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More GOP flim-flam on the sequestration deal

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Kevin Drum points out who is trying to break the sequestration deal:

The LA Times reports today that we might be headed for another government shutdown. Big surprise. But these paragraphs are very peculiar:

President Obama has signaled his intention to bust, once and for all, the severe 2011 spending caps known as sequestration. He’s vowed to reject any GOP-backed appropriation bills that increase government funding for the military without also boosting domestic programs important to Democrats such as Head Start for preschoolers.

The Republican-controlled Congress is also digging in. Since taking control in January, GOP leaders had promised to run Congress responsibly and prevent another shutdown like the one in 2013, but their spending proposals are defying the president’s veto threat by bolstering defense accounts and leaving social-welfare programs to be slashed.

It’s true that Obama has proposed doing away with the sequestration caps. But his budgets have routinely been described as DOA by Republican leaders, so his plans have never gotten so much as a hearing. What’s happening right now is entirely different. Republicans are claiming they want to keep the sequestration deal, but they don’t like the fact that back in 2011 they agreed it would cut domestic and military spending equally. Instead, Republicans now want to increase military spending and decrease domestic spending. They’re doing this by putting the additional defense money into an “emergency war-spending account,” which technically allows them to get around the sequester caps. Unsurprisingly, Obama’s not buying it.

So how does this count as Obama planning to “bust” the sequestration caps? I don’t get it. It sounds like Obama is willing to stick to the original deal if he has to, but he’s quite naturally insisting that this means sticking to the entire deal. It’s Republicans who are trying to renege. What am I missing here?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2015 at 11:56 am

Sen. Lindsay Graham is running a pro-war campaign and his biggest contributors are military contractors

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“You have to spend money to make money”: I imagine a lot of military contractors are saying this as they give checked to Sen. Graham’s campaign, counting on his promises to increase defense spending and go to war in more places. Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:

The Super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised $2.9 million through the end of June, a significant portion of which came from defense contractors that stand to gain from Graham’s advocacy for greater military intervention around the world and increased defense spending.

As Graham tours the early primary states, he tells voters that he is running to boost U.S. defense spending. “My goal is to make sure the next president of the United States, the next generation of war fighters have the capability and capacity to do the job required to keep us free,” Graham said in South Carolina earlier this year.

Graham’s Super PAC, called “Security is Strength,” received $500,000 from billionaire Ron Perelman, whose company MacAndrews & Forbes owns AM General, the manufacturer of Humvees and other products for the military. In December of last year, AM General won a $245.6 million contract with the Army. . .

Continue reading.

And of course the money buys votes. Jon Schwarz in The Intercept has a very interesting piece on politicians who admit that the money they receive shapes their votes:

One of the most embarrassing aspects of U.S. politics is politicians who deny that money has any impact on what they do. For instance, Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania’s notoriously fracking-friendly former governor, got $1.7 million from oil and gas companies but assured voters that “The contributions don’t affect my decisions.” If you’re trying to get people to vote for you, you can’t tell them that what they want doesn’t matter.

This pose is also popular with a certain prominent breed of pundits, who love to tell us “Don’t Follow the Money” (New York Times columnist David Brooks), or “Money does not buy elections” (Freakonomics co-author Stephen Dubner on public radio’s Marketplace), or “Money won’t buy you votes” (Yale Law School professor Peter H. Schuck in the Los Angeles Times).

Meanwhile, 85 percent of Americans say we need to either “completely rebuild” or make “fundamental changes” to the campaign finance system. Just 13 percent think “only minor changes are necessary,” less than the 18 percent of Americans who believe they’ve been in the presence of a ghost.

So we’ve decided that it would be useful to collect examples of actual politicians acknowledging the glaringly obvious reality. Here’s a start; I’m sure there must be many others, so if you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments or email me. I’d also love to speak directly to current or former politicians who have an opinion about it.

• “You have to go where the money is. Now where the money is, there’s almost always implicitly some string attached. … It’s awful hard to take a whole lot of money from a group you know has a particular position then you conclude they’re wrong [and] vote no.” — Vice President Joe Biden in 2015.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 25:  Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition spring leadership meeting at The Venetian Las Vegas on April 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Republican Jewish Coalition's annual meeting featured potential Republican presidential candidates in attendance, along with Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)

Photo: Ethan Miler/Getty Images

• “Lobbyists and career politicians today make up what I call the Washington Cartel. … [They] on a daily basis are conspiring against the American people. … [C]areer politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.” — Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2015.

• “When you start to connect the actual access to money, and the access involves law enforcement officials, you have clearly crossed a line. What is going on is shocking, terrible.” – James E. Tierney, former attorney general of Maine, in 2014.

• “Allowing people and corporate interest groups and others to spend an unlimited amount of unidentified money has enabled certain individuals to swing any and all elections, whether they are congressional, federal, local, state … Unfortunately and rarely are these people having goals which are in line with those of the general public. History well shows that there is a very selfish game that’s going on and that our government has largely been put up for sale.” –John Dingell, 29-term Democratic congressman from Michigan, in 2014 just before he retired.

• “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.” — Dale Schultz, 32-year Republican state legislator in Wisconsin and former state Senate Majority Leader, in 2013 before retiring rather than face a primary challenger backed by Americans for Prosperity. . .

Continue reading. The list continues.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 2:48 pm

Close Military Bases at Home, But Also Close Them Overseas

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David Vine writes in the NY Times:

THERE are signs that Congress may soon approve another series of domestic military base closings, after the Pentagon threatened earlier this month to cut nearly 90,000 jobs instead. For years, the military has been trying to save money with new rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), the congressionally mandated process for shuttering underutilized domestic military installations.

The move could save billions since, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, our network of domestic bases is bloated by more than 20 percent. But Congress has resisted, since local bases mean local jobs, and votes.

BRAC, however, does not apply to the more than 700 United States bases overseas, including 174 in Germany, 113 in Japan and 83 in South Korea, as well as hundreds more in some 70 countries from Aruba to Kenya to Thailand. The military and Congress should go further by closing installations abroad. They both waste taxpayer money and undermine national security.

Each year, United States taxpayers pay on average $10,000 to $40,000 more for each service member stationed abroad, compared with those at home. By my very conservative calculations completed during a six-year study of overseas bases, maintaining installations and troops overseas cost at least $85 billion in 2014 — more than the discretionary budget of every government agency except the Defense Department itself. Adding our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bill could reach $156 billion.

The Bush and Obama administrations have made some progress closing bases, especially in Europe. Still, the military has acknowledged having excess base capacity worldwide.

Unfortunately, many inside and outside the military are committed to maintaining a large and extravagant system of bases abroad. In Europe, for example, the Pentagon has spent billions building new bases at the same time it’s been closing others. President Obama’s “Pacific pivot” has meant billions more in spending in a region where the military already has hundreds of bases and tens of thousands of troops. Billions of dollars have likewise gone to building a new and permanent base infrastructure in the Persian Gulf.

Halting new construction and closing more Cold War bases in Europe are obvious ways to achieve savings, and scrapping ill-conceived multibillion-dollar buildups in the Pacific and Persian Gulf are other important steps. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 July 2015 at 10:54 am

Blatant extortion and bad faith: John Boehner

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I suppose he thinks his behavior is impeccable, but it’s yet another clear sign of at least a decline of the US. Kevin Drum:

Is it just me, or is this trick getting a little old?

Mr. Boehner said the three-month [highway] bill could come up for a House vote on Wednesday. If the bill passes, the House would adjourn for an August recess Wednesday, a day earlier than previously planned, a House GOP aide said. That would leave the Senate to accept one of the two House highway bills or to immediately cut off federal reimbursements to states for transportation projects. The Senate will have a hard time completing its highway bill before Thursday.

I need some scholarly help here. Has it been common in the past for one house to pass a bill and then immediately adjourn, leaving the other house with the option of either passing their bill or shutting down a chunk of government? Or is this something new that modern Republicans have discovered? Historians of Congress, please chime in.

You can post your responses in the comments to the original post.

One thought I had: We’re depending on people like this to govern our country. Don’t you get the strong feeling that we’re in (for) trouble.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2015 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Another sign of US decline: Aging Infrastructure Plagues Nation’s Busiest Rail Corridor

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Emma Fitzsimmons and David Chen report in the NY Times:

In Maryland, a century-old rail tunnel needed emergency repairs this winter because of soil erosion from leaks, causing widespread train delays.

In Connecticut, an aging swing bridge failed to close twice last summer, shutting train service and stranding passengers.

And last week, New Jersey Transit riders had a truly torturous experience. There were major delays on four days because of problems with overhead electrical wires and a power substation, leaving thousands of commuters stalled for hours. One frustrated rider, responding to yet another New Jersey Transit Twitter post announcing a problem, replied: “Just easier to alert us when there aren’t delays.”

These troubles have become all too common on the Northeast Corridor, the nation’s busiest rail sector, which stretches from Washington to Boston and carries about 750,000 riders each day on Amtrak and several commuter rail lines. The corridor’s ridership has doubled in the last 30 years even as its old and overloaded infrastructure of tracks, power lines, bridges and tunnels has begun to wear out. And with Amtrak and local transit agencies struggling to secure funding, many fear the disruptions will continue to worsen in the years ahead.

“We’re seeing two trends converging in an extraordinary way,” said Thomas Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association. “Ridership is hitting all time highs on the Northeast Corridor at the same time that the system is just too brittle and does not have the ability to withstand heat waves, storms and other [totally and uncontrovertably predictable. – LG] incidents.” . . .

Continue reading.

Pretty obvious sign of decline, right? Not quite the typical graphic novel depiction of “decline”: overcast autumn day, a few people walking bent over in a cold wind, hugging their threadbare clothing close to their bodies, while dead leaves blow about the deserted street. Not so obvious as that, perhaps, but pretty damn obvious: public transportation is breaking down and the US cannot seem to fix it, much less upgrade it to first-world standards.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2015 at 12:02 pm

The American Red Cross is not trustworthy; do not donate to it

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Justin Elliott reports in ProPublica:

The American Red Cross met a deadline this week to answer congressional questionsabout how it spent nearly half a billion dollars donated after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, but the group says details can’t yet be released publicly.

And the senator who posed the questions is not satisfied.

“I still have a lot more questions for the Red Cross,” said Sen. Charles Grassley in a statement. “I have other questions about the spending numbers and how they add up and the overhead costs for both the Red Cross and the grantee organizations. Also, I’d like to see more details of the results achieved from each of the partner organizations.”

After taking out a slice for overhead, the Red Cross passed on much of the donated money to nearly 50 other aid groups to do the actual work in Haiti. The Red Cross gave details to Grassley about that money, but it asked the senator not to release the information.

The group told the Iowa Republican that its contracts with other groups do “not permit us to disclose the information to the media or donors.”

Grassley questioned that arrangement.

“It’s unclear why the Red Cross enters into contracts with other organizations stipulating that details of grants can’t be disclosed to the media or donors,” said Grassley in his statement. “Who’s driving the lack of disclosure, the Red Cross or the grant recipients?  What’s the rationale for it?  It’s hard to see how disclosing the dollar amounts given from the Red Cross to the individual organizations and how those organizations spent the money would harm anyone. I look forward to an explanation.”

The Red Cross did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It’s not clear when or if the other groups will give permission for the information to be released. (Here is a copy of the letter the Red Cross sent this month to one of the groups seeking permission.)

The senator’s office did release 12 of the 72 pages the Red Cross provided in response to Grassley’s questions. The responses released so far contain few new details about the Haiti program.

Among the responses:

  • Asked how many permanent homes the Red Cross built, the group did not provide a number. We’ve reported the Red Cross built a total of six homes.”Your question asks how many permanent homes have been ‘built,’ but providing permanent homes can be achieved in a number of ways including repair, retrofitting, rental subsidy, and transitional shelters,” the Red Cross said in its response to Grassley.

    It’s not clear why the group considers a “transitional shelter” to be providing a permanent home.

    The group did provide Grassley with a topline breakdown of its shelter spending.

  • The group gave a bit more explanation on how the Red Cross counts “beneficiaries” of its work in Haiti. The Red Cross letter states that beneficiaries could be anyone from people who received a handout of soap to those who got construction training. It also states that the Red Cross is “conservative and reliable in reporting even if it means under-reporting our impact.”

    But as we have previously reported, internal Red Cross assessments have concluded that the group sometimes overcounts how many people it helps. One internal report on a health project called the beneficiary count “fairly meaningless.”  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2015 at 2:04 pm

Posted in Congress, Philanthropy

Magical Unicorn Thinking From Right Wing on Iran Nuclear Deal

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Kevin Drum has a post that makes an excellent point:

I’ve been waiting for a while now for a plausible conservative alternative to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and Max Fisher informs me today that Michael Oren has stepped up and done just that in the pages of Politico. Except for one thing: the increasingly unhinged former ambassador to the US may have a plan, but it’s about a million miles from plausible.

You should read Fisher’s whole post, but I’m going to skip the long preamble and get straight to Oren’s proposal. Here it is:

Israel would have embraced an agreement that significantly rolled back the number of centrifuges and nuclear facilities in Iran and that linked any sanctions relief to demonstrable changes in its behavior. No more state support of terror, no more threatening America’s Middle Eastern allies, no more pledges to destroy the world’s only Jewish state and no more mass chants of “Death to America.” Israel would have welcomed any arrangement that monitored Iran’s ICBMs and other offensive weaponry. Such a deal, Israeli leaders across the political spectrum agree, was and remains attainable.

That would be great, of course. But not exactly plausible. Here’s Fisher:

All of these are politically impossible and, in some cases, physically impossible….Try to imagine a US negotiator actually asking for this. “The inspections procedures of uranium mines look good here, and we are satisfied with the limits on centrifuge research and development. But we require a binding commitment that no one in your political system will speak certain combinations of words about Israel anymore.” We might as well demand that Iran give us a unicorn that we can ride all the way to Candy Mountain.

….Is it really worth blowing up a historic nuclear deal — one that will substantially and verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program, with global cooperation — over the possibility that one of the Iranian ayatollahs might not be legally forbidden from saying the wrong words?

These are poison-pill demands, and very lazy ones at that. They are not designed to be implemented, but rather to raise the political bar for any nuclear deal beyond what can be achieved.

And what about sanctions? Surely the other countries that are parties to the deal would quit in disgust if the US demands were as ridiculous as Oren suggests they should be. Indeed they would, but Oren says that if they drop out we should threaten to sanction them. Fisher: “This is indeed a specific proposal. But it is also insane. Oren is arguing that Obama should threaten to blow up the world economy, including America’s own economy, just to secure some vague improvements to the Iran deal.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2015 at 9:56 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

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