Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
A good post by Juan Cole at Informed Comment:
The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.
The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.
In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.
US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.
The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.
A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.
Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?
Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.
Europe isn’t perfect. . .
The CIA, doing everything it can to stop the Senate report—after already destroying all the video evidence of their torture of prisoners (and presumably of some of the innocents that mistakenly tortured). But they are lying about their stall, of course.
From Dan Froomkin’s column today:
Trapani [CIA spokesman] said, “CIA worked extensively to assist SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Inteligence] in completing this Study. CIA expects this report to be released, consistent with the SSCI vote. Anyone suggesting that we are trying to stall to January does not understand the basic facts of this matter.”
Either side in a negotiation can technically blame the other for holding up an agreement. But the CIA does have a bad track record here.
J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote recently:
As the official responsible for oversight of the system for classifying national security information during the Bush administration, I frequently did battle with the CIA over declassification. I found its negotiating posture to be consistent: start out with the most ridiculous position and eventually settle for one that is simply outrageous. My 40 years of experience in the world of government secrecy taught me that the CIA rarely if ever acts in good faith when it comes to transparency.
Leonard wrote that in this case, “The CIA even redacted information already made public by a 2009 Armed Services Committee Report on detainee abuse within the military.”
Obama promised that he would expedite the release of the report, but then Obama also promised “a world without nuclear weapons” and now he’s going to spend $1 trillion to upgrade the US nuclear arsenal. Obama apparently likes to make promises and apparently feels that, once a promise is made, no further action is required and he can do as he likes.
And so far as his actions and words go, Obama has never even heard of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed (by Ronald Reagan) and ratified. He has completely ignored it for 6 years.
Senate report on the US torture program: Not enough, very late, and still no recognition of the legal requirements of the Convention Against Torture
Dan Froomkin thinks that Obama may be trying to run out the clock—holding off on declassifying the Executive Summary of the Senate report on the CIA torture program (which ignores those who ordered the program, of course) until after the election, so that a GOP-controlled Senate can kill the report altogether. Obama is nothing if not loyal to the torturers and to the Establishment, a grave disappointment. His main motive seems to be to protect malefactors, something that became evident when he named John Brennan to head the CIA. Froomkin writes:
Continued White House foot-dragging on the declassification of a much-anticipated Senate torture report is raising concerns that the administration is holding out until Republicans take over the chamber and kill the report themselves.
Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee sent a 480-page executive summary of its extensive report on the CIA’s abuse of detainees to the White House for declassification more than six months ago.
In August, the White House, working closely with the CIA, sent back redactions that Feinstein and other Senate Democrats said rendered the summary unintelligible and unsupported.
Since then, the wrangling has continued behind closed doors, with projected release dates repeatedly falling by the wayside. The Huffington Post reported this week that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a close ally of CIA Director John Brennan, is personally leading the negotiations, suggesting keen interest in their progress — or lack thereof — on the part of Brennan and President Obama.
Human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, who interviewed a wide range of intelligence and administration officials for his upcoming book, Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy, told The Intercept that the White House and the CIA are hoping a Republican Senate will, in their words, “put an end to this nonsense.”
Stalling for time until after the midterm elections and the start of a Republican-majority session is the “battle plan,” Horton said. “I can tell you that Brennan has told people in the CIA that that’s his prescription for doing it.”
Republicans are widely expected to win control of the Senate Nov. 4.
Victoria Bassetti, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, wrote this week that the administration is playing “stall ball” and that Senate staffers expect Republicans would “spike release of the report” should they take over the chamber.
Asked if the White House is slow-walking the negotiations on purpose, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan replied: …
If you think she said, “Yes, that’s right: if we can just hold off a little longer, the report can be buried and the American people will be kept in the dark about what their government is doing.” — Just joking. Denial, obfuscation, stonewalling, and in general treating the public with contempt seems to be the order of business. But read the rest of the column—it’s worth reading.
McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, and Marisa Taylor have a good report worth reading in its entirety. It begins:
A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.
“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.
The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.
“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.
As a result, the $40 million, five-year inquiry passed up what may be the final opportunity to render an official verdict on the culpability of Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials for the program, in which suspected terrorists were abducted, sent to secret overseas prisons, and subjected to the harsh interrogation techniques.
“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”
At the same time, she said, the report still is critically important because it will give “the public facts even if it doesn’t come to these conclusions. The reason we have this factual accounting is not for prurient interest. It’s so we can avoid something like this ever happening again in the future.” . . .
Take a look at this chart, from a Slate article by Eliot Spitzer:
Two things should be evident: the US marginal tax rate is currently VERY low (even compared with our own history, much less compared to developed nations in the EU), and that dropping the marginal tax rate has zero effect on GDP: the notion that we would get lots of economic growth from cutting taxes is quite clearly false—and always has been. (Kansas is finding that out now. Thanks, Kansas, for taking one for team.)
Obviously, without tax revenue, government expenditures must be cut—or, to put it more bluntly, government services that help the public will be shut down. (One could, of course, say that a lot of tax money is spent for the wrong things—e.g., the $7.6 billion totally wasted in trying to shut down the opium trade in Afghanistan: we spent $7.6 billion, and the trade increased. The money may as well have been burned. And let’s not even talk about the $2 trillion Iraq war, which opened the door to jihadist revolution now underway.)
But government revenues have indeed fallen, so government services are cut, favoring cuts to groups that have no lobbyists: the poor, minorities, the mentally ill (now sent to prison or shot), and so on. In the meantime, bank lobbyists (several of whom are former heads of the SEC) are berating the SEC for feebly attempting to enforce the law. Their chutzpah knows no bounds—banks are the NSA of money: they want to collect it all.
Bryce Covert has a modest solution, which he describes at ThinkProgress:
A 90 percent tax rate on the top 1 percent of American earners wouldn’t just significantly reduce income and wealth inequality and boost government tax revenues. It would also be the optimal level for Americans’ welfare, according to a new paper from economists Fabian Kindermann and Dirk Krueger.
They find that the top marginal tax rate that maximizes government revenues before being so high as to discourage the wealthiest from earning more is very high, or 95 percent on those who are among the top 1 percent of earners. They also find that a 90 percent tax rate on the richest 1 percent could significantly reduce the Gini index, a measure of income inequality, and wealth inequality would also steadily decline.
But these effects aren’t worth the policy change in and of themselves, they argue. In an email to ThinkProgress, Krueger wrote, “One could certainly reduce inequality in the economy to zero, by the government confiscating all income and wealth and redistributing it equally among all households… Of course people would stop working and saving and the outcome would be disastrous.” But the interesting finding in their paper is that the same tax rate that would maximize revenues and drive down inequality is nearly the same one that would make everyone better off, or what they call the optimal top marginal tax rate.
Everyone’s welfare is improved if a tax change allows the government to compensate them with enough wealth so that they are at the same level they were before the change, but the government still has money left over. “The more is left over, the better is the reform,” Krueger said. Everyone’s welfare improves or stays steady, including that of the 1 percent, under a 90 percent top tax rate. In fact, the welfare gains are “very substantial,” they note in the paper.
There are trade offs to such a policy change. . .
I doubt this can happen: President Obama has demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting the banking industry and the wealthy in general—those are his donors. (I’m reminded of Roman Hruska, one-time Senator from Nebraska, who was known as “the defender of the strong.”)
Politicians who cannot comment on climate change because they are “not a scientist” speak out about Ebola
Inconsistency, thy name is Politician. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:
On Saturday, political blogger Lee Papa made an interesting observation about Republicans who widely recommend panicking about Ebola. “Does any Republican talking about Ebola say, “I’m not a scientist” like they do with climate change?” he tweeted, referencing the long list of political figures who claim to not know the science behind climate change, even though they actively oppose any policy to fight it.
On Monday, Papa answered the question for us with a resounding “no.” As might be expected, most prominent Republican politicians who are not willing to talk about climate change because they lack qualifications are willing to talk about Ebola, despite the fact that they lack qualifications. As might also be expected, all those politiciansfavor strict policy measures to deal with the disease, even though most scientists say Ebola is not easily transmittable and does not pose a widespread threat to Americans.
“Republicans are glad to tell you that either the evidence is inconclusive or that they are too dumb to understand the science when it comes to climate change, so they think it’s wrong to act like it’s a crisis and refuse to do anything to slow or halt it,” Papa writes at his blog Rude Pundit. “However, they will go bugnuts crazy and try to cause panic when it comes to the science around the spread of Ebola, even when they have it wrong.”
The list of perpetrators is long. . .
Years ago (1964) a book was written about Congress titled Congress: The Sapless Branch, and that title rings true today. We have reached the point now where Congressional action contrary to the interests of large corporations seems increasingly difficult. T. C. Sottek writes in the Verge:
Here’s what’s happening right now on net neutrality:
- The FCC is still deciding whether to completely cave and ruin the internet as we know it
- Americans are pretty mad at the FCC about it
- Congress is twiddling its thumbs
The FCC’s comment period is over and 3.7 million people weighed in — that means even more people are concerned about net neutrality than Super Bowl XXXVIII: Wardrobe Malfunctiongate. And, yes, America, it’s totally reasonable and appropriate to be mad at the FCC. It has screwed up on net neutrality for years from cowardice and simply by using the wrong words. But Americans who want to protect net neutrality should also start being mad at Congress.
It’s Congress that has largely turned net neutrality regulation into a partisan charade that occasionally results in threats to the FCC’s budget and authority via Congress’ telecommunications benefactors. The FCC’s dithering on net neutrality has been enabled for years by this nonsense and it’s now reflected even by the agency’s bench, which seats some commissioners who have advocated stripping themselves of power to avoid going against corporate interests. Even the FCC’s chairman is intimately familiar with those corporate interests; Tom Wheeler is a former telecom lobbyist and was appointed by a president who promised that lobbyists wouldn’t run his administration in a distant magical time called “Before He Was Elected.”
If you want a clear example of Congress’ ineptitude on net neutrality, look no further than a letter sent to Comcast today by . . .
The Social Security office of judges who hear appeals for disability benefits is 990,399 cases behind
One of the things that happens with a dysfunctional Congress is that government begins not working—services seize up, benefits fail to be delivered. Given that this is exactly what one party—the GOP—wants to happen, it’s hard to see how to fix it. For a long time, the role of Congress had been to make sure the government worked. Now a good part of Congress wants government not to work, and they strive mightily to that end. What’s weird is that they accept no responsibility for their own actions: they starve the CDC, for example, cutting its budget drastically over a decade, and then they blame the CDC when the cuts leave it unable to respond. This drives good employees from the government—but that’s the idea. The GOP is working continuously and with determination to destroy the American government because that government is the sole remaining obstacle to corporations being able to get away with whatever they want. We are assured that this state of nature for corporations will improve our lives, not because corporations care about anything other than profit but because the invisible hand of the market will clean up the toxic spills and oil pollution, it will ensure that insurance companies honor their contracts and do not sell deceptive plans, it will repair our roads and provide good schools for all citizens, and so on. Only in fact the invisible hand of the market seems to slap consumers and caress corporations.
David Fahrenthold writes in the Washington Post:
In an obscure corner of the federal bureaucracy, there is an office that is 990,399 cases behind.
That is Washington’s backlog of backlogs — a queue of waiting Americans larger than the populations of six different states. It is bigger even than the infamous backups at Veterans Affairs, where 526,000 people are waiting in line, and the patent office, where 606,000 applications are pending.
All of these people are waiting on a single office at the Social Security Administration.
Above: Patrick McGarvey, 48, pets his cat Marco at his house in Riegelsville, Pa. McGarvey, who has debilitating back pain, waited seven years, including appeals, to get approval for his Social Security disability benefits. “Some nights my back pain is so bad that my animals are the best company when I’m up,” he said. McGarvey has two cats and a dog. (Kevin Cook for The Washington Post)
Social Security is best-known for sending benefits to seniors. But it also pays out disability benefits to people who can’t work because of mental or physical ailments. And it runs an enormous decision-making bureaucracy to sort out who is truly disabled enough to get the checks — and who is trying to game the system.
Within Social Security, this backlogged office handles appeals of appeals. In most of its cases, the applicants have already been turned down twice by lower-rung officials who didn’t think they were disabled enough.
WHERE GOVERNMENT FALLS APART
Fifth in a series examining the failures at the heart of troubled federal systems.
If they appeal to this office, they can plead their case in person, before a special kind of Social Security judge.
The judge is supposed to read the applicant’s medical records and ask questions about medications, limitations and levels of pain. There are 1,445 of these Social Security judges, which means its in-house legal system is larger than the entire regular federal court system — district and appeals courts and the Supreme Court put together.
When they make a ruling, they must decide whether someone is truly unable to hold any job.
That is slow work, made slower by a pileup of outdated rules and oddball procedures. The judges’ official list of jobs, for instance, is a Depression-era relic last updated in 1991. It still includes “telegram messenger” and “horse-and-wagon driver” — not exactly growth industries. It doesn’t mention the Internet at all.
These judges fell behind when Gerald Ford was president. And they never caught up. Along the way, their office has become a bureaucratic parable — about what happens when the machinery of government cannot keep up with its good intentions.
In this case, the system became, in effect, too big to fix: . . .