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Farm Team

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (otherwise known as SNAP) that provides food assistance to about 50 million Americans as well as the entire Farm Bill that includes the program may be cut severely, depending on a bill from the House of Representatives and the chances of reconciliation with the Senate version passed June 10.

As I wrote here a year ago, and thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every 5 years this legislation to ensure that America’s farmers produce food and that Americans can afford to purchase has been reauthorized for nearly 8 decades.

 

As I indicated then, the first farm bill was named The Agricultural Adjustment Act and was enacted May 12, 1933 as an integral part of the New Deal 80 years ago. It restricted agricultural production by paying farmers subsidies not to plant on part of their land. This was intended to reduce crop surplus, consequently boosting the market value of crops. The current Farm Bill is a large multi-aspect omnibus agricultural and food policy legislative instrument administered by the Department of Agriculture.  It seems we’re still in the original “reduction” mode but now there’s no surplus, at least not when feeding the hungry is concerned.

 

My current focus is primarily on the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, the main source of food for millions of families, including children and seniors.

 

The Senate has already passed a measure that would cut $24 billion from current levels, including about $4.1 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years.  These cuts in food stamps would put millions of poor families at risk of further food insecurity despite the estimates by USDA that 49 million Americans now live in food insecure homes.

These $4.1 billion cut in the SNAP program are currently on the table despite the fact that the average benefit is about $1.46 per person per meal.  According to Food Research and Action Center, benefit levels are already too low to prevent hunger and the Senate cut could actually mean $90 less a month for 500,000 families already struggling to make ends meet according to Coalition Against Hunger.

 

A House version of the bill would provide for food stamp cuts of $20 billion, 5 times the Senate amount.  The bill proposed by the House Agriculture Committee would include those cuts over 10 years. So the House bill is structured to make even deeper cuts which could increase hunger among millions of children and seniors who are already struggling to make ends meet and living with chronic hunger.

 

The House version would eliminate food assistance to nearly 2 million low-income people, mostly working families with children and senior citizens. The SNAP cuts would represent more than half of the almost $40 billion proposed cuts in the overall level of farm spending, leaving most of the subsidies to large, wealthy corporate farmers unscathed.

 

These cuts will be in addition to automatic cuts on November 1, 2013 when the increase in SNAP benefits established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) will terminate as scheduled, resulting in a loss of about $25 in monthly benefits for a family of four. This will be especially draconian and perhaps life threatening to millions of Americans.

 

The majority of the bill’s SNAP cuts come from eliminating an option delegated to state implementation known as “categorical eligibility” to low-income working families and seniors whose gross incomes or assets are just modestly above federal SNAP limits. However, their disposable incomes often fall below the poverty line.

 

The bill also eliminates incentive payments to states that have improved payment accuracy and service delivery, would cut nutrition education funding, and would curtail a state option that reduces paperwork for many households with utility expenses and also lowers state administrative costs.   These incentives would normally be attractive to fiscal hawks but it seems that because of the “social” nature of this program, they too find themselves on the block.

The Senate approved a version that will total $955 billion over the next 10 years. It funds a full range of programs that include crop insurance for farmers, food assistance for low-income families and foreign food aid.  It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 66 to 27. The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but the House failed to bring its bill to a vote

Despite the cuts to SNAP, the bill had its cheerleaders. “The Senate today voted to support 16 million American jobs, to save taxpayers billions and to implement the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She co-authored the bill along with Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the committee.

The Senate version would be a 5-year farm program (S. 954) and passed by a vote of 66-27, with 18 Republicans joining Democrats. It includes a $4.1 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over ten years. The House will attempt to pass its own bill starting the week of June 17. The bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee and now headed to the floor goes even further than the Senate-passed bill, cutting $20.5 billion from SNAP over the same ten-year period.

 

A so-called Vitter Amendment has been attached to the Senate farm bill. This prevents convicted ex-offenders who perpetrated certain specified crimes from receiving SNAP benefits regardless of  when a conviction may occurred, disregarding the possibility of a changed life and whether an individual has made any contributions to society. The amendment would also reduce or eliminate benefits for the convicted individual’s entire household, including their children, by requiring that individual’s potential income be counted in in means testing, while denying the ex-offender any SNAP benefits. As part of the application process, the amendment a statement that would disclose whether any member of the household has been convicted of one of the disqualifying crimes.  This is a classic example of the butcher style budget techniques so common to fiscal hawks, disregarding any human consequences.

 

According to Bob Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

 

It would prevent the receipt of benefits, for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since…. The amendment would [also] mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members. So, a young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut…. Senator Vitter hawked his amendment as one to prevent murderers and rapists from getting food stamps. Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects.

 

Back in the House, within the House Agriculture Committee, the current scheme is to increase the amount of cuts to the program to the $20 billion over the next 10 years, an increase of $4billion from last year’s $16 billion un-voted House bill.

 

Several hundred thousand low-income children would lose access to free school meals. According to the Congressional Budget Office  depending on the bill, 210,000 children in low-income families whose eligibility could lose free school meals when their families lose benefits.  In addition, families could be forced to choose between owning a reliable car to get to a job and receiving food assistance to help feed their families.

The reality is that these cuts, as being proposed cuts are not needed to rein in out-of-control spending.  The recent increase in spending is due to the recession.  CBO has found that the recent increase in benefits is due to the severe economic environment and it is projecting that SNAP spending will decrease to 2008 levels as the economy recovers.

 

And according to Greg Kaufmann hunger, which now affects more than 50 million Americans, including more than one in five children represents an “increase of 37 percent in childhood hunger since 1999.  Kaufman points out that in New York alone, 702,000 people live in households experiencing hunger, the highest level recorded for the state since the federal government began collecting such data in the mid-1990s.”

 

An amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, which was defeated, would have prevented the SNAP cuts by instead cutting subsidies for foreign owned crop insurance companies. Commodity prices for crops are currently high historically and in relation to cost.  In addition, the federal budget is currently under tight constraints. Given these facts, total agricultural subsidies and even direct payments can be reduced, but without touching SNAP.  An ongoing debate during the last few reauthorizations of the original Farm Bill has been the disproportionate level of subsidies to large Midwestern farms.  A net reduction in these subsidies can be achieved by cutting subsidies to larger farms and an increase to smaller farms where the impact would be far greater.

 

According the charity organization Feeding America:

 

  • In 2011, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.5 million adults and 16.7 million children.

 

  • In 2011, 14.9 percent of households (17.9 million households) were food insecure.

 

  • In 2011, 5.7 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.

 

  • In 2011, households with children reported food insecurity at a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20.6 percent compared to 12.2percent.

 

  • In 2011, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (20.6 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.8 percent) or single men (24.9 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (25.1 percent) and Hispanic households (26.2 percent).

 

  • In 2011, 8.8 percent of seniors living alone (1 million households) were food insecure.

 

The organization reports that “food insecurity exists in every county in America, ranging from a low of 5 percent in Steele County, North Dakota to a high of 37 percent in Holmes County, Mississippi”.

 

Let’s reach out to ourrepresentatives to show them we care about our fellow Americans who reside in the richest country on earth who suffer from food insecurity and hunger. The SNAP program is not intended as a permanent stop for these people.  The longer term solution for those who are able bodied people capable of work is a job with wage commensurate with the needs of their household.

 

We have the resources to feed all Americans.  There is surely sufficient room within the bill for the House to make reasonable and far more humane changes in the allocations of funds.   Senator Gillibrand’s proposal is one alternative.  It’s not impossible for a similar package to emerge from the House despite its more hawkish views when it comes to spending cuts.  But the cuts don’t have to come from the table of hungry families and certainly not from the mouths of children and seniors.

Update:  Written before the defeat in the House 234 to 195.

The Null Set

7:57 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

This past week we again heard the threat of “nullification” flying around the halls of Congress and state legislatures in response to President Obama’s proposed executive actions and legislative priorities to protect American citizens from gun violence.

 

In the field mathematics, a null set is a group of entities that is negligible at least in some way.  For different applications, the meaning of “negligible” varies but basically amounts to zilch, zippo or notta.   Without getting too far into the arithmetic weeds, I want to point out that there’s an approach to measurement called the Lebesgue measure. It’s the standard way of assigning a length, area or volume to subsets of what’s called Euclidean space.

 

Now here’s where it gets interesting:

 

There is apparently a variety of types of null sets.  Here’s an example:  In mathematese, a subset N of set R has a null measure and is considered to be a null subset in R if and only if the standard construction of the larger set R called a Cantor set is also a null uncountable set.  However, other constructions are possible which assign the Cantor set any measure whatsoever.  Turns out, a Cantor set is a set of points that lay on a single line segment and has a number of remarkable and deep properties.  So a Cantor set can be empty to its “deep” core with a “one track mind”.

 

In the real world (or should I say surreal?) the “Rs” have again proven to be empty with a “remarkable and deep” singlemindedness.

 

If any of this is beginning to sound familiar to you, you’re not alone.  It seems we’ve been witnessing this “theorem” play out over the past 4 years in Congress and in several states.

In elementary set theory, Cantor’s theorem states that, for any set A, the set of all subsets of A (the power set of A) has a strictly greater cardinality than A itself.   This is similar to the tail wagging the dog.

 

Among the halls of Congress, we’ve seen Cantor’s theorem applied by none other than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  Thanks to Congressman Cantor’s base and the far right in Congress, a small but very fractious and vocal minority has been a “subset” wagging the larger “set A”.  This reactionary subset of representatives in Congress has set out from Day 1 of the Obama Administration to thwart any and all policy proposals set forth by the President.

 

We saw a strain of this occur this past week in the Senate and in the states in response to President Obama’s 23 Executive Orders to protect the American children and society in general against gun violence.

 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has vowed to “nullify” the president’s executive orders on guns.  Paul announced that “In this bill we will nullify anything the president does that smacks of legislation,” this past Wednesday. “And there are several of the executive orders that appear as if he’s writing new law. That cannot happen.”  Paul went on to say “I’m afraid that President Obama may have this ‘king complex’ sort of developing, and we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen”.

 

On the state level last week, the Wyoming legislature has threatened to pass laws to stop federal “gun grabbers”.   The Wyoming state legislature has proposed legislation that would “protect” gun-owners from a federal firearm ban.  A “Firearms Protection Act” bill was actually introduced this week, making any federal law banning semi-automatic firearms or limiting the size of gun magazines unenforceable within the state’s boundaries.

 

State Representative Joe Carr of Tennessee has recently announced that he wanted to make it a misdemeanor for federal law enforcement to enforce any new federal gun bans in Tennessee  Several other states have done the same.

 

Thus, nullification proposed by the null set.

 

All this fury over a perceived “gun grab” by the führer involves a set of 23 executive orders which critics say trample the 10th as well as 2nd Amendments.

 

Really?

 

The Second Amendment states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.    This, of course, is subject to interpretation.   One such recent interpretation is District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). In this landmark case the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home and within federal enclaves.  The result was that firearms now included handguns.

 

With that said, Heller left open the question of whether the Second Amendment extends beyond federal enclaves to the states.  That issue was addressed later by McDonald v. Chicago (2010). Consequently, this was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the Second Amendment actually protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

 

Fine.  The proposals we heard this week in no way jeopardize an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.

 

This week, President Obama several legislative recommendations to protect Americans from gun violence based on very unintrusive and reasonable ways.  He recommended such provisions as a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun sales; a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban; the restoration  a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; elimination of armor-piercing bullets;  mental health services in schools; allocation of funds to hire more police officers; and institution a federal gun trafficking statute. The cost of the package comes to about $500 million.

 

I for one would like to have these unnecessary WMDs off the streets.  I’m joined by a majority of other Americans.  According to Reuters, “74 percent of Americans favor a ban on assault weapons, with 26 percent opposed. A ban on high-capacity ammunition clips was backed by 74 percent, and 26 percent were opposed”.

 

He added 23 executive actions requiring federal agencies to hand over relevant data for a background check system, providing law enforcement officials, first responders and school officials with better training for active shooting situations directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence as well as several others.

 

There’s been renewed controversy over the issue of whether States’ Rights supersede federal powers when it comes to gun control as specified by the Tenth Amendment.  Number 10 grants that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”.   This clause essentially establishes layers of federalism in our multilayered system of federal, state and local government.

 

But the Tenth Amendment must be weighed against national goals or requirements in the interest of the country such as the general welfare and equal protection.  When national interests trump states’ rights, the Supremacy Clause gives the federal government the authority to coopt potentially transgressing state law.

 

Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, Federal Statutes, and U.S. Treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” The text decrees these to be the highest form of law in the U.S. legal system, and mandates that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either the state constitution or state law of any state.

 

Just as the First Amendment is not unlimited, neither is the Second.  The First Amendment doesn’t allow someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre nor does the Second Amendment allow a citizen to store combat weapons in the basement like a nuclear bomb, rocket launcher or Bushmaster.  Continuing the theatre analogy, and as the President said this week: “Theater of war” weapons “have no place in a movie theater”.

 

These newly proposed provisions in no way restrict law abiding citizens in their right to own guns.  But it seems critics of stricter gun control, primarily among the G.O.P. and gun lobby, insist on prioritizing Guns Over People.

 

A uniform, federal approach to gun control that protects Americans from further gun violence is clearly needed and we took a step in the right direction this week.

 

It seems that the party of NO has transformed itself into the Null Set with Congressmen Cantor, Paul, Carr of Tennessee, and Louie Gohmert of East Texas leading the charge.  The Rs have again demonstrated that they are part of the null set that recoils at any hint of progressive policy.  Their bankrupt proposals for nullification will only result in further dullification of American public policy.

 

President Obama asked us all this week,” What’s it worth?”   To the opponents of stricter gun control who, in many cases claim to be “pro-life” the value of human life v. gun rights falls squarely into this null set.

 

© Thomas P. Davis (cross-posted at Huffington Post Union of Bloggers and OpenSalon.com)

The General’s Fodder

7:31 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Nelson DeMille’s 1992 novel The General’s Daughter declares, “The American dream was not supposed to look like this, and when the men went off to the war, too often other men came in the night to the bedroom at the back of the long, narrow trailers. In fact, I had lived here then and had gone off to war, and someone took my place in the bed and took my young wife. But that was a few wars ago, and so much has happened since, that the only lingering bitterness left is that the bastard also took my dog.”

 

Sound familiar?

 

We begin the latest American obsession with military scandal that explodes onto the scene most notably on Friday, November 9th, two ironic days before Veterans Day 2012 when President Obama “suddenly” calls Four Star Army General and then C.I.A. Director David Howell Petraeus and accepts his resignation after serving as Director since September 6, 2011.

 

Maureen Dowd points out that Washington ‘s psyche is “suffused with schadenfreude” which, in part, has poured more gasoline on the all-too-human General’s extramarital escapade  than its due.  I dare say this vicarious sense of pleasure doesn’t stop at the bounds of the slow lane of Interstate Route 495.

 

And that’s precisely my point.  Our lust for illicit rendevous that reveal human beings as somehow disappointingly human is actually a bit more perverted than the actual subject of our interest.

 

Now I don’t condone a breach in fidelity.  And I don’t support behavior that will bring threats to national security, my belief in democratic transparency and contempt for jingoism aside.   What apparently began as an extramarital affair stemming from biographical interviews during six mile long runs between a general and a young reporter has since spun into an ever growing web of greater intrigue among a cast of several other characters including a Tampa “event planner”, an F.B.I. agent who has apparently had trouble keeping his shirt on over it all, Patraeus’ successor in Afghanistan and Congressman Eric Cantor.

 

The smoking “gun” in this armed dispatch has been the internet, beginning with emails between Patraeus and Broadwell and then among several others.  To be fair, much of the now official concern of the F.B.I. in this electronic communication has been the unauthorized passing of classified and other sensitive information.

 

But let’s put this into its proper perspective, shall we?   The real scandal has been and continues to be war crimes, not crimes of passion.   Randall Amster has articulated the point well: “The real transgressions here are not crimes of passion, but crimes of war: massive civilian casualties, destruction of nations, bankrupting the domestic economy, torture and rendition, drones raining extrajudicial death from above.”   Can you imagine a press corps, much less a society as engaged over the atrocity of war as they are over the top brass’s ass?   I can’t, and I’m a pretty imaginative guy.   We love to gloat over other’s apprehension for getting away with what we sometimes wish we could also get away with, concealing it with a phony sense of Puritanism that died at Plymouth Rock with the first interracial Anglo-Native American affair behind the tent.

 

As a Major General, Patraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division during V-Corps’s drive to Baghdad in 2003, a war based on a lie that ultimately destroyed a Middle Eastern nation and has likely fueled contempt for the United States among Islamic and Arab people to a far greater degree than before September 11, 2001.

 

There’s been virtually no mention of Petraeus’s spouse, Holly, during this debacle of “debauchery”.   During those extended days and nights while the General was “deployed” it was Holly who was perhaps the real soldier.  She’s now very likely trudging through a new set of hardships brought on by our misplaced but national focus on what began with her husband’s sexual encounters that did not include her.

 

Let’s be clear:  there’s a difference between hypocritical Puritanism and fidelity.  To the extent that fidelity has been compromised, whether based on a pledge between two people or an agent and his charge.   There’s also a difference between a legitimate concern over true threats to our society’s or that of other society’s health and a preoccupation with lusty scandals at the expense of others.    Gossip at any level is never productive.

 

Much of this entire story in simply fodder.  The Left is gloating over a shirtless military exposé.   The right feigns a sense of shock over the military’s sudden loss of virtue.

 

It’s time to determine where the true transgression is in this thing.  Where have our society, Mrs. Petraeus and perhaps even the Iraqis paid a price for a crime?   Will a healthy sense of American perception ever come of age?  An exceptionalism that hides its love of lust, gossip and war behind false Puritanism will never allow its citizens or any others their right to be garden variety members of humanity.

 

 

An (Im)perfect Storm

9:01 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Hurrican Sandy

An approaching Hurricane Sandy in City Island, NYC

During the past couple of weeks in the autumn of 2012, over 300,000,000 Americans along with the rest of the global community have lived through a tempest of some very good and some very bad historic events.

First, the very bad.

After wreaking havoc throughout the Caribbean and Bahamas, Hurricane Sandy spun its way northwestward toward New York and New Jersey, leaving millions of my fellow Mid-Atlantic Americans without power, and many without home.

Sandy remains the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, as well as the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane in history, exceeded only by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Estimates of damage are still coming in at over $50 billion.

Here in my home state of New Jersey, Governor Christie responded immediately, ordering all residents of barrier islands to evacuate, and closed all Atlantic City casinos.  All New Jerseyans quickly got “the hell off the beach”.  President Obama signed an emergency declaration for New Jersey, allowing the state to request federal funding and other assistance for actions taken before Sandy’s landfall.  The remaining devastation is overwhelming.

According to Mike Lupica over at the Daily News, as President Obama and Governor Christie toured the state’s wreckage together, “Obama and Christie’s post-Sandy partnership” became “the defining image of the presidential campaign”.

Inflicting political insult on top of partisan injury upon Mitt Romney, the former GOP vice-presidential possibility Christie heaped praise upon praise on President Obama for suspending his campaign and coming to the Garden State to tour the damage from Hurricane Sandy last week armed with a sack of FEMA money.  Christie then turned down a request by Mitt Romney to appear with him at a rally on Sunday night in Pennsylvania.  Imagine a governor placing the welfare of his constituents above politics!    At least to the Romney campaign, Christie had become the true Jersey Devil.

Even more significant than the effects on lives that Sandy has left with us is the result of the November 6 election.   I say this because of the longer term implications for our nation and the world as a whole.  In the midst of the storm you might recall that we had a thing called a quadrennial presidential election.

Did I mention that President Obama has won a second term?

Despite rampant abuses of the electoral system through voter suppression tactics that cut early voting and voter I.D. laws that amounted to a Jim Crow poll tax, and lines of voters waiting for eight hours in order to exercise their Constitutional right to elect a democratic president, we the people have now spoken.

At least for the next four years, we’re not going to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  We don’t want a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade.   We like Medicare.  We don’t want a replacement that will be put on a meager life support system through vouchers.

On Tuesday, and in the weeks preceding it through early voting, we have decided by ballot that we don’t want a 20 percent tax cut to the wealthiest Americans who don’t need it through math that simply does not work.  Women don’t want to be required by law to get the boss’s approval to get contraceptive coverage through their insurance plan.   We don’t want to redefine rape, separating “legitimate” from “illegitimate” under a false but equally egregious dichotomy of assault.
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The Boy is Back in Town

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Paul Ryan hit the ball out of the park Wednesday night.  Amid a crowd of white, overweight men and women wearing lapel flags, red, white and blue star shaped sunglasses and white cowboy hats waving flags. Their would-be lapdog was at the podium earnestly spreading slander on a fool’s errand for the Koch Brothers, Grover Norquist and Karl Rove.

 

With the fitting tune “The Boys are Back in Town” from Thin Lizzy’s 1976 album “Jail Break” Congressman Ryan approached the mike with all the blue eyed earnest sincerity of the Catholic school boy he claims that he once was.

 

As many of us know now, Catholics including Father Fred Daily of a Syracuse diocese have recently decriedThe proposed cuts of Representative Ryan in the Ryan’s Budget (that) are immoral and unjustifiable and will be putting the burden on the poor.”  Going on to say, “I think that all people of faith should be in the streets proclaiming the immorality of these proposed cuts.”

 

Over the course of the summer and through much of 2011 and 2012 other members of Ryan’s Catholic Church have condemned his proposed public policies. They include Network Executive Director Sister Simone Campbell who points out that Ryan’s budget proposal will “raise taxes on low-income families while cutting taxes for millionaires and corporations, push families into poverty, and kick 8 million people off of food stamps.”

 

And yet Mr. Ryan stood before the American people on Wednesday evening and cheering crowds of those who are either uninformed or unaffected by his extreme reactionary platform, claiming to be one of two candidates to save us from current failed public policies. He actually had the audacity to stand before us with one insult after another, claiming that he and Mitt Romney share “the same moral creed, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.”

 

As Thin Lizzy began to fade, Ryan shared one false vignette after another.  Perhaps one of the most widely publicized has been the lie about the closing of the GM plant in his home town of Janesville. He claimed that while campaigning in Wisconsin in 2008, then Candidate Barack Obama promised to keep the plant open “another hundred years” only to allow it to close a year later.  The reality is that the plant closed while Bush was in office.

 

Last night Congressman Ryan proudly proclaimed, “Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program and raiding it.”

 

We know.

 

A core policy interest of mine, and millions of Americans, is health care. And rightly so. Republicans, with Ryan as its key spokesman last night, have insisted that President Obama has stolen $716 billion from our parents’ and grandparents’ Medicare benefits to pay for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Simply not true.  That money represents the estimated savings in new efficiencies from a crackdown on fraud and abuse in Medicare, not from benefits and all part of the Administration’s health care reform.

 

The CBO determined in 2011 that the federal health care law would reduce Medicare outlays by $507 billion between 2012 and 2021. In a more recent estimate released this year, the CBO looked at the years 2013 to 2022 and determined the health care law affected Medicare outlays by $716 billion.

Ryan has proposed a health care policy that would convert Medicare to a capped reimbursement rate voucher system, eventually putting the largest share of the burden on beneficiaries.   Not surprisingly, it remains unpopular among most Americans in a recent poll.

 

As I have written previously, Ryan would eventually gut 65 percent of Medicare if his original plan had been put into place.  His so-called Path to Prosperity is simply a sham leading to ruin.

 

And what about Social Security?  The truth is that it’s just not going broke.  Mr. Ryan apparently forgot to mention that it ended the year 2011 with a $2.7 billion surplus.  On Tuesday evening Chris Christie said “we” insist on telling the truth to seniors about overburdened entitlements.   “We” are still waiting Mr. Ryan.

 

Ryan claims that the Obama administration has done nothing to solve the housing crisis.  Yet his party opposes the Dodd-Frank legislation that will, in part, place greater control over the ability of Wall Street to create a repeat of the highly leveraged mortgage pools that helped produce the crisis.

 

In claiming that nothing has been done to address the economy or jobs, Paul Ryan continues to lead a chorus on the right that falsely condemns President Obama’s “failed stimulus” package of 2009.  The fact is that most economists agree that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, while smaller than actually needed, succeeded in created almost 3 million jobs.

 

The earnest Mr. Ryan also failed to mention last night that a mostly Republican group of senators voted down the American Jobs Act which would have created 1.9 million jobs and rebuilt our crumbling infrastructure, both sorely needed policies devised by what he has termed the “central planners in Washington.”  Jamelle Bouie over at the American Prospect reminds us to mention this every time someone (like Ryan) falsely claims that President Obama has no plan for jobs.

 

Ryan claims that his plan will create 12 million jobs over the next 4 years while keeping federal spending at 20 percent of GDP.  It ain’t gonna happen.  To borrow Paul Krugman’s  economic term, this is plain “flimflam.”   Coming from the economic position we are currently in while placing a cap on demand investment through controlling GDP at 20 percent or less will just not inject the stimulus into the economy to create the jobs or build the infrastructure we need or that Ryan dishonestly claims.

 

Ryan laced the rest of his speech with vignettes about mom, mowing lawns, apple lie, er, pie, and the villains of the Beltway conveniently forgetting the truth and replacing it where it was even more convenient.

 

He invoked starry memories of supply side crusader Jack Kemp and dreams of how tax cuts and smaller government are sure to guide us back to our “Strongest of all responsibilities – the truest of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves,”  ideas that are “central to democracy.”

Among his closing remarks Ryan said, “The right that makes all the difference now is the right to choose our own leaders – and you are entitled to the clearest possible choice because the time for choosing is drawing near.”

 

All this in a year of epic voter suppression.  Mr. Ryan needs to be reminded that it’s his party among the state legislatures that are putting voting rights under attack across the country.

 

In 2011, in response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address Ryan said,” This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency. And yet last night he went on to say, “We can make the safety nets safe again.”

 

Right.

 

To quote Thin Lizzy:

 

“Guess who just got back today?

Them wild-eyed boys that had been away

Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say

But man, I still think them cats are crazy.”

 

Note: Cross Posted at VeracityStew.com

The Elephant in the Room

9:58 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

The elephant in the Tampa Bay Convention Hall at 10:30 Tuesday night was not Chris Christie.  It was instead a combination of hollow enthusiasm, choreographed fist shaking, Ann Romney’s strains to scratch her left hand rather than applaud, popular myths, polite applause and Mitt’s outright failure to applaud.

 

Most important, it was the unspoken Republican Platform looming over the crowd, one that wants to create jobs by returning to the failed policies of George Bush, deregulation and tax cuts for the top 1 percent.

 

It’s a platform that disingenuously calls for tax relief from taxes that are currently at historic lows compared to GDP and at only a fraction of the levels they were during the Republican Eisenhower or even Reagan years.  It calls for a “flatter” tax code which we know is regressive by its very nature and creates a far greater burden on lower income wage earners. And yet, the Platform opposes “tax policies that divide Americans or promote class warfare.” Ironically Governor Christie called for “shared sacrifice” while ignoring property tax relief in favor of a flat 10 percent income tax cut, disproportionately favoring the wealthy.

 

The Platform denounces “out-of-control spending,” and calls for a balanced budget and sound monetary policy despite that In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion and in fiscal 2010 — the first budget under President Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.

 

It falsely denounces the Federal Reserve for stoking inflation and then segues into “sound monetary policy”. This unfounded fear of inflation wrongly puts a damper on the demand we need to boost the economy.

 

It mistakenly condemns the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), FannieMae and Freddie Mac when in the same breath calls for greater homeownership which, over the past several decades, has increased in large part thanks to these agencies.

 

The Platform calls for a rebuilding of infrastructure when Governor Christie unilaterally cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel while grossly misstating the costs of the greatest infrastructure project in the nation in 50 years that would have created thousands of jobs.  High speed rail is also badly needed throughout our nation. Yet, Governor Scott of Florida, was the third Republican governor to turn down a portion of the administration’s national rail system, joining John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, both speakers at this year’s convention this same evening. Each of these governors replaced governors who had lobbied for the funds.

 

Kasich’s Ohio, by the way has benefitted tremendously from federal assistance to the auto industry.

 

The Republican Platform condemns “activist” judges like the ones that put George W. Bush in office.

Many other familiar rightwing mantras are listed in the platform as well, including defense of “traditional” marriage, balanced budget amendment, federalism and the Tenth Amendment, each flawed in its turn.

 

The flawed states’ rights argument, for example is precisely what led us into the Civil War, 150 years ago.  It’s also part of what put Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law onto the Supreme Court docket this past June, resulting in a blocking in the law’s provisions that would interfere with the federal government’s role in setting immigration policy.

 

It calls for “voter integrity” when it’s really voter suppression that is the issue in 2012 America. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often. For example, according to the Brennan Center for Justice,   2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time and the 2004 election in Ohio resulted in a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%.

 

The Platform calls for religious freedom based on the First Amendment while state representatives in states including Oklahoma have signed into law a constitutional amendment that prohibits state courts from recognizing Islamic law.

 

Among the most irresponsible planks concerns the Second Amendment: “We oppose legislation that is intended to restrict our Second Amendment rights by limiting the capacity of clips or magazines or otherwise restoring the ill-considered Clinton gun ban.”   Had the 2004 high capacity ban still been in effect, several recent deaths and injuries could have been prevented, including the January 2011 shooting that seriously injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, forcing a leave from Congress.

 

Another provision concerns the sanctity and dignity of human life while ignoring the welfare of women and supporting mandatory waiting periods for abortion, ultrasound procedures and parental consent, all big-government intrusion, so vehemently opposed by conservatives but suddenly OK when it comes to sexual matters.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency is zeroed in on for “reigning in” when in in reality well-conceived regulations intended to protect the environment when in reality the EPA creates jobs and saves lives, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

 

At about 12 minutes into his speech Governor Christie proudly announced, “We believe in telling seniors the truth about overburdened entitlements.”   He forgot to mention that  misleading senior citizens about the solvency of Medicare and Social Security is what helped Republicans to win the 2010 midterms.

 

Two of the most egregious claims concern the GOP “goal” to save Medicare and Social Security.  Congressman Ryan’s plan for Medicare is to gut it and replace this social insurance program with capped vouchers, gradually putting more of the burden on the beneficiaries.  In 2011, three senators including Lindsey Graham (R-SC.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Mike Lee (R-Utah) presented a plan to cut$6.2 trillion from Social Security by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70 years by 2032 and reducing benefits for those who earn more than an average of $43,000 over their lifetime.

 

The Platform calls for the repeal of Obamacare, claiming that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “was never about healthcare.”   The reality is that the ACA will the deficit by $130 billion over the first 10 years and by as much as $650 billion in the next decade, cut fraud and abuse, prohibit preexisting condition, provide new benefits to women’s health. Since the June Supreme Court case, The Congressional Budget Office has updated its estimates and has affirmed that the law will dramatically reduce the number of Americans without health insurance and will reduce the deficit.

 

I’d like to return to the “moderate” Governor Christie decoy for the extremist platform.   He spoke with strained passion about “respect over love” all of us in some way being related to immigrants, how “we believe in teachers” and the need for bipartisan compromise.  These “principles” as he referred to them have all taken a beating from Republican over the past 4 years.

 

Mr. Christie certainly does not show much respect in his shirt-sleeved town hall meetings.  Immigrants have suffered at the likes of Arizona’s SB 1070 and teacher tenure has been miscast as a guaranteed life time job by Republicans which is simply not true.

 

He opened his remarks by recalling that his mother always advised him to tell the truth.  Last night showed that he still needs some practice.

 

Interestingly he also began the speech mentioning that his father “put himself through Rutgers” thanks to the G.I. Bill, a little help from the federal government that belies the Convention’s mantra that “We Built It” without the federal government providing that dangerous entitlement hammock.

 

All in all my typical disdain for my fellow New Jerseyan was tempered last night.   Somehow his usual bravado seemed to be a little lacking despite what appeared to be a valiant effort to thrill the Tampa crowd.  The applauses were tempered.  Perhaps most telling were the responses of Ann and Mitt throughout Christie’s remarks.  Both looked bored beyond belief and apparently forgot how to clap.

 

No, the elephant in the room Tuesday evening in Tampa was not Chris Christie.  The real elephant in the room was and is the dangerous and flawed platform that the GOP has begun to implement and will continue to if given the chance.

 

 

No to Vouchers

4:56 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

romney154

(Photo: tirtmaster/flickr)

A new Pew Research Center survey released today has found that respondents oppose the conversion of the current Medicare program structure to a voucher program by a 49% to 34% margin similar to the responses in 2011 when the “Ryan Plan” was first rolled out.The public is aware of the proposal to gradually shift Medicare to a system of vouchers and is, on balance, opposed to the proposal.

But if the achievement of a fully informed electorate is the ideal, what’s troubling in these findings is that just 23% of those who have heard about the idea identify it as Ryan’s. With Mr. Ryan on the GOP ticket for the vice presidential slot, this is critically important.  And perhaps just as troubling is the finding that nearly as many (17%) say Barack Obama proposed a voucher system, while 44% do not know who proposed it.

The plan needs to be connected to the man.

For lower income voters who are seriously considering a vote for the wonk from Wisconsin, Ryan’s premium-support proposal would likely impose particularly heavy burdens on low-income beneficiaries in poor health.

Overall, Ryan’s budget resolution would make several game changing surgical procedures to Medicare. It would replace the current guarantee of coverage with a premium-support voucher, raise the age of eligibility from 65 to 67, and reopen the “doughnut hole” in Medicare’s coverage of prescription drugs. This would all put the burden of costs back onto Medicare beneficiaries and along with his proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it would leave many 65- and 66-year olds without any health coverage at all.

All this looms in the wings despite Ryan’s pitch in the Villages in Florida Saturday with his 78 year old mother Saturday.   In the company of thousands of well off seniors and his mother Betty Douglas, Ryan proclaimed with hubris,

“Like a lot of Americans, when I think about Medicare it’s not just a program, it’s not just a bunch of numbers, it’s what my mom relies on, it’s what my grandma had,” Ryan said in his most detailed campaign speech yet. “Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then; and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs it now, and we have to keep that guarantee.”

The plan also would likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making its pool of beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker — and increasingly costly to cover. As I have written here, Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal for FY 2012 would eventually privatize 65 percent of Medicare.  The FY 2013 is virtually the same.   It’s all part of Ryan’s so-called  “Pathway to Prosperity,”  his fiscal plan to balance the budget through cuts to social insurance programs as well as marginal tax rates.

As one of the largest of those programs, Medicare is squarely in the crosshairs of that assault.

Apparently Congressman equates disease or need for medical attention with a lack of individual Randian fortitude or perhaps a lack of inner faith.   I’m guessing that forty-nine percent of these respondents would disagree. More generally, while several public surveys have found the the deficit is a high priority for many Americans, it is secondary to maintaining social insurance programs like Medicare.
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A Prayer for Punks

8:15 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Today we witness a landmark event in freedom of speech and ability to question the objectives of orthodox religion abroad. As the debate over religious freedom and freedom of speech has gained prominence during the past year in the United States, concern for religious relevance and the right to articulate that concern is not unique to America in 2012.

Free Pussy Riot Poster

Photo: Max Capacity / Flickr

In the early hours of June 11, members of Russia’s “Investigative Committee,” made their way onto the balcony of Maria Alykhina’s apartment, “turned on an electric circular saw, and threatened to cut the door down,” before ransacking the apartment, leaving with her computer, books, political materials, and a trove of family photos.”

This invasion followed several public protests and statements by Alykhina and her two comrades who, together, are members the Russian punk band Pussy Riot.  Those protests have been made against the policies of Vladmir Putin and an open inquiry regarding whether the Christian Orthodox Church can evolve with changing times.

On the 21st of February four members of the band walked into the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a gaudy building built after the Soviet collapse that hosts Russia’s senior officials on major holidays. They thought they were highlighting the church’s increasingly close relationship with the state and what they saw as campaigning for Putin by Patriarch Kirill, its leader.

Their protests and public statements urging that official religious as well as political figures adjust to a more humanitarian posture have been mischaracterized as hatred for religion as “they were motivated by a deep hatred of all Orthodox Christians rather than by anger at the Putin regime. Church representatives argued the trial was the work of God.”

But the three women have simply responded that “We are representatives of our generation.”
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Philadelphia Freedom

7:40 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Fifty years after marching in Macon, Georgia with Dr. Martin Luther King to achieve the right to vote in the United States, Viviette Applewhite is reliving the fight to overcome discriminatory voting practices in her current home city of Philadelphia.

That march in 1963 with Dr. King was one harrowing episode of many that eventually led to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawing discriminatory voting practices, practices that were largely responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans in the United States.  The Voting Rights Act was signed into law precisely one century after the beginning of the American Reconstruction when President Lincoln took steps to counter the Radical Republicans and enfranchize the rights of the Freedmen (former slaves).

Ms. Applewhite was recently joined by 12 other petitioners in Pennsylvania state court challenging Pennsylvania’s Act 18, popularly known as the “Photo ID Law”.

The petitioners claim that

“Pennsylvania will not have their votes counted on November 6, 2012 because they will be unable to present acceptable photo identification (“ID”) as required by the Photo ID Law. The Commonwealth estimates that 80,000-90,000 Pennsylvanians will need to obtain a new photo ID to vote on November 6, 2012. Other estimates suggest the number may be far greater. Many otherwise qualified voters will face great difficulty or be unable to obtain the necessary ID and will therefore be disenfranchised in the upcoming general election and future elections. As a result, far from protecting the integrity of Pennsylvania elections, the Photo ID Law will lead to elections that are no longer free and equal.”

Despite nonexistent voter fraud and clear indications of partisan motivations in the intent of this law, Republican Judge Robert Simpson of Pennsylvania conceded in his ruling that there might be political motives underlying the legislation and it might even create a hardship for tens of thousands of voters.  However, his finding indicates that state and federal case law apparently give legislatures sufficient latitude to regulate voting unless done in a “clearly discriminatory or burdensome way.”

From across the Delaware, this seems to be symptomatic of a severe perception deficit disorder.

According to PoliticsPA.com Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) tellingly declared, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” at a recent Pennsylvania Republican State Committee meeting.  Apparently this is not sufficiently “clearly discriminatory”.

Pennsylvania is a critical swing state in the upcoming November election.   A Republican presidential candidate has not won the state in two decades.   Perhaps that could change in 2012.

The petitioners will now take their case to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court. However, there’s still a big element of uncertainty at the state Supreme Court level. There’s an even 3-3 split between Democrats and Republicans on the Court because the 7th Justice, Republican Joan Orie Melvin, is currently being investigated on corruption charges. So this will mean that the petitioners will need one crossover vote to win a majority and strike down the law. Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a moderate Republican from Philadelphia, may be their huckleberry.

In addition to a state challenge, however, there may be a federal one.  The United States Justice Department is currently investigating the issue.   Under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, there isa general prohibition of any voting practice or procedure that results in discrimination. Actual “proof” of intentional discrimination is not required.  It focuses on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters.  This could eventually provide the relief sought by the petitioners if the challenge rises to this level but it’s uncertain whether it could even precede the November election.

Ms. Applewhite is an upstanding American citizen who has voted in nearly every election for the past 50 years.  She was born in 1919 in Philadelphia and worked as a welder during World War II in the Sun Shipyard in Chester, Pennsylvania. She marched to support civil rights for African-Americans with Dr. King, Jr and traveled hundreds of miles many times for his inspiring speeches in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ms. Applewhite doesn’t have and has been unable to obtain photo identification required by Pennsylvania’s voter photo ID law.   After voting for more than 50 years, she may likely unable to cast a ballot this November.

If any of the petitioners pay federal or state taxes, and they most certainly do, will this become an issue of taxation without representation?

Ms. Applewhite and every other American citizen living in Pennsylvania and the United States has the right, not the privilege, to file the votes of their choice on the November ballot without detriment.

Voter ID laws are akin to poll taxes and literacy tests, created to screen out African Americans and long outlawed by the Voting Rights Act. Although voting in the United States is a right and not a privilege, vast numbers of disenfranchised Americans have marched, sacrificed dearly and in some cases shed blood for this “right” half a century ago.   As Americans we don’t need to refight this legacy so basic to our democracy.

Romulus and Remus

11:06 am in Uncategorized by Thomas P. Davis

Romulus & Remus

(photo: Son of Groucho/flickr)

This morning as Mitt Romney emerged from the USS Wisconsin, docked in Norfolk among the waving stars, stripes, bunting and trumpets to announce his running mate, I couldn’t help getting choked up.

 

Not so much because a Mormon with no military experience was taking a starboard stand in announcing his first mate in battle against a sea of entitlements.  It was more because his announcement of the “next President of the United States would be Paul Ryan,” a Catholic from Wisconsin and Chairman of the House Budget Committee aiming to put more armed boats in the tub like the Wisconsin while drowning the government in that same tub.    And was he replacing Romney at the top of the ticket?  Now that’s talent.

 

Before Ryan could get into the standard “why we live in the greatest country in the world” sound bytes, Willard cut him off, saying the title “President” was a mistake but the choice of Ryan himself as Vice Presidential running mate was not.   Depends on who’s asking.

 

But regardless of one’s perspective, the canonization of St. Paul of Janesville, Wisconsin had been consummated among the secular cannons of a storied warship on this Saturday morning in Virginia where Mr. Jobs Creator-Personal Freedom-Governor Bob McDonnell had recently signed a controversial mandatory ultrasound bill into law in March, preempting the freedom of individual choice in women’s reproductive health and apparently the primacy of job creation.

 

Budget Chairman Paul Davis (no relation) Ryan is certainly an engaging 42 year old self-proclaimed fiscal conservative and patron saint of the right. After all, Governor Romney introduced him as exemplifying the clean, straightforward virtues of the (parched) Midwest, having integrity and the ability to increase our prosperity.

 

That, of course will be a tall order for this Wisconsin wonk whom 54 percent of Americans polled have said “Paul who”?

 

Not to worry.  We were reassured with the typical Romnian “veracity” that Mr. Ryan will “appeal to the better angels of our nature”.  Without betraying his trustworthy teleprompter, Mitt ceremoniously checked off a list of accolades about his junior acolyte that would have made even the stalwart Dick Cheney cry for the ground that Paul walks on.

 

The doubters asking for “Signs” were told that the Catholic Ryan will “increase the worth and dignity of every human being.”

 

When Ryan finally spoke, he said that “America is more than just a place – it’s an idea. Rights are from nature and God, not from governments”.   The comment was followed immediately by a chant from the crowd, “USA, USA, USA”.  The connection was unclear.  I thought that our rights come “from God, not the USA”.

 

By the way, would that be the same USA where seven states including Virginia have decided that big government should usurp women’s God-given reproductive health rights?  Or would it be that same USA that grants the right to bear arms against our would-be aggressors at mosques in Wisconsin under the Second Amendment.  And speaking of mosques, would that be the same USA where the result of the debate over the “Ground Zero Mosque” apparently betrayed our cherished right of religious freedom to build a mosque (which wasn’t really a mosque)?

 
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