News and opinion from around US-opolis for Thursday, March 17, 2011. HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!
Most Americans say that a federal government shutdown would be bad for the country, according to a new national poll.
But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey also indicates that Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye to eye on the issue, and self-described Tea Party movement supporters say such a shutdown, even for a long period of time, would be a good thing. The poll’s Tuesday release came just before the House of Representatives voted to continue funding the federal government for three weeks, a major step towards temporarily avoiding a possible government shutdown.
Nearly six in ten people questioned in the poll say that it would be a bad thing for the government to shut down for a few days because Congress did not pass a new spending bill, with 36 percent saying it would be a good thing for the country. And if a government shutdown lasted a few weeks, that figure would rise to 73 percent.
Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is “broke,” which means we can’t afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.
Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition.
In these dire fiscal times, when even the sacred programs are no longer sacred, Republican leaders have still been able to identify a few that they think deserve more money.
Security for congressmen is slated for a boost, after the Tucson shootings. Aid to Israel would grow. Veterans would get more money for their health care.
And then there’s a little-known program, which gives money to disadvantaged District students to attend private schools, that would get an additional $2.3 million — thanks largely to one powerful patron, House Speaker John A. Boehner.
Indeed, it’s not just the $2.3 million — the Speaker also wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: This is nothing short of a tax increase, I mean we have to call it exactly what it is. The Republicans are proposing a tax increase on all women because in their anti-women legislation H.R.3, they would take away the tax benefit from all small businesses if their health insurance offers abortion coverage which 87 percent of them do. So essentially they are saying if you are a small business owner and you offer your employees insurance and that policy covers abortion, then you will not be able to benefit from the tax credits that the Affordable Care Act allows you and also that you can already take by offering insurance to your employees.
It’s outrageous. The Republicans are maintaining and proponents of this legislation are maintaining that all they are doing is codifying the status quo and prohibiting federal funding of abortions. This legislation goes much further. It reaches deep into the personal lives of all American women, of all small business owners and twists the Republican nose into the business of people who need insurance and also small business owners who want to provide coverage for their employees.
Some questions jump to mind. What exactly was the point of this rerun? Who is winning this fight? And is a potential government shutdown more or less likely as a result of Tuesday’s events?
Opinions differ! Grover “starve-the-beast” Norquist, the GOP strategist who has made crippling the federal government his life work, is delighted at how the process is playing out.
But there’s another way to look at how this is playing out. Only six Republicans voted against the spending bill passed by the House two weeks ago. This Tuesday, 54 House GOPers jumped ship, with many of them citing their disappointment at the fact that the bill didn’t include any of their socially conservative objectives — like defunding Planned Parenthood or healthcare reform. The result, as Politico pointed out, is that Speaker of the House John Boehner had to count on Democrats to help pass the bill, which is “exactly the situation Republicans had hoped to avoid since it makes them beholden to the minority as they try to shape a final budget deal with the White House.”
So — Democrats haven’t given up anything that they weren’t already prepared to sacrifice, while Republican unity appears to be cracking. Democrats can now claim that they have been perfectly reasonable, agreeing readily, on more than one occasion, to cuts proposed by Republicans in order to keep the government running. Meanwhile Republicans have to deal with a growing faction who seem to be getting angrier with each compromise.
Worst of all for Republicans, reports The Hill, a new poll suggests that voters currently appear to trust Obama more than they do Republicans on economic and budget issues.
Here’s a guess — those numbers are going to continue to head in the same Obama-friendly direction as the public realizes that Democrats agreed to compromise again this week while a significant number of House Republicans voted against a deal that the leadership of both parties support. When push finally does come to shove — a point that still seems inevitable, since there is clearly a limit to how much more can be cut without targeting programs that the White House and Senate Democrats have pledged to defend — Republicans might find themselves just a little boxed in. They will be asking for the cuts that are politically the most difficult to negotiate, at the end of the process. If House Republicans threaten to shut down the government if they don’t get their way on Planned Parenthood, they stand a pretty good chance of looking like dogmatic idiots.
This week we’re looking at the feature of the tax code that allows U.S. corporations to defer paying taxes on their offshore profits.
What is offshore “deferral”?
The United States has a worldwide tax system. That means U.S. citizens and companies generally must pay federal income taxes on all their income, wherever in the world they earn it. The feature of the tax system known as “deferral” allows U.S. multinational companies to delay paying U.S. taxes on overseas profits as long as they keep those profits offshore.
U.S. corporations take advantage of this tax deferral by forming subsidiaries in the countries where they do business. Foreign subsidiaries are not considered U.S. corporations even if wholly owned by a U.S. parent, so their overseas profits aren’t subject to U.S. taxes.
The key feature of deferral is that the U.S. parent need not pay taxes on a subsidiary’s offshore profits unless and until the profits are returned to the United States—for example, when the subsidiary pays dividends to the parent. At that point, the U.S. parent gets a tax credit for foreign taxes paid but it still has to pay the difference between the U.S. tax and the foreign tax.
Deferral provides tax incentives for overseas investments. In fact, it encourages U.S. companies to make job-creating investments off shore even if similar investments in the United States (absent tax considerations) would be more profitable. “U.S. tax law provides a large tax advantage for building and moving factories to low-tax countries,” according to economist Martin Sullivan.
How much does it cost?
The Treasury Department estimates the federal government will forfeit $42 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2012, and $213 billion over the next five years, because of this deferral.
Why is it a tax expenditure?…
Who benefits from offshore deferral?…
What’s the argument for allowing U.S. multinationals to defer their taxes?…
What is the role of deferral in corporate tax reform?…
Federal consumer bureau head Elizabeth Warren made no apologies Wednesday for the new agency’s involvement in ongoing settlement negotiations with some of the nation’s largest mortgage servicers, whose widespread flawed and fraudulent foreclosure practices drew national attention last fall.
“If there had been a cop on the beat with the authority to hold mortgage servicers accountable a half dozen years ago, if there had been a consumer agency in place, the problems in mortgage servicing would have been exposed early and fixed while they were still small, long before they became a national scandal,” Warren said in testimony before a House Financial Services subcommittee. She is point person for setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
A collection of federal agencies and state attorneys general recently submitted a 27-page term sheet to the nation’s largest banks proposing wholesale changes to mortgage servicing practices and a greater focus on modifying loans for troubled borrowers.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said during testimony on Capitol Hill this week that he had asked Warren to advise the federal agencies and state attorneys general collaborating on the pending settlement on how to design appropriate mortgage servicing standards. In a separate letter Tuesday to Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Geithner said that the CFPB would “not be a party to any formal settlement with mortgage servicer” – a fact Warren reiterated on Wednesday.
GOP members have proposed making the bureau’s appropriations subject to congressional approval, rather than coming directly from the Federal Reserve – part of a series of efforts to roll back portions of the far-reaching overhaul of financial regulations that President Obama signed into law last July.
As for accountability, Warren noted that the new bureau must submit annual financial reports to Congress, justify its budget to lawmakers and submit to government audits. Its rules also can be overturned by a council of top regulators known as the Financial Services Oversight Council.
“In brief, there will be more oversight and accountability of the CFPB than of any other federal banking regulator,” she said.
The Obama administration is seeking to force the nation’s five largest mortgage firms to reduce monthly payments for as many as three million distressed homeowners in as little as six months as part of an agreement to settle accusations of improper foreclosures and violations of consumer protection laws, six people familiar with the matter said.
Described as a “shock and awe” approach, the deal would accomplish the four goals set out by state and federal policy makers and regulators as part of their multi-agency investigations into abusive mortgage practices by the nation’s largest financial firms: punish banks for violations of state law and federal regulations; provide much-needed assistance to distressed borrowers; stabilize a deteriorating housing market; and dissuade firms from abusing homeowners in the future.
The modified mortgages could cost the five financial behemoths — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial — as much as $30 billion, according to sources. Combined, the five firms handle three out of every five home loans, according to newsletter and data provider Inside Mortgage Finance.
It also could lead to reduced mortgage payments or lowered loan balances for nearly two-thirds of the 4.7 million delinquent homeowners who have yet to fall into foreclosure, according to data provider Lender Processing Services….
The repeal legislation will target several provisions: repealing executive pay disclosure, exempting private equity firms from having to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and easing new requirements on end-users of over-the-counter derviatives like credit default swaps, and repealing legal liability for credit rating agencies like Moodys or Standard & Poor’s in cases where their ratings were inaccurate.
Because, gawd knows, just requiring more transparency from financial firms is blatantly un-American, or something. As former FDIC chairman Bill Isaac points out, Dodd-Frank probably wouldn’t have the teeth to prevent another big crisis because it didn’t end “too big to fail” banks. But it might at least throw up some warning flags before everything came crashing down. The transparency requirements in Dodd-Frank could help with that. But that’s too far even for Wall Street, or its bought-and-paid-for Republicans, to go.
To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more, according to a new report on comparative educational systems.
Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the international achievement test known by its acronym Pisa, says in his report that top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland recruit only high-performing college graduates for teaching positions, support them with mentoring and other help in the classroom, and take steps to raise respect for the profession.
“Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation,” Mr. Schleicher says in the report, prepared in advance of an educational conference that opens in New York on Wednesday. “Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”
President Obama has been trying to promote a different view.
“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.
Renewable power is on the rise across the country. But for states with ambitious clean energy goals like California, it isn’t growing fast enough. That has them turning to a new kind of renewable project — midsized solar farms. Many are calling it the Goldilocks of renewable energy.
A ‘Sweet Spot’ In The Middle
Much like community-supported agriculture, the array in Sacramento is a community-supported solar project. Customers, many of whom are interested in the environmental benefits, pay an average of $11 more a month for electricity from these solar panels, which are only 30 miles from downtown Sacramento. The idea is catching on.
In the hills of San Francisco, officials and politicians recently turned on the brand new Sunset Reservoir solar array. It’s the size of 12 football fields, which is not too big, but not too small.
That makes it just right for Arno Harris, the CEO of Recurrent Energy, the company that built the project.
“What we think really is the sweet spot is this place in the middle,” he says.
Avoiding The Obstacles Plaguing Larger Projects
Those gotchas have to do with a complex permitting process in California. It’s an even longer process if the land is home to sensitive species like tortoises in the Mojave Desert.
Harris says midsized projects avoid those problems. They’re built faster than large solar farms, and installation costs are still relatively cheap. The company is also working in Arizona and New Jersey, where interest in these “Goldilocks” solar farms is growing.
Johns says large solar farms aren’t going away anytime soon, but midsize solar is on the rise, thanks to falling prices for solar panels.
California has launched a program to develop more of these solar projects, which will have short deadlines to get on line. That’s because with a long-term goal of one-third renewable energy by 2020, the state is looking for solar energy that can move fast.
The first test of the Golden State’s support for nuclear power is coming soon, as the nuclear plants perched on the scenic but fault-laden California coastline since the early 1980s begin the process for 20-year license renewals.
California banned construction of new nuclear power plants in the 1970s, when the then-governor Jerry Brown joined “no-nukes” activists in opposing construction of Diablo Canyon nuclear station on the Central Coast. Seismic safety worries played a prominent part in the campaign.
But the plant went ahead and nuclear power today generates about 15 percent of California electricity, slightly more than the portion generated by renewable sources in a state known for its clean-energy drive to combat global warming.
After the 9.0 quake and tsunami compromised reactors in Japan, lawmakers and activists have been quick to call for more seismic safety measures and monitoring for California’s plants, considered the most vulnerable in the United States to major quakes. Brown, who is governor again, has so far been silent.
Renewing licenses for nuclear power plants begins years in advance of their expiration so that plans can be made to replace them if the application is denied. Diablo Canyon has already filed its renewal application, but San Onofre has not. Of the 104 operating U.S. reactors, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has renewed 62 licenses and denied none.
That may not happen this time, however.
“The NRC has typically rubber-stamped these license renewal applications, but it’s hard to see them turning a blind eye now,” said Matt Freedman, an attorney with consumer group The Utility Reform Network in San Francisco. “The NRC will take a harder look and perhaps require additional measures, some of which will be expensive, to get those licenses.”
Many in California, however, worry that the dangers could be far greater than operators or the NRC have planned for.
“There are many people who are very, very doubtful that they can trust whatever the company says about the plant,” said Liz Apfelberg, a spokeswoman for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, a group that has opposed Diablo Canyon since the early 1970s.
Fears about seismic dangers have also been stoked by the 2008 discovery of a fault line half a mile from Diablo Canyon.
Representative Gabrielle Giffords is “making leaps and bounds” in her neurological recovery after being shot in the head on Jan. 8 in Tucson, her doctors said Friday at a news conference.
Her memory and cognitive level are good, her speech is improving and her personality has re-emerged, the doctors said. One said that when it came to showing her personality, Ms. Giffords was doing “spectacularly well.”
She is clearly saying what she wants,” said Dr. Dong Kim, director of the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “She is starting to string words together. She can repeat anything we say to her; that’s an important neurological recovery fact. It means her primary language area is intact. She can speak in full sentences. She says, ‘I’m tired. I want to go bed,’ just like that. And we can have a conversation with her.”
But what the doctors did not fully describe was the level of complexity of those conversations, or of Ms. Giffords’s comprehension. The bullet passed through the left side of her brain, from front to back. In most people the left brain is dominant and controls speech, so there have been lingering questions about how well Ms. Giffords will ultimately be able to speak and understand language. Experts say that most people shot in the left side of the brain suffer some type of speech deficit, unless the bullet somehow missed the speech center.
The left side of the brain also controls movement on the right side of the body, and Ms. Giffords has some weakness on the right side, her doctors said. But they say she is gaining strength all the time, as evidenced by her ability to start walking again.
“It’s only been two months, and she’s already walking,” Dr. Kim said. “It’s a very favorable sign that she’ll be even stronger over the next few months.”
Kansas State Rep. Virgil Peck (R) suggested Monday that the best way to deal with the illegal immigration problem may be the same way the state might deal with the problem of “feral hogs” — by shooting them from a helicopter.
The state’s House Appropriations Committee was debating financing for controlling the feral swine problem, the Lawrence Journal World reports, when one legislator suggested the problem could be handled by shooting them from helicopters. Peck offered: “It looks like to me if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works maybe we have found a [solution] to our illegal immigration problem.”
Scott Rothschild of the Journal World reports Peck as saying, when asked about the comment, that he was just joking…
A former Indianapolis businessman and top Republican donor was indicted Wednesday on charges stemming from an investigation into whether he operated a Ponzi scheme to defraud investors of hundreds of millions of dollars.
FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Timothy Durham was arrested at his home in West Hollywood, Calif., without incident Wednesday morning. He was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon.
The investigation into Durham’s dealings has sparked calls for top Indiana Republicans including Gov. Mitch Daniels to return more than $800,000 Durham donated to the party and candidates. Daniels, who received about $195,000 between 2003 and 2009, has said the money was spent and that there was nothing to return.
Sen. Al Franken claimed Monday that big corporations are “hoping to destroy” the Internet and issued a call to arms to several hundred tech-savvy South by Southwest attendees to preserve net neutrality.
“I came here to warn you, the party may be over,” Franken said. “They’re coming after the Internet hoping to destroy the very thing that makes it such an important for independent artists and entrepreneurs: its openness and freedom
Net neutrality, he added, is “the First Amendment issue of our time.”
Receiving a hero’s welcome from the liberal crowd, Franken took repeated shots at big telecoms, singling out Comcast.
He said Comcast is looking to change the basic architecture of the Web by implementing a pricing scheme that allows moneyed interests to pay for faster speeds, leaving everyone else behind. That would be a particularly bad development for the independent musicians and artists gathered here, he said.
“The real end for Comcast is to put Netflix out of business entirely,” Franken said, because of the threat that Netflix’s streaming video business could pose to Comcast’s cable franchise. “In the end, the American people will end up paying a lot more for worse service.”
Comcast is now embroiled in a dispute with Level 3, a networking company that carries online video feeds for Netflix, over fees Comcast wants to charge to carry the high-bandwidth content.
KO’s Fok News Channel:
The bronze goes to the Huffington Post. For a change, this is not about Arianna selling out for $315,000,000. It’s about what’s happened in the wake of the AOL purchase: a post by the notoriously shamed anger mismanagement goober, Andrew Breitbart that references Little Jimmy O’Keefe’s “success” and trumpeting NPR as “collateral damage.” I really don’t know what I would do if AOL offered me $315,000,000 for this blog (or $315, for that matter), but I would be prepared to see it turned into almost anything including a site devoted to the best of Carl Palladino’s emailed photos. And I would be prepared to see a hear of booing. Breitbart?
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday she doesn’t want to stay on in her post if President Barack Obama is re-elected to a second term — and she doesn’t want any other job in the administration.
Some will look at these numbers and insist that the public is rendering a harsh verdict on both parties for failing to cut even more deeply. After all, the poll also shows strong support for cutting domestic spending. But polls always show general support for reducing spending, and the numbers shift once you start to talk about what specifically would be cut. What’s more, Pew also finds support for cutting defense spending, and opposition to “entitlements” cuts — so the Pew numbers hardly constitute an endorsement of the range of spending cuts that are currently deemed serious and acceptable in Washington.
At a minimum, it’s hard to see how it helps Obama and Dems to be increasingly seen as indistinguishable from Republicans. Rather than even trying to forcefully articulate an alternative vision to the GOP’s ongoing insistence on slashing spending immediately across the board in order to rescue the economy, Dems — with some notable exceptions — mostly seem to be stumbling around on the GOP’s rhetorical turf.
“There is overwhelming evidence that we are entering the final chapter of class warfare in the US. Today, in the ‘public arena,’ it is forbidden to say class warfare, and many citizens do not regard themselves as working class. The assault on language comes compliments of the propaganda apparatus, which includes: public relations, marketing, corporate media and the entertainment industry, universities, think tanks and so on. Its purpose is to distract our attention from serious matters so we can focus on trivial matters – usually involving consuming.”
Edward Bernays, the founder of the modern propaganda industry, described the process:
Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of … in almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.
In addition to inventing the propaganda model still in use today, Bernays’ model created support for World War I, first in England and then in the US, calling the war to save Morgan’s billions the war for “making the world safe for democracy.”
Administration officials have concluded that Obama would probably lose any legislative fight against the National Rifle Association. So, they are taking a different approach: Inviting the NRA to sit down for a chat. Administration officials said Monday that the Justice Department will ask NRA officials to participate in closed-door meetings in the coming weeks to explore a path forward.
But the NRA turned him down flat:
Still, in the past there’s always been a bipartisan assumption that the president is the president, and if he invites you to a meeting, you go. That’s broken down recently, and I attribute it to two things: Obama’s appearance at the Republican retreat last January, followed by his healthcare summit a month later. When Obama offered to speak at the retreat, Republicans let him do it. He’s the president, after all. And when Obama initially proposed the healthcare summit, even uber-obstructionist Bill Kristol echoed the old school sentiment: “Obviously when the president invites you to the White House, you go.”
But no longer. Now conservatives do their best to delay meetings at the White House, or they just outright refuse, as LaPierre did. Why? I think it’s partly because Obama scored such obvious public opinion wins at both the retreat and the summit. He’s mastered the art of controlling the conversation and sounding like a voice of reason in settings like this, and conservatives — especially tea party conservatives — don’t trust themselves any longer to come out ahead when they’re negotiating with him. They now consider even closed-door meetings at the White House to be traps, and they are, to put it bluntly, afraid of Obama.
Angle lost a Senate bid to Sen. Harry Reid in November.
But the election helped to make her a leader within the tea party. She raised $14 million in one fundraising quarter and has traveled to Republican rallies in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Angle previously ran for the House in 2006, but lost to Republican Rep. Dean Heller. He announced Tuesday that he’ll run for Sen. John Ensign’s seat.
Angle and her campaign didn’t immediately respond telephone messages.
NEW JERSEY: This year, Christie’s budget calls for $200 million in business tax cuts, while cutting mental health services, $540 million from Medicaid, and witholding property tax rebates for seniors until public workers give up many of their health and pension benefits.
MICHIGAN: The plan cuts taxes on business by more than 86 percent while slashing $1.2 billion in funding for “schools, universities, local governments and other areas.” Snyder also wants to raise personal taxes by 30 percent — an increase that will fall disproportionately on Michigan’s lowest income residents.
GEORGIA: Last week, the Georgia House passed an austerity budget that will increase health insurance costs by more than 20 percent for state workers, teachers and retirees and cut funding for state universities by $75 million. The House has already gutted the state’s HOPE scholarship program, and is now considering implementing a regressive new tax system that would lower income taxes for the rich while raising the sales tax on basic necessities.
FLORIDA: The budget would slash corporate income and property taxes, lay off 6,700 state employees, cut education funding by $4.8 billion, and cut Medicaid by almost $4 billion.
OHIO: Gov. John Kasich (R) has proposed cutting 25 percent of schools’ budgets, $1 million from food banks, $12 million from children’s hospitals, and $15.9 million from an adoption program for children with special needs. […] The plan includes tax cuts for oil companies, a repeal of the estate tax and an income tax cut for the rich that former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) halted last year because of the state’s fiscal crisis.
IOWA: Gov. Tom Branstad (R) began this year proposing a budget that included a $200 million tax cut on commercial property taxes and corporate income but would freeze spending on schools, cut $42 million to state universities and lay off “hundreds” of state workers. Since then, the Governor has already begun laying off state nursing home workers and frozen funding for mental health services.
PENNSYLVANIA: Gov. Tom Corbett (R) presented a budget last week that would cut taxes for corporations, while freezing teacher salaries, cutting dental care for Medicaid recipients, and eliminating more than half of the state’s universities. Yet the state has lots of revenue potential in northern Pennsylvania, where out-of-state energy companies’ “fracking” of natural gas has reaped them hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. Corbett has refused to tax these companies, many of which helped fund his gubernatorial campaign, and has instead opted to lay of more than 1,500 state workers.
MAINE: Despite calling for “shared sacrifice” Tea Party Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) budget would cut income taxes for Maine’s wealthiest one percent, while actually raising property taxes for the state’s middle class.
WISCONSIN: The tax cuts Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed earlier this year worsened his state’s fiscal condition, so now Walker is planning to raise taxes on the poor, eliminate $26 million in tax credits for seniors and single mothers and cancel property tax rebates for low-income Wisconsinites making less than $24,000 a year.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Nikki Haley (R) has proposed ending the state’s corporate income tax, even while she calls for cutting physical education, K-12 schools, and Medicaid.
KANSAS: Facing a $493 million budget shortfall, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has called for eliminating the corporate income tax while proposing a $50 million cut to education. With majorities in both Houses, Republicans have proposed a cut to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit that would push 6,500 families below the poverty line.
ARIZONA: Last October, as she ignored 26 other possible funding solutions, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) implemented painful cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, which resulted in 2 deaths and left 98 Arizonians waiting for transplant funding. After months of protests, Brewer finally agreed to set aside $151 million in an “uncompensated-care pool to pay health-care providers for ‘life-saving’ procedures, including transplants.” However, House Republicans refused to restore funding for organ transplants because, as House Appropriations Committee chair Jon Kavanagh (R) said, “not enough lives would be saved to warrant restoring millions in budget cuts.” Then, while peoples’ lives were in danger, Brewer eagerly signed tax cuts for businesses that will cost the state $538 million.
Despite calling for “shared sacrifice” in their plans, Republican governors have yet to ask corporations to share the burden of record budget shortfalls. Ultimately, choosing big business over Main Street could undermine the already slow economic recovery. However, a Main Street Movement in many of these states has emerged to protest placing the burden of deficit reduction solely onto the backs of the middle-class and public employees.
Joe Klein perks up as at news of presidential hopeful Haley Barbour deciding he “has had enough of Afghanistan and wants to start drawing down troops”:
When Barbour decides that Afghanistan is a loser, you can bet that more than a few Republicans are heading that way–and that means interesting times for the trigger-happy neoconservatives who have dominated Republican foreign policy thinking in recent years. It also means that the foreign policy debate in the Republican primaries may be a real eye-opener.
In Michigan, new Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has just passed a bill through the legislature to allow state-appointed financial managers to void municipalities’ union contracts.
As the Macomb Daily Tribune reports, the bill has been described by Republican state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, a supporter, as “financial martial law” for localities where finances have gone out of control: “He [an emergency financial manager] has to have the backbone, he has to have the power, to null and void a contract.”
Protests in opposition to the measure still don’t seem to have reached Madison levels — that is, the tens of thousands who turned out in Wisconsin — but there certainly remains the potential that some of Snyder’s tougher measures could trigger a backlash.
There’s a pretty serious problem with this power grab, however — invoking it would violate the Constitution. The Constitution forbids state laws “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” This provision provides a robust limit on a state’s ability to dissolve contracts between the government and a private party. As the Supreme Court explained in United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey, state laws impairing such contracts must be “reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.”
The bill does contain some language requiring the emergency manager and the state treasurer to determine that they are not violating this constitutional limit before a collective bargaining agreement can be blown up, but Snyder’s own budget gives the lie to any claim that an assault on working Americans is “necessary” to ensure that Michigan governments can pay their bills. Snyder proposed a massive $1.73 billion business tax cut even as he was arguing that his anti-union power grab was necessary to restore the state’s fiscal balance.
The consequences of Snyder’s actions could be stark. If a state is free to break contracts whenever they feel like it, then no one will agree to do business with the state. Investors will refuse to buy the state’s bonds, and state contractors will demand all payments upfront out of fear that the state will accept their work and then tear up the contract requiring the workers to be paid. Creditors will charge the state enormous interest rates to secure against the risk that the state will just waive its hand and make its obligation to repay go away.
In other words, Snyder is so determined to chip away at collective bargaining, he’s demanded a power that he cannot constitutionally use and that would drive his state into an even deeper financial hole if he ever tried.
Stuff you don’t hear about: Large rally in Tennessee yesterday protesting anti-union legislation :
In the weeks since Wisconsin teachers and firefighters began occupying their state capitol, thousands of others have been inspired to make their opposition more vocal. Protests many times the size of the Tea Party demonstrations are spreading across the nation. Some are being organized by unions and their supporters; others, by MoveOn.org and Van Jones to “Defend the American Dream.” Still others are part of US Uncut, which is organizing flash mobs to confront corporations that haven’t been paying taxes. From Indiana to Ohio and Tennessee to Texas, workers are demanding to know why corporations and the wealthy get bailouts and tax breaks while teachers and steel workers bear the burdens of budget crises they didn’t cause.
One of the farmers who rode through downtown Madison on his tractor summed it up on his handmade protest sign: “Walker woke a sleeping giant.”
As much of the national attention focuses on the massive pro-union demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin, where over a 100,000 people gathered to oppose an anti-union law on Saturday, March 12, Florida workers and activists are taking aim against budget cuts and laws that threaten to further widen the already huge divide between rich and poor in our state.
On March 8, the opening day of our state’s 2011 legislative session, some 15,000 Floridians, from Pensacola to Key West, attended local rallies organized by Awake the State, an organic, grassroots movement that formed to stop budget cuts and other assaults on working families. The following day hundreds of unemployed workers and their families stormed Florida’s capitol, where they set up a soup kitchen, and wore tape across their mouths to protest what they see as the silencing of workers and the unemployed.
What is happening in our state is part of a larger nationwide battle waged by the corporate class and its politicians against workers. The Michigan Senate is trying to give financial managers the power to dissolve local municipalities and enact pro-corporate measures during times of “financial crisis.” In Ohio, lawmakers are working on a bill that would greatly limit the bargaining power of some 360,000 state employees. On the federal level, the Republican-dominated House has voted to kill mortgage assistance to homeowners who have lost their jobs or become ill. The list goes on.
But why are they doing that?
During a recent Democracy Now! interview, filmmaker Michael Moore told Amy Goodman:
“If you were a big shot on Wall Street, Amy, and you saw that — ‘Oh, my god! We just like got billions of bailout money. We now are getting the Fed to print what will eventually be trillions for us. We’ve thrown a million families out on the curb, foreclosing on them. And they just don’t do anything. They don’t do anything’ — as with any criminal, what does that tell the criminal, if the criminal is not stopped, caught, punished for the crime that they’ve committed? They will keep committing the crime.”
On Tuesday, officials at the Justice Department will meet with gun control advocates in the first of what will be a series of meetings over the next two weeks with people on different sides of the issue, including law enforcement, retailers and manufacturers, to seek agreement on possible legislative or administrative actions.
The effort follows Mr. Obama’s call, in a column on Sunday in a Tucson newspaper, to put aside “stale policy debates” and begin “a new discussion” on ways to better enforce and strengthen existing laws to keep mentally unstable, violent and criminal people from getting guns.
But the National Rifle Association, for decades the most formidable force against proposals to limit gun sales or ownership, is refusing to join the discussion — possibly dooming it from the start, given the lobby’s clout with both parties in Congress. Administration officials had indicated they expected that the group would be represented at a meeting, perhaps on Friday.
“Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” said Wayne LaPierre, the longtime chief executive of the National Rifle Association.
Armed with a fresh poll showing that most Americans back them, Democrats in both the House and Senate will mount a coordinated attack Wednesday on the Defense of Marriage Act.
In the House, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. John Conyers, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, will join the chamber’s four openly gay members – Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) – in introducing a bill to repeal DOMA, the 1996 law which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
And what was the prime mover, the dislodged stone that set this eventful cascade in motion? It was, perhaps, the invention of weapons — an event that let human ancestors escape the brutal tyranny of the alpha male that dominated ape societies.
Biologists have little hesitation in linking humans’ success to their sociality. The ability to cooperate, to make individuals subordinate their strong sense of self-interest to the needs of the group, lies at the root of human achievement.
“Humans are not special because of their big brains,” says Kim Hill, a social anthropologist at Arizona State University. “That’s not the reason we can build rocket ships — no individual can. We have rockets because 10,000 individuals cooperate in producing the information.”
The two principal traits that underlie the human evolutionary success, in Dr. Hill’s view, are the unusual ability of nonrelatives to cooperate — in almost all other species, only closely related individuals will help each other — and social learning, the ability to copy and learn from what others are doing. A large social network can generate knowledge and adopt innovations far more easily than a cluster of small, hostile groups constantly at war with each other, the default state of chimpanzee society.
If a shift in social behavior was the critical development in human evolution, then the answer to how humans became unique lies in exploring how human societies first split away from those of apes.
Early humans began to walk on two legs because it was a more efficient way of getting around than knuckle-walking, the chimps’ method. But that happened to leave the hands free. Now they could gesture, or make tools.
It was a tool, in the form of a weapon, that made human society possible, in Dr. Chapais’s view. Among chimps, alpha males are physically dominant and can overpower any rival. But weapons are great equalizers. As soon as all males were armed, the cost of monopolizing a large number of females became a lot higher. In the incipient hominid society, females became allocated to males more equally. General polygyny became the rule, then general monogamy.
This trend led to the emergence of a critical change in sexual behavior: the replacement of the apes’ orgiastic promiscuity with the pair bond between male and female. With only one mate, for the most part, a male had an incentive to guard her from other males to protect his paternity.
The pair bond was the pivotal event that opened the way to hominid evolution, in Dr. Chapais’s view. On the physiological level, having two parents around allowed the infants to be dependent for longer, a requirement for continued brain growth after birth. Through this archway, natural selection was able to drive up the volume of the human brain until it eventually reached three times that of a chimpanzee.
“There is no single pressure that made us human,” Dr. Chapais said in an interview. He sees human evolution as having progressed through a series of accidents. “The fact that you can recognize patrilineal kin was not selected for, but as soon as you had that you could move forward and establish peaceful relations with other groups,” he said.
The new social structure would have induced the development of different social behaviors. “I personally am hung up on cooperation as being what really differentiates humans from nonhuman apes,” said Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. A system of cooperative bands “provides the kind of social infrastructure that can really get things going,” he said.
In a series of experiments comparing human and chimpanzee infants, Dr. Tomasello has shown that very young children have an urge to help others. One of these skills is what he calls shared intentionality, the ability to form a plan with others for accomplishing a joint endeavor. Children, but not chimps, will point at things to convey information, they will intuit others’ intentions from the direction of their gaze, and they will help others achieve a goal.
Humans wear the mark of their shared intentionality, he notes, in a small but significant feature — the whites of their eyes, which are three times larger than those of any other primate, presumably to help others follow the direction of gaze. Indeed, chimps infer the direction of gaze by looking at another’s head, but infants do so by watching the eyes.
So if ever a visiting Martian biologist should ask you what made your species the master of its planet, point first to your mother and all her relatives, then to the whites of your eyes, and only lastly to your prominent forehead.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.