Autumn Old Truck Wallpaper – Congress is More Conservative and Corrupt Than Ever

Autumn Old Truck Wallpaper

Autumn Old Truck Wallpaper

2013, Congress is More Conservative Than Ever, But They Are The Best Congress Money Can Buy

Failed gun control legislation and a fertilizer plant explosion reveal how poisoned by big money our government is.
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship. This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

If you want to see why the public approval rating of Congress is down in the sub-arctic range — an icy 15 percent by last count — all you have to do is take a quick look at how the House and Senate pay worship at the altar of corporations, banks and other special interests at the expense of public aspirations and need.

Traditionally, political scientists have taught their students that there are two schools of thought about how a legislator should get the job done. One is to vote yay or nay on a bill by following the will of his or her constituency, doing what they say they want. The other is to represent them as that legislator sees fit, acting in the best interest of the voters — whether they like it or not.

But our current Congress — as cranky and inert as an obnoxious old uncle who refuses to move from his easy chair — never went to either of those schools. Its members rarely have the voter in mind at all, unless, of course, that voter’s a cash-laden heavy hitter with the clout to keep an incumbent on the leash and comfortably in office.

How else to explain a Congress that still adamantly refuses to do anything, despite some 90 percent of the American public being in favor of background checks for gun purchases and a healthy majority favoring other gun control measures? Last week, they ignored the pleas of Newtown families and the siege of violence in Boston and yielded once again to the fanatical rants of Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association. In just the first three months of this year, as it shoved back against the renewed push for controls, the NRA spent a record $800,000 keeping congressional members in line.

And how else to explain why corporate tax breaks have more than doubled in the last 25 years? Or why the Senate and House recently gutted the STOCK Act requiring disclosure of financial transactions by White House staff and members of Congress and their staffs and prohibiting them from insider trading? It was passed into law and signed by President Obama last year – an election year – with great self-congratulation from all involved. But fears allegedly arose that there might be security risks for some in the executive branch if their financial business was known. That concern was examined by the Columbia Journalism Review, which “consulted four cybersecurity experts from leading think tanks and private security consultancies. Each came to the same conclusion: that Congress’s rationale for scrapping the financial disclosure rules was bogus.” Nonetheless, the House and Senate leapt at the opportunity to eviscerate key sections of the STOCK Act when almost no one was watching. And the president signed it.

Then there’s the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, where last week, fire and explosion killed at least 15 — 11 of them first responders — and injured more than 200. The Reuters news service reported that the factory “had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Why wasn’t Homeland Security on top of this? For one thing, the company was required to tell the department — and didn’t. For another, budget cuts demanded by Congress mean there aren’t enough personnel available for spot inspections.

Same goes for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA. The plant hadn’t been inspected in nearly thirty years, and there are so few OSHA inspectors in Texas that it would take 98 years for them to take a look at each workplace in the state once. According to the non-partisan reform group Public Campaign, “Already only able to conduct 40,000 workplace inspections a year in a country with seven million worksites, OSHA will see its budget cut by an additional 8.2 percent this year on account of the sequester.”

Congress quietly acquiesces as the regulations meant for our safety are whittled away.

Twelve members of Congress want to make a bad situation even worse, sponsoring the industry-backed General Duty Clarification Act; its banal title hiding that, as reported by Tim Murphy at Mother Jones magazine, “The bill is designed to sap the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to regulate safety and security at major chemical sites, as prescribed by the Clean Air Act.”

“‘We call that the Koch brothers bill,’ Greenpeace legislative director Rick Hind says, because the bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo, represents the conservative megadonors’ home city of Wichita, Kansas. (The sponsor of the sister legislation in the senate, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, represents the Kochs’ home state of Kansas.) The brothers have huge investments in fertilizer production, and Hind thinks they’ll ultimately get what they want, whether or not the bill becomes law.”

No coincidence, perhaps, that the sponsors of the House bill and Senator Roberts, Public Campaign reports, “have collectively taken over $670,000 from the chemical manufacturing industry over their careers.” Since 2011, the industry has spent $85.1 million lobbying.

Congress quietly acquiesces as the regulations meant for our safety are whittled away. The progressive website ThinkProgress notes that even though food related infections — which kill 3,000 and sicken 48 million Americans each year — rose last year, congressional and White House budget cuts may mean up to 600 fewer food inspectors at meat and poultry plants, leaving it up to the industry to police itself. That rot you’re smelling isn’t just some bad hamburger.

It’s true that ninety-two percent of Americans say, yes, reducing the deficit and spending cuts are important, but all on their own the people have figured out cuts that make more sense than anything Congress and its corporate puppeteers want to hear about. Mattea Kramer, research director at the National Priorities Project, says “a strong majority” — 73 percent of us — want a reduced reliance on fossil fuels, and fifty percent want something done about climate change. A carbon tax would help with both, and raise an estimated $125 billion every year. Response from Congress: crickets.

Fifty eight percent of the U.S., according to Gallup, wants “major cuts in military and defense spending,” the average American favoring a reduction of 18 percent. Good luck — the Pentagon and defense contractors already are bellowing about the puny 1.6 percent reduction called for in the new White House budget.

Mattea Kramer writes that Americans for Tax Fairness, a coalition of 280 organizations, has “identified 10-year budgetary savings of $2.8 trillion simply by limiting or eliminating a plethora of high-income and corporate tax loopholes.” Congress is busily revising the tax code as we speak but how many of those loopholes and other perks like credits and deductions do you bet will go away?

Not many if the lobbying industry has anything to do with it. The House Ways and Means Committee has eleven working groups considering rewrites and according to the congressional newspaper The Hill, they’re quietly meeting with lobbyists and other interests – “deep pocketed players” — all the time. Keep your eye on who’s donating to the re-election campaigns of each of those working group members as we move toward the midterms next year.

Over on the Senate side, The New York Times recently reported those seeking to cut taxes and hang onto their incentives as the code is revised have found one strategy that seems to work – hire firms that employ former aides to Democratic Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. The Times analyzed lobbying files and found at least 28 of his ex-staffers “have lobbied on tax issues during the Obama administration – more than any other current member of Congress.”

Reporter Eric Lipton writes, “… Many of those lobbyists have already saved their clients millions — in some cases, billions — of dollars after Mr. Baucus backed their requests to extend certain corporate tax perks, provisions that were adopted as part of the so-called fiscal cliff legislation in January.”

Senator Baucus’ spokesman was quick to say that his boss regularly rejects requests as well, but the fact is, he added, “Oftentimes good policy can indirectly benefit someone. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”

Just so. Which is why, for example, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader who likes to complain about the current tax code’s four million words of red tape – seven times the length of War and Peace — will doubtless support tightening loopholes, right? A January report from Public Campaign Action Fund, found that, “Companies that lobbied against bringing jobs back to America and ending tax breaks for offshoring have given McConnell one million dollars to win his elections and look out for their interests.” In other words: don’t hold your breath.

No wonder the biggest newspaper in his native Kentucky said in a recent editorial that McConnell “has long ceased to serve the state, instead serving the corporate interests he counts on for contributions and leading obstruction that continues to plague Congress.”

Sadly, such is the way of Washington, home of the scheme and the fraud, where the unbreakable chain between money and governance weighs heavy and drags us ever deeper into a sinkhole of inaction and mediocrity.

Bill Moyers is managing editor of the new weekly public affairs program, “Moyers & Company,” airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at http://www.BillMoyers.com.

Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos and a senior writer of the new series, Moyers & Company, airing on public television.

Mountain Morning Light wallpaper – The Flat Tax Lead Bandwagon and Other News

American landscapes, green, nature

Mountain Morning Light wallpaper

The conservative winds are changing regardless of what the latest straw polls show. Herman Cain has made one too many missteps and the conservative establishment has declared his campaign is just about over. This op-ed is from the web equivalent of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, The Daily Caller –  Cain: Rove attacks me to help Romney

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO says former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove is attacking him in an effort to help former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Washington Examiner reports.

Cain’s comments came after Rove, considered the principal architect of President George W. Bush’s political career, mapped out a list of recent Cain “gaffes” on a whiteboard during a Fox News Channel appearance Monday morning. “The whole effect of this is to not create an image, I think, of him being a flip-flopper,” said Rove. “I think it’s to create an image of being not up to the task.”

“It’s a good thing the voters are not looking at Karl Rove’s little whiteboard,” Cain told the Examiner’s Byron York Monday afternoon. “I believe it is a deliberate attempt to damage me because I am not — quote, unquote — the establishment choice. But why not go with the choice that the people seem to like?”

Rove and Fox may not be crazy about Romney, but make no mistake this is a shot to the heart of Cain’s momentum. Cain’s much inflated persona as the outsider wears a bit thin when you consider that most of his campaign organization is the Koch brothers. The Right has taken to describing the Koches as liberal’s boogeyman. They are not invisible and they do not hide under beds, the millions of dollars they spend through the Cato Institute, FreedonWorks and American Legislative Exchange Council(ALEC) the Koches are a major force in the Anti-American conservative movement. They were and are major players in dismantling unions and workers rights. Forget about this meme that conservative voters are anti-establishment. That is the same old window dressing they used at the height of the tea nuts movement to shift blame for the economy and bungled foreign policy away from “true” conservationism. This analysis is spot on. If either one of the Koches started a run for president tomorrow it would shake up the race considerably.

Aging culture warriors on the Right love Rick Perry. He thinks all the batsh*t insane stuff Michelle Bachmann thinks, except he’s male. Perry has now jumped on the flat tax bandwagon. It hardly matters to the average conservative whether it is Cain or Perry’s flat tax, they will lower the taxes for millionaires and corporations and rise taxes on those with average incomes and below. Flat tax fits on a bumper sticker. Conservative pols have always preferred simple over smart or fair. Thinking hurts their pointed heads. For GOP Presidential Field, It’s Survival of the Flattest

As Steve Forbes learned in 1996 and 2000 and Herman Cain is learning now, the flat tax is a bad idea whose time never came. After all, the move to a single income tax rate for all earners inevitably shifts the tax burden from the rich to middle and lower income Americans. And if the rate is too low, the result is a hemorrhage of red ink from the U.S Treasury that quickly becomes an ocean of debt.

Nevertheless, in one form or another, the top tier of the 2012 GOP presidential stands poised to embrace this latest wildly regressive Republican windfall for the wealthy. Hoping to benefit from the hype surrounding Cain’s simple 9-9-9 plan, Texas Governor Rick Perry with Steve Forbes’ endorsement will announce his own flat tax proposal on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the resurrected Newt Gingrich has exhumed his own scheme in the guise of an “optional” 15 percent flat tax rate. And to confirm the growing flat tax popularity among his party’s primary voters, frontrunner Mitt Romney in typical fashion may be on the verge of reversing course.

If conservatives want to be the party of the perennially wacky Forbes let’s not try to discourage them. Forbes went down in flames. Perry and Cain will do likewise. Your conservative family making $40k a year and now pays no federal income taxes has no desire to start paying a minimum tax of Cain’s 9% or Perry’s 20%( as reported by the WSJ). Romney has not specified his flat tax rate yet and as the weeks progress and the feedback starts coming in I suspect it will be one of those flip-flop-flips which he backs off. Rick Perry: Standing Tall for the 1%

He’d allow multinationals to return the trillion dollars in profits that they have closeted abroad at a 5% tax rate, a truly shameless corporate giveaway. He’d lower corporate taxes to 20% immediately, while “phasing out” corporate loopholes – good luck with that.

Then he would blow a hole in Social Security, providing young workers with a choice for private accounts. Since under the current plan, young workers pay for the benefits their parents’ generation receives, this would starve Social Security of significant income just when the boomers are retiring. He does not say how he would replace what is likely to be a trillion dollar shortfall over the next thirty years.

But it will have to be by cutting benefits since he would put a lid on federal spending at 18% GDP (We currently spend about 24%, and it is impossible to imagine an effective government sustaining Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and bare bone essential services at less than 20%).

During the best of the Bush and total control of the federal government by conservatives spending was 20% of GDP. That is without a recession and spending with no compensating cuts ( its the the glorious borrow and spend years). We have trillions to pay in health are for vets of the two wars conservatives bungled. More of the baby boomers will be retiring. We still need infrastructure spending. A Rick Perry presidency looks as bleak as the landscape in The Book of Eli with no green zone left at the end to save us.

An unfortunate trend is to have a reflexive reaction to anything Obama proposes as dead on arrival. It might be cool in some circles, but not very productive – HARP II, Either A Huge Deal Or Not

The FHFA itself is actually not making any particularly grand claims on behalf of this initiative, and other people I’ve heard from in the government are likewise being very restrained and not promising any gigantic macroeconomic benefits.

Sarah Rosen Wartell, who leads the housing work at CAP, put out a statement observing that “some important details are still to come that will determine how much progress will be achieved.” Joe Gagnon goes really big, and says that if this is designed right we could get three to four million jobs out of it which obviously would be a huge effect. By contrast, Felix Salmon says he thinks this will do almost nothing. Personally, I have no idea who’s right about this. It can’t hurt to try, right?

If we split the difference between Joe and Felix that would mean 2 million jobs and quite a few people staying in their homes.

War By Other Means – Why it’s safe to ignore Republican criticism of Obama’s policy in Iraq.

This is getting all too predictable. President Obama announced that all American troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, in compliance not only with his election pledge but also with the terms of a U.S.-Iraq treaty. In response, the Republicans moaned and hollered that Obama is playing politics with national security, or that he could have negotiated a better outcome, or that he’s surrendering to Iranian domination.

It’s a safe bet that, had Obama announced he was keeping 10,000 troops in Iraq for the indefinite future, most of the same Republicans would have moaned and hollered that he was breaking a promise to the American people, draining the Treasury, and boosting the chance of a terrorist attack by Muslims angered at our continued occupation.
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More than this, their complaints are unfounded, based on either ignorance or deliberate distortion.

First, it is crucial to note that this withdrawal and its timetable were set in a treaty called the Status of Forces Agreement, signed Nov. 17, 2008, not by Obama (who wasn’t president yet) but rather by George W. Bush. SOFAs, as they’re often abbreviated, are treaties—bearing the force of national and international law—that presidents sign with each country that hosts U.S. armed forces. They set the terms and conditions under which those forces can stay.

The SOFA with Iraq states, in Article 24: “All U.S. forces are to withdraw from all Iraqi territory, waters, and airspace no later than the 31st of December of 2011.” That’s as definitive as these things get.

Article 30 does allow for amendments to the treaty, but only in the event of the “formal written approval of both parties and in accordance with the constitutional procedures in both countries.” For the past few months, U.S. officials (including some former Bush officials called back to join the delegation) have tested the waters to see if Iraqi lawmakers would allow—or, more to the point, wanted—an amendment that would permit some of the current 40,000 American troops to stay on. Their conclusion: The Iraqis had no such desire, and not much need.

There is the argument violence will increase on US withdrawal. We’ve been withdrawing troops over the past two years and while there was an uptick for a while violence is down. fewer Iraqis and fewer US military are dying. We’ll still have 40,000 troops on the Kuwaiti border and a Naval carrier group off the coast. Iran talks a lot of smack but they have no desire to have their clock cleaned by US air and naval power.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and some others have suggested that the sticking point was over a clause giving U.S. troops immunity from Iraqi prosecution for alleged crimes. This is a standard feature of such treaties, including of the earlier arrangement with Iraq. It’s true that the Iraqis refused to grant the immunity. But there was no leeway to negotiate an exemption, because the main sticking point was, and is, that the Iraqis simply do not want American troops in their country anymore. One U.S. official in Iraq said in a phone interview, “Even our erstwhile friends [among Iraqi politicians] want us out by the end of the year. None of them lifted a finger to keep us.”

Do Obama’s Republican critics, who have made such a big deal of Iraq’s bourgeoning democracy, really think Obama should (or could) have disregarded the democratically elected parliament of a sovereign nation—a sovereign ally, at that—in order to keep U.S. troops on that nation’s soil, allegedly for its own interest (as defined by us, not by them)? We would then become nothing but an occupying power, sure to trigger an escalation of armed resistance and appear hypocritical in the extreme.