Monday, December 31, 2012

But Can They Multitask?

(Editorial cartoon by Ted Rall and published 12/27/12 in the Los Angeles Times.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

So, unless something very dramatic happens, the 113th Congress will start with dealing with the fiscal cliff and with a review of gun control legislation.  Both are contentious issues and will no doubt fill the air with ink and electrons.  The question I have is whether the new congress will be able to deal with any other issues in the next two years, issues which Barack Obama promised would be handled back in 2008, issues which are long overdue.  The one I'm thinking about right now is immigration reform

The window to pass immigration laws next year is narrowing as the effort competes with a renewed debate over gun laws and the lingering fight over taxes and the budget, according to congressional staffers and outside advocates.

Key congressional committees are preparing for a package of gun control laws to be negotiated and possibly introduced in Congress during the first few months of next year. The shift would push the debate in Congress over immigration reform into the spring.

But as budget negotiations continue to stir tensions between Republicans and Democrats, and as lobbyists take to their corners over gun laws, some are concerned that the heated atmosphere could spoil the early signs of bipartisan cooperation on immigration that emerged after the election. ...

The crowded agenda has not changed plans by advocacy groups to launch a nationwide publicity and lobbying campaign early next year to put pressure on lawmakers to support changing immigration laws.

"As horrific as the tragedy was in Connecticut, in the grand scheme of things, these issues can run on parallel tracks," said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington.
"They are not in competition; they are complementary," said Angela Kelley, an expert on immigration at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. "The White House can walk and chew gum, as can lawmakers."

"If [lawmakers] are working 40 hours a week, they should be able to get both done," she said.

Asking our lawmakers to work 40 hours a week may be expecting a wee too much.  After all, they have to go home every weekend to make sure their constituents remember who they are and their donors are kept advised.  Still, even with a 32-hour work week and a little common sense, a sensible immigration law could be crafted and passed, especially now that the GOP has seen the national demographics.

That said, I'm still not optimistic.

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Pablo Neruda

Brown and Agile Child

Brown and agile child, the sun which forms the fruit
And ripens the grain and twists the seaweed
Has made your happy body and your luminous eyes
And given your mouth the smile of water.

A black and anguished sun is entangled in the twigs
Of your black mane when you hold out your arms.
You play in the sun as in a tidal river
And it leaves two dark pools in your eyes.

Brown and agile child, nothing draws me to you,
Everything pulls away from me here in the noon.
You are the delirious youth of bee,
The drunkedness of the wave, the power of the wheat.

My somber heart seeks you always
I love your happy body, your rich, soft voice.
Dusky butterfly, sweet and sure
Like the wheat field, the sun, the poppy, and the water.

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/30/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Phyllomedusa Tree Frog

(Photograph by Valerie C. Clark and published at National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about this Amazonian giant frog.)

Rocket Launchers?

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/28/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

Last Monday I posted on the successful gun buy-back by authorities in San Diego.  In that post I mentioned that the City of Los Angeles had bumped its gun buy-back from Mothers Day to 12/26/12.  Well, the results are in.  The Los Angeles event also was an astounding success.

A one-day gun buyback event in Los Angeles on Wednesday gathered 2,037 firearms, including 75 assault weapons and two rocket launchers, officials said. The total was nearly 400 more weapons than were collected in a similar buyback earlier this year. ...

Hundreds lined up in cars to get Ralphs gift cards in exchange for different types of guns. Villaraigosa said the LAPD collected 901 handguns, 698 rifles, 363 shotguns and 75 assault weapons. The weapons will be melted down.  [Emphasis added]

The deal is that the police department takes the weapons with no questions asked.  That means, unfortunately, that we won't know how those two rocket launchers were obtained by civilians or whether they had any rockets for the weaponry.  At least the weapons were turned in.

The event was such an overwhelming success that the LAPD ran out of the gift cards donated by Ralphs (a chain of grocery stores owned by Kroger).  The City Controller had to do some quick scrambling to get private donations for more.  Some of the people turning in the weapons, however, declined the gift cards and the wait involved in getting them over to the two sites.  They told the police they were just glad to get the weapons out of their homes.

I consider this all a powerful message, one that I hope that next Congress will take notice of.  I also hope that other cities will set up such events, with or without help from the federal government. 


Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Cliff Dwellers

Like most of us, David Horsey is transfixed by the very strange Kabuki dance playing out in Washington.  Will a Grand Bargain be struck?  Will only a temporary fix be agreed to?  Or will the country go right off that cliff and land in a recession?  It's hard to tell, but Horsey does point to several of the problems.

The hang-up seem to be the tax increases.  The GOP doesn't want those Bush tax cuts touched.  Obama and the Democrats want the tax cuts limited to those earning $250,000 or less.  What the GOP does want are cuts in spending (odd, that, since the huge deficits arrived as a result of the Bush years and the profligate spending on wars and defense contractors, mostly off budget).  They specifically want cuts to Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, although they keep using the euphemism of "strengthening" the programs.

Complicating matters are the facts that the GOP controls the House and the Democrats control the Senate.  Well, sort of.  In any event, here's how David Horsey sees it.

Boehner now seems to have washed his hands of responsibility and says it is up to the president and Democrats in the Senate to save the country from the new year’s program cuts and tax increases that will come so fast and furiously that the economy could suffer. President Obama cut short his Hawaii vacation to return to the snow-covered capital hoping to concoct a last-minute deal, but he may have been better off staying with his wife and daughters on the sandy shores of Oahu.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed will shortly offer an option he hopes Republicans cannot refuse. It will propose to do several popular things: perpetuate George W. Bush-era tax cuts for everyone earning less than $250,000 a year; keep Medicare reimbursement levels from dropping; preserve long-term unemployment benefits; stop a tax bracket slide that would expose many more citizens to the alternative minimum tax; and make a few modest spending reductions. Even if it does next to nothing about long-term budget deficits, there is nothing in Reed’s plan that would upset most voters.

If such a crowd-pleasing scheme got to the House and Boehner allowed a vote on it (as he seems to have said he would), Democrats might be joined by just enough Republicans to get the thing passed. The harder trick could be getting it anywhere in the Senate. It takes just one Republican die-hard to block Reed’s bill. A filibuster would only have to last until the ball drops in Times Square and 2013 would begin with the wrenching sound of an economy tumbling down a hillside.

I think that a pretty fair assessment, although, as usual, I have a few nits to pick.

First of all, David, the Senate Majority Leader spells his name R-E-I-D.  Either you or your editor should have caught that, UNLESS, of course, that was an intentional mistake.  If so, I bow to your creative gibe.

More importantly, however, I am not so certain that our economy will go "tumbling down a hillside."  There will be a couple of weeks of discomfort for a lot of people (among them the long-term unemployed), but with a little spine stiffening on the part of the White House and the Democrats, that just might be quickly rectified.  I know, that's easy for me to say.  I'll still get my HUGE Social Security check each month.  But I think the dire predictions of an immediate recession are nothing but agit-prop from Our Owners who might now have to pay a few dollars more in taxes.

We still have a couple of days to go before any scenario plays out.  I haven't checked lately, and indeed a deal might have been struck.  If so, I'll update.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Shoddy Freud

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett and featured 12/26/12 by McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Ok, I admit it.  This story made me blink.  Not once, but several times.  I guess I really am naive.  It has to do with one of the major Tea Party groups (FreedomWorks), a well-funded one which spent millions of dollars on the last two elections.

Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations. ...

“This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council,” said one junior staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “So when a man with a gun who didn’t identify himself to me or other people on staff, and a woman I’d never seen before said there was an announcement, my first gut was, ‘Is FreedomWorks in danger?’ It was bizarre.’ ” ...

Armey appeared out of touch and unsure of how FreedomWorks operated when he took over that Tuesday morning, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees on both sides who witnessed the takeover. Sitting in a glass-walled conference room visible to much of the staff, he placed three young female employees on administrative leave, then reversed himself when they burst into tears; his wife lamented aloud that maybe they had “jumped the gun.”   [Emphasis added]

Now, a lot of the blogosphere has been commenting on the outright extortion accomplished by Dick Armey.  Of course, this would fit with Armey's reputation back in the day when he was House Majority Leader.  That man could out-hammer The Hammer (Tom DeLay), so this really comes as no surprise.

In this iteration of the stetson wearing yahoo, he headed up a group sponsored by billionaire Libertarians which snookered in millions of people under the aegis of The Tea Party, and then Armey decided to leave, taking $8 million of those bucks others donated with him.  Grifter.

According to the WaPo article, Armey was upset that some of the groups leaders were making money for private projects (i.e., a book).  I guess he was upset that such projects might cause the IRS to take a closer look at the groups 501(c)4 status, which would kill the golden goose.  Besides, he wasn't getting a cut.

Either/or, that isn't what caused me to blink.  It was the way it was accomplished:  with a gun.  He had an aide, whom no one knew, escort the two leaders of the group out in front of everyone else.  That would scare me to death.  It certainly intimidated everyone in the FreedomWorks office at the time.

That's what guns do, no matter who is carrying them.  And yet, none of the Tea Partiers are apparently willing to make the connection.  Neither Armey nor his aide are presumably mentally ill.  And presumably the aide had the legal right to own and openly carry the weapon.  And a bunch of people suddenly feared for their lives.  That's not the way I want to live my life.

I think Atrios had the best comment on the story I've seen:

Dick Armey stages armed coup, gets rewarded with $8 million severance.

Conservatives is weird.


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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Little Free Libraries

I've decided I need another day of pleasantness.  I'll probably read something in one of the newspapers that will aggravate or outrage me, but that can wait until Thursday.

So, here's some good news.  A man with an idea has managed to propel that idea around the world:

It started as a simple tribute to his mother, a teacher and bibliophile. Todd Bol put up a miniature version of a one-room schoolhouse on a post outside his home in this western Wisconsin city, filled it with books and invited his neighbors to borrow them.

They loved it, and began dropping by so often that his lawn became a gathering spot. Then a friend in Madison put out some similar boxes and got the same reaction. More home-crafted libraries began popping up around Wisconsin's capital.

Three years later, the whimsical boxes are a global sensation. They number in the thousands and have spread to at least 36 countries, in a testimonial to the power of a good idea, the simple allure of a book and the wildfire of the internet. ...

Bol and Brooks, who runs outreach programs at the University of Wisconsin, see the potential for a lot more growth. At one point, they set a goal of 2,510 boxes — surpassing the number of public libraries built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. They passed that mark this summer.

Bol and Brooks make the little library boxes and sell them.  With a little help from an AARP grant, they hope to actually make some money with the idea, and I think that's terrific.  The really terrific part of it, however, is that neighbors, kids, elders are getting a chance to read in a free and easy way.  As much as I love my kindle, I think I would get engaged in such a project.

If you click on the link provided above, you will find a picture of one of the Little Free Libraries.  And if you go here, you can get more information on the organization Bol and Brooks have formed.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I just don't feel like doing any substantive blogging today.  Instead, I'm going to enjoy my friends and neighbors and be grateful for the good things which still do happen in life.

I wish you the same kind of day.

I will return to bitching and kvetching tomorrow.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Here's An Idea

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/23/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

The NRA has made it clear that it has absolutely no intention of backing down from its decades old fight against gun control of any kind.  Wayne LaPierre's response to the horrible Newtown Massacre, both in his speech to the press on 12/22/12 and his comments on the Sunday Bobbleheads was not fewer guns, but more guns.  The transcript of his insane speech can be found here.

So, we can expect a fight.  No surprise there.

Fortunately, elements of the public are demonstrating their willingness to engage in that fight on the side of the angels.  From the Los Angeles Times:

An hour before the fifth annual gun buyback was set to begin Friday, a line of cars already snaked around a large empty lot and out into the street.

There was a monetary incentive — $50 for a rifle or shotgun, $100 for a handgun or assault weapon. But there was also another motive, represented by the commonly heard phrase "in the wrong hands."

"I don't need this shotgun sitting around and, with the break-ins in our neighborhood, I don't want it ending up in the wrong hands," said Bill Stowers, 59, an unemployed Teamster, who swapped his .12-gauge for a $50 gift card. ...

Friday's buyback in San Diego, sponsored by African American ministers, had already been on the calendar before the Connecticut shooting. But at a news conference before the event, law enforcement officials promised similar exchanges within six months throughout the sprawling county, particularly in the corridor of Highway 78 that stretches from Escondido to Oceanside.

In four years, the San Diego buyback has collected 850 guns. Those that had been stolen are returned to their owners; others are destroyed by the San Diego Police Department.

Among this year's weapons turned in were military-style rifles, at least two fully automatic handguns and numerous handguns small enough to be easily concealed. Friday's collection tally was 364, more than in any previous year.   [Emphasis added]

Los Angeles has regular buy-backs, usually in the Spring, but Mayor Villaraigosa has announced this year's buy-back in being bumped to 12/26/12.  Again, gift cards (from Ralphs Markets) will be issued.

The money for the San Diego buy-back came from private donations and from the budgets of the San Diego Police Department and District Attorney's Office.  Presumably, the Los Angeles buy-backs are similarly funded.

So, here's the idea I promised in the title of this post.  Budgets for local agencies all over the country are pretty tight because of the state of the economy.  It would be a shame for such programs to lose effectiveness for such a reason.  The federal government could easily step in to help out by imposing a higher tax on ammunition and designate those funds for buy-back programs all across the country.  This would enable communities to offer more realistic sums for what are often expensive arms.  It would also serve to make ammunition more expensive and cut back on sales of the ammo that makes those guns so deadly.

If you signed the White House petition demanding more rational gun control, you probably got a response from the White House inviting you to submit your ideas to the commission headed by Vice President Biden to look into gun control provisions.  If you like this idea, include it in your list to Mr. Biden.  In any case, please respond.  If a couple of hundred thousand people do so, maybe the White House and Congress will finally get the message.

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Poetry: W.B. Yeats


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

--W.B. Yeats

Sunday Funnies

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett and published 12/19/12 in the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Night Monkey

(Photograph courtesy Alexander Pari and published at National Geographic.  Click on link to learn more about this newly discovered species of Peruvian monkeys.)

Another Economist Weighs In

(Copped from Facebook.)

House Speaker Boehner's bluff didn't work.  He couldn't get the votes in his own conference to pass "Plan B," which was intended to put more pressure on President Obama.  He pulled the proposal without a vote.  The result, of course, was to put Obama and the Democrats in a much stronger position.  The GOP doesn't really want to go over the "fiscal cliff," a cliff of their own making, because it would remove all of the Bush tax cuts.  So what does the president do?  He continues negotiating.

Presumably he is negotiating not only on tax cuts but also on spending.  Programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and other safety nets are apparently still on the line.  He apparently has drunk the kool-aid of deficit reduction and it must have tasted mighty sweet to him.  Such foolishness from a man who is supposed to be bright is confounding.

Nobel Prize Winning economist Paul Krugman of the New York Times has been writing for four years as to why this is exactly the wrong approach.  Instead of cutting government spending, the government should be increasing it to put people back to work and to put some cash in their pockets.   And he isn't the only one.  A recent op-ed piece by Stephanie Kelton, an associate professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the founder and editor of New Economic Perspectives, makes the same point and demonstrates the case with some historical facts.

Look, up in the sky! It's a "fiscal cliff." It's a slope. It's an obstacle course.

The truth is, it doesn't really matter what we call it. It only matters what it is: a lamebrained package of economic depressants bearing down on a lame-duck Congress. ...

... The question everyone's asking is this: On whose backs should we balance the federal budget? One side wants higher taxes; the other wants spending cuts. And while that debate rages, the right question is being ignored: Why are we worried about balancing the federal budget at all? ...

History tells the tale. The federal government has achieved fiscal balance (even surpluses) in just seven periods since 1776, bringing in enough revenue to cover all of its spending during 1817-21, 1823-36, 1852-57, 1867-73, 1880-93, 1920-30 and 1998-2001. We have also experienced six depressions. They began in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893 and 1929. ...

Why does something that sounds like good economics — balancing the budget and paying down debt — end up harming the economy? The answers may surprise you.

Spending is the lifeblood of our economy. Without it, there would be no sales, and without sales, no profits and no reason for any private firm to produce anything for the marketplace. We tend to forget that one person's spending becomes another person's income. At its most basic level, macroeconomics teaches that spending creates income, income creates sales and sales create jobs.

And creating jobs is what we need to do. Until the fiscal cliff distracted us, we all understood that. Today, we have roughly 3.4 people competing for every available job in America. The unemployment rate is like a macroeconomic thermometer — when it registers a high rate, it's an indication that the deficit is too small. ...

The effort to balance the books that's at the heart of the fiscal cliff is simply misguided. Instead of butting heads over whose taxes to raise and which programs to cut, lawmakers should be haggling over how to use the tool of a federal deficit to boost incomes, employment and growth. That's the balancing act we need.

Why is that so hard for the politicians in Washington to understand?  Is it that they don't want to understand?  I'm beginning to think that just might be the case.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

New Day, Same Old Crap

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/19/12 in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Kind of says it all, don't you think?

Back to the phones:



White House


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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Dear John

(Click on image to enlarge and then boogie on back.)

Clearly I'm not "done" with the Newtown Massacre, but please bear with me.  David Horsey's recent cartoon and column raised some further issues which I feel are worth considering.  Here's what he had to say:

While most Americans spent the weekend in shock and mourning following the shooting deaths of 20 first-graders and six teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., at least a few of our fellow citizens were thinking that killing school kids is a cool idea.

After listing multiple items from the news since last Thursday on people threatening to open fire on schools, he continues:

Apart from the ones who actually started shooting, it is anyone’s guess which of the men in these weekend incidents were serious about killing people and which are just fools who lack brains and empathy. But this quick sampling of news reports indicates there are way too many oddballs among us with violence on their minds and guns within reach.

It is the part about "news reports" which intrigued me.  The initial coverage of the incident was weird, and mostly wrong on the facts:  the suspect was incorrectly identified as his brother;  his mother was identified as a kindergarden teacher at the Sandy Hook school; he used semi-automatic handguns to do the shooting, leaving the semi-automatic rifle in the car.  As the hours and days wore on, the actual facts came out, but for the first twelve hours or so, the public was misinformed about every fifteen minutes by all the media outlets, and they were ALL there.

Libby Spencer noticed the same thing and adds that the behavior on the ground, especially interviewing the children who managed to escape the carnage, was unconscionable.  She's right. 

Libby's associate at The Impolitic, Capt. Fogg, points out that the misinformation continues to pour forth from the media:

Suddenly everyone is an expert on guns and gun law,  but although I'm hardly a "gun advocate" I do advocate the truth and the truth is that although the police and the military do use some autoloading pistols, real military assault rifles have been banned since 1937 and are not "easily available" at your local Bass Pro Shop or Wal-Mart. That dearly beloved ban left store shelves loaded with extended magazines and the kind of weapons it didn't actually ban.  I'll just assume that my Grimm brother here is as ignorant as most journalists who think that BA in journalism grants poetic license and instant expertise on all matters and not just someone looking for ratings by reaching into that bucket of breathless hyperbole and  cheap drama and pulling out plums about "high velocity bullets" without actually knowing anything about ballistics.  Would the victims have been better off being hit by slow moving .45 ACP slugs or faster moving .22 magnums?  Not really.

 Is it any wonder even the best of us are making statements that don't hold up with all this misinformation floating around pretending to be the god's honest truth.  I've been as guilty of that as anyone, as my nephew John continues to point out.  His comments on my post on Incrementalism taught me a few things, as have some of his comments on other posts.  I don't always agree with him or his premises, but I do admit that on some issues he has better information than I do.

Which is not to say that John isn't a brat.  He is.  But I love him dearly because he has taught me a few things, among them that reasonable people can disagree.

Now, if we can just get our vaunted "free press" to do its job, maybe things will be easier when it comes to decision-making on such serious issues as we are now facing.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Granny Bird Award: Charles Agbu

This edition of the Granny Bird Award, given from time to time to those who harm the rights and lives of elders, goes to Charles Agbu, who has copped a plea in a Medicare fraud case.

A Carson pastor pleaded guilty Monday to submitting more than $11 million in Medicare reimbursement through fraudulent clinics and by promising patients expensive equipment, according to the Department of Justice.

Charles Agbu, 58, of Carson, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of money laundering in U.S. District Court.

Agbu, a pastor at Pilgrim Congregational Church, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine when he is sentenced in May.

Agbu admitted to owning Bonfee Inc., a fraudulent medical equipment supply company, and acknowledged that he paid patient recruiters to approach Medicare beneficiaries and convinced them to give him their Medicare information in exchange for specialized power wheelchairs, officials say.

Agbu would then bill Medicare officials for the wheelchairs without delivering them to his clients. He also admitted to paying for fake prescriptions and other fraudulent documents in order to be able to continue  billing Medicare for medical equipment, authorities say.  ...

The case was brought by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, a special unit of investigators launched in May 2009 by the Justice and Health and Human Services departments.   [Emphasis added]

Apparently "Pastor" Agbu wasn't too familiar with the Ten Commandments, especially that one about lying.  Some attribute for a man of God.

While the article isn't clear as to how much money the good "pastor" reaped by his scam, the fine does seem a little low, even by plea-deal standards.  That 20 years in prison, however, does seem appropriate and I hope the judge gives him all 20 years.  That will at least send a message.

Finally, at a time when the vile idiots in Washington are considering cuts to Medicare/Medicaid, perhaps that could be accomplished by tightening up the language of the original legislation which left loopholes for this kind of fraud to be accomplished.  The Center for Medicare/Medicaid Services, the agency charged to oversee such billings needs to be ramped up so that it can spot these scams before they hit the $11 million mark.  And more money to the agencies investigating such fraud (DOJ and HHS) would also be helpful in rooting out the wrongdoers, recovering their ill-gotten gains, and slamming their backsides in prison for long terms.

Let your congress critters know that these are the only kind of "cuts" to Medicare/Medicaid which are acceptable and do it today.   

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012


(Political cartoon by Yaakov Kirschen and published at Dry Bones.  Click on image to enlarge and then be kind enough to return.)

OK, I'm trying to claw myself out of the miasma of incredible sadness and depression following the Newtown Massacre.  I'm old,  and I don't have that many years left.  I don't want to spend the rest of my days weeping in bed with the covers pulled over my head.  That's the coward's way out.  It's time to move from sadness to anger, from immobilization to activism.

The ideal response would be to institute widespread changes which would ban all guns save hunting rifles from civilians, but even I know that ain't gonna happen right now.  Just like universal access to healthcare, we're apparently going to have to take an incremental approach.  Of course, that means we're going to have continuing deaths by guns, either in terms of mass killings or in terms of  "murder-suicides" or domestic violence.  People will still die, but perhaps not as many.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has seen the results of gun violence up close and personal, has already indicated she will be introducing a bill in the next Congress which will essentially re-instate the assault weapons ban.

Two days after the shooting deaths of 26 people at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Sen. Dianne Feinstein pledged Sunday that she would introduce new gun-control legislation at the beginning of next year’s congressional session.

“It [the bill] will ban the sale, the transfer, the transportation and the possession,” the California senator said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Not retroactively, but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.”

Feinstein said the purpose of her proposal, a version of the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004, is to get “weapons of war off the streets of our cities.”

OK, that's a start, but only a tiny baby-step.  I'd like to see more for this start, as would a lot of my friends.  In a discussion at Eschaton, folks came up with a list of other terms for the first step.  I have added a few to the list, including the following:

1. The banning of internet sales of guns and ammunition.
2. The addition of a stiff federal tax on both guns and ammunition to be set aside for a federal buy-back program on military-type assault weapons and hand guns.
3. The banning of gun shows.
4. The requirement of registration at the time of ammunition purchase with a delay while a background check has been run.
5. The mandatory reporting to the federal government of large sales of ammunition.
6. The requirement that mental health professionals report individuals who should not have access to firearms much as they are required to report in some states individuals who are a threat to themselves or others.

This is, once again, just a start, but one we have to make that start if we are going to move this country, and it is one which might just might save a few lives.

All of this might look like weak tea, but you can be sure that the gun-rights people will begin howling as soon as a decent period of grieving for the deaths of 20 first graders is over.  That means we have to get active.

As soon as the 113th Congress has been sworn in we need to let our senators and our representative in the House know what we expect of them.  We can't expect the current congressional toadies to be interested in the issue in the next ten days.  And, of course, we can hold our president's feet to the fire on the issue after his comments at the Newtown vigil on 12/16/12.

We can also sign  a petition at the White House site.  Yes, it requires registration, but if you're on the internet and reading blogs such as this, the government has already got information on you.

We need to do these things because, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing."

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Monday, December 17, 2012

What Libby Said

I'm still having a great deal of difficulty processing the whole Newtown Massacre, so I still don't have much to say coherently.  Maybe tomorrow.

Libby Spencer, however, was at her eloquent best, so I recommend you drop by her joint and read what she has to say.  The picture was snagged from that post.

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Eloise Klein Healy


Dogs, out of the kitchen!—repeated five times in ascending notes
and increasing volume as the hands sweep through the air
with or without cooking implement or towel.
Don’t drop anything because a dog will dart into the kitchen
and you will have to repeat step one and increase the volume
and perhaps even make a threat or two, step briskly toward them,
or if something does fall in front of the sink, a dog will dive
and get her/his nose under the lip of the cabinet
and maybe let out a yelly yelp
which is pretty much meaningless
in the lifetime of two dogs who are waiting at the edge
of the tile for the cook to turn her back and shift her
attention to the REAL recipe, the one with at least
a countertop full of leafy things with fronds dropping
where a skillful dog can reach and run from the room
with cilantro, kale, beet tops, anything green and gorgeous
anything that feels like a precursor to a real meal like that breast
of chicken unswaddled from its Saran wrap and pretty slippery
right now, pretty “possible” in the mind of a dog whose owner
is reaching into the cupboard, back turned, humming a tune
and not quite as mindful as she should be, silly believer
in what she just said for the three millionth time
in the life of these two canines—like they care
about repetition, maybe being reincarnations
of those kitchen loving poodles Gertrude Stein
used to spoil with little treats and little oppsy-dipsy pets,
little smoochy-mouth French words
that are even now taking our minds off the fact
the dogs are in the kitchen again and the cook
is back to step one, screaming, “Dogs!! Out of the kitchen!!”

--Eloise Klein Healy

Sunday Funnies Extravaganza

This week I couldn't find the energy to make the decision on which political cartoon was the best of the week, so I'm giving you all of those that made the first cut.  You decide. Oh, and as always, click on each image to enlarge and then return for the next one.

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 12/11/12 in the Washington Post.)

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge and published 12/11/12 in the Kansas City Star and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Jim Morin and published 12/12/12 in the Miami Herald and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett and published 12/12/12 in the Lexington Herald-Leader and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge and published in the Kansas City Star and featured at McClatchy DC.)

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett published 12/14/12 in the Lexington Herald-Leader and featured at McClatchy DC.)


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Mule Deer

(Photograph by David Stephens and published by National Geographic.)

Small Blessings

One of my favorite elder blogs is Ruminations.  Its proprietor is Florence, a pharmacist who retired early for health reasons and who now spends her days gardening, quilting, cooking, and (of course) blogging.  She has a series of  "Three Things That Made Me Happy Today" posted which got my attention, but good!

Here's one of her recent entries:

★ Three things that made me happy today★ 
I didn't sleep well last night so I took an after breakfast nap. Ah, the joys of retirement. Eat your heart out, worker bees! LOL!!
Beautiful day. Clear, cool, low humidity. 
No cooking day. Took 2 containers of veggie soup out of the freezer and toasted some sourdough bread.

No, nothing earth-shaking, but nonetheless important.  In the midst of the stresses of life these days, including (but not limited to) our seriously defective economic system, our maddeningly deranged political system,  our rapidly deteriorating environment, taking time to note the small blessings of life provides a kind of perspective, a chance to breathe, however briefly. 

And so, here are three things that made me happy on Thursday.  (Friday, well, I'm not quite ready to process that day.)

A friend I met online and then again in real life sent me an email to check my current address so she could send me a small Christmas gift.  I was touched by her grace and generosity.

I go to Burger King for a second breakfast most mornings.  There is a group of men about my age who do the same.  One bought my breakfast and told me that he and his buddies were always glad to see me.

During my afternoon walk, the rottweiler puppy I hadn't seen walking in several months appeared with his owner.  No longer a puppy-puppy, Hans is at the gangly adolescent state.  He recognized me and sat at my command so I could give him a dog biscuit (provided by his owner).

I've decided that I will now pay attention to those brief moments, those small blessings, and be grateful for them.  They may just turn out to be life-savers and soul-savers.

Thanks, Florence.


Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Hurry Up, Please. It's Time. UPDATED

(Editorial cartoon by Lee Judge / The Kansas City Star (December 13, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return your backside to this post.  Thank you.)

So, another shooting, this time at a shopping mall at the height of the holiday shopping season.  I suppose we should be grateful that the death toll this time is in single digits, but I don't take much comfort in that.  It's another one of those cases of  "it should never have happened."

I do, however, take some comfort that the governor of Colorado is finally willing to speak out against the ease with which people can obtain the kinds of weapon that wreak this kind of madness.  Gov. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, refused any kind of call for a change in gun laws after the Aurora shooting, but apparently he's had a change of heart.

From an AP report published in the Denver Post.

Five months after a movie theater massacre in suburban Denver shocked the nation, Colorado's Gov. John Hickenlooper now says "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures.

The Democratic governor has until now resisted calls to review state gun laws after the shootings in Aurora. Hickenlooper upset some in his party when he said last summer that stricter laws would not have prevented the massacre.

In an interview with The Associated Press Wednesday, Hickenlooper said enough time has passed since the tragedy and that the legislative session in January would be an appropriate time to take up a debate gun control measures.

Now Gov. Hickenlooper is not exactly the wild-eyed radical bent on wresting 2nd Amendment rights from all right-thinking citizens.  In fact, he's one of those "go along to get along" Dems we've been blessed with.  In other words, he's a DINO.

From the same AP report not reproduced in the initial Denver Post report:

Hickenlooper said the issues that merit discussion include "things like, do we all need assault weapons?" which he said are "designed for warfare" and "designed to pierce bulletproof vests and body armor." ...

Hickenlooper has long prided himself on being a moderate who tries to forge compromises between Republicans and Democrats. But the upcoming session could pose challenges to Hickenlooper with Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislature, unlike the previous two years of split legislative control. Now legislation that Republicans heavily oppose can actually get to Hickenlooper's desk, forcing him to take difficult stances.   [Emphasis added]

Rubber, meet road.


A shooting at a Connecticut elementary school Friday left 27 people dead, including 18 children, an official said.

Kyrie Eleison

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Corporate Welfare

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/11/12 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

It always amazes me that the first thing people want to cut when it comes to government budgets (federal, state, local) are safety nets for the poor and vulnerable.  "Welfare" has somehow become a dirty word and refers to needless spending on those too lazy to pull themselves up out of whatever hole they're in.  It never refers to spending on those who don't need it:  you know, professional sports franchises who want a new stadium or they'll go elsewhere; large corporations who expect tax breaks and subsidies to keep the wheels of commerce spinning; agricorps who want crop subsidies to keep them growing food to ship across and even out of the country.

The New York Times recently published a three-part series on corporate welfare and what it costs the country.  The gateway to that series is located here.  The articles are well worth the read.  Tom Eblen reflects on those articles in a commentary originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader and featured at McClatchy DC.

When a poor person gets a government handout, it's called welfare. When a rich corporation gets one, it's called an economic development incentive.

With local, state and federal government budgets tighter than ever, social programs are getting a hard look. But what about corporate welfare?

The New York Times started a good conversation last week with a three-part investigative series called the United States of Subsidies. Reporter Louise Story spent 10 months analyzing corporate tax breaks, gifts and other incentives in all 50 states, which she figured add up to at least $80 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to business. ...

...Incentives redirect billions of tax dollars to corporate bottom lines instead of to improving education, health, safety, infrastructure and making other public investments that will create genuine, long-term economic development. ...

The incentive system favors large corporations over small businesses — often the employers who are already in a community and aren't looking to leave. Officials have responded by coming up with some incentives for them, too, which just further drains government coffers.

How do we stop this racket, where cities and states compete to steal jobs from one another? It would be great if Congress could pass a law, but it probably can't. Still, with about 20 percent of state and local government budgets coming from federal dollars, somebody needs to be looking out for the national interest.



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Too Big To Jail

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett, published 10/1/08 in the Lexington Herald-Press, and found here.  Click on image to enlarge and then please return.)

It's been a bumpy couple of months for banks.  For Wells Fargo and HSBC, it also looks to be a bit expensive.

Wells Fargo is the target of a couple of law suits.  The first is a "private" law suit which claims the bank has failed to live up to the settlement agreement of a class-action suit.

Legal filings last week claimed Wells Fargo failed to provide wide-ranging reductions of loan balances to delinquent borrowers as it had promised two years ago when it settled a combined national class-action suit. A bank spokeswoman strongly disputed the claim, saying it was riddled with errors.

The litigation illustrates how lawsuits continue to dog major home lenders more than five years after the mortgage industry imploded, including recent challenges to certain cases the banks thought had been put to rest.

The second suit has been filed by  a U.S. Attorney and looks to be even more serious.

The U.S. attorney in Manhattan has accused Wells Fargo of defrauding a government-backed mortgage insurance program, in another major civil case brought in the wake of the housing bust and financial crisis.

The mortgage-fraud suit, filed by U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, seeks "hundreds of millions of dollars" in damages for claims the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has paid for defaulted loans "wrongfully certified" by Wells Fargo.

The suit alleges the San Francisco banking giant falsely certified loans insured by the government's Federal Housing Administration.

“As the complaint alleges, yet another major bank has engaged in a longstanding and reckless trifecta of deficient training, deficient underwriting and deficient disclosure, all while relying on the convenient backstop of government insurance," Bharara said in a statement.

Adding "accelerant to a fire," Bharara said, was Wells Fargo's bonus system that rewarded employees based on the number of loans it approved.

This case, like the first, was brought in civil court, even though it appears the US attorney has some decent facts to prove the fraud.

 Unlike the cases against Wells Fargo, HSBC was nailed in a criminal investigation.

British banking giant HSBC will pay $1.92 billion to settle a wide-ranging investigation by U.S. authorities into money laundering at the bank.

In a deferred prosecution agreement, confirmed by the bank Tuesday, HSBC will undergo independent monitoring for five years as it puts in place safeguards to make sure it does not again become a conduit for illicit transactions. ...

A deferred prosecution agreement is a less severe punishment than criminal charges.

In other words, nobody at HSBC and nobody at Well Fargo is going to jail for their malfeasance.  I find that a bit discomfiting.  Bernie Madoff went to jail.  And Ken Lay was convicted but died before he could be imprisoned.  Why not someone (or someones) from either bank?  Can banks hide behind their corporate shield even in criminal matters?

If so, than contrary to Mitt Romney's opinion, at least some corporations are not people, especially if they're big enough and rich enough.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Moral Degenerates

(Click on image to enlarge and then please bring your eyes back here.

The Supreme  Court has agreed to hear two cases dealing with gay marriage:  one concerning the Defense of Marriage Act and the other concerning Proposition 8 in California. Although the legal issues of the two cases are different and may have a decisive impact on each case, the subject matter is, of course, the same.

David Horsey has a very sane and a very compassionate column on the two cases and what ultimately stands behind them.

The Supreme Court will be deciding whether to uphold the appeals court ruling that struck down Proposition 8. In addition, the justices will be deliberating on the constitutionality of provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that deny legal benefits to same-sex couples who are married. A range of outcomes is possible including a broad decision that opens the way to same-sex marriage in every state or a narrow ruling that says Proposition 8 supporters lack legal standing. Many legal experts say the odds favor elimination of Proposition 8 and reinstitution of the California Supreme Court’s ruling that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry in the Golden State.

Throughout this country’s history, the high court has often been the arbiter that sorts out knotty social disputes. The burgeoning conundrum now is that there is a growing number of American citizens who are legally married under the laws of several states (including California before passage of Proposition 8). Yet, these people are unable to gain the full benefits of marriage because either the federal government or states that do not recognize same-sex marriage deny them those benefits. Is such unequal treatment constitutional? The court is set to grapple with that question.

Horsey notes the usual arguments from the Religious Reich:  homosexuality is an affront to the Omnipotent God;  gay marriage is a sign that our society is in a disastrous moral decline, just like ancient pagan Rome;  one man and one woman is how we have been designed.  All of these arguments ring hollow when we look to the very people making these arguments and to the divorce statistics in this country. 

That Omnipotent God created homosexuals, as scientists discovered decades ago.  What, is that Omnipotent God some kind of monster, designing people to suffer, to fail, to go to Hell?  And what about those "holy" people who have been caught engaged in homosexual trysts.  I'm talking priests and preachers, congresscritters and Villagers.  Or the serial monogamists who add to the divorce rates with astounding regularity (I'm looking at you, Newt!).  Why should not all of us have access to the benefits of a recognized marriage contract so that we can avail ourselves of tax laws and custody laws and even the right to sit at the bedsides of our dying partners?  Why does a civil government, one which was founded on the principle of the separation of church and state, intrude on the issue, telling us who we can marry?

Horsey's conclusion is more sanguine than I am as to the outcome than I am (Scalia, Alito, Thomas, Roberts, and who knows which of the other five), but it does summarize the argument beautifully:

The naughty old Romans are always dragged out as an object lesson by people who think society is going astray, but I must say that what happened in Washington was not a celebration of something wrong. The fact that couples who have spent years, even decades, together in loving partnerships have finally been given the chance to make their bonds legal seems very much like what DeWolf described as Christian values. Same-sex marriage is an affirmation that people – all people – are made for better things, are capable of charity and concern for one another, are enhanced by living a life of virtue.

If America believes marriage is, indeed, an institution that binds the nation together, can it be wrong to bring more citizens into that virtuous circle? Perhaps the Supreme Court will settle the question once and for all. In the meantime, voters in states that are progressive (not pagan) are deciding for themselves that the law must give everyone a shot at wedded bliss.


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Monday, December 10, 2012

Please Drop Dead

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 8/24/12 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Click on image to enlarge and then kindly return.)

When I read the news about the "fiscal cliff" and rumors of a "grand bargain" to avoid it, I get nervous. It does indeed appear that the White House and the Democrats are only too happy to deal away Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. The latest has to do with raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67.  The excuses are always the same: people live longer now, thereby using up the money more quickly; as the Baby Boomer generation hits 65, many more people than anticipated will be getting the benefit, thereby using up the money more quickly; healthcare costs are rising and Medicare will soon be eating up more and more of the budget. All of that is bovine excrement being spread to hide the fact that our owners want the programs ended and all of us dependent on private insurers who will charge accordingly.

The Los Angeles Times published an editorial which, I assume, attempted to be "balanced" by listing all of these arguments as if they had merit. However, to be fair, the editorial did get around to addressing the real issues behind the rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid and suggesting more rational approaches to solving the problems.

Many of the steps lawmakers are considering treat Medicare's growing costs as an isolated phenomenon. In fact, they're symptoms of larger problems in the healthcare system. The United States spends far more per capita on healthcare than any other country, including Western European nations with much older populations. The extra spending yields better results in some areas, worse in others.

One factor in the elevated costs is advancing medical technology, or rather the fact that new and more expensive technologies are continually introduced with no consideration of whether they're more effective than what's already available. Another factor is the way healthcare is organized, delivered and paid for. Historically, there has been little coordination among the various doctors, specialists and hospitals who see a given patient. The payment system is even more Balkanized, creating a confusing matrix of prices and reimbursement rates that seem to have no relation to the value of the service performed.

More fundamentally, the system rewards providers for treating the ill and injured, not for keeping the public hale and hearty. Its financial incentives encourage providers to deliver as much treatment as possible. And there's little or no connection between what providers are paid and how effective their care is. As a result, the industry has an incentive to deliver an increasing number of treatments of greater complexity — to build more capacity, then find a way to fill it.


For those who would scream that this approach is just another form of health care rationing, I would point out that private insurers have been rationing health care, or at least the portion they are willing to pay for, for a long time.  And that rationing has often been capricious and malicious, requiring multiple appeals and threats from state insurance commissioners for those claimants with the time and money to protest. The kind of rationing to which the editorial refers are open and transparent and make sense. They also will save billions over the years.

Digby suggests that the rumor to raise the eligibility age for Medicare may be just a trial balloon being floated by the White House to see if it will fly. If Digby is right, and she usually is, then we really need to continue to phone, email, fax, write our representatives and the White House to let them know that the balloon is made of lead and not worthy of consideration.

I urge you to do some kingbirding and continue to bug Washington until it gets the message.

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Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday Poetry: Lewis Carroll

(This came to mind after reading all the "news" reports on the Fiscal Cliff.)


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

--Lewis Carroll

Sunday Funnies: Another 2-fer

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 12/4/12 by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge.)

(Editorial cartoon by Tom Toles and published 12/5/12 by the Washington Post.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Bonus Critter Blogging: Northern Red Salamander

(Photograph from Ifthethunderdontgetya.  Click on link to see more marvelous photographs.)

He's Going To Cry

(Click on image to enlarge, then please return.)

Poor House Speaker Boehner.  I almost feel sorry for him, although not quite.  As David Horsey's cartoon and column points out, he has to negotiate with the White House while his own party is hopelessly split.

On one side of the growing rift stand pragmatic conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Bill Kristol who say Republicans should give ground and let President Obama raise taxes on the wealthiest 2% of Americans. On the other side stand hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a gaggle of right-wing pundits and tea party diehards who shout, “Never give in!” Straddling this divide is Boehner, trying to hold his caucus together while offering a middle path that would raise revenue from the rich while holding down tax rates.

Boehner’s scheme to come up with $800 billion by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy has broad, if tenuous, support in the GOP caucus, but it is not a plan that has much chance of survival. It brings in only half the revenue that would come in if Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire as they are set to do on Jan. 1. President Obama and the Democrats are far more inclined to let that happen than to buy into Boehner’s vague plan for which no details have yet been provided. Meanwhile, conservative purists are already calling Boehner a traitor to the cause for offering to take away deductions and tax credits from the upper class. ...

...That means all of the automatic tax hikes and budget cuts characterized as the “fiscal cliff” will begin to unroll, leaving it to the new Congress in the new year to forge an agreement with the president to roll back the draconian measures before the economy takes a dive.

And Boehner's woes won't end there.  In the next congress he can expect a challenge to his leadership from people like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, both of whom have their own political career aspirations.  It's hard to imagine either of them willing to throw their far-right supporters under the bus just so Boehner can make a deal.  It's not hard to imagine what that far-right constituency will demand next:

If they cannot stop a tax hike for the wealthy in January, the more strident conservatives are already identifying the February deadline for raising the debt ceiling as their next point of leverage. Should the president not give them what they want in cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and other non-military programs, the most zealous conservatives appear willing to put the good credit of the United States at risk again. The last time they did that in 2011, the nation’s credit rating was downgraded. This time the result could be worse.

Besides doing damage to the country, the GOP brand will be tarnished even further. Boehner and the pragmatists know that.  Unfortunately the ultra conservatives don't care.

Interesting times we live in.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

Friday Cat Blogging

Just A Convenient Stepping Stone

Another member of Congress has announced his resignation.  This time it's Senator Jim DeMint, who still has several years to go in his current term.  He's moving on to head up the Heritage Foundation.

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of the most influential leaders of the tea party wing of the party, will retire in January to head a conservative think tank in Washington.

DeMint has been a renegade on and off Capitol Hill, and earned a reputation for often rousing – and clashing – with his colleagues over his hard-line positions. The two-term senator carried those views to the campaign trail, where his political action committee endorsed right-flank candidates – often against the party’s wishes.

DeMint had from the start indicated that he would self-impose term limits on his senate career, but most people assumed that he would at least serve out all of his time.  I suppose there were several elements that entered into his decision, among them the failure of the GOP to take the Senate, but I can't help thinking that the presumed increase in pay and "prestige" also enter into it.

Like I said on Tuesday, our congress critters aren't even pretending any more:  service in Congress is just a temporary job, a place from which they can move on to bigger fame and fortune.

Sad, sad, sad.

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Thursday, December 06, 2012

You Break It, You Own It


Their bad.

The GOP has just discovered that maybe they screwed up big time, and this time they just might have to pay for it (maybe).  As David Horsey points out in both his cartoon and his column, Republicans were too clever by half and the President and (perhaps) the Senate might be willing to call them on it.

At its heart, the current impasse over a budget deal comes down to the GOP’s unwillingness to let George W. Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans expire. Obama insists this has to happen and House Speaker Boehner says it will not. The obvious weakness in the Republican position is that the Democrats know they will get what they want – more revenue from the wealthy – either because the Republicans capitulate and make it part of a budget package before Jan. 1 or because that date arrives with no agreement and the tax cuts disappear automatically. This makes them strongly inclined to play hardball. The chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, Washington state's Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, has made it clear she is willing to brave the fiscal cliff rather than do a deal with Republicans that, as she has said, “throws middle-class families under the bus” while, once again, rewarding the rich folks who have done so exceedingly well in recent decades.

Republicans have to know protecting the upper-income tax cuts is a lost cause, yet they are loath to deal them away. That would amount to raising taxes, something most Republicans have pledged never to do. Perversely, this gives them an incentive to postpone a deal until after the start of the year. They can claim they did not cave to Obama, while Grover Norquist will not be able to hold them accountable for the tax hike. ...

When Republicans created the fiscal cliff as a means to force a grand bargain on the budget, they must have assumed Democrats would go soft in a game of chicken. Instead, it appears Obama, Murray and the Democrats have looked over the fiscal cliff and are not all that frightened by what they see. Politically speaking, the scariest thing at the bottom of that cliff is the trap Republicans have set for themselves.  [Emphasis added]

Of  course, this doesn't mean that some kind of deal won't emerge before the end of the session.  While the tax cuts for the wealthy might go, cuts to "entitlements" might be be forged and traditional middle class deductions (mortgage interest payments) might be given up.  Democrats will still have room to screw up, and if they have the room, this crop will fill it.

That's why I think it's important that we annoy the hell out of our current reps with phone calls, faxes, signed petitions and whatever else progressive groups are floating.  And that kind of pressure needs to be doubled for the next Congress as well.

As I said back in June, it's time to do a whole lot of kingbirding:

Nature notes: Watched a tiny eastern kingbird assail a bald eagle who must have done some nest robbing. Irate little bird actually surfed the back of the eagle furiously pecking his head for about 1000 feet. Saw similar outrage directed at a raven. Tough day for nesting kingbirds.

I consider that an excellent metaphor for the very least we can do, so much so that I've created a new label, "Kingbirding." I suggest that as often as we can we peck mercilessly at the heads of the rapacious thieves stealing from our nest for as long as we can. If nothing else, it will annoy them, causing them to spend their oh-so-precious-time trying to shake us off. Faxes, letters, emails, telephone calls, vigils, letters to the editors: they may be just momentary distractions, but at least we are doing something.

And we'd better.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Apparently She Got A Better Offer

In a move reminiscent of the one Jane Harmon (D-CA) made several years ago, a Missouri congresswoman has announced one month after her re-election that she will be resigning in February to take a different job.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), freshly reelected to her ninth term in Congress, announced Monday that she would resign in February and become the president and chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Assn., the top donor to her campaigns during her congressional career.

Emerson, who was elected to her late husband Bill Emerson’s seat in a 1996 special election and was the first woman to represent Missouri in the House, handily won reelection earlier this year over Democratic rival Jack Rushin with nearly 72% of the vote. One of the few women to hold Republican leadership positions in Congress, Emerson was chairwoman of the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee and sat on the House Appropriations Committee. ...

In paperwork filed Monday, Emerson’s office said that negotiations for her new job began Nov. 19, after the election. House ethics guidelines on what sorts of negotiations for post-congressional employment are permitted are nebulous.   [Emphasis added]

 A Democratic spokesman hinted that she probably left because she didn't get the committee assignments she wanted (what Republican woman did?) because she was too moderate.  That may be the case, but that's hardly an acceptable excuse.  She chose to run for re-election and the people of her district turned out for her.  Now those voters have to go through the whole process all over again (and at some expense) because she got a better offer.

Our elected officials aren't even pretending anymore.  "Public service" is just a stop on the way to more money and more prestige. 

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Snake Oil

Michael Hiltzig did his usual fine job in getting at the roots of what's really going on in Washington.  It's supposed to look like a dangerous game of chicken between the two political parties with the very future of the nation at stake.  That, however, is not what's really going on, according to Hiltzig.  I think he not only got it right, he got it in one.

He zeroes in on the GOP's contention that to avoid the fiscal cliff, entitlements (Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid) have to be cut to reduce the horrible double-plus ungood deficit.  And those cuts have to be decided on RIGHT NOW.

We're talking about projections of the cost of "entitlements" — a noxious way of referring to Medicare and Social Security, excellent programs that most workers have paid for during their careers and that have kept millions of Americans healthy and out of poverty. ...

The element of haste is a crucial element in this debate. That's because as real estate brokers and late-night TV hucksters know, pressure to Act Now! is what leads their marks to overlook that the basic premise is bogus.

Consider the prevailing assumptions about the future of Social Security and Medicare. One is that Social Security's trust fund will run dry in 2033, at which point the money coming in from payroll taxes will be enough to cover only about 75% of currently scheduled benefits. Will this happen? It might, but it might not:

The program's trustees, who are the source of the projection, don't bet the farm on it. They also project that under certain conditions of economic and employment growth — all of them perfectly plausible — it might never run dry. You don't hear much about that projection because it doesn't fit into the narrative that Social Security is "going broke."

Healthcare costs, with Medicare and Medicaid as big components, have been projected to rise to as much as 40% of gross domestic product by 2082 if not restrained. That's a fearsome prospect, but it's based on a long-outdated forecast by the Congressional Budget Office, which doesn't use the same methodology anymore. It was highly implausible, if not impossible, in the first place.

That CBO projection, like others employed by the anti-"entitlement" lobby to push for gutting the program, relied on projecting past experience into the future without adjusting for changes in behavior or policy.  [Emphasis added]

 As Hiltzig points out, it's difficult to predict what is going to happen 20+ years from now based solely on the present.  Intervening incidents can have a profound effect; incidents such as 9/11 or the birth and growth of Google changed this nation in all sorts of ways, good and bad.  And smart people, especially those in business know that.

No one — no business, no government agency — makes plans today based on a vision of the world 20 years from now. IBM doesn't do it. Google doesn't do it. The Department of Defense doesn't do it. You and I don't do it. Not even life insurance companies, which might be said to live in the future, do it.

The reason smart people and companies don't make bets on the distant future is precisely because it's unknowable.  ...

And there's a big difference between making a congressional budget and making fundamental changes in programs as complex as Social Security and Medicare. The life span of a congressional budget is two years, max, because no Congress can bind its successors. But changes in Social Security and Medicare are forever. So when you hear that we have to do it now, stat! or we're doomed, take it for the snake oil that it is.   [Emphasis added]

This is all about dismantling Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid so that our corporate overlords can make more money.  It has nothing to do with fiscal cliffs, debt ceilings, or deficits.  Hopefully, the President and the Senate Democrats have enough spine to resist this bovine excrement.

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