how far out of tune I was, I am, with the Democrat Party.”

    “Democrat” Party – bless Guillory’s pointed little newly Republican head. And by the way, suppose what Karen Carter Peterson said was actually true?

    Basically, Guillory has been, at best, a “lite” version of an actual Democrat for some time – as noted from here

    (Louisiana Gov. Bobby “Don’t Call Me Piyush”) Jindal’s proposal—through Guillory’s bills—to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution pension plan (for state retirees) was a virtual clone of the “Defined-Contribution Retirement Act” model bill as drafted by ALEC at its New Orleans national convention last August, Guillory’s claims in his email to LouisianaVoice notwithstanding.

    But that was just one of the bills proposed by ALEC.

    A copy of ALEC’s complete proposed retirement reform legislation was obtained by Common Cause of Washington, D.C., which filed Freedom of Information Act requests for ALEC records.

    The ALEC proposals and those of Guillory in the Senate and Rep. Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) in the House are nearly identical in most aspects.

    So, all things considered, it’s a little difficult to buy into Guillory’s braggadocio about his committee’s “hard work, no buyout by ALEC.” Nor do we agree that a “serious fiscal problem” was addressed in a “careful, responsible manner.”

    There’s a lot more in the Louisiana Voice post about Guillory, including his attempt to basically create two different categories of state workers: one for policemen, firemen and teachers (male pronoun meant to be all-inclusive, by the way), and the other category for every other type of state worker who supposedly doesn’t face “hazards” on the job.

    I suppose every politician out there is an opportunist of one type or another. The standard I use, though, is how often his or her interests end up coinciding with my own. And far from some newly-minted voice of sanity for the rapidly-declining-by-their-own-hand major political party in this country, Guillory appears to be nothing but someone peddling the same old snake oil in a slightly new bottle.

    Keep trying, Repugs (and I know you will).


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