Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Mashup (2/28/11)

  • Someone named James Pethokoukis tells us here that a shutdown of the US government, in the event that the “pain caucus” in the Repug-controlled U.S. House gets its way, is “worth it” (I’ll let you, dear reader, decipher the financial details behind his argument).

    In response, allow me to point out the following from here…

    During the last major shutdown (in 1995), the government closed 368 National Park Service sites, along with national museums and monuments.

    In addition, 200,000 passport applications went unprocessed, and toxic waste cleanup work at 609 sites stopped. The National Institutes of Health stopped accepting new clinical research patients, and services for veterans, including health care, were curtailed.

    Work on bankruptcy cases (slowed during the last shutdown). In the last shutdown, more than 3,500 cases were delayed.

    It is unclear how many workers would be furloughed in a new shutdown. Each federal agency has its own plan to wind down operations, and administration officials have not released details.

    During the Clinton-era shutdown, new Social Security claims weren't being processed because the agency furloughed 61,415 employees. As the shutdown wore on, the agency adjusted its plan and recalled workers to start processing new claims.
    And this tells us more about how we got to this point…

    After having stalled the funding bills until after the election, Democrats found their backs against the wall as they tried to pass an omnibus appropriations bill for the 2011 fiscal year. Republicans objected to billions of dollars in earmarks contained in the bill, and Democratic leadership ultimately relented, passing instead a temporary measure which will freeze funding for most government departments and will only last until March 4.
    (More on earmarks in a minute, by the way.)

    Meanwhile, The New York Times provides more of the reality point of view on this here, including the following…

    The threat of a shutdown is a serious one. Once the stopgap measure now supplying money to the federal government expires, hundreds of thousands of workers would be furloughed, halting vital services like veterans’ health care and passport processing, and possibly slowing the distribution of benefit checks. Essential services would continue, but the impact on a fragile recovery could be devastating.

    None of that has in the slightest deterred House Republicans — the fire-breathing freshmen and the older members who are afraid of them — from pursuing their single-minded goal of disemboweling the government.

    They took advantage of the Democrats’ failure to pass a budget last year and approved a bill that makes nearly $62 billion in cuts just over the next seven months. Much of the effort pursued longstanding partisan goals like eliminating programs for disadvantaged minorities, rather than real deficit reduction.

    The impact of these reckless, largely ideologically targeted cuts could be even more devastating for the recovery than a brief government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs, and not just for a few days or weeks. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder would be hurt the most.
    Oh, and while we listen to congressional Repugs preach to the Dems about their supposed fiscal rectitude, keep in mind from here that, in 2006, they pretty much walked away from 9 of 11 appropriations bills after they lost Congress.

    I consider Pethokoukis to be pretty much a Repug-friendly corporate media stenographer anyway based on this (where he said “Country First” McCain didn’t want to privative Social Security – uh, no) and this, where Pethokoukis cited a study decrying “cap and trade” without noting that the study was funded by ExxonMobil.

  • And speaking of earmarks, the Times informed us yesterday here that The Orange One and Sen. Mr. Elaine Chao have apparently found “religion” on the subject, particularly the latter (the story tells us that Speaker Boehner has “battled” earmarks since he was first elected to the House in 1990, a claim which seems to be true as nearly as I can determine).

    However, as noted here, there are always ways around the transparency that the Repugs claim to value so earnestly…

    Lettermarking, which takes place outside the Congressional appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.

    In phonemarking, a lawmaker calls an agency to request financing for a project. More indirectly, members of Congress make use of what are known as soft earmarks, which involve making suggestions about where money should be directed, instead of explicitly instructing agencies to finance a project. Members also push for increases in financing of certain accounts in a federal agency’s budget and then forcefully request that the agency spend the money on the members’ pet project.

    Because all these methods sidestep the regular legislative process, the number of times they are used and the money involved are even harder to track than with regular earmarks.
    As I’ve said more than a few times already, I have no issue with earmarks as long as they’re disclosed, partly because they represent about 1 percent of the annual budget anyway. However, claiming austerity on this is the parlor game played by the same life forms who also claim, despite the evidence here, that the health care law won’t lower the deficit.

    And to talk about deficit reduction without pointing out the benefits of the health care law in cutting the numbers over the next ten years is about what you would expect from a bunch that railroads more of their stinking tax cuts into law for their “pay no price, bear no burden” puppet masters while also pretending to balance the budget on the backs of minorities, the poor, the elderly, and our kids (as Professor Krugman points out here).

  • Also, I stumbled across the latest dreck from Kevin Ferris of the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday on the supposed virtue of school vouchers (here, and in his best “concern troll” mode, he tells us how wrong it is to vilify those voucher opponents)…

    …voucher opponent does not equal Klansman. Race-baiting for political purposes is loathsome, whether by John F. Street and the Philadelphia congressional delegation during the 2003 mayoral campaign; the NAACP ad in 2000 suggesting George W. Bush was OK with lynching; the recent charges of Jimmy Carter et al that opposition to President Obama amounts to racism - or school-choice advocates today.
    Only a true hack like Ferris would try to make such a thoroughly disingenuous argument like this.

    As noted here, the NAACP did indeed run an ad in the 2000 presidential election attacking then-Governor Bush of Texas for opposing a hate crime law that the legislature tried to pass in response to the racial-profiling murder of James Byrd, “who was chained to a truck and dragged three miles to his death in June 1998 at age 49,” as Salon tells us here (Salon also tells us that, “By the time his torso was ditched at one of Jasper County's oldest black cemeteries, Byrd's head had been severed.”).

    And when Dubya was called out over it by then-VP Al Gore in a presidential debate, he responded as follows (as Salon tells us)…

    Bush said Texas already had a hate crimes statute, and nothing more was needed, since Texas laws were tough on criminals regardless of the ethnicity of their victims.

    "The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them?" Bush said, smiling. "They'll be put to death. A jury found them guilty. It will be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death." In actuality, two of Byrd's three murderers -- John William King and Lawrence Russell Brewer -- have been sentenced to death, while the third, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison, and will be eligible for parole after 40 years.

    Reached over the weekend, members of the Byrd family said that they weren't surprised Bush got the details of the case wrong. Unlike other Texas public officials -- they cite local mayors, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and President Clinton -- Bush was never remotely comforting to their family after Byrd's grisly murder, they say.

    "I wasn't surprised that he didn't know," says one of Byrd's younger sisters, Betty Boatner, 46. "I wasn't surprised at all."

    Bush "should have known" the details of the trial, says Stella Byrd, James Byrd Jr.'s mother. "But I wasn't surprised about his reaction." She says Bush showed no concern when her granddaughter talked to him in May 1999 to try to persuade Bush to support the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, which would have increased punishment for criminals motivated by hatred of a victim's gender, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation. "So I'm sure with that lack of interest, he didn't ask to see what was going on."
    Gosh, the sneering condescension, the total unfamiliarity with the actual facts, the utter void in the empathy department from this supposedly “Christian” political figure – so unlike Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History, I know.

    Besides, Elmer Smith of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote the following also about the voucher issue recently, including the following…

    …in Harrisburg, Senate Bill 1 would divert $7,200 from the state's education budget for every pupil who chose to go to a private or parochial school. The bill would also add $25 million a year to a fund that offers tax credits to companies that invest money in students who transfer to private schools.

    With the state facing a possible $5 billion budget shortfall, where do you think that money would come from?

    It will be drawn from the same source that has funded seven consecutive years of improvement in test scores in Philadelphia.

    Maybe it's time to get a few busloads of parents up to Harrisburg to advocate for that.
    And of course no one would advocate for lax state standards that would permit all kinds of messing around with the data to fake progress, to say nothing of underfunding the schools anyway (oh, wait).

  • Finally, it seems (based on this) that the head of 3M Corporation, somebody named George Buckley, recently said that President Obama is “bad for business,” which is hilarious when you consider that Obama named William Daley of J.P. Morgan Chase as his chief of staff and Jeffrey Immelt of G.E. to Obama’s “jobs” committee.

    Actually, I’m surprised that Buckley is even still in the picture, considering that, as noted here, 3M had to deny rumors recently that he was planning to retire early. Regardless, as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune story tells us, Buckley’s “compensation package last year totaled nearly $15 million,” and he “stands to make more than $32 million should he resign amicably, according to SEC filings.”

    And as far as the company itself is concerned, 3M “has undergone a restructuring that trimmed several thousand employees worldwide, many during last year's recession when sales fell about 8 percent to $23.1 billion.” And as Wikipedia tells us here, “Minnesota sued 3M claiming they pumped PFCs, a very toxic chemical according to the EPA, into local waterways” last year, though the US EPA has been investigating 3M’s PFC pollution since 1999.

    So maybe, according to Buckley’s definition of “good” business, Obama truly is “bad,” as Buckley says.

    Which is a lucky break for us.

  • Update 3/1/11: More on Buckley here...

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