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Why does the GOP so love their ignorance? Now they do not want to know the costs of the US nuclear arsenal.

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The GOP embraces its ignorance with determination and defensiveness. Not only does the GOP lack knowledge, it doesn’t want knowledge and routinely kills programs that would provide useful data (for example, studies on the effects of marijuana, or on the public-health risks of firearms ownership, or on the efficacy of abstinence-only sex ed programs). It’s puzzling to me. I generally think of people as having a desire to know, but (unlike the GOP) I can’t ignore the evidence. The GOP likes being ignorant.

Alex Emmons of The Intercept reports:

Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have lined up to quietly kill a cost estimate of the Pentagon’s three-decade nuclear modernization program, which experts predict will exceed $1 trillion. The vote was mentioned briefly in Politico’s morning briefing list last week but otherwise received no media coverage.

The Pentagon is already moving to refurbish its 1,900 deployed nuclear warheads and replace each leg of its nuclear triad – its land, sea, and air-based delivery systems. In October, the DOD signed a contract with Northrop Grumman to produce a new long range strike bomber, and itsproposed budget plan sets aside hundreds of billions of dollars to buy a new generation of ICBMs, nuclear submarines, and cruise missiles.

In the mid-2020s, those expenses are scheduled to overlap with major purchases of aircraft carriers and of the F-35 joint strike fighter, leading to a surge in spending that experts have called “unsustainable,” “unaffordable,” and “a fantasy.”

Brian McKeon, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, told reporters in October the Pentagon was “wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it,” and that current leadership is “thanking [their] stars we won’t be here to have to answer the question.” In November, the Pentagon Comptroller called the cost of nuclear modernization “the biggest problem we don’t know how to solve yet.”

On Wednesday, four hours into a marathon hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Steve Aguilar (D-Calif.) proposed a measure that would require the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to predict the cost of modernization over thirty years. The CBO is currently required to estimate the costs only ten years out, which would overlook the longer-term surge.

Congressman John Garamendi (D–Calif.) spoke in support of the amendment.

“We’re going to spend an incredible amount of money on what amounts to a new nuclear arms race. It will take money from other programs… we ought to be aware of it, but we will be blind to the total cost,” Garamendi said.

Republican Michael Rogers (R–Ala.) rallied his colleagues against the amendment, claiming that a 30-year cost estimate may not provide reliable data.

“In all candor, a multi-decade cost estimate wouldn’t we worth the paper it was written on,” said Rogers. “This amendment would result in false, unreliable data in the public debate.”

But Aguilar fired back, pointing to a 30-year cost estimate of ship building programs the committee’s Republicans had approved. “If we’re not going to do long-term planning,” Aguilar said, “then let’s be honest about it.”

The measure was defeated 26-36, with all Republicans voting in opposition.

In the last election cycle, Rogers received more than $65,000 in campaign contributions from defense contractors, including $5,000 from Northrop Grumman, the company producing the new long-range strike bomber. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2016 at 11:48 am

At long last, time-and-a-half for overtime is restored for millions

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Naturally the GOP does not like it. The GOP works hard to ensure that employees are paid as little as possible and receive as few benefits as possible. That’s one reason I’m a Democrat. Nick Hanauer and Robert Reich write in the NY Times:

THIS summer the Department of Labor is expected to introduce new rules to restore overtime pay to millions of Americans — rules that require no congressional approval. From the fearful protests coming from Republican leadership, you’d think the sky was falling. “This mandate on employers will hurt the lowest paid American workers the most, by reducing their opportunities for a promotion or a better job,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In fact, far from the right’s end-of-the-world, Chicken-Little economics, restoring time-and-a-half overtime pay would return to American workers a protection they long had, one that made them more secure and productive.

Half a century ago, overtime pay was the norm, with more than 60 percent of salaried employees qualifying. These are largely the sorts of office- and service-sector workers who never enjoyed the protection of union membership. But over the last 40 years the threshold has been allowed to steadily erode, so that only about 8 percent qualify today. If you feel as if you’re working longer hours for less money than your parents did, it’s probably because you are.

Today, if you’re salaried and earn more than $23,600 dollars a year, you don’t automatically qualify for overtime: That means every extra hour you work, you work free. Under the new proposed rules, everyone earning a salary of $50,440 a year or less would be eligible to collect time-and-a-half pay for every hour worked over 40 hours a week.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, it would give 13.5 million more workers a new or stronger right to overtime pay — substantially increasing both middle-class incomes and employment. It’s not as high as the $69,000 threshold it would take to return to 1975 levels, after adjusting for inflation, but it’s a courageous step in the right direction. It’s like a minimum wage hike for the middle class.

Everybody knows Americans are overworked. A 2014 Gallup poll found that salaried Americans now report working an average of 47 hours a week — not the supposedly standard 40 — while 18 percent report working more than 60 hours. And yet overtime pay has become such a rarity that many Americans don’t even realize that a majority of salaried workers were once eligible.

In a cruel twist, the longer and harder we work for the same wage, the fewer jobs there are for others, the higher unemployment goes and the more we weaken our own bargaining power. That helps explain why over the last 30 years, corporate profits have doubled from about 6 percent of gross domestic product to about 12 percent, while wages have fallen by almost exactly the same amount. The erosion of overtime and other labor protections is one of the main factors leading to worsening inequality. But a higher threshold would help reverse this trend.

Under the restored salary threshold, employers would have a choice: They could either pay you time-and-a-half for your extra hours worked, or they could hire more workers at the standard rate to fill your previously unpaid hours. The former would grow your paycheck. The latter would increase your leisure time while directly adding more jobs to the economy. Either would be great for workers and great for economic growth.

Lower- and middle-income workers don’t stash their earnings in offshore accounts the way high-paid chief executives do — the more the typical worker is paid, the more she spends on goods and services. When workers have more money, businesses have more customers; and when businesses have more customers, they hire more workers.

Whether through an increase in consumer demand or a reduction in unpaid hours, a higher overtime threshold would increase total employment, tightening the labor market and driving up real wages for the first time since the late 1990s.

Senate Republicans have introduced legislation to block the Department of Labor from implementing the new rule, arguing that it would hurt workers and employers. True, some businesses predicated on low wages and abusive scheduling practices may struggle to adapt. But the great thing about capitalism is that where one entrepreneur fails, another quickly figures out how to fill his niche. Adapting to new challenges is what successful businesspeople do.

When it comes to labor standards, Senator Alexander and his Republican colleagues always sing the same old trickle-down tune: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2016 at 11:25 am

Why the GOP cannot come up with an Obamacare replacement

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Paul Krugman points out the impossibility of the task the GOP has assigned itself: to formulate a conservative alternative to Obamacare. (Liberal alternatives are easy, as he points out: a single-payer system, for instance, or a national health service). He posts in his blog:

Hype springs eternal — certainly when it comes to Paul Ryan, whose media image as a Serious, Honest Conservative and policy wonk seems utterly impervious to repeated demonstrations that he is neither serious nor honest, and that he actually knows very little about policy. And here we go again.

But what really amazes me about the latest set of stories is the promise that Ryan will finally deliver the Republican Obamacare alternative that his colleagues in Congress have somehow failed to produce after all these years. No, he won’t — because there is no alternative.

Or maybe I should say that there is no alternative to the right. Alternatives to the left do exist. True socialized medicine — an American NHS — would be feasible economically; so would single-payer, in the form of Medicare for all. The reasons we aren’t doing those are political.

But on the right, is there a more free-market, more privatized system that could replace the Affordable Care Act without causing the number of uninsured to soar? No, as some of us have tried to explain many times.

Once again: a useful starting point is the problem of people with pre-existing conditions. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2016 at 12:32 pm

Donald Trump Performs Shakespeare’s Soliloquies

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Aryeh Cohen-Wade writes in the New Yorker:

“Hamlet”

Listen—to be, not to be, this is a tough question, O.K.? Very tough. A lot of people come up to me and ask, “Donald, what’s more noble? Getting hit every day with the slings, the bows, the arrows, the sea of troubles—or just giving up?” I mean, smart people, the best Ivy League schools.

But I say to them, “Have you ever thought that we don’t know—we don’t know—what dreams may come? Have you ever thought about that?” Ay yi yi—there’s the rub! There’s the rub right there. When we shuffle off this mortal whatever it is—coil? They say to me, “Donald, you’ve built this fantastic company, how’d you do it? How?” And I say one word: “leadership.” Because that’s what it’s all about, is leadership. And people are so grateful whenever I bring up this whole “perchance to dream” thing. So grateful.

And on and on with the whips and the scorns of time and the contumely and the fardels and the blah blah blah.

Then I see a bare bodkin and I’m like—a bodkin? What the hell is this thing, a bodkin? Listen, I run a very successful business, I employ thousands of people and I’m supposed to care whether this bodkin is bare or not? Sad!

And when people say I don’t have a conscience—trust me, I have a conscience, and it’s a very big conscience, O.K.? And the native hue of my resolution is not sicklied o’er, that’s a lie! If anyone tells you that the native hue of my resolution is sicklied o’er, they’re trying to sell you a load of you-know-what. And enterprises of great pith—listen, my enterprises are so pithy. So pithy. Fantastic pith. But sometimes, hey, they lose the name of action, right? I mean, it happens—it happens.

“Romeo and Juliet”

Quiet, quiet—shut up, over there! What’s coming through that window? A light, it is the east, and Melania—you know, people are always telling me, they say, “Mr. Trump, you’ve got a wonderful wife”—Melania, she’s sitting right there. Stand up, sweetheart. Isn’t she a beautiful woman, Melania? Gorgeous. I love women, they love me—and I think we all know what I mean, folks! I’m gonna do so well with the women in November. So well.

Melania’s the sun, is what a lot of people are saying. Hillary Clinton? I mean, with that face? She looks like the moon! She’s very envious, if you ask me, very envious, but can you blame her? Visit Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue—which is the best street in New York, by the way—I mean, who wouldn’t be envious? This moon, Hillary, is sick and pale with grief when she compares herself to Melania, who is a very beautiful woman, I have to admit.

Melania, she’s got a great cheek, it’s a wonderful cheek, a bright cheek, everyone knows it, the stars ought to be ashamed of themselves, ashamed. The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars. As daylight doth a lamp! Look at this, folks, how she leans her cheek upon her hand. If I were a glove upon that hand—first, let me tell you, I think we all know what I would do, because I bought the Miss Universe Pageant, very successful, so I know a thing or two about gorgeous women. And all this stuff about the gloves, and my hands—I have great hands, O.K.? Gimme a break.

“Julius Caesar”

. . .

Continue reading.

Macbeth” is particularly telling, so click the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2016 at 10:07 am

Posted in Comedy, Election, GOP

GOP admits that purpose of voter ID laws is to suppress likely Democratic voters

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Kevin Drum notes in Mother Jones:

Let’s be clear here: it’s not exactly breaking news that photo ID laws are designed not to fight voter fraud—which is all but nonexistent—but primarily to make it harder for Democratic constituencies to vote. Still, it’s nice to hear it from the horse’s mouth sometimes. The location, once again, is Wisconsin:

You wanna know why I left the Republican Party as it exists today? Here it is; this was the last straw: I was in the closed Senate Republican Caucus when the final round of multiple Voter ID bills were being discussed. A handful of the GOP Senators were giddy about the ramifications and literally singled out the prospects of suppressing minority and college voters.

Think about that for a minute….A vigorous debate on the ideas wasn’t good enough. Inspiring the electorate and relying on their agenda being better to get people to vote for them wasn’t good enough. No, they had to take the coward’s way out and come up with a plan to suppress the vote under the guise of ‘voter fraud.’ The truth? There was almost none.

That’s from Todd Allbaugh, former chief of staff for Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Schultz (R). TPM’s Tierney Sneed gave him a call:

Once he left politics, Allbaugh opened a Madison, Wisconsin, coffee shop, where TPM reached him over the phone and he elaborated on those claims.

“It just really incensed me that they started talking about this particular bill, and one of the senators got up and said, ‘We really need to think about the ramifications on certain neighborhoods in Milwaukee and on our college campuses and what this could do for us,’” Allbaugh said.

….According to Allbaugh, at this point in the point of meeting, Schultz brought up his own concerns with the voter ID legislation. “He was immediately shot down by another senator who said, ‘What I am interested in is getting results here and using the power while we have it, because if the Democrats were in control they would do they same thing to us, so I want to use it while we have it.’” [In fact, Democrats have never favored voter ID laws. The statement is pure fabrication to justify an appalling act to undermine democracy in the US by deliberating blocking potential votes for the opposing party. – LG]

I wonder how many cases we need of legislators and aides either admitting this outright (like Allbaugh) or accidentally telling the truth about it (like Pennsylvania’s Mike Turzai) before the Supreme Court is willing to take a fresh look at its naive 2008 ruling upholding voter ID laws. At the time, the court wrote that concerns about voter fraud “should not be disregarded simply because partisan interests may have provided one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.” Since then, evidence has continued to pile up that voter fraud is an entirely fake concern and partisan interests are the only motivation for voter ID laws. It’s time to overturn Crawford.

It seems clear to me that the conservative members of the Supreme Court knew full well that their decision would lead to suppression of Democratic voters and that they saw that voter suppression as a feature, not a bug. The conservative members of the Court are completely politicized, as we saw in their decision giving the presidency to George W. Bush, and they have continued to vote as a supporting subsidiary of the Republican party, not as impartial jurists.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2016 at 11:15 am

Posted in Election, GOP, Law

Shelby’s Senate Banking Committee Has No Pretense of Fairness

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Tomorrow the Senate Banking Committee, chaired by Senator Richard Shelby since the Republicans took control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms, will hold a hearing on “Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations.” That title can be easily translated into “How to Achieve the Lobbyists’ Dream Wish of Killing Off the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Its Embarrassing Ability to Perpetually Show How Deregulation of the Financial Services Industry Has Led to Wholesale Looting of the Public.”

Senator Shelby does not even make a pretense of presenting a balanced slate of witnesses at these hearings and one has to question why the Ranking Member, Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, is not holding Shelby’s feet to the fire on this issue.

Tomorrow’s hearing has three panelists listed: Leonard Chanin, Of Counsel at Morrison and Foerster – a law firm that was a registered lobbyist for the American Bankers Association last year according to the Center for Responsive Politics; David Hirschmann, another registered lobbyist and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $62 million lobbying Congress since 1998 in an effort to gut or water down regulations of Wall Street and other big corporate groups.  (For a more in-depth understanding of what drives the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not to be confused with the small business organization in your community known as the Chamber of Commerce, read Susan Antilla’s “Chamber of Commerce Gives Wall Street, Polluters What They Pay For.”)

Rounding out tomorrow’s panel is Todd Zywicki, a senior scholar at the rabidly anti-regulatory Mercatus Center and a Law Professor at the related George Mason University. According to SourceWatch,  the Mercatus Center “was founded and is funded by the Koch Family Foundations,” the nonprofits set up by the Koch brothers to sluice money into a sprawling maze of think tanks, corporate front groups, and university economic departments. SourceWatch reveals that “the Koch family has contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center.”

One of the luminaries of Mercatus Center fame is Wendy Lee Gramm, whom the Mercatus Center archives credits with setting up its “Regulatory Studies Program” in 1999. Gramm was also the former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) from 1988 to January 1993, which took a hands off approach to regulating derivatives:

According to a report from Public Citizen:

“In 1992, as the first step in its business plan to profit on the speculation of energy, Enron petitioned the CFTC to make regulatory changes that would limit the scope of the commission’s authority over certain kinds of futures contracts.  Immediately before leaving the CFTC, Gramm muscled through approval of an unusual draft regulation that would do just that – it narrowed the definition of futures contracts and excluded Enron’s energy future contracts and swaps from regulatory oversight.  Although her actions were criticized by government officials who feared the change would have severe negative consequences (as, in fact, it did), Gramm was rewarded five weeks after she left the CFTC with a lucrative appointment to Enron’s Board of Directors.  Between 1993 and 2001, when the company declared bankruptcy, Enron paid Gramm between $915,000 and $1.85 million in salary, attendance fees, stock option sales, and dividends.”

Enron was a major campaign contributor to Wendy Lee Gramm’s husband, former Senator Phil Gramm, for whom the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act is partially named.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley is the legislation signed into law in 1999 that overturned the seminal consumer protection legislation against bank abuses known as the Glass-Steagall Act. It allowed the gambling casinos of Wall Street (investment banks and brokerage firms) to merge with commercial banks holding FDIC-insured deposits of savers and to use those insured deposits to gamble for the house in unregulated derivatives. (See here and here for how that’s worked out.)

What was the Koch brothers’ interest in deregulating derivatives? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2016 at 5:04 pm

All the President’s Men is still an excellent movie

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Free on Amazon Prime, All the President’s Men (1976) pulls you right in. Really extremely well done. One thing people watching now may not immediately realize: the Committee for the Re-Election of the President had an acronym, CRP, that was pronounced “creep.”

I doubt that young adults know will know the name John Mitchell or what a thoroughly unsavory man he was. He was Attorney General, of all things, then director of CRP. He eventually went to prison for his role in the Watergate break-in, serving 19 months.

A movie that won 4 Oscars (including Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jason Robards, as Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (William Goldman, who—among many other things—wrote the novel and the screenplay The Princess Bride). It was nominated for 4 other Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Worth checking out if you have Amazon Prime. Even if you’ve seen it before. I have, and it pulled me right in.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2016 at 9:24 pm

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