America’s billionaire welfare kings: the high cost of the wealthy on the rest of us

*Updated title to read welfare kings instead of queens. Seems more appropriate.

For anyone who wonders why the deficit is so large and why, at the same time, income inequality between the super-wealthy and the rest of us is at a record high, consider the various ways which the Republican Party, starting with Ronald Reagan, has gamed the system to funnel our incomes directly into the bank accounts of the one-percent.

FIRST, THANK RONALD REAGAN AND HIS “TRICKLE-DOWN” REAGANOMICS. 

GOP tax bonus for the rich ignores failure of Reaganomics

REAGAN / JULY 1981: “This represents $750 million in tax cuts over the next five years. And this is only the beginning.”

RACHEL MADDOW: “And thus was born a new economic philosophy Reaganomics, cutting government spending, cutting regulation and cutting taxes–cutting taxes especially for the richest Americans. President Reagan’s tax plan cut the top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans from 70 percent to 50 percent. Why cut taxes so dramatically for the richest of the rich in the middle of a recession? [...]

“Trickle-down economics. The idea of trickle-down economics is basically this: you cut tax rates for the richest Americans, therefore the richest Americans have more. They have more money in their pockets, therefore they have more money to spend and invest. And as they spend and invest, the effect of rich people’s good fortune and rich people spending trickles down to everybody else in the economy. A rising tide lifts all boats, right? That was the idea. That was the plan. That did not happen.

Reaganomics was a spectacular success in some ways. It was a spectacular success for the richest Americans in the country who benefited the most from President Reagan’s historic debt- exploding, budget-busting tax cuts. In 1980, the top one percent of Americans earned wages about $110,000 a year. By 1990, after about 10 years of Reaganomics, the top one percent had seen their wages rise by 80 percent. Trickle-down economics, though, right? What’s good for the rich is good for all of us, right? Not quite. Here’s the average wages in the rest of the country in 1980 and here is what happened for the rest of the country after about 10 years of Reaganomics flat. A whopping three percent rise in wages in 10 years. The richest people see their fortunes go up like the Matterhorn. Everybody else, nothing. This is what family income growth looked like during the 1980s:

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THEN THANK RONALD REAGAN FOR HIS “GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM NOT THE SOLUTION” message, which the tea party carries on today:

The Abject Failure of Reaganomics

Reagan sold Americans on his core vision: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” Through his personal magnetism, Reagan then turned taxes into a third rail of American politics… 

“[Reagan] convinced many voters that the government’s only important roles were funding the military and cutting taxes.”

Yet, instead of guiding the country into a bright new day of economic vitality, Reagan’s approach accelerated a de-industrialization of the United States and a slump in the growth of American jobs, down to 20 percent during the 1980s. The percentage job increase for the 1990s stayed at 20 percent, although job growth did pick up later in the decade under President Clinton, who raised taxes and moderated some of Reagan’s approaches while still pushing “free trade” agreements and deregulation.

Yet, hard-line Reaganomics returned with a vengeance under George W. Bush – more tax cuts, more faith in “free trade,” more deregulation – and the Great American Job Engine finally started grinding to a halt. Zero percent increase. The Great American Middle Class was on life-support.

[...] Through its ideological media and think tanks, the Right continues to hammer home the Reagan-esque theory that “government is the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Left still lacks comparable media resources to remind U.S. voters that it was the federal government that essentially created the Great American Middle Class – from the New Deal policies of the 1930s through other reforms of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, from Social Security to Wall Street regulation to labor rights to the GI Bill to the Interstate Highway System to the space program’s technological advances to Medicare and Medicaid to the minimum wage to civil rights.

Many Americans don’t like to admit it — they prefer to think of their families as reaching the middle class without government help — but the reality is that the Great American Middle Class was a phenomenon made possible by the intervention of the federal government beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and continuing into the 1970s. [For one telling example of this reality -- the Cheney family, which was lifted out of poverty by FDR's policies -- see Consortiumnews.com's "Dick Cheney: Son of the New Deal."]

Further, in the face of corporate globalization and business technology, two other forces making the middle-class work force increasingly obsolete, the only hope for a revival of the Great American Middle Class is for the government to increase taxes on the rich, the ones who have gained the most from cheap foreign labor and advances in computer technology, in order to fund projects to build and strengthen the nation, from infrastructure to education to research and development to care for the sick and elderly to environmental protections.

Meanwhile…

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30 YEARS LATER, THE REST OF US ARE SUPPLEMENTING MINIMUM WAGE JOBS WITH GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS, helping corporate officers and shareholders who pay the shitty wages walk away with massive profits. 

“Taxpayers are spending nearly $7 billion a year to supplement the wages of fast-food workers, even as the leading fast-food companies earn billions of dollars in annual profits, according to a pair of reports released Tuesday.”

Washington Post — More than half of the nation’s 1.8 million “core” fast-food workers rely on the federal safety net to make ends meet, the reports said. Together, they collect nearly $1.9 billion through the earned income tax credit, $1 billion in food stamps and $3.9 billion through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to a report by economists at the University of California at Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois.

Overall, the “core” fast-food workers are twice as likely to rely on public assistance than workers in other fields, said one of the reports, which examined non-managerial fast-food employees who work at least 11 hours a week and 27 weeks a year.

Even among the 28 percent of fast-food workers who were on the job 40 hours a week, the report said, more than half relied on the federal safety net to get by. [...] Those workers are left to rely on the public safety net even though the nation’s seven largest publicly traded fast-food companies netted a combined $7.4 billion in profits last year, while paying out $53 million in salaries to their top executives and distributing $7.7 billion to shareholders, according to the second report, by the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group.

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“The cost is public because taxpayers bear it. Yet it remains hidden in national policy debates about poverty, employment and federal spending.”

Salon — The first study finds that 52 percent of families of workers employed at least 27 weeks a year and 10 hours a week in rank-and-file fast food jobs are enrolled in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the program that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children under “welfare reform”). That includes a majority of those workers who are employed at least 40 hours week. The study, “Fast Food, Poverty Wages,” was sponsored by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Urban & Regional Planning, and funded by the labor group Fast Food Forward. The estimates were based on government data.

second study, by the pro-union National Employment Law Project, extended the analysis to individual companies, estimating that McDonald’s workers received $1.2 billion in public assistance while the corporation netted $5.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 profits, and devoted $5.5 billion to dividends and stock buybacks.

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“Companies … are basically pushing off part of their costs on the taxpayers.”

The Guardian — The estimated total cost of $7bn annually is likely to be low, researchers said, because they only looked at four types of public assistance: food stamps; healthcare; the Earned Income Tax Credit and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the program typically best known as “welfare.” They did not include subsidised housing, school lunches, home heating assistance or state programs in their analysis.

“The high participation rate of families of core fast-food workers in public programs can be attributed to three major factors: the industry’s low wages, low work hours and low benefits,” the Berkeley report said. [...] Earlier this year, a report by House Democrats estimated that the cost of Walmart workers’ reliance on public assistance – including food stamps, healthcare and other programmes – is $900,000 per year at just one of the company’s 4,000 stores.

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For the vast majority of these workers, there’s little hope they’ll ever move up the socioeconomic ladder and escape this cycle of poverty and dependency.

Time This combination of low pay and limited work hours yields an average annual salary of only $11,056.14. And while it’s certainly true that some people flipping burgers and taking drive-thru orders are teenagers, that report finds that only 18% are under the age of 18 and living with their parents. Even when you includes minors who don’t live with their parents and college kids living at home, the total adds up to just under a third of all fast food workers.

Of course, fast food companies aren’t the only ones that rely on minimum- and low-wage workers; big-box retailers like Wal-Mart have also come under fire for what they pay employees. But researchers found that 44 percent of restaurant and food service workers were enrolled in one or more assistance programs, the highest of any industry.

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Naked Capitalism how low the pay really is:

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How is supplementing minimum wage jobs with taxpayer-funded government programs NOT income redistribution? Especially when you consider the results.

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS TAKEN GOVERNMENT AWAY FROM THE REST OF US to benefit the one percent exclusively. 

Transplanting Taxes from Corporations to the Rest of Us

In the 1950s, corporations paid nearly a third of the federal government’s bills. Last year, thanks to the antics of Pfizer and other examples of overly creative accounting, corporate income taxes accounted for less than a tenth of Uncle Sam’s total revenue. This dramatic shortfall shows up in two ways — federal budget deficit growth and the growing trend of individual taxpayers paying an increased share of the costs of government.

Naturally, that’s resulted in some income inequality:

“The top 1% of US earners collected 19.3% of household income, breaking a record previously set in 1927.”

The income gap between the richest 1% of Americans and the other 99% widened to a record margin in 2012, according to an analysis of tax filings…

Income inequality in the US has been growing for almost three decades. Overall, the pre-tax incomes of the top 1% of households rose 19.6% compared to a 1% increase for the rest of Americans.

And the top 10% of richest households represented just under half of all income in the year, according to the analysis.

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So 30 years after Ronald Reagan… here we are. With George W. Bush’s unpaid wars and tax cuts and bank bailouts, we’re left with a record deficit, no new revenue (the GOP insists on spending cuts only to “entitlement programs”!), no manufacturing (most of it off-shored by companies like Bain Capital years ago), a crumbling infrastructure, millions of people working minimum wage service-sector jobs, and with income inequality at a record high. The rich are richer than ever! 

And yet for the past few years, the Republican Party has spent all of its time and energy trying to defund or postpone a law which will make health insurance more affordable for most Americans—this month even going as far as shutting down the government, risking default, and costing the rest of us ANOTHER $24 BILLION and a loss of services and programs for 16 days.

What Republicans really mean when they say ‘government is the problem‘ is: (1) it’s a problem if the wealthy have to contribute / don’t profit and (2) it’s a problem if the not-wealthy benefit from government services / don’t help the wealthy to profit.

The GOP has redefined the purpose of government and who it should benefit. Where everyone used to contribute for the good of most, now most people contribute for the benefit of only a few—and those few happen to be worth millions, if not billions. The one percent reap all the rewards of living here without having to invest or contribute a proportional amount of their fortunes. And the rest of us, the American taxpayers, subsidize their lifestyles with money that could be benefiting us personally and building a better future for our children.

What’s really the bigger problem today: government or living with the Republican Party’s economic plan for the past 30 years?

The GOP’s unserious offers so far: why won’t Obama negotiate?

On Wednesday, Obama indicated Republicans could essentially set the agenda for budget negotiations, but only if Congress agrees first to a short-term spending plan to fund the government and to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid a possible first-ever U.S. default next week. “I will talk about anything,” the president said.

Pretty simple, pretty clear. Right? Here’s what happened today:

House Republicans were furious with Senate Republicans and President Obama on Saturday for trying to cut a debt ceiling deal that leaves them out in the cold. Members emerged from a conference meeting saying Obama had double-crossed them by breaking off talks in order to shop for a better deal from the Senate GOP.

Oh, my. It’s terrible that the President should want to discuss solutions to a shut down and potential default in five days with both Senate and House Republicans! What a double-crosser. But what was the very serious deal offered by the official Budget Wiz of the House Republicans: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Groundhog Day)?

The House GOP framework, pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), would raise the borrowing limit for six weeks while replacing across-the-board spending cuts (known as sequestration) with cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. It would also set up formal negotiations to resolve spending disputes and address the next debt limit increase. 

Got it: they won’t shoot the hostages immediately, but one of the hostages has to stay in the hole in the basement, taking lotion from a bucket for six more weeks. Basically:

  1. the government remains shut down,
  2. and let’s do this again in six weeks when we hit the new debt limit,
  3. also, by the way, let’s take the sequestration cuts that are currently shared by Defense (and other GOP favorites) and replace them completely with cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

I’m sure the offer from the Republican Senators via Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who’s reportedly fluent in Moderate, was much better:

For Senate Republicans, the focus has been on the draft proposal by Collins to extend the debt limit through the end of the year and reopen the government for six months in exchange for a two-year delay of Obamacare’s medical device tax and granting flexibility to government agencies when it comes implementing sequestration cuts.  

Senate Republicans are promising to lengthen the ankle chains the hostages wear, so they can at least reach the bucket in the corner of the cell. Basically:

  1. let’s do this again at the end of December when we hit the new debt limit,
  2. then let’s do it again four months after that, when temporary funding will run out for government operations,
  3. and, in the meantime, let’s continue this ongoing damage to our government and the entire national economy just to delay a small 2.3% tax on a select group of medical device manufacturers, who will gain business after health reform,
  4. but, here’s a bonus!, agencies will get to decide where they won’t spend the money that they’re no longer given.

Obviously these are all exciting opportunities. Why won’t Obama negotiate?

American Horror Story: Government Shutdown

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The U.S. Congress, as a whole, is making $2.95 every second. That’s $177 a minute and more than $250,000 a day. And yes, it’s still making that during the government shutdown it caused.
– Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) says he needs his paycheck during the shutdown to pay for his “nice house.”
– Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) says “I need my paycheck. That’s the bottom line.”

– See: http://congressstillgetspaid.com

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This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms. “FSIS is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.” // FSIS furloughed 1,218 of 9,633 federal employees.

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Food expert Marion Nestle asks whether government-shutdown-mandated furloughs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered its response to the salmonella outbreak at Foster Farms… The Heidelberg strain of salmonella appears to be especially virulent. As my colleague David Pierson reported, 42% of victims have been hospitalized, double the normal rate. One big problem: Some of the salmonella strains appear to be resistant to antibiotics. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the initial Public Health Alert, monitoring food-borne illnesses is the job of the CDC. Thanks to the Republican shutdown, the agency was operating with a skeleton crew when the outbreak appeared. // If you’re curious why the CDC’s absence from this outbreak is so critical, this description of how the CDC works in multi-state outbreaks — by organizing the investigation and deploying lab resources that no other agency possesses — is helpful.

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Most federal employees will receive a paycheck on Friday that’s only 60 percent of the usual amount, thanks to the government shutdown. This could be the last check they receive until agencies reopen. [...] The government shutdown affects the pay of both excepted employees — those still on the job — and furloughed workers. The pay of most excepted employees will be delayed but eventually they will be reimbursed for their hours [when the shutdown ends.] // USFS furloughed 18,755 of 32,015 federal employees. Fire crews and law enforcement remain on patrol to protect life and property.

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Benefit checks (including pensions) for veterans and their families would end Nov. 1, if the shutdown lasts through October, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki told a congressional panel Wednesday morning… and most of the remaining 13,000 VBA workers will be furloughed.

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Most federal employees will receive a paycheck on Friday that’s only 60 percent of the usual amount, thanks to the government shutdown. This could be the last check they receive until agencies reopen.[...] The government shutdown affects the pay of both excepted employees — those still on the job — and furloughed workers. …Furloughed workers will only receive back pay if Congress approves it; those who worked for a few hours on Oct. 1 to close up shop will be paid for that time.

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The Utah Department of Workforce Services has seen a 500 percent increase of people requesting unemployment since the government shutdown turned federal employees away from work Tuesday. The state-run office usually process 2,000 unemployment claims a week, but since Tuesday has taken on 10,000.

Capturephoto source …aw, bb.

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A report released by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) set out the following numbers: 715,000 visitors lost daily based on October 2012 national park attendance numbers, $76 million in lost visitor spending per day and $450,000 in lost revenue each day that would go directly to the National Park Service ($300,000 in entrance fees and $150,000 in other in-park expenditures, such as campground fees, boat rentals, etc.). [...] Losses like these led the American Hotel Lodging Association to send a letter on Thursday to President Obama and members of the House and Senate urging them to reach an immediate agreement. The letter states, “Analysts say that for each day the federal government is shut down, collective American income is reduced approximately $200 million, and our nation’s hotels are losing more than $8 million in economic activity – putting jobs at risk and causing repercussions across many other related sectors. Communities near national parks are expected to lose $76 million a day in visitor spending.”

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New distilleries, breweries and wineries cannot open. Certain businesses that manufacture or distribute alcohol — and firearms, ammunition and tobacco products — require permits [to operate] from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which won’t accept new applications during the shutdown. // An obscure but powerful arm of the Treasury Department has stopped approving new brews... Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Boston-based Samuel Adams…said that while it’s important to keep the focus on how ordinary people are being hurt by the shutdown, “we will quickly see the downstream effects on businesses and industries. … In short, new breweries cannot start up and new beers cannot be sold.” // 448 of 483 TTB employees were furloughed on Oct. 1.

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At the close of business today, more than 90 percent of the staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will go home on furlough as a result of the government shutdown. The Commission had been operating on carryover funds since last Monday, when the shutdown began, but those funds run out today, reducing the staff to a skeleton crew of 300 “essential” personnel who will be responsible for monitoring the nation’s 63 nuclear sites until the government reopens. 

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Processing of oil and gas permits by the Bureau of Land Management [has come] to a halt. BLM will continue to monitor ongoing oil, gas, coal and other mineral operations. BLM will keep inspectors and enforcement personnel on the job for some activities, including overseeing some drilling operations and patrolling oil and gas fields “to make sure that theft of oil or condensate is not occurring.” Alaska pipeline operations will also keep going because funding comes from non-federal sources and for health and safety reasons. // The Dept. of Interior furloughed 58,765 of 72,562 federal employees.

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Patients hoping to enroll for treatment in cutting-edge research studies at the National Institutes of Health’s renowned hospital will have to seek care elsewhere during the government shutdown. Each week that a shutdown lasts would force the agency’s research-only hospital to turn away an estimated 200 patients, 30 of them children… [...] For the fiscal year that ended Monday, NIH was able to fund only about 16 percent of the grant applications it received, Collins said, down from about 1 in 3 applications funded a decade ago. That’s because earlier this year, NIH lost $1.5 billion of its $31 billion budget to automatic spending cuts known as the sequester, after years of budgets that didn’t keep up with inflation.

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[Arizona] stopped payments averaging $207 a week to 5,200 families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families after Tuesday’s government shutdown… The Arizona Republic reports the decision came despite assurances from federal officials that states would be reimbursed for any payments they made for the federal program. It also comes as the state sits on a $450 million rainy day fund.

NOTE: Gov. Jan Brewer paid the federal government a $651,000 donation allowing Park Service employees to reopen [Grand Canyon National Park] and manage it through Oct. 18, the park service said Friday in a statement..

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The distribution of Social Security benefits will continue, but services like issuing new Social Security cards have ceased. “I just came in here to see if mailing a disability questionnaire late will affect my son’s benefits,” an 81-year-old Howard Beach woman said as she left the Rego Park Social Security office. “ All the supervisor told me was that he doesn’t know, that he couldn’t help me.” For some, that frustration has turned into anger. “It was a bad experience in there,” the woman added. “One man was so mad, he nearly punched the worker through the glass window.” // SSA furloughed 18,006 of 62,343 federal employees.

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The Food and Drug Administration has been forced to suspend all routine food safety inspections for the duration of the government shutdown, FDA spokesman Steven Immergut confirmed to The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon. Until funding is restored, the FDA will be inspecting only those facilities that it has cause to believe “present an immediate threat to public health.” // FDA furloughed 976 of 1602 investigators.

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In a post on his personal Facebook page that was later deleted, Pearce urged government workers to call their banks and take out a short-term loan if money is tight. “If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck,” read the post. “Don’t wait until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options. [Pearce is one of the 50 richest members of Congress, with a net worth of $8 million. ]

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The House gym reserved exclusively for lawmakers remains open during the shutdown. It features a swimming pool, basketball courts, a sauna and steam room. “This job is very stressful and if you don’t have a place to vent, you are going to go crazy and that’s why I’ve used it all these years,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who has been a user since 1973. While there’s no towel service available during these tough times, taxpayers are still paying for maintenance and cleaning. The House gym for staff members, however, is closed. // And for [lawmakers and their staff] who feel like relaxing, there’s a special little subway car …to get them there in a ride that takes about 30 seconds. The trains remain staffed and functioning during the shutdown.

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More episodes of American Horror Story: Government Shutdown, as time goes on:

“The longer this goes on, the worse it will be.”President Obama

  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulates trading on Wall Street. The CFTC has sent home 680 of its 708 employees. “They’re monitoring a $300-trillion market,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. “How many people are being ripped off, right now? The cops are off the beat.”
  • Engineering firm URS Corp and British defense contractor BAE Systems added a further 4,200 to the number of workers who have been temporarily laid off due to the U.S. government shutdown.
  • Boeing Co. (BA) said it may furlough workers at its defense, space and security unit should the U.S. government’s partial shutdown continue. … He declined to say how many employees may be idled.
  • Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin said Monday that it would trim its planned furloughs to about 2,400 employees—most of whom are based in the D.C. area—in light of the Pentagon’s decision to recall most of its civilians workers.
  • 10/8/13: One industry group estimated that after another week of shutdown, up to 300,000 government contractors could be out of work.
  • Many state governments, including North Carolina, Rhode Island, Arkansas, are also furloughing employees whose pay depends on federal funding. Wyoming furloughed 231 state employees whose salaries are paid in full or in part by the federal government.
  • A recent study released by WalletHub claims that Idaho is one of the hardest-hit states in the union, when it comes to the shutdown. Idaho checks in at ninth, due to our high reliance on federal contracting work (much of which has been put on stand-by) and our high reliance on loans from the U.S. Small Business Association (which can’t be processed). Idaho will feel even more impact from the shutdown next week, when logging in national forests is halted.
  • The housing market is expected to slow down because lenders won’t be able to verify borrowers’ incomes with the IRS and Social Security Administration. Borrowers will also face delays getting mortgage insurance from the Federal Housing Authority, which guarantees about 15% of new loans.
  • Many small business employers rely on E-Verify (an online program of the Department of Naturalization and Immigration Services) to determine a potential employee’s eligibility. But that resource is currently unavailable. 
  • Furloughs for federal inspectors also kept the National Transportation Safety Board from dispatching a team to investigate a fatal explosion on a Washington Metro line over the weekend. // Deborah Hersman, chairman of the NTSB and a West Virginia native, said there have been 14 accidents since the shutdown began — including a school bus accident in Tennessee and a worker who died on the D.C. Metro subway system — that the agency has been unable to investigate because of the shutdown. “Safety delayed is safety denied,” Hersman said.
  • National weather and emergency preparedness resources are not available.
  • The government’s Small Business Administration, Federal Housing Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Farm Service Agency are essentially out of reach for many people applying for funds…government funding for these agencies has essentially been halted
  • Agriculture producers cannot get market reports.
  • Government approvals for fishing and quotas are unavailable, a situation that is costing seafood companies tens of thousands of dollars. 
  • Illinois officials are scaling back on certain hospital and nursing home inspections because of the partial federal government shutdown. …a state agency gets about $1.3 million a month to pay for inspections of medical facilities. But the shutdown means the money isn’t heading to Illinois. So the Illinois Department of Public Health has put certain inspections on hiatus.
  • Head StartAfter reports during the first week of shutdown that some Head Start programs had been shuttered in Florida, Connecticut and a few other states, more programs will likely shut as local programs run out of money. [Some conservatives see the curtailing of a pre-school program for low income families not as a crisis, but as an opportunity.]
  • WIC [Women, Infants, and Children] If the federal government is still shut down at the end of October, 38,000 women and young children (in Washington state) will lose access to an important federal nutrition subsidy called WIC, and 82 King County staff will be laid off.
  • Meals on Wheelsthe shutdown comes on top of the this year’s sequester, which resulted in a roughly 8% overall cut in federal funding for Meals on Wheels, a percentage that might be higher or lower for individual programs. [How many veterans receive Meals on Wheels? It's too bad GOP politicians care more about photo-ops at national monuments than whether those elderly veterans in wheelchairs will receive something to eat in the weeks ahead.]
  • Salvation Army: The impacts of the government shut down can be seen on the shelves of the Salvation Army’s food pantry. “Usually shelves would be full like this,” explained Volpone. Since the shut down began, the Salvation Army says it is feeding 40 more mouths a day than normal.
  • Many exports and imports – including steel, lumber and computer equipment – cannot move over the border without specific permits from the federal government, permits that aren’t being given because of the shutdown.
  • Environmental Protection AgencyAll pesticide imports to the U.S. have been halted, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which must approve them but has had more than 90% of its staff furloughed.
  • U.S. Department of CommerceSome U.S. technology companies can’t fill overseas orders because they cannot obtain U.S. Department of Commerce authorization to export. Steel imports are stranded at customs-clearance warehouses awaiting paperwork.
  • MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration]: gave lay off notices to nearly 1,400 employees who enforce mine safety laws from West Virginia to Montana. Those cutbacks mean safety regulators can’t do routine inspections of those high-hazard workplaces. Since the shutdown began, three mine workers died in separate accidents that occurred over a three day span. However, there isn’t any indication that those deaths occurred because of fewer inspections… But its been enough to send a red flag to officials with the united mine workers of America, and local miners as they continue their work.
  • With ninety per cent of OSHA employees furloughed, workplace-safety inspections aren’t taking place.
  • Ninety per cent of EPA workers are also staying home, which means inspections of toxic-waste sites have stopped.
  • The CDC has stopped monitoring the spread of the flu.
  • As scientists had feared, today (Oct. 8) the National Science Foundation announced it was canceling the U.S. Antarctic research program for this year because of the ongoing government shutdown… The shutdown means the cancellation of millions of dollars of planned research. Graduate students may have to stay in school longer because they won’t get the data they need to complete their research. Contractors are losing their jobs. Other countries, including New Zealand, France and Italy, rely on the United States’ sea-ice runway at McMurdo Station and may not be able to conduct their own research after the pullout.
  • As a result of the federal government shutdown, many resources that researchers, academics, and library patrons depend on—like the Library of Congress (LC) archives—have been rendered unavailable in the last week. [From comments: A great deal of research is done at National Laboratories, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, including library/digital library research, which are slated to shutdown at midnight 18th of October.]
  • Oct. 16: Federal courts could shut down. Administrators say the courts will stay open for roughly the first 10 business days of the shutdown, but they say they would have to reassess matters on Oct. 15.
  • After Oct. 17, the Treasury would have about $30 billion on hand, enough to cover only a few days. Predictions for the fallout in the financial markets are catastrophic.
  • Some economists have estimated that the shutdown costs the U.S. economy $300 million a day.
  • If the shutdown stretches through the end of October, experts at Moody’s Analytics predict a total economic impact of $50 billion.

The government shutdown: Christian dominionism and God’s bankers

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Senator Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz, is a pastor with Texas charismatic ministry Purifying Fire International–he’s also been campaigning against Obamacare the last several months. The theological ethos of Rafael Cruz’s vision is in Christian dominionism; he talks about preaching a “message of dominion” that all Christians have received an “anointing as kings.”

Morgan Guyton, Associate Pastor, Burke United Methodist Church, watched a sermon Rafael Cruz preached on August 26, 2012 at the DFW New Beginnings megachurch in Irving, Texas, and shared his thoughts on how a government shutdown fits perfectly with the ultimate plans of Christian dominionism

…Christian Zionist charismatic pastor Larry Huch… had a very interesting prophecy to share when he introduced Cruz to preach:

We’ve been doing this series here that God laid on my heart: Getting to the top and staying there. A message for us as individuals, the kingdom of God, but also for America. It’s not enough to get there. We need to stay there. It’s not a coincidence that in a few weeks, we go into what’s called in the Bible Rosh Hashanad [sic]… It will be the beginning of the spiritual year 2012. The number 12 means divine government. That God will begin to rule and reign. Not Wall Street, not Washington, God’s people and His kingdom will begin to rule and reign. I know that’s why God got Rafael’s son elected, Ted Cruz the next senator.

But here’s the exciting thing… The rabbinical teaching is… that in a few weeks begins that year 2012 and that this will begin what we call the end-time transfer of wealth. And that when these Gentiles begin to receive this blessing, they will never go back financially through the valley again. They will grow and grow and grow. It’s said this way: that God is looking at the church and everyone in it and deciding in the next three and a half years who will be his bankers. And the ones that say here I am Lord, you can trust me, we will become so blessed that we will usher in the coming of the messiah.

So it sounds like we’re entering into the age where the Christians (who give faithfully) are going to get all the money through the “end-time transfer of wealth.” Isn’t the title of that sermon series just awesome? Getting to the Top and Staying There! It was a packed house. I wonder how many other apocalyptic prosperity gospel megachurches are packing their houses by preaching sermon series about getting to the top and staying there. 

[...] The seamless move that Cruz makes without any justification is to say that because kings and priests were anointed in the Old Testament, that means there are two kinds of Christians today: kings and priests. Forget about the body of Christ and all the spiritual gifts identified in 1 Corinthians 12. Forget Jesus’ exhortation in Mark 10 not to be like the Gentile princes but to be servants instead of kings. Cruz decries the way that churches have neglected their members’ kingly anointing:

Our churches unfortunately are very focused on only one of these anointings and that is on the priestly anointing… Those of you who think you don’t have the anointing to teach the word of God, to be teaching Sunday school, you’re second class citizens. And so you begin to lead frustrated lives… The majority of you… your anointing… is an anointing as king. God has given you an anointing to go to the battlefield. And what’s the battlefield? The marketplace. To go to the marketplace and occupy the land. To go to the marketplace and take dominion.

So to pull all this logic together, God anoints priests to work in the church directly and kings to go out into the marketplace to conquer, plunder, and bring back the spoils to the church. The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian “kings” who will accomplish the “end time transfer of wealth.” Then “God’s bankers” will usher in the “coming of the messiah.” The government is being shut down so that God’s bankers can bring Jesus back.

And here’s the thing. When you get a lot of people together in a megachurch, you can do some pretty impressive things with your mission projects. You can feed thousands of people and host ESL classes and job training programs and medical clinics. And I imagine that seeing your accomplishments could give you the hubris of thinking we don’t need a government at all to make our society run; our church can be the new government.

Everything makes sense now. No wonder extremist fundagelicals within the GOP base conduct themselves the way they do: not only do they imagine they’re earning a shiny throne right next to Jesus in the Afterlife, but their spiritual leaders are promising that, in the very near future right here on Earth, they’ll be rewarded with truckloads of money in an end-time transfer of wealth and then… Raptured!

Their God-given mission is Greed, which also becomes the reward in itself. Praise Jesus!

Read it all: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/morgan-guyton/the-theology-of-governmen_b_4020537.html

Morning coffee: Hug a Thug today


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REMINDER:

Mental illness: more profitable than you might think

Add the mentally ill to illegal immigrants and non-violent drug offenders, and you have the magic profit formula for America’s private prison industry and its shareholders.

Mother Jones has a timeline illustrating how deinstitutionalization has moved thousands of mentally ill people out of hospitals—and into jails and prisons.

I’ve taken just the past 35 years of that timeline and pasted it below — notice Saint Raygun’s heartwarming contributions towards mental health services in 1981:

1977 There are 650 community health facilities serving 1.9 million mentally ill patients a year.
1980 President Jimmy Carter signs the Mental Health Systems Act, which aims to restructure the community mental health center program and improve services for people with chronic mental illness.
1981 Under President Ronald Reagan, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act repeals Carter’s community health legislation and establishes block grants for the states, ending the federal government’s role in providing services to the mentally ill.  Federal mental health spending decreases by 30 percent.
1984 An Ohio-based study finds that up to 30 percent of homeless people are thought to suffer from serious mental illness.
1985 Federal funding drops to 11 percent of community mental health agency budgets.
1990 Clozapine, the first “atypical” anti-psychotic drug to be developed, is approved by the FDA as a treatment for schizophrenia.
2004 Studies suggest approximately 16 percent of prison and jail inmates are seriously mentally ill, roughly 320,000 people. This year, there are about 100,000 psychiatric beds in public and private hospitals. That means there are more three times as many seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals.
2009 In the aftermath of the Great Recession, states are forced to cut $4.35 billion in public mental health spending over the next three years, the largest reduction in funding since deinstitutionalization.
2010 There are 43,000 psychiatric beds in America, or about 14 beds per 100,000 people—the same ratio as in 1850.

Read the whole thing: TIMELINE: Deinstitutionalization And Its Consequences

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From 2009 – 2012, these six states made the deepest cuts to their mental health budgets: South Carolina, Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Nevada, District of Columbia, and California.

I wonder how many private prisons are in these states?

three pie charts in a row

Image: Mother Jones

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Largest Prison-Owning Corporation Issues Massive Dividend of $675 Million to Shareholders

If you want to make money these days, owning stock in a prison company is the place to do it.  The confinement of human beings, while selling their cheap labor to companies seeking to save on labor costs has become a cash cow.  One company that has benefited handsomely from the profit boom is the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

CCA is the largest owner of private prisons in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states. The company just announced that it’s Board of Directors has declared a special dividend to shareholders of $675 million dollars.

…The CCA operates a total of 67 prison facilities throughout the United States, with a total capacity of 92,500 beds in 20 states and the District of Columbia.  The company was heavily criticized for offering to buy prisons in 48 states, in exchange for a guaranteed occupancy rate of at least 90%.

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It’s not just the private prison industry. Something else to consider:

A jury on Wednesday awarded a total of $240 million to 32 mentally disabled turkey processing plant workers in Iowa for what an expert witness described as years of “virtual enslavement” by [Henry's Turkey Service, of Goldthwaite, Texas] that oversaw their care, work and lodging…

During the weeklong trial that ended Wednesday, officials testified about the squalid conditions they found during a 2009 inspection of the bunkhouse where the men were housed. The building, which was in a rural area several miles from the West Liberty Foods turkey processing plant where they worked, was falling apart, infested with rodents and full of fire hazards.

Social workers spoke of the physical and verbal abuse the men said they had been subjected to by the Henry’s supervisors who oversaw their work and care. They said they had been forced to work through illness and injuries, denied bathroom breaks, locked in their rooms, kicked in the groin and, in one case, handcuffed to a bed…

By 2008, Henry’s was being paid more than $500,000 per year by West Liberty Foods, but it was paying the men the same $65 per month that it always had. The company docked the men’s wages and Social Security disability benefits, telling them it was to pay for the cost of their care and lodging, and it never applied for medical care or other services for the disabled that the men would have qualified for in Iowa.

Henry’s began employing mentally disabled men in the 1960s and 1970s who had been released from Texas mental institutions. Hundreds of them were sent to labor camps in Iowa and elsewhere in the coming decades, where they were supplied on contract as workers to local employers. Company officials argued that the arrangement was a benefit to the men, and that they were once praised for giving them employment opportunities…

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Related: 

Don’t ever say Republicans–with their deregulation and “pay workers less so CEOs can get more” and “corporations  are people” mentality–aren’t job creators. Companies like private prisons and Henry’s Turkey Service are just selective about the wages they want to pay and the type of workforce “willing” to work for those wages. Remember, it was the glassy-eyed Teaparty Queen, Michele Bachmann, who said that the federal minimum wage should be eliminated for the benefit of job growth.

Clearly if you deinstitutionalize the mentally ill / disabled, you’ll be able to make a handsome profit on their confinement in labor camps or prisons — with the added bonus that you won’t “waste” money on having to care for them. If the Republican Party had its way, we’d all be working for $65 a month in company housing that was falling apart.

American fundamentalist Christianity combined with deregulated Capitalism in 2013 – same as it ever was:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” – Ezekiel 16:49

Chicago fast-food and retail workers go on strike to raise minimum wage to $15.00

Chicago fast-food and retail workers begin mass walkout  – Hundreds of fast food and retail employees in Chicago began a mass walkout Wednesday morning, calling for the city’s minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour. WLS-TV reported that the protest, organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), included employees from national store chains ranging from McDonald’s to Sears to Victoria’s Secret, most of whom currently make $8.25 an hour, a wage that WOCC members said forces workers to use social service programs like RentAid to make ends meet. “We need wages that we can survive on and support our families,” said committee member Lorraine Sanchez. “These are poverty wages and homelessness wages, and our workers are working two or three jobs, supporting families.”

NBC Chicago – The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago campaign says many of the 275,000 men and women working in Chicago’s fast food and retail outlets can’t afford things like food, clothing and rent on the minimum $8.25 an hour that most of them make. Some say they rely on public assistance for health care for their children while others say bills are piling up. [...] The group says their companies make more than $4 billion a year on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and in the Loop yet workers’ wages remain too low to live in the city.

Chicago Tribune – A study last year by the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group, found that most of the jobs gained since the early 2010 — 58 percent — paid $12 an hour or less. It also found that the workers earning $14 to just over $21 per hour suffered the biggest losses during the recession and that hiring at that pay grade has lagged during the recovery.

But those six- and seven-figure executive bonuses keep growing every year! 

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Blake Fall-Conroy, “Minimum Wage Machine,” 2008-2010 (via andrewfishman) – This machine allows anyone to work for minimum wage for as long as they like. Turning the crank on the side releases one penny every 4.97 seconds, for a total of $7.25 per hour. This corresponds to minimum wage for a person in New York. This piece is brilliant on multiple levels, particularly as social commentary. Without a doubt, most people who started operating the machine for fun would quickly grow disheartened and stop when realizing just how little they’re earning by turning this mindless crank. A person would then conceivably realize that this is what nearly two million people in the United States do every day at much harder jobs than turning a crank. This turns the piece into a simple, yet effective argument for raising the minimum wage.

Not ONE program / service for taxpayers should be cut while subsidies are given to big banks

Bloomberg: So what if we told you …the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers?


image recall-all-republicans

The top five banks — JPMorgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. - – account for $64 billion of the total subsidy, an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits (see tables for data on individual banks). In other words, the banks occupying the commanding heights of the U.S. financial industry — with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy – would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.

Neither bank executives nor shareholders have much incentive to change the situation. On the contrary, the financial industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle on campaign donations and lobbying, much of which is aimed at maintaining the subsidy. The result is a bloated financial sector and recurring credit gluts. Left unchecked, the superbanks could ultimately require bailouts that exceed the government’s resources. Picture a meltdown in which the Treasury is helpless to step in as it did in 2008 and 2009.

Regulators can change the game by paring down the subsidy. One option is to make banks fund their activities with more equity from shareholders, a measure that would make them less likely to need bailouts (we recommend $1 of equity for each $5 of assets, far more than the 1-to-33 ratio that new global rules require). Another idea is to shock creditors out of complacency by making some of them take losses when banks run into trouble. A third is to prevent banks from using the subsidy to finance speculative trading, the aim of the Volcker rule in the U.S. and financial ring-fencing in the U.K.

— Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year? – Bloomberg

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Last month, Washingtonblog wrote about Chris Whalen’s report that the top banks receive more than $780 billion per year in subsidies. Whalen is one of America’s top banking analysts. Specifically, Whalen estimates the following types of subsidies to the giant banks:

  • $360 billion in Federal Reserve subsidies, by creating an artificial “spread” in interest rates…
  • $120 billion in federal deposit insurance (through the FDIC, backed by the Treasury)
  • At least $100 billion in government-guaranteed loans, especially mortgages
  • At least $100 billion in monopolistic advantages in the secondary market for home mortgages…
  • More than $100 billion in fees in the over-the-counter (OTC) derivative market…

That totals $780 billion per year. And that’s only a PARTIAL list.

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It’s funny how the GOP / Fox likes its voting base to focus on things like the pay and benefits of federal, state, and local government employees (Republican consensus: civil servants are way overpaid when compared to 7-Eleven and Walmart workers), marriage equality, and pseudo-wars on Christian holidays. Keep the rubes riled with the Shiny Object of the Week (SOOTW).

The massive financial transfers between the U.S. Treasury and big banks (and big oil, big ag, etc) are well worth the SOOTW campaigns. The GOP doesn’t want a smaller government to save the taxpayers money! They want a smaller government so all the money spent on employees and regulation (and on programs / services for working class taxpayers) can be re-routed to banks, oil companies and corporate ag.

Obviously, in order to increase the flow of tax money to banks (and oil and ag), the Republican Party continuously fights for MORE tax cuts and LESS regulation. And by using Orwellian methods of doublespeak / doublethink, they fight for these things and call themselves the True Patriots™ simultaneously – that’s specifically so their base-rubes can at least feel superior while they support their own ruin.

10 most common jobs: public vs. private sector and the Republican agenda

WHAT MIDDLE CLASS? If you’re a teapartier who claims to be worried about your children’s (and grandchildren’s) futures because of the national debt, you might want to re-examine the priorities that Fox and the Koch brothers are selling you. Would you recognize a class war if you saw one?

Here are the 10 most common jobs in the public sector (federal, state, and local):

Tables above: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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And here are the 10 most common jobs in the private sector:

Table: GovExec

Here are the mean wages earned for the most common private-sector jobs.  NOTE: The poverty level for 2012 was set at $23,050 (total yearly income):

Did you know these were the 10 most common jobs? This is what we have after America’s manufacturing / retail industry was Reaganized / Bain-Capitalized. The bottom line is that out of 10 of the most common private-sector jobs in America, three pay BELOW the poverty level, and three more pay just above the poverty level — that’s 6 out of 10 of the most common jobs that pay wages near the poverty level!

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So while the 1% wealthy-elites are busy funneling all available profits and cash into their off-shore accounts (from the ever-increasing productivity and labor of their employees and from executive bonuses, corporate welfare, loopholes, and exemptions), the rest of America is transforming into a nation of Walmart workers, waitresses, and janitors who earn poverty-level wages for full-time work.

Conversely, it’s probably safe to presume that the most common public-sector jobs listed above pay a little better than poverty-level.  So when Republicans and the wealthy want to eviscerate government (and government workers) at all levels, it’s not really about spending and the deficit or fiscal responsibility. It’s about how (and to whom) tax revenue will be distributed, and it’s about engineering our expectations for employment in the private-sector.

If you employ less government workers and take tax revenue away from the social safety net, you now have a bunch of money you can funnel over to corporations and the wealthy through loopholes, corporate welfare, and exemptions (those off-shore accounts don’t fund themselves!). In turn, corporations and wealthy individuals will continue to reward their politicians with a steady supply of hefty campaign contributions and a seat on their board after retirement.

Additionally, instead of increasing private-sector wages to be more in line with public-sector wages (which would be reasonable since costs increase and so should wages), the goal of the wealthy-elite and their career politicians is to bring government wages down to more closely match what Walmart workers and janitors earn. But remember: labor unions are The Evil. Plus if there are less government jobs, there will be more competition for shitty-paying private sector jobs. Not only do they want to pay poverty-level wages to a majority of Americans (more money for themselves), but they want people to believe it’s the only fair solution.  And that’s where Fox, Rush, and astroturfs like Tea Party Patriots come into play.

To the teapartiers: look at those tables above and think about what wages you hope your kid or your grandkid will be able to earn in the future. Doesn’t that resonate more personally for you? Shouldn’t this be as important as the non-issue of the national debt? I call the debt a non-issue because if/when a Republican is seated in the White House again, it will in fact be a Non-Issue to that political party’s agenda once more. And when that day comes that they move on – because they will move on – you’ll be earning poverty-level wages, watching Fox ‘news’ and, spittle flying, defending more tax cuts and some newly manufactured reason to go to war in some other country. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

Rebranding a freakshow when the freaks won’t cooperate

[The GOP's] greatest political strength today is their ability to dominate heavily white areas. — Ruy Teixeira | Think Progress

The Michele Bachmann sideshow is hurting the GOP – Due to a series of gaffes, she is again on the receiving end of criticism, including from Fox News powerhouse Bill O’Reilly. The congresswoman is also, as reported by The Daily Beast’s John Avlon, “embroiled in a litany of legal proceedings related to her rolling disaster of a presidential campaign — including an Office of Congressional Ethics investigation into campaign improprieties.” It’s almost as if Bachmann were a Democratic mole embedded in the Republican Party with the purpose of chasing away a wide range of voters. Her latest sound-bite-producing comment, this time on ObamaCare, begged for audio accompaniment of the Twilight Zone theme. Try to imagine it: “Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that. Let’s love people. Let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can.”

Suddenly conservative Christians have a problem with politicizing religion??!? – “It’s sad when clergy egregiously politicize worship,” Mark Tooley, president of the conservative Christian organization Institute on Religion and Democracy, wrote in one of several blogs and articles that have criticized the sermon. “Is this characterization of religious conservatives as racists, chauvinists and bigots really fair and accurate? And if political critique of religious conservatives were appropriate in an Easter sermon, couldn’t León offer a thoughtful analysis rather than snide smugness?”

NRA Still Undermining Weakened Gun Legislation – Last month the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a plan to increase penalties for straw purchases, or buying a gun for someone who can’t pass a background check. According to the Post, NRA lobbyists are pushing a revision that would make it much harder to prosecute gun traffickers: The NRA’s draft language would require law enforcement officials to prove that the straw purchaser had reason to believe the buyer was prohibited from obtaining guns or knew that the buyer intended to commit a crime, according to an analysis of the NRA proposal provided to The Washington Post by the Bloomberg-led mayors group.

Leaving the massive gun-show loophole in place, on purpose – Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said closing the gun-show loophole is “a bridge too far” for most Senate Republicans. He added that the “paperwork requirements alone would be significant.” The nation would like to reduce mass murders, but for some federal lawmakers, “paperwork requirements” have to take precedence? Similarly, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was asked whether expanded background checks can survive in the Senate. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think it makes any sense. The current system is broken. Fix the current system.” …that might be possible if Senate Republicans weren’t also blocking ATF from functioning effectively…

  
  
gifset: sandandglass

The Republicans’ Diversity Deserts | Charles Blow – Too many House Republican districts are isolated in naturally homogeneous areas or gerrymandered ghettos, so elected officials there rarely hear — or see — the great and growing diversity of this country and the infusion of energy and ideas and art with which it enriches us. These districts produce representatives unaccountable to the confluence. And this will likely be the case for the next decade. [...] With the exception of a few districts, a map of the areas in this country with the fewest minorities looks strikingly similar to a map of the areas from which Congressional Republicans hail. In fact, although this is the most diverse Congress in history, not one of the blacks or Asians in the House is a Republican. Only about a sixth of the Hispanics are Republicans, and fewer than a third of the women are.

“My father had a ranch. We used to hire 50 to 60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes. You know, it takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machine.” — Republican Congressman Don Young from Alaska

Top Critique of GOP is Unwillingness to Compromise – A new Gallup Poll finds rank-and-file Republicans, independents, and Democrats voice the same primary criticism of the GOP: it is “too inflexible” or “unwilling to compromise.” When asked to say what they most dislike about the Republican Party, 26% of Republicans, 17% of independents, and 22% of Democrats offer this critique — leading all other mentions.

From the Department of Outreach – Representative Steve King (R-IA) and Senator Jim InHofe (R-OK) want to ban the federal government from translating documents into other languages. An attempt to codify English as our official language and violate the Voting Rights Act.

Exxon Mobil pipeline leaks ‘a few thousand’ barrels of crude oil in Arkansas – Exxon Mobil said that one of its pipelines leaked ‘a few thousand’ barrels of Canadian heavy crude oil near Mayflower, Ark., prompting the evacuation of 22 homes and reinforcing concerns many critics have raised about the Keystone XL pipeline that is awaiting State Department approval.

Alaska Lawmaker Tells Exxon Valdez Spill Not Its Fault – Alaska is set to give oil companies, including ExxonMobil, a massive tax cut. The bill, which passed the Senate 11-9 and is endorsed by Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, is being debated by the House of Representatives. The plan raises the base tax rate that companies pay no matter the price of oil, and also gives them a $5 credit for every barrel they produce. The plan would cost the state anywhere from $3 billion to $9.5 billion over the next six years. As if that weren’t enough, Republicans in the state House want to make the tax cut even larger. And as they debated doing so, Rep. Kurt Olson (R) told a company representative that Exxon shouldn’t be blamed for the second-worst oil spill in U.S. history, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989…

Loaded for Bear(shit): Consultants Cash In on Palin – Sarah Palin attempted to relaunch her political career this week with a new video which railed against “the big consultants, the big money men, and the big bad media.” …Seen through the lens of the invaluable Center for Responsive Politics, Palin’s PAC spent $5.1 million in the last election cycle (more than it raised in that time period, raising some questions about Palin’s claims of fiscal responsibility). But the real news comes when you look at how donors’ money was actually doled out: just $298,500 to candidates. The bulk of the rest of it, more than $4.8 million, went to—you guessed it—consultants.

  
The Daily Show | March 27th 2013

“If your boss suddenly decided he had a moral objection to your health insurance plan covering cholesterol medication—and had the power to act on his objection—it would be outrageous invasion of your privacy and the doctor-patient relationship. It’s the kind of thing that no politician would ever want to see happen, unless that politician were a Republican, and instead of needing cholesterol medication, you needed birth control coverage.” — Jed Lewison

Elevating the religious beliefs of some people over the civil rights of all – As in every state, residents of Kentucky already enjoy religious liberty under the First Amendment, but conservatives in the state legislature decided to craft a proposal that would empower Kentuckians with “sincerely held” religious beliefs to disregard state laws and regulations. In effect, if a law conflicted with the tenets of your faith as you interpret them, your conscience would trump your obligation to follow the law…

Tennessee Republicans pushing to cut welfare benefits if kids’ report cards don’t measure up – Tennessee has among the lowest average monthly benefits for a recipient of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in the country. But not content with that, the state legislature is pushing a plan to cut benefits for families of kids who don’t do well enough in school. [...] Now those kids are essentially asked to bear the burden of maintaining their families’ cash incomes, or putting additional burdens on their parents. The math a kid living on TANF is concerned with is likely this: How many hours ago did I have my last meal? How many days overdue is the rent or the electric bill? And, if this bill passes: What score do I need on this next test to keep my family’s income from being slashed?

America’s future: too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal”

Here’s the scariest thing you’ll read today:

We are on the precipice of the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world. In the decades to come, we will witness millions of elderly Americans, the Baby Boomers and others, slipping into poverty. Too frail to work, too poor to retire will become the “new normal” for many elderly Americans.

That dire prediction, which I wrote two years ago, is already coming true. Our national demographics, coupled with indisputable glaringly insufficient retirement savings and human physiology, suggest that a catastrophic outcome for at least a significant percentage of our elderly population is inevitable. With the average 401(k) balance for 65 year olds estimated at $25,000 by independent experts—$100,000 if you believe the retirement planning industry—the decades many elders will spend in forced or elected “retirement” will be grim.

According to the author, the impending crisis will happen in ‘waves’ to a majority of elderly Americans:

  • Wave 1: Retirees Come Back To Work
  • Wave 2: Workers Delay Full Retirement
  • Wave 3: Full Retirement Is Unachievable
  • Wave 4: Drowning

While you reflect on how irresponsible it is to not save for retirement, take a moment to reflect on Paul Ryan’s budget (and the 95% of Republican House members who voted for it) – along with all the slicing and dicing they want to do to the social safety nethealth care reform, and Medicare in order to provide more tax relief to the wealthy.

Be sure to consider all the jobs that are not being created right now because of the conservative hangups on spending cuts and the deficit. Issues which, when a Republican is in office, members of this specific political party aren’t concerned about at all. Maybe it’s time we willingly spent our taxes on infrastructure and people instead of exponentially expanding our military industrial complex each year, quit paying to have other countries blown up and rebuilt for the profit of a few.

Then consider: how are people with the low-wage Bain Capital replacement jobs, or people who are unemployed, supposed to find some money to put in a “retirement account”? Maybe they should forego eating a few times a month. Or maybe they could just save all those tax breaks they get for private jets or dancing horses. It would be irresponsible if they don’t, right?

Average income increase for 90% of us over the past 40 years: a whopping $59.00

Average income rose just $59 from 1966 to 2011 for the bottom 90 percent once those incomes were adjusted for inflation… the top 10 percent fared much better, according to a new study of tax data from David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winner: In 2011 the average AGI of the vast majority fell to $30,437 per taxpayer, its lowest level since 1966 when measured in 2011 dollars. The vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966. For the top 10 percent, by the same measures, average income rose by $116,071 to $254,864, an increase of 84 percent over 1966.

[...] The biggest driver in that disparity, Cay Johnston wrote, was not that the rich were working harder, “but the shift of income from labor to capital and changes in federal income, gift, and estate tax rules.” Indeed, the estate tax has been eased over recent decades and federal income taxes have become more favorable to the wealthy thanks to breaks for investment income. A recent study, in fact, found that the capital gains tax cut, which benefits the wealthy but does virtually nothing for everyone else, was “by far” the biggest driver in the growth of American income inequality.

Other important facts: 

(via ThinkProgress)

The rise in wealth inequality? It’s permanent: “the advantaged [are] becoming permanently better-off, while the disadvantaged becoming permanently worse-off.” [...] If we were seeing a lot of transient inequality, that would mean the households at the bottom in any given year still have a good shot at improving their lifetime earnings. The fact that the inequality is of the permanent sort shuts the window on that optimistic interpretation: The earners at the bottom are stuck at the bottom, and their lifetime earnings are about as low as one would think. (via Ezra Klein)

With this ever-increasing, permanent inequality, now decades in the making, what’s most important to Republicans? 95% of the GOP-led House voting in favor of Paul Ryan’s Class Warfare Budget:

  • Recent analyses have shown that [Ryan's] budget plan’s tax reforms, which lower top tax rates to 25 percent, would give millionaires at least $200,000 in tax cuts. At the same time, it would slash the social safety net, targeting poverty programs for two-thirds of its cuts. (via Travis Waldron)
  • Ryan’s budget would end Medicare, cut taxes by over $5 trillion, take health care benefits away from millions of Americans, make “massive” cuts to in programs for low-income and vulnerable Americans, and relies on smoke and mirrors to balance the budget within a decade… It’s designed to satisfy folks who believe the wealthy are over-burdened by taxes and struggling families have too much access to affordable health care. (via Steve Benen)

Unfortunately the non-wealthy, low-info Republican base voters — who have been personally harmed by income inequality just like everyone else — have been successfully programmed to chase the regularly-scheduled and completely manufactured social outrages dangled before them (usually involving guns, God, and gays), instead of paying attention to what their party is actually doing with tax laws and budgets.

The Senate’s Vote-a-rama: Paul Ryan and GOP House FAIL

The Hill: The Democratic-controlled Senate appears set to approve its first budget resolution in four years. Votes on amendments to the budget began Thursday night, with a final vote set for late Friday or early Saturday.

Brian Beutler explains why tuning into CSpan2 this afternoon to watch the Senate’s “vote-a-rama” could be very educational:

“…before the Senate passes its budget this weekend, it must first get through “votearama” — the quirk in the budget rules that essentially opens the amendment floodgates to eager lawmakers.

These amendments, like the budget itself, aren’t really binding. They’re highly politicized. And because there hasn’t been a Senate budget in a few years, there’s a huge pent up demand among members for using votearama as an opportunity to preen and take political stands. [...]

For instance: Last night, Senate Dems put Republicans on the spot and forced a vote on the House GOP budget. It failed, obviously, but because it’s the GOP’s central organizing manifesto, nearly every Republican member voted for it.

What went mostly unnoticed, though, is that Dems also forced the GOP to take a position on the single most politically contentious part of the Ryan budget — its call to replace the Medicare guarantee with a private insurance subsidy. That amendment was written to put members on record over whether to prohibit such a dramatic policy change. And by a vote of 96-3 the Senate answered that question with a resounding “yes.” Only Sens. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul voted to effectively endorse Medicare privatization.

That says a lot about the politics of the Republican platform. Their commitment to a fiscal policy agenda they know to be politically toxic in its particulars is actually pretty impressive.

Democrats, by contrast, voted to preserve the tax increases their budget calls for. And they will circle their wagons around the Affordable Care Act when Republicans try to use the budget process to significantly undermine it. But on the particular, narrow issue of the ACA’s medical device tax, more than half the party joined the GOP in support of an amendment that called for its repeal…”

How bad was Paul Ryan’s night? Joan McCarter on March 22, 2013

Every Senate Republican but three voted to repudiate Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. The three? The three teabaggiest of all: Rand Paul (R-KY) Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz. …The slap-in-the-face vote was cast yesterday as the Senate continued working on its 2014 budget, an opportunity for all sorts of political hay-making, because budget rules allow for unlimited amendments. This one was offered by Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Thursday night. It’s a “No Vouchers for Medicare” amendment, repudiating the Ryan budget and “to prohibit replacing guaranteed benefits with the House passed budget plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program.” The Senate voted overwhelmingly for it, 96-3.

Ryan’s budget as a whole fared a little better. Republicans really didn’t want to have to vote on it, but Patty Murray made them, by offering it as one of the first amendments. It failed, 40-59.

“There seemed to be some resistance among my Republican colleagues in bringing up the House Republican budget for a vote. And it’s pretty easy to see why that is. The House Republican approach has been thoroughly reviewed and just as thoroughly rejected by the American people.”Patty Murray, twisting the knife last night.

Paul Ryan’s star is definitely fading. Last year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) was hailed as the man with a plan to save America. Today, barely half of his own party thinks highly of him. According to a Rasmussen poll released Monday, Ryan’s approval rating has plummeted since the November election. In the poll, only 35 percent of likely voters said they had a favorable view of him, while a 54 percent majority said they viewed him unfavorably. That’s a stunning reversal from last August, when 50 percent of voters liked Ryan, versus 32 percent who did not.

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Also: The 39th time was not the charm on Obamacare repeal | Steve Benen on March 22, 2013: 

Remember when the 2012 presidential election ended the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act? To a degree that is truly comical, congressional Republicans didn’t get the memo.

The Senate on Friday rejected another GOP attempt to repeal President Obama’s healthcare law. An amendment to the Senate budget resolution from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) failed on a 45-54 vote on Friday. Cruz’s amendment would have repealed the Affordable Care Act and encouraged patient-centered reforms to reduce costs.

Senate Republicans knew Cruz’s amendment was pointless, and knew it wouldn’t pass, but literally every GOP senator voted for it anyway — just because. [...]

To listen to Republican rhetoric on Capitol Hill is to hear a series of complaints about President Obama: he’s not being “serious” enough about getting things done… But it’s against this backdrop that Republicans vote, over and over again, to repeal a health care law they know won’t be repealed. They do so, in part because they have a radicalized base that expects near-constant pandering, in part because some of their leaders have broader ambitions and see these tactics as useful, and in part because these votes just seem to help Republicans feel better about themselves.

Michele Bachmann will be so upset. Literally! 

Some have the repeal count up to 54 times, with more attempts (yes, plural!) to be offered today.

On Obamacare’s Third Anniversary, Here Are Three Ways The Reform Law Has Helped Real Americans

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Also Rand Paul, the winner of CPAC, is sponsoring a far-right extremist  amendment to have the U.S. withdraw from the U.N.  Not only is that a terrible idea for several reasons (one being economically), but “a recent poll showed that eight in ten Americans believe that the U.S. needs to maintain a strong relationship with the United Nations.”

And get this: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) “is planning on filing an amendment to the Senate budget resolution making it impossible for any gun control legislation to pass the Senate without a two-thirds majority—a standard currently reserved for the ratification of treaties. (That’s an even higher threshold than that imposed by filibusters, which can be broken with 60 votes.) “[I]f the Lee amendment is passed, the practical effect will be that gun control can never again pass the Senate,” the far-right Second Amendment group Gun Owners of America boasted in an email to members on Friday. Lee’s amendment won’t pass. But the fact that Republicans would consider carving out an entirely new voting threshold just for gun control legislation tells you just how little ground they’re willing to concede, at least publicly, on this fight.”

More excitement (haha) at CSpan2!

Paul Ryan and the GOP have some good news and some bad news


image recall-all-republicans

House GOP Approves Budget That Cuts Taxes For Millionaires, Slashes The Social Safety Net | Travis Waldron on Mar 21, 2013

The House of Representatives this afternoon approved the Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) by a vote of 221-207, with 197 Democrats and 10 Republicans voting against it. Three Democrats and one Republican did not vote.

For the third consecutive year, the House GOP has approved a budget that ends the traditional guaranteed Medicare coverage for senior citizens, makes substantial cuts to poverty programs and the social safety net, and grants massive tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Recent analyses have shown that the budget plan’s tax reforms, which lower top tax rates to 25 percent, would give millionaires at least $200,000 in tax cuts. At the same time, it would slash the social safety net, targeting poverty programs for two-thirds of its cuts.

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House approves far-right Ryan budget plan | Steve Benen on March 21, 2013 

Though there were whispers that GOP leaders had to worry about significant defections, only 10 House Republicans broke ranks and opposed Ryan’s budget — the exact same number of Republicans who voted against their party’s budget blueprint last year.

And what a plan it is. We’re talking about an ambitious plan to redistribute wealth — from the bottom up — with a healthy dose of “almost frighteningly ambitious” social engineering. Ryan’s budget would end Medicare, cut taxes by over $5 trillion, take health care benefits away from millions of Americans, make “massive” cuts to in programs for low-income and vulnerable Americans, and relies on smoke and mirrors to balance the budget within a decade.

It is, in other words, the exact opposite of what the American mainstream wants, and bears no resemblance to the platform the American electorate endorsed in national elections four months ago. It’s designed to satisfy folks who believe the wealthy are over-burdened by taxes and struggling families have too much access to affordable health care.

Despite all of this, 95% of House GOP lawmakers voted for the plan anyway.

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CHART: Paul Ryan’s Massive Tax Cut For Millionaires | Sahil Kapur March 15, 2013

Ryan’s plan also cuts spending by some $4.6 trillion over the next decade, targeting programs like Medicaid and the portion of the budget that includes Pell Grants and food stamps. He insists his tax cuts will spur significant economic growth, and he promises to pay for them by closing unspecified tax loopholes, deductions and credits — ideally on high incomes.

“You can actually plug loopholes and subject more of higher earners’ income to taxation through a lower tax rate,” Ryan said. “We think that’s smarter.” His promise mirrors that of Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election. The problem, as numerous independent experts concluded, is that finding that much revenue in tax expenditures would require raising effective taxes on the middle class.

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Renewed hostage-taking | Pema Levy on March 21, 2013

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Thursday that Republicans will require a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar that they agree to raise the debt ceiling, which the United States is expected to hit in August. “Dollar for dollar is the plan,” Boehner said at a press conference. As TPM reported Thursday, conservative House Republicans are pushing their leadership to use the debt ceiling as leverage to demand major reforms or cuts, including dollar for dollar cuts.

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Remember when John Boehner and other distinguished Republicans had great fun on Twitter using the hashtag #Obamaquester when discussing sequestration cuts? This week, Boehner admitted with his own damn mouth that President Obama “didn’t want the cuts.” Watch:

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More Republican good news / bad news: 

  • Bad: Mitt Romney / Paul Ryan didn’t win the election, and Republicans lost seats in Congress.
  • Good: So? Doesn’t matter, the GOP will continue ‘patriotically’ ignoring what the majority of Americans voted for.

Remember: either they’ve decided they know what’s best for all of us — or they’re going to try to get away with as much as they can until we stop them. 


image: odinsblog

The Republican Party is better than dying alone. I guess.

Having to rely on the GOP to run our government is like having to use that dating site* for tragically desperate, lonely people.

Steve Benen laments the fact that there will be some “relief” felt over the Tea-led Congress managing to avert yet another one of its self-manufactured government shutdown crises:

For one thing, there’s a debt-ceiling crisis on the horizon, which is not only likely to be ugly, but also poses a far more significant risk.

For another, I continue to think it’s a shame that the political world considers it some kind of success story when government shutdowns are avoided.

Our expectations have been lowered to tragic depths. In April 2011, Republicans threatened a government shutdown, which was narrowly averted. In September 2011, they threatened another. In April 2012, they threatened another. In early 2013, they threatened yet another.

In each instance, we’re all relieved when the crisis passes, and I certainly understand why, but let’s remember a nagging detail: there’s no reason for us to be impressed when the legislative branch of the United States government manages, just barely, to keep its own lights on.

In other words, we’ve internalized absurd standards. We simply assume as a matter of course that important policymaking is nearly impossible, and we then celebrate basic legislative competence that, in the not-too-distant recent past, would have been considered routine and unremarkable.

Yes, I’m glad there won’t be a government down. Yes, it’s remarkable Congress got this done with six whole days to spare. But by any meaningful standard, this isn’t an impressive legislative accomplishment; it’s the bare minimum Americans should expect.

Let’s remember that the primary reason the GOP-led House will likely come to an agreement over keeping the lights on through September isn’t because Republicans suddenly care about compromise or the nation’s funding, infrastructure, or employees. More than likely their eagerness to wrap up a continuing resolution has everything to do with the fact that they have another two-week vacation scheduled — starting tomorrow.

*Paul Ryan is Stuart and the entire GOP establishment is Doreen.