Friday, July 13, 2012

Republicans Have Bill To Terminate Food Stamps!

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas
(R-Okla.) presided over the committee's passing a
farm bill how headed to the House floor.
Posted: Updated: 07/12/2012 11:24 am

WASHINGTON -- As many as three million Americans would be cut off from food assistance in the next year under a Republican proposal that cleared a committee in the U.S. House of Representatives early on Thursday.

The cuts, which are part of a broader farm bill, would reduce spending in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, by $16 billion over 10 years. The reduction is deeper than proposed SNAP cuts in a version of the farm bill that passed the Senate last month with bipartisan support.

Watching politicians fight over SNAP can be aggravating for people who rely on the program. Tanya Wells, 32, said her family of four receives the maximum monthly allotment of $668.
"We would love to not have to rely on the government for something as important as food, but we simply can not," she said. "We do hope to be off of the system soon, because it causes a lot of extra stress to see your only food source constantly on the line because of political battles."

Wells said she and her husband both lost their jobs near the end of 2007. She had worked as a logistics coordinator for an oil company while he had been a sheet metal mechanic -- and they made a decent living.

"We were comfortable middle class and all of the sudden the rug got pulled out from under us," Wells said.

Seeing few decent job prospects -- aside from a string of retail and temp office jobs -- they started pursuing bachelor's degrees in biology and neuroscience. Wells said her husband's college awarded him a grant that covers their rent and transportation.

Because of their low income, it's not likely Wells' food assistance would be threatened by the House farm bill.  READ MORE

Romney Invested in Medical-Waste Firm That Disposed of Aborted Fetuses, Government Documents Show

"Fetuses Are People My Friends!"

And these documents challenge Romney's claim that he left Bain Capital in early 1999.

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Earlier this year, Mitt Romney nearly landed in a politically perilous controversy when the Huffington Post reported that in 1999 the GOP presidential candidate had been part of an investment group that invested $75 million in Stericycle, a medical-waste disposal firm that has been attacked by anti-abortion groups for disposing aborted fetuses collected from family planning clinics. Coming during the heat of the GOP primaries, as Romney tried to sell South Carolina Republicans on his pro-life bona fides, the revelation had the potential to damage the candidate's reputation among values voters already suspicious of his shifting position on abortion.
But Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded, tamped down the controversy. The company said Romney left the firm in February 1999 to run the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and likely had nothing to with the deal. The matter never became a campaign issue. But documents filed by Bain and Stericycle with the Securities and Exchange Commission—and obtained by Mother Jones—list Romney as an active participant in the investment. And this deal helped Stericycle, a company with a poor safety record, grow, while yielding tens of millions of dollars in profits for Romney and his partners. The documents—one of which was signed by Romney—also contradict the official account of Romney's exit from Bain.  READ MORE

Mitt Romney's Long, Troubled History With the NAACP

"Corporations Are People My Friends"

The GOP presidential candidate spoke to the nation's oldest civil rights organization on Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about their relationship.

| Wed Jul. 11, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
UPDATE: Romney was booed during his speech as he promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Mitt Romney deserves a bit of credit for his decision to address the NAACP on Wednesday, given that he's running against Barack Obama, the most visible symbol of the NAACP's success. Conservatives generally view the group as a excessively partisan. But given Romney's antagonistic relationship with the local NAACP chapter when he was governor of Massachusetts, he may receive a particularly unpleasant reception.
Leonard Alkins, the former head of the Boston NAACP, has few fond memories of Romney's tenure. "There was no relationship between the NAACP in Boston and Gov. Mitt Romney and his administration," Alkins says. "The only time that the NAACP had any interaction with the administration and the governor was to protest when he eliminated the affirmative action office."

In one of his early acts as governor, Romney dumped the state's office of affirmative action and replaced it with the office of diversity and equal opportunity. In doing so, he invalidated a half-dozen executive orders establishing affirmative action policies for women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities; diversity training programs; and equal-opportunity standards for state contractors. Romney's executive order replaced all of this with what was essentially a broad—and, Alkins says, "toothless"—commitment to "diversity."  READ MORE

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Obamacare: Separating fact from fiction

"Corporate People" -vs- "People People"
June 29, 2012

Mitt Romney and Republicans are firing off distortions about Obamacare after the Supreme Court confirmed that the health care law is constitutional and that every American deserves access to affordable, quality health coverage. But Romney and his Republican allies are attacking this principle with tired political falsehoods about health care reform—and making the repeal of health reform their first priority.

With all the recycled myths they’re pushing, it’s important to get the facts about a law that is already helping millions of Americans. Here’s a look at what Republicans are saying—and what’s actually true—about health care reform.

#1 Republican distortion: “The President promised he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class by a penny with this health care law. Well, that’s been proven false now.”

The facts: President Obama has cut taxes by $3,600 for the average middle-class family over the last three years, and the Republicans fought him nearly every step of the way. From cutting taxes for every working American through the Making Work Pay and payroll tax cuts to the American Opportunity Tax Credit—a tax credit worth up to $10,000 to help families pay for four years of college—the President has put more money in the pockets of middle-class Americans.

Here’s another fact: Obamacare includes the largest middle-class tax cut for health care in history. According to the independent Congressional Budget Office, 19 million people will receive tax credits worth an average of about $4,800 each to help them afford health care. These tax credits will finally put health insurance within reach for millions of American families.

Around 1 percent of people—those who can afford to buy coverage but instead choose to opt out, shifting their costs to the rest of us—will pay a penalty. The Supreme Court acknowledged yesterday that this penalty will be charged through the tax code—but that doesn’t change its purpose of ensuring everyone who can afford insurance buys it, or its effect of lowering costs for everyone.

It’s also the same policy Romney implemented when he signed health reform in Massachusetts. In fact, for many folks in Massachusetts, the penalties under Romney’s reform were even bigger. Here’s a video of him extolling the virtues of his penalty.

#2 Romney distortion:  READ MORE

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"This is the Banking Industry’s Tobacco Moment" -- Will it Matter?

If you're still wondering about the scope of the LIBOR scandal, this piece in the Economist will fill you in:
Over the past week damning evidence has emerged, in documents detailing a settlement between Barclays and regulators in America and Britain, that employees at the bank and at several other unnamed banks tried to rig the number time and again over a period of at least five years. And worse is likely to emerge. Investigations by regulators in several countries, including Canada, America, Japan, the EU, Switzerland and Britain, are looking into allegations that LIBOR and similar rates were rigged by large numbers of banks. Corporations and lawyers, too, are examining whether they can sue Barclays or other banks for harm they have suffered. That could cost the banking industry tens of billions of dollars. “This is the banking industry’s tobacco moment,” says the chief executive of a multinational bank, referring to the lawsuits and settlements that cost America’s tobacco industry more than $200 billion in 1998. “It’s that big,” he says  READ MORE

Mitch McConnell's Plans for a GOP Senate: Nothing

Mitch McConnell, Republicans' leader in the Senate, is a big critic of Obama and of pretty much any program that would help working-class people and possibly, just maybe, tax the rich a tiny bit more. But now he's made it pretty clear: if the GOP does take the Senate in 2012, their plan is essentially to let people keep suffering. 
Jonathan Bernstein at the Washington Post's Plum Line blog notes: 
talking to National Journal’s Chris Frates, made it clear that as far as he’s concerned there’s absolutely nothing that the government should be doing right now that’s any different from what he would want if the economy was booming. His agenda? Repealing health care reform (and not a word about replacement); cutting the deficit; and reducing regulation. He offered even less in his Sunday CNN appearance.
And it’s even worse than that. McConnell said in the National Journal interview that there’s nothing more important than the deficit, which is entirely responsible for (in his view) slow growth. But of course repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, as would locking in the Bush tax cuts. And McConnell offered not one word, either to National Journal or to CNN, as to anything specific he would do to make up for those deficit-increasing measures he supports — let alone anything beyond that to actually lower the deficit.    READ MORE

Memo to Republicans... Entrepreneurship is Actually Declining Thanks to Policies Like Yours

We've all heard it so many times the words have practically lost meaning: small businesses are the source of most new jobs, entrepreneurship is the secret sauce that makes America special, "creative destruction" and economic dynamism require a constant flow of new business start-ups, most of them very small. Republicans in particular like to justify all their attacks on big government as attacks on small business, as though Fortune 500 companies and their executives and shareholders don't matter to them at all.

But the idea that entrepreneurship is a steadily recurring or even rising phenomenon is rarely examined. That's what makes an article from the Washington Monthly's July/August issue, "The Slow-Motion Collapse of American Entrepreneurship," by New America Foundation's Barry Lynn and Lina Khan, particularly valuable (it's available now as a Sneak Preview). By using more careful definitions than those often deployed, Lynn and Khan establish that we are actually in a period of significant and steady decline in the formation of new enterprises:
In 1977, Americans created more than thirty-five new employer businesses for every 10,000 citizens age sixteen and over. By 2009, however, Americans were annually creating fewer than eighteen such businesses, a 50 percent drop. While the Great Recession clearly cut into new business creation, the decline was clear well before 2007. The averages across decades capture that decline: between 1977 and 1989 Americans created more than twenty-seven new businesses for every 10,000 working-age citizens. This compares to fewer than twenty-five in the 1990s and around twenty-two in the 2000s.
Nor are single-person businesses--the building blocks of the so-called "free agent nation"--picking up the slack:   READ MORE

Prosecutors Release More George Zimmerman Evidence

View more videos at:

Prosecutors released more evidence in the George Zimmerman case Tuesday afternoon including an unredacted police report and the results of a voice stress test given the day after he shot Trayvon Martin.
The supplemental discovery was released at 1 p.m. and includes video and audio recordings of police interviews with Zimmerman, a 29-page Sanford Police report without statements redacted and an exemption list that notes redactions to the evidence.

Portions of the unredacted capias request and report of investigation, prepared by police Investigator Chris Serino, seem to question some of Zimmerman's accounts of the shooting.

"Investigative findings show that Zimmerman admitted to avoiding a confrontation with Martin while Zimmerman was observing Martin from his vehicle, because, as he told investigators, was afraid of Martin," the capias request reads. "Later in the encounter, Zimmerman exited his vehicle, in spite of his earlier admission to investigators that he was afraid of Martin, and followed Martin in an effort to maintain surveillance of him while Zimmerman awaited the arrival of law enforcement officers. His actions are inconsistent with those of a person who has stated he was in fear of another subject."

In the report, Serino notes that Zimmerman had two chances to speak with Martin before the shooting and "defuse the circumstances surrounding their encounter.

"On at least two occasions, George Michael Zimmerman failed to identify himself as a concerned resident or a neighborhood watch member to Trayvon Benjamin Martin. Investigative findings show the physical dimensions of Trayvon Benjamin Martin, and that of George Michael Zimmerman, coupled with the absence of any specialized training in hand to hand combat between either combatant, did not place George Michael Zimmerman in an extraordinary or exceptional disadvantage of apparent physical ability or defensive capacity," Serino wrote. "Investigative findings show the physical injuries displayed by George Michael Zimmerman are marginally consistent with a life-threatening violent episode as described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force was deployed by Trayvon Martin."

The investigator concludes the shooting may have been avoidable.   READ MORE

Monday, July 9, 2012

Big Trouble for U.S.? Europe's Banking Crisis Moves Closer to a Lehman Brothers Moment

The recent euro summit did nothing to alleviate the problems that created the crisis in the first place.
July 2, 2012

The recent euro summit in Brussels was supposed to make things better for the European economy. And if you listen to the mainstream press spin, you hear that a growing Mediterranean alliance, led by France's new president, Francois Hollande, Spain's Mariano Rajoy and Italy's Mario Monti, forced Germany to cave. We are led to believe that Germany has capitulated on things like less fiscal austerity, the sharing of debt, and direct recapitalization for ailing banks through the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). We are also supposed to accept at face value the claim that the European Union as a whole will work toward some form of common deposit insurance to arrest the prevailing bank run.

This is all bunk. But why does that matter to you? Well, recall for an instance what happened to the global economy when Lehman Brothers went bust in 2008. The world’s entire credit system froze up. Now consider the implications for the U.S. if the currency union in the world’s largest economic bloc was to blow apart. Do you think the fallout might wind up in your backyard?  Economist Simon Johnson recently gave a warning on the impact on U.S. banks in the event of a dissolution of the euro:  READ MORE

Not Just Foxconn: Looking Into the Shadows of Apple's Factory Empire

Apple’s power over China’s workforce extends to many other suppliers. A new report drills down to the lesser-known plants that piece together our hand-held devices.
July 8, 2012

The following article first appeared at Working In These Times, the labor blog of In These Times magazine. For more news and analysis like this, sign up to receive In These Times' weekly updates.
 Our gadgets and tablets make our lives easier, but those palm-sized miracles of convenience are built by hard work in a metastisizing global chain of low-wage labor. Apple has received much criticism lately over the exploitation of workers in China, particularly at the manufacturing behemoth Foxconn, where several worker suicides have stirred public outrage.

But Apple’s power over China’s assemblyline workforce extends to many other suppliers. A new report by China Labor Watch drills down to the lesser-known plants that piece together our hand-held devices. China Labor Watch surveyed ten factors and uncovered abuses in various aspects of production, from grinding work schedules to anemic labor protections. The findings indicate that often in these factories:

Newest Victims of Climate Change: Notes From a Wildfire RefugeeNewest Victims of Climate Change: Notes From a Wildfire Refugee

All of us evacuees now share something. Suddenly we talk openly about being victims of climate change.
July 3, 2012

The sheriff’s call came at 3:30 a.m.:  Leave immediately.  Luckily, my wife, SueEllen, and I were already up, grabbing passports, photos, dog food, wall hangings from Thailand and Zanzibar.  A neighbor had called earlier, warning us that flames were coming fast out of the western foothills, driven by searing winds that transformed our backyard windmill blades into a silver blur.

I’d gone to bed knowing that a wildfire was crackling in the high country beyond our beautiful valley near Fort Collins, Colo., and threatened the mountain school where kids sometimes rode horses to class.  Still, that school was seven miles away from us, as the sparks fly.

But those sparks were flying like mad, making the fire bound forward a quarter-mile at a time. As we drove off, the foothills seemed to be full of erupting volcanoes –– volcanoes on the move.

Six Reasons We Can't Change The Future Without Progressive Religion

Often, religion offers much that progressives need to build movements for change.
July 8, 2012

One of the great historical strengths of the progressive movement has been its resolute commitment to the separation of church and state. As progressives, we don't want our government influenced by anybody's religious laws. Instead of superstition and mob id, we prefer to have real science, based in real data and real evidence, guiding public policy. Instead of holy wars, othering, and social repression -- the inevitable by-products of theocracy -- we think that drawing from the widest possible range of philosophical traditions makes America smarter, stronger, and more durable over time.

That said: while we all want a government free of religion, there are good reasons that we may not want our own progressive movement to be shorn of every last spiritual impulse. In fact, the history of the progressive movement has shown us, over and over, that there are things that the spiritual community brings to political movements that are essential for success, and can't easily be replaced with anything else.

Religion has been central to the formation of human communities -- and to how we approach the future -- for as long as homo sapiens has been around. Apart from God-belief (which varies widely between religions), all successful religions thrive and endure because they offer their adherents a variety of effective community-building, social activism, and change management tools that, taken together, make religion quite possibly the most powerful social change technology humans have ever developed.
What does religion offer that progressives need to make our movement work?  READ MORE

The Great Capitalist Heist: How Paris Hilton's Dogs Ended Up Better Off Than You

Elites say that we need inequality to encourage the rich to invest and the creative to invent. That's working out well -- for 1% pooches.
July 8, 2012

Editor's Note: When harmful beliefs plague a population, you can bet that the 1% is benefiting. This article is the first in a new AlterNet series, "Capitalism Unmasked," edited by Lynn Parramore and produced in partnership with author Douglas Smith and Econ4 exposes the myths and pernicious lies of unbridled capitalism and shows the way to a better future. 

Summer 2009. Unemployment is soaring. Across America, millions of terrified people are facing foreclosure and getting kicked to the curb. Meanwhile in sunny California, the hotel-heiress Paris Hilton is investing $350,000 of her $100 million fortune in a two-story house for her dogs. A Pepto Bismol-colored replica of Paris’ own Beverly Hills home, the backyard doghouse provides her precious pooches with two floors of luxury living, complete with abundant closet space and central air.

By the standards of America’s rich these days, Paris’ dogs are roughing it. In a 2006 article, Vanity Fair’s Nina Munk described the luxe residences of America’s new financial elite. Compared with the 2,405 square feet of the average new American home, the abodes of Greenwich Connecticut hedge-fund managers clock in at 15,000 square feet, about the size of a typical industrial warehouse. Many come with pool houses of over 3,000 square feet.   READ MORE

Quietly, a Criminal Probe of the Gulf Spill

File photo, cleanup operations continue for the BP
Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off the coast
of Louisiana. (photo: Getty Images)
By Margaret Cronin Fisk, Laurel Brubaker Calkins, Bloomberg News
08 July 12

he U.S. government asked a federal judge to reject Transocean Ltd.'s bid to use a 159-year-old law to cap its liability at $27 million for environmental claims tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The filing came the same day the Justice Department announced an investigation of whether any criminal or civil laws were violated in the BP Plc oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the biggest U.S. spill on record. The government is reviewing whether there were violations of the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The U.S. filed the motion yesterday in Houston federal court to "make clear" it's entitled to pursue claims "for pollution response costs, environmental damages and other injuries stemming from the oil spill," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West wrote.

"It is simply unconscionable, in the circumstances of this case, that Transocean is attempting to use this" law to avoid paying states or the U.S. for damages caused by the rig explosion, West said in a May 24 letter to Transocean's lawyers.

The spill began after an April 20 fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which London-based BP leased from Switzerland-based Transocean to drill its Macondo well in the Gulf.

1851 Law
The law cited by Transocean, the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, is pre-empted by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the U.S. said. The claims of state governments are also "not subject to the limitation act," West wrote.  READ MORE

It's the 21st Century - Why Are We Working So Much?

Surveys show that most people think their jobs are
pointless. (photo: Henryk T. Kaiser/Rex)
By Owen Hatherley, Guardian UK
08 July 12

The right calls for hard work, the left for more jobs. The dream of mechanisation leading to shorter working hours seems forgotten.

f there's one thing practically all futurologists once agreed on, it's that in the 21st century there would be a lot less work. What would they have thought, if they had known that in 2012, the 9-5 working day had in the UK become something more like 7am to 7pm? They would surely have looked around and seen technology take over in many professions which previously needed heavy manpower, they would have looked at the increase in automation and mass production, and wondered - why are they spending 12 hours a day on menial tasks?

It's a question which isn't adequately answered either by the right or by the official left. Conservatives have always loved to pontificate about the moral virtue of hard work and much of the left, focusing on the terrible effects of mass unemployment, understandably gives "more jobs" as its main solution to the crisis. Previous generations would have found this hopelessly disappointing.

In almost all cases, utopians, socialists and other futurologists believed that work would come near to being abolished for one reason above all - we could let the machines do it. The socialist thinker Paul Lafargue wrote in his pointedly titled tract The Right To Be Lazy (1883):
"Our machines, with breath of fire, with limbs of unwearying steel, with fruitfulness wonderful inexhaustible, accomplish by themselves with docility their sacred labour. And nevertheless the genius of the great philosophers of capitalism remains dominated by the prejudices of the wage system, worst of slaveries. They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty."
Oscar Wilde evidently agreed - in his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism,   READ MORE

Judicial Crusade to Establish Churches in Schools

Detail from the cover of Katherine Stewart's book,
'The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth
Assault on America's Children.' (photo: Perseus Books)
By Katherine Stewart, Guardian UK
08 July 12

A judge's decision forcing New York City to provide subsidised space for religious worship challenges the US constitution.

he government of the City of New York is now in the religion business.
It is being forced against its will to fund and operate a set of well-furnished facilities in prime locations for the purpose of housing a large network of predominantly evangelical churches. On weekdays, during school hours, these facilities are known as "public schools". But after the bell rings, they become part of what we may now call "the Church of New York City".

How did this blatant violation of the first amendment happen?

Among the many people who made this strange development possible, it wouldn't have taken place without a certain kind of judge - the kind who, in other contexts, talks loudly about the virtues of "limited government", the horrors of "judicial activism", and the sanctity of the US constitution. Last week, Loretta Preska, chief judge of the US district court for the southern district of New York, who was appointed to her post by President George W Bush and is a member of the Federalist Society, ruled that the constitution positively requires the New York City department of education to provide publicly subsidized housing for churches through its public schools.  READ MORE