Toeing The Cliff

The House will adjourn tonight with no vote on the fiscal cliff crisis.  The President said this afternoon that an agreement is near.  Word is Democrats have compromised on tax cuts by agreeing not to raise taxes for anyone earning $450,000/year or less.  This cuts potential revenues by 40% making it harder to balance the budget.

No House votes means the country will go over the fiscal cliff at midnight.  Because January 1st is a federal holiday nothing will happen tomorrow either.

Keystone Progress had a bit of fun this morning holding its “Fiscal Cliff Bowl” on a field in the 16th Congressional District in Reading.  Mike Morrill did the announcing while Dan Sauder played the part of Jim Gerlach who rigged the game for the millionaires.

Fiscal Chicken

by Walter Brasch

Talk show hosts and other bloviators have spent hours giving their versions of the fiscal cliff.

In fewer than 750 words, I’ll explain the truth.

Taxes and the deficit are intertwined. If Congress can’t come up with a plan to solve those problems, the U.S. will jump into the abyss of a deeper recession than existed under the latter years of the Bush-Cheney administration.

Let’s first look at taxes.

The Bush tax cuts expire at the end of this year.

The idea of the cuts was to spur the economy and give what is loosely called the “jobs creators” a slight push to hire more people.

But, the millionaire “jobs creators” held onto their money. They continued to downsize and outsource jobs, making even more money-which they used to buy whatever trinkets that rich people spend money on.

If Congress can’t agree on tax rates, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, every American will see a restoration of tax rates to a level that is about what they were before the Bush tax cuts. The lower- and middle-classes will be hit harder than the upper class.

President Obama, contrary to what the screaming harpies of the extreme Rightwing claim, doesn’t want to raise taxes. He wants the tax cuts to continue for 98 percent of all Americans-the ones making less than $250,000 a year. He wants to restore-note that word, restore, not raise-the tax liability for the richest 2 percent of Americans. The rate to the rich would still be below the rates they paid during most of the latter half of the 20th century. Even billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet agree that the rich need to be paying more.

The Republicans, knowing where their financial base is, demand that the tax cuts be extended to everyone. Their compromise was to allow the cuts to apply to everyone making $1 million a year or less. That would be net income, not gross income. Millionaires could still make $3 million a year if they can scam $2 million in deductions. Their rates would still be lower than almost any time since the income tax was first created in 1913.

The President countered with a $400,000 limit. That would include about 99 percent of all Americans. House Speaker John Boehner, however, found that a segment of his Republican party don’t want a compromise; they are determined to uphold some kind of a non-legal pledge to Grover Norquist that there would be no tax increases-ever-even if it is to restore, not raise, tax rates.

The second part of the problem is that of entitlements. The Republicans are willing to do some horse-trading. They won’t continue to hold 99 percent of Americans hostage if there are cuts in “entitlements” and programs that would significantly reduce the deficit. These entitlements benefit mostly the 99 percent. The Republicans even say they’ll consider closing some tax loopholes used extensively by the upper class. But, they won’t tell us what those loopholes are, even though the President has several times asked for specifics. Apparently, the Republicans believe releasing such information is classified, much like battle plans in Afghanistan or the number of toilet paper rolls the Pentagon buys.

The President has already compromised several times, but every time he makes a concession, the Republicans want even more. He has proposed an orderly reduction of the deficit by $1.6 trillion. Not good enough, say the dogma-driven Republicans. They want even more. And they want it now. They are aware that if the tax cuts expire all at once, the deficit immediately decreases, something that makes them drool in ecstasy. However, almost every economist of every political persuasion says a severe decrease in the deficit would lead the U.S. into an even worse recession than the one created by the Bush-Cheney administration.

Behind a wall of political gesturing, the Republicans are doing nothing, while blocking those who can do something. John Boehner now acknowledges he is blocked by party dogma and can’t control the Republican majority in the House who want the government to several cut entitlements while continuing all Bush tax cuts, even to millionaires who, not surprisingly, make up the majority of Congress. Their actions are driving America into fiscal cliff suicide.

The obstructionists in Congress need to realize this isn’t a deserted two-lane highway, and Americans don’t want the Republicans playing chicken with our nest eggs.

[Walter Brasch, a social issues columnist, has covered politics and government for four decades. His latest book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.]

 

News & Notes December 27, 2012

A lot has happened since our last check-in:  I had a birthday, Christmas came and went, a major winter storm rolled through and a former President went into guarded condition.  Hawaii has a new Senator, we have two nominations for Cabinet positions and nothing new has happened to avoid the “fiscal cliff.”  Whew.

Sen. John Kerry has been nominated to be Secretary of State.  Swift boating of Susan Rice was successful when the President bailed on her.  This makes Kerry’s Senate seat up for grabs which was the objective of the attack on Rice.  Former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel is being accused of antisemitism before his hearings to be the new Secretary of Defense over criticism he made of Israel’s government policies.  If all of us who have been critical of Israel’s genocide towards Palestinians were accused of being anti-semitic because of that you’d see how absurd it all is.  My questions are these:  why are liberals going to bat for a right wing Republican Senator?  Why do Democrats feel only Republicans are fit to be Defense Secretary?  Doesn’t that just play into the meme that Dems are soft on Defense?

George H.W. Bush is in intensive care at a Houston hospital with a persistent fever caused by lung ailments.  Coincidentally Houston has the worst air of any American city.  Funny how the chickens come home to roost.

House Republicans failed to come to agreement on a deficit package and Speaker Boehner looked weak after failing to gather enough votes to bring his Plan B tot he floor.  It was aborted.  Now their strategy is to blame the Senate for acting.  That takes balls.

A New York newspaper is under fire for printing the names and locations of everyone in two counties holding a gun permit.  This is public information and, in the wake of Sandy Hook, important information to have.  I’d like to know which of my neighbors is dangerous.

Gov. Gasbag, after campaigning on a promise of open and transparent government, on promises that he’d change the culture in Harrisburg, had a cozy weekend summit with his major donors and contributors last summer.  How many palms were greased with no bid contract promises?  We’ll never know because of the lack of openness and transparency.  Corbett is no different from every other corrupt politician who trades campaign cash for business and legislation.

In further news of his corruption the Governor took a vacation paid for by a natural gas businessman.  Corruption doesn’t get any plainer than this.  Corbett campaigned on a platform of refusing to tax energy companies for our natural gas they profit handsomely from while polluting our waterways, air and ground.  A nice vacation in Rhode Island was part of his payoff.

Three Pennsylvania State Troopers, including one from the Executive Service Section which provides security for the Governor, were accused with traveling to southeast Asia to hire prostitutes.  There didn’t appear to be any repercussions for their behavior.  This is known as sexual tourism.

There have been so many shootings lately it’s difficult to keep up with them.  The deranged man who shot several people in western PA was riled up about the Mayan apocalypse predictions.  What, he was too stupid to understand that calendars end?  It’s too easy for idiots to get guns.

Speaking of guns did you hear about the Tea Party shake-up?  Former GOP Congressman Dick Armey attempted a coup at Freedom Works including walking in with an armed guard to fire staffers.  He wound up getting fired himself at a cost of $8 million to stupid Tea baggers.  Is the Tea Party turning into a circular firing squad?  With all the guns those crazy people have this could wind up being good for the country assuming no collateral casualties.

Democrats have no accountability for House members who betray one of their own.  They named Rep. Thomas Caltagirone to again be Democratic Chair of the Judiciary Committee after he actively worked to defeat fellow Democrat Mark Rozzi.

I still wonder why stupid voters returned so many Members of Congress.  Republicans have proven, without a doubt, they are unable and unwilling to govern.  Why anyone would re-elect them then complain that nothing gets done is beyond comprehension.  The Violence Against Women Act expired because Republicans refuse to protect Native American women.  Do they not suffer from abuse too?  The Farm Bill also expired and is dormant.  Your milk prices will double next week as a result.  Republicans, after throwing millions of Americans into poverty with their failed economic and deregulation policies, now want to slash their food stamps.  Costing them their jobs, homes and retirements wasn’t enough now they also want to starve them.  47% of the country voted for this.  Relief for Hurricane Sandy victims is also being held hostage after conservatives spent the past ten years screaming that climate change is all a hoax.  After refusing to acknowledge reality we’re faced with the devastating consequences and they refuse to pay up.

Few in PA Would Be Affected by Ending High-income Tax Cuts

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center is out today with a new analysis finding that President Obama’s plan to end federal tax cuts for high-income earners would have very little impact on taxpayers in most Pennsylvania counties.

In over half of the state’s 67 counties, fewer than 1 in 100 residents (that’s 1%) would pay the higher marginal tax rate on income above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.

In most counties, only a small number of individuals are affected. In 24 counties, fewer than 200 high-income earners would pay the higher rate. Almost two-thirds of the top earners who would be impacted reside in just six Pennsylvania counties.

Map 1. Percentage of Taxpayers in Each PA County with Incomes Over $250,000

Map 2. Number of Taxpayers in Each PA County with Incomes Over $250,000

Under President Obama’s plan, families earning over $250,000 would keep other tax breaks on the first $250,000 of income, including a lower bottom tax rate and preferential tax rates on capital gains and dividends – a savings of $12,112 per taxpayer. The top tax rates would be restored to those in effect in the 1990s when the nation added 23 million jobs.

The PBPC county estimates are based on 2010 taxable income data published by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. You can read more about the estimates and analysis here.

News & Notes December 19. 2012

If a Democratic President cuts my Social Security I’ll never vote for another Democrat.  They ran on protecting both Social Security and Medicare and six weeks after the election they’ve put them on the table.  The “fiscal cliff” is a manufactured crisis created by Republicans and conservative Democrats.  Social Security doesn’t contribute one red cent to the deficit so why is this “chained CPI” benefit cut on the table and put there by the President?

I left the Democratic Party four years ago.  At this rate I’ll soon register as a Green.

Almost none of the “experts” discussing the deficit talks on television has been an economist.

Gun nuts arguing for arming teachers are insane.  Some are claiming Israeli teachers are armed.  They aren’t.  The few who are in the West Bank also have two years of military training and have to be certified on their arms every three years.

Sen. Bob Casey and Congressman Charlie Dent both issued statements following the Newtown Child Massacre softening their positions on guns.  Neither, however, came out for a ban on assault rifles, mandatory background checks or mandatory reporting of mental health conditions to the national database.

DPW Secretary Gary Alexander continues residing in Rhode Island and drives a state car back and forth each week at taxpayer expense.  If Gov. Gasbag can’t find someone within the Commonwealth to run the Department of Public Welfare then the Secretary should be forced to move.

AFSCME Council 13 has filed suit over the Governor’s desire to privatize the lottery.  Let’s remember what privatizing government programs does:  it transfers tax payer dollars from the public sector to the private for the sake of profit.  Public programs should be prioritized for the public good, not for private profit.

The War On Drugs failed miserably and has cost taxpayers trillions.  Now HSBC has been found guilty of laundering money for the drug cartels.  

What happened to them as a consequence?

Breuer this week signed off on a settlement deal with the British banking giant HSBC that is the ultimate insult to every ordinary person who’s ever had his life altered by a narcotics charge. Despite the fact that HSBC admitted to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels (among others) and violating a host of important banking laws (from the Bank Secrecy Act to the Trading With the Enemy Act), Breuer and his Justice Department elected not to pursue criminal prosecutions of the bank, opting instead for a “record” financial settlement of $1.9 billion, which as one analyst noted is about five weeks of income for the bank.

Remember that the next time you see a low level drug dealer busted.

 

In the Bid to Privatize PA’s Lottery, One Is the Loneliest Number

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do …

Although I’m dating myself, some of you may recognize the Harry Nilsson song made famous by Three Dog Night. We recommend that Governor Tom Corbett download it to his iPod as he contemplates whether to accept a solitary bid from Camelot Global Services to take over the operation of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Whether privatizing state services or getting a new roof for your house, having a single lonely bidder is a red flag for a fleecing — for overpaying the contractor.

In its bid, Camelot promises 20 to 30 years of lottery profits that barely increase at the rate of inflation — even with the addition of new lottery games such as Keno and online gaming. The deal could produce big-time profits for Camelot with performance no better than the public system could produce. If the company maxes out its incentive-based compensation over the initial 20-year contract, it could receive $1.15 billion in today’s dollars; more when you count annual management fees.

A good deal for Camelot, but not for the Pennsylvania seniors who benefit from lottery proceeds, as the Keystone Research Center finds in a new report. The impact on seniors is critical since the lottery generates $1 billion a year for services that benefit area senior centers, low-cost prescription drugs, transportation for seniors, and property tax and rent rebates.

Experience from other states offers little to recommend this deal. Illinois is the only state to privatize its lottery, and it is now embroiled in litigation about how much the contractor owes the state because of poor performance. Indiana just privatized its lottery, so there’s no information yet on the results. Both states received more than one bid from private companies.

Pennsylvania’s move toward privatization is especially puzzling given the lottery’s good track record and record profits in the last two years. A recent Pennsylvania Treasury analysis found that administrative costs in the Pennsylvania Lottery were the second lowest, as a share of lottery system sales, of the 10 largest lotteries in the United States.

The Keystone report also raises questions about financial ties between Camelot and Greenhill & Co., the private consultant retained by the Corbett administration to manage the bidding process. Greenhill worked on the $576 million sale of Camelot to its current owner, and would receive millions if the privatization deal goes through. 

When you add up all the questions about this deal — starting but not ending with the lack of multiple bidders, the lack of transparency, the low revenue commitments, and an apparent conflict of interest that could motivate Greenhill to push for privatization — it seems like a game of tee-ball for seven-year olds: as in, "eight strikes and you’re out."

Based on all the questions raised by Keystone and others, at the very minimum the Corbett administration should slow down and undertake in partnership with the Legislature a transparent and comprehensive review of lottery privatization before locking the commonwealth into a bad deal for a generation.

 

News & Notes December 16, 2012

There are but five days left in the Mayan calendar.  Will they release a new one now that the old one is done?

The Sandusky case has now cost Penn State $83 million with civil settlements still on the horizon.  So much for President Spanier’s strategy to contain it before it cost anything…  Meanwhile former VP Gary Schultz has filed notice he is suing former University legal counsel Cynthia Baldwin.  She falsely implied to he and Tim Curley that she was representing them before a grand jury when she was actually representing University interests.  That’s called legal malpractice.

A racist video about Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson confirms allegations that much of the animosity towards her is race based.

Privatizing the lottery is bad business.  Pennsylvania’s lottery management overhead is one of the lowest:  2.1% and contributes millions to senior citizen programs.  Consultants would earn millions under Gov. Gasbag’s plan, projections by the prospective new management team reflect current projections and revenues for seniors could be harmed.  So why is Corbett pushing this?  I bet the answer will be inside his campaign finance reports in the “contributions” section.  Old fashioned corruption.

The Governor also says he will not set up health insurance exchanges under the PPA/ACA.  This means our health care system will be set up and run by the federal government.  So much for states rights.

Our state has dropped to 37th in job creation.  In an era when creating good jobs to recover from the Bush Recession should be issue #1 we’re losing ground due to the Governor’s misguided priorities.

Richard Mourdock didn’t lose his Indiana Senate race because of his own stupid comments about rape:  it was the fault of the liberal media for reporting them.  Again, so much for personal responsibility.

None of the 31 pro-NRA Republican Senators would appear on this morning’s Meet The Press.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-ALEC) has re-introduced his state constitutional ban on marriage equality.

The right wing was incensed after Faux News showed an edited video from Michigan last week.  It showed a union member slugging one of their contributors.  The part they didn’t show was where the union “thug” was shoved to the ground before he got up and defended himself.

Allowing corporate pollution is just one more taxpayer give away to Big Business.  The polluters spent big bucks this year trying to elect lawmakers to protect this form of welfare.  Pennsylvania was one of their major targets as you can see anytime you turn on your TV and see propaganda about marcellus shale drilling and coal mining.

LGBT couples in Maryland are beginning to apply for marriage licenses.  We remain in the dark ages while almost all of our neighboring states embrace equality.

Mother Jones has done research disproving the talking point that more guns make us safer.  In reality while the number of guns in the country have skyrocketed so have mass shootings.  If arming everyone was the answer why then didn’t Nancy Lanza stop the carnage?  She owned six guns.

Time For Action

It’s time for massacre prevention policies.  Twenty young children gunned down inside Sandy Hook Elementary School, the school principal, psychologist and several teachers, gunned down in a brutal massacre yesterday demand action.  Don’t waste your time praying for those already lost, your time is better spent doing something.  Contact all of your lawmakers, state and federal, demanding action.  How many more children have to be executed with guns before we decide that our kids are more important than our guns?

We must renew the ban on assault rifles, large “banana” style clips and certain ammunition.  Trigger locks and other common sense gun safety regulations must be implemented.  The most important step is to close the gun show loophole.  40% of all guns are now bought without a background check.

Let us not forget the importance of mental health programs.  We don’t take mental health seriously and we don’t fund it adequately.  When will we finally provide equal coverage for mental illness with physical illnesses?  

How many more tragedies must we endure?  How many people must die?  Please give me a precise number so when we reach it we can finally do something.  I would think we passed that figure yesterday.

Without guns Adam Lanza wouldn’t have shot his into Sandy Hook yesterday.  Without guns he couldn’t have massacred 26 people and terrorized an entire town.  Guns are the problem.

News & Notes December 11, 2012

Ten days until the end of the world, or at least until the next doomsday prediction.  I figure on having a really special birthday on the 20th if it’s the next to last day.  What do you do when your calendar ends?  I usually buy a new one.

Pot became legal in Colorado yesterday.  Darn, and I was in the state three weeks too early.

Gay marriages began on Sunday in Washington.  That state also legalized marijuana.  Somehow I predict brownies replacing cakes at certain receptions…

The winner of the massive Powerball jackpot in Arizona is originally from Wormleysburg.

The Navy SEAL killed in Sunday’s raid was from the Pittsburgh area.

The Philadelphia Eagles finally won a game Sunday, just in time to ruin their good draft spot.  Can’t these guys do anything right?

Republicans are looking to push poor people, the unemployed and those nearing retirement off the fiscal cliff.  All so the rich don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.  Meanwhile forty more signatures are needed on Nancy Pelosi’s discharge petition to force a vote on middle class tax cuts.  Rep. Duncan says he won’t do it because “I don’t want to give control of the floor to the Democrats.”

Frankly I’m not in full support of all the tax cuts.  If we need to rein in the deficit then every taxpayer should shoulder the burden.

Of course Andy Borowitz has the real reason rich people don’t want higher taxes.

Michigan rushed through a Right to Work For Less” bill with no hearings, no public input and armed guards keeping the public away from this travesty.  Right to work states have the highest poverty rates.  Doesn’t Michigan have enough problems already without making its residents poorer?

I was so proud Sunday evening watching the Beekman Boys win The Amazing Race.  The gay couple from New York overcame long odds and thieving bigots to win.  Then they kissed each other right on national TV.  I bet some of middle America gasped when they saw that.

In one of the worst marketing decisions recorded a dry cleaner is putting anti-choice messages on its clothes hangers.  The next step will be making the hangers blood red.

The Merck Foundation is ceasing its funding of the Boy Scouts because of its anti-gay agenda.  Please don’t contribute to your local United Way if it supports the Boy Scouts.

Former Bush White House spokesperson Dana Perino, now a Faux News host, said women who are victims of violence “should make better decisions.”  You mean like not working for someone who lied us into a war?

SCOTUS to Hear Marriage Equality Cases

The Supreme Court affirmed it will hear both cases regarding marriage equality this term.  One regards DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act passed and signed under President Clinton.  The second is about California’s controversial Proposition 8 ballot initiative which denied LGBT citizens the same rights as straight residents of the Golden State.

Marriage Equality is now the law in nine states and the District of Columbia but those couples are denied over a thousand rights granted to straight couples because of DOMA.  The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all Americans equal justice under law and federal appeals courts have overturned DOMA on those grounds:  you cannot have one set of rights for some people and another set for others.

The Proposition 8 case advocated by AFER on behalf of the gay community was overturned by the Ninth Circuit when it was, essentially, undefended.  The proponents of discrimination could not muster a single bona fide legal argument for their case.  Formally known as Hollingsworth v Perry it was decided on the basis of a Supreme Court case written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the acknowledged swing vote on a divided court.  This bodes well for a successful decision by the end of June.