For Saturdays, I thought I’d pick highlights from the past week’s editions—stories you might have missed and stories I thought were particularly interesting. And please don’t forget: You can now access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.




Cockroach Ideas


Way back, when I spent a year in the government, an old hand told me that fighting bad ideas is like flushing cockroaches down the toilet; they just come right back. I’m having that feeling a lot lately, on at least two fronts.


The purpose of that tax increase was to maintain the dedicated tax system into the future, by having Social Security’s assigned tax take in more money than the system paid out while the baby boomers were still working, then use the trust fund built up by those surpluses to pay future bills. Viewed in its own terms, that strategy was highly successful.

The date at which the trust fund will run out, according to Social Security Administration projections, has receded steadily into the future: 10 years ago it was 2029, now it’s 2042. As Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, and others have pointed out, the SSA estimates are very conservative, and quite moderate projections of economic growth push the exhaustion date into the indefinite future.

But the privatizers won’t take yes for an answer when it comes to the sustainability of Social Security.


But there are two problems with their position.


The bigger problem for those who want to see a crisis in Social Security’s future is this: if Social Security is just part of the federal budget, with no budget or trust fund of its own, then, well, it’s just part of the federal budget: there can’t be a Social Security crisis. All you can have is a general budget crisis. Rising Social Security benefit payments might be one reason for that crisis, but it’s hard to make the case that it will be central.

But those who insist that we face a Social Security crisis want to have it both ways. Having invoked the concept of a unified budget to reject the existence of a trust fund, they refuse to accept the implications of that unified budget going forward. Instead, having changed the rules to make the trust fund meaningless, they want to change the rules back around 15 years from now: today, when the payroll tax takes in more revenue than SS benefits, they say that’s meaningless, but when – in 2018 or later – benefits start to exceed the payroll tax, why, that’s a crisis. Huh?

I don’t know why this contradiction is so hard to understand, except to echo Upton Sinclair: it’s hard to get a man to understand something when his salary (or, in the current situation, his membership in the political club) depends on his not understanding it. But let me try this one more time, by asking the following: What happens in 2018 or whenever, when benefits payments exceed payroll tax revenues?

The answer, very clearly, is nothing.


Now it’s true that rising benefit costs will be a drag on the federal budget. So will rising Medicare costs. So will the ongoing drain from tax cuts. So will whatever wars we get into. I can’t find a story under which Social Security payments, as opposed to other things, become a crucial budgetary problem in 2018.

What we really have is a looming crisis in the General Fund. Social Security, with its own dedicated tax, has been run responsibly; the rest of the government has not. So why are we talking about a Social Security crisis?

Oh well. I guess we just have to keep fighting these fights, over and over.



What if we’re not broke?

E.J. Dionne Jr:

“We’re broke.” The phrase is designed to create a sense of crisis that justifies rapid and radical actions before citizens have a chance to debate the consequences.

Just one problem: We’re not broke. Yes, nearly all levels of government face fiscal problems because of the economic downturn. But there is no crisis. There are many different paths open to fixing public budgets. And we will come up with wiser and more sustainable solutions if we approach fiscal problems calmly, realizing that we’re still a very rich country and that the wealthiest among us are doing exceptionally well.

Consider two of the most prominent we’re-brokers, House Speaker John Boehner and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.


In both cases, the fiscal issues are just an excuse for ideologically driven policies to lower taxes on well-off people and business while reducing government programs. Yet only occasionally do journalists step back to ask: Are these guys telling the truth?

The admirable Web site examined Walker’s claim in detail and concluded flatly it was “false.”

“Experts agree the state faces financial challenges in the form of deficits,” PolitiFact wrote. “But they also agree the state isn’t broke. Employees and bills are being paid. Services are continuing to be performed. Revenue continues to roll in. A variety of tools — taxes, layoffs, spending cuts, debt shifting — is available to make ends meet. Walker has promised not to increase taxes. That takes one tool off the table.”

And that’s the whole point.


We have an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, yet further measures to spur job creation are off the table. We’re broke, you see. We have a $15 trillion economy, yet we pretend to be an impoverished nation with no room for public investments in our future or efforts to ease the pain of a deep recession on those Americans who didn’t profit from it or cause it in the first place.

As Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pointed out in a little-noticed but powerful speech on the economy in December, “during the past 20 years, 56 percent of all income growth went to the top 1 percent of households. Even more unbelievably, a third of all income growth went to just the top one-tenth of 1 percent.” Some people are definitely not broke, yet we can’t even think about raising their taxes.

By contrast, Franken noted that “when you adjust for inflation, the median household income actually declined over the last decade.” Many of those folks are going broke, yet because “we’re broke,” we’re told we can’t possibly help them.

Give Boehner, Walker and their allies full credit for diverting our attention with an arresting metaphor. The rest of us are dupes if we fall for it.


GOP spending plan would cost 700,000 jobs, new report says


Obama’s invisible budget showdown

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.


Tax Expenditure of the Week: Offshore Tax Deferral

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?…

Much more>>>



PA Governor Gives Energy Executive Supreme Authority Over Environmental Permitting

Pennsylvania has come under fire lately as pollution from drilling in the Marcellus Shale threatens water resources across the state. But instead of ratcheting up oversight, Gov. Tom Corbett wants to hand authority over some of the state’s most critical environmental decisions to C. Alan Walker, a Pennsylvania energy executive with his own track record of running up against the state’s environmental regulations.

Walker, who has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal, which was once among Pennsylvania’s largest coal mining companies. He also owns or has an interest in 12 other companies, including a trucking business and a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company


A 2009 ProPublica investigation [1] revealed that Pennsylvania’s sewage treatment plants were accepting millions of gallons of drilling wastewater, but lacked the technology to remove or treat many of the chemicals and pollutants the water contained. In 2008 people along one stretch of the Monongahela River were advised [2] to drink bottled water because the level of dissolved minerals and salts in the river was almost twice as high as the DEP considers safe.

Much more>>>



Rise of the Ethnoburbs

The fastest-growing ethnic group in the nation’s largest state, the Census reported this week, is not Latinos, but Asians — up 31.5 percent over the last decade, to about 5 million. There are more Asians in California than the total population of any American city but New York, and the group is larger than 28 of the states.


The new narrative comes from the ethnoburbs, a term coined in a 2009 book by Arizona State University professor Wei Li to describe entire cities dominated by a nonwhite ethnic group. They are suburban in look, but urban in political, culinary and educational values, attracting immigrants with advanced degrees and ready business skills.

Monterey Park, just to the south of here, is considered the first suburban Chinatown. And with 61,571 people, it’s much more than a “town.” Now there are eight Asian-dominated ethnoburbs sprawling through a 25-mile stretch of the San Gabriel Valley. Here, you’ll find one of the largest Buddhist temples in the hemisphere, and a string of Boba drink shops, often called the Starbucks of the valley. (Boba is a drink flavored with small tapioca balls.)


Now, as to the political power question: with every census count comes redistricting. This time around, following a rare showing of common sense, California voters took the task of sketching fresh congressional districts out of the hands of political hacks and created an independent citizen panel. By law and court decisions, they will have to draw districts that reflect the new demographic reality of the state.

This should mean that Asians and Latinos, the dynamo forces of virtually every fast-growing Western state, will get their seat at the political table, at least in California. And since nearly one in eight members of Congress come from this state, Congress should soon look more like the new America.




Al Franken: ‘They’re coming after the Internet’

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.

Video interview with Sen. Franken here.



“In contradiction” best describes the American left today. On the one hand, it is fragmented and dispirited, feeling itself distant from the tumble of daily US politics and acutely disgusted by its many-layered corruptions. It hardly knows itself as a part of society, so deep runs its alienation. After all, leftists, too, are affected by the mass media’s wishful pretense that the American left has simply disappeared and the extreme right’s paranoid caricatures that recycle 1950s McCarthyism. An estimated 100,000 people gathered at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday 26 February 2011 to protest Governor Scott Walker’s budget bill that would remove collective bargaining rights from public employees. (Photograph: AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)

And yet, the US left is actually quite strong and getting stronger by the minute. Very many young people find far more meaning in the left social criticisms of Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert than they do in the stale Republican or Democratic activities that those popular comedians mock. The devotees of much current popular music want and respond to lyrics rich with social criticism. The assaults of the right in the US on access to abortion, on civil rights and civil liberties, on the separation of church and state, and on immigrants, are less and less suffered in silent resentment and increasingly opposed by a revived left criticism and activism. From the mass mobilizations of immigrants to the outpouring of support for the embattled public employees in Wisconsin to the gatherings of support for Planned Parenthood, the US left’s size, depth and diversity are evident.


Organization is what the US left lacks. Not issues, not members, not a wide public audience: the US left now has all of them in abundance. Indeed, the economic crisis that exploded in 2008 – now becoming a social crisis because the “recovery” bypassed the majority that needed it most – has only enhanced that abundance. Yet, a deeply rooted and continuously nurtured aversion to unified organization undermines the US left’s social influence and collective action at every turn. The decline of past left organizations – the socialist and communist parties, student groups such as SDS, SNCC, major segments of organized labor – has fostered a sense of the futility of organization. The demonization of those and other left organizations, by liberal as well as conservative voices, renders individual left thought and action sometimes acceptable but collective criticism and activity always deeply suspect.

The US left will become a political force with immense potential if it can generate and ally unified organizations able to mobilize and express their constituents’ views and aspirations.



On high-profile issues, Obama keeps low profile

But the White House sees no upside in outspokenness.

“There is a very strong gravitational pull in this town to try to drag the president to every single political skirmish and news story,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer said Obama has enough issues on his agenda and said the White House doesn’t believe the public wants the president weighing in on an array of subjects.

“They want him leading the country; they don’t want him serving as a cable commentator for the issue of the day,” he said.

President on budget: Congress’ domain
At a news conference Friday, Obama defended the role he has played in seeking a compromise on spending cuts in the current federal budget to avoid a government shutdown. But he made it clear that resolving the impasse rests mainly with congressional leaders. “This is an appropriations task,” he said, putting the issue firmly in Congress’ domain.


White House officials point to the negotiations in December that produced a deal with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky on extending Bush-era tax rates as a template for other deals. But unlike the tax deal, when both sides got something they wanted, the debate over spending would require both to give something up while gaining little.

While Democrats have attacked the Republican spending cuts as cruel or heartless, Obama has avoided such loaded language. He has drawn a line at education spending, saying he would not support cuts that reduce money for schools or college tuition.

“What I’ve done is, every day I talk to my team,” the president said, responding directly to criticism that he has been absent from the debate. “I give them instructions in terms of how they can participate in the negotiations, indicate what’s acceptable, indicate what’s not acceptable.”

‘The White House doesn’t need to get involved’
On the Wisconsin labor dispute, Obama initially appeared to be stepping into that fight when he told a Milwaukee television station that GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to make it harder for public employees to engage in collective bargaining “seems like more of an assault on unions.” Around the same time, his political arm at the Democratic National Committee, Organizing for America, coordinated with unions that were mobilizing demonstrators.

But the DNC has played down its role, and Obama has left most of the criticism to his spokesman, Jay Carney.

Ellison, together with liberal commentators and some union leaders, demanded that Obama go to the state in support of the teachers and other public sector workers. But White House officials believe the demonstrators have made the best case on their own and point to public opinion surveys that indicated support for bargaining rights.

Republicans already were portraying Obama as a tool of labor for his remarks to the Wisconsin television station and for the logistical assistance that his political arm had supplied. White House officials say a higher profile on the issue by the president would have been counterproductive and could have interfered with a naturally occurring protest.

“In Wisconsin, it’s been a much more organic movement there,” said David DiMartino, a Democratic political consultant and former Senate staffer. “The White House doesn’t need to get involved.”


Dems need to draw sharper contrast on spending cuts

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.


REPORT: In 12 States, GOP Plans To Slash Corporate Taxes While Increasing Burden on Working Families

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.


Romney Endorses Multinational Corporations’ Push For Huge Taxpayer Giveaway

Several multinational corporations last week launched a lobbying campaign to press for what’s known as a tax repatriation holiday — a window in which they can bring overseas profits back to the U.S. at a dramatically lower tax rate. Profits brought back to the U.S. are usually subject to the statutory corporate income tax rate.

The corporations — including Cisco, Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, Pfizer, Kodak, and Duke Energy — have hired big-name lobbyists to advance their efforts. And they’ve evidently picked up the endorsement of 2012 Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney:

Likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to use the promise of huge tax breaks to entice large corporations to move their overseas profits back to the United States, in hopes they would create a wealth of new jobs for US workers. The payoff would be significant and almost immediate, generating “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of good, permanent, private sector jobs,’’ Romney told Republicans in Bartlett, N.H., last weekend.

While Romney and the corporations say that such a tax holiday would lead to massive domestic investment and job creation, the Bush administration tried such a policy already. It turned into a windfall for shareholders and corporate CEO’s, but didn’t deliver the promised domestic investment.



Assault on Collective Bargaining Illegal, Says International Labor Rights Group

The International Commission for Labor Rights (ICLR) sent a notice to the Wisconsin Legislature, explaining that its attempt to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers is illegal.


The ICLR is a New York-based nongovernmental organization that coordinates a pro bono network of labor lawyers and experts throughout the world. It investigates labor rights violations and issues reports and amicus briefs on issues of labor law.

The ICLR identified the right of “freedom of association” as a fundamental right and affirmed that the right to collective bargaining is an essential element of freedom of association. These rights, which have been recognized worldwide, provide a brake on unchecked corporate or state power.

In 1935, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the NLRA, or the Wagner Act), it recognized the direct relationship between the inequality of bargaining power of workers and corporations and the recurrent business depressions. That is, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners, the economy fell into depression. The law therefore recognized as policy of the United States the encouragement of collective bargaining.

While the NLRA covered US employees in private employment, the law protecting collective bargaining in both the public and private sectors has developed since 1935 to cover all workers “without distinction.”



Labor Protests Spread Throughout the Country

Labor protests are continuing across the country. In South Carolina, thousands of teachers, religious leaders and state workers gathered at the capitol building on Sunday in opposition to cuts targeted at education, healthcare and other state services. In Austin, Texas more than 10,000 protesters swarmed the grounds of the capitol Saturday to denounce Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal to fire educators, increase class sizes and cut programs. On Friday, protesters in Maine filled the capitol building to take a stand against Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to strip $18 million from the state’s Fund for a Healthy Maine. Also on Friday, concerned parents and citizens in Maryland’s Prince George’s County gathered at a local school to protest budget cuts that could leave hundreds of low-income, magnet high school students without school buses. Meanwhile, protests in response Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to tax the public and private pensions of senior citizens are scheduled for Tuesday in Lansing.

Snyder’s anti-union power grab unconstitutional

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.



Democrats launch offensive on Defense of Marriage Act

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.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will introduce a companion bill in the Senate.




The Creature Connection



Dr. Horowitz, the author of a best-selling book about dog cognition, “Inside of a Dog,” belongs to a community of researchers paying ever closer attention to the nature of the human-animal bond in all its fetching dissonance, a pursuit recently accorded the chimeric title of anthrozoology. Scientists see in our love for other animals, and our unslakable curiosity about animal lives, sensations, feelings and drives, keys to the most essential aspects of our humanity. They also view animal love as a textbook case of biology and culture operating in helical collusion. Animals abound in our earliest art, suggesting that a basic fascination with the bestial community may well be innate; the cave paintings at Lascaux, for example, are an ochred zooanalia of horses, stags, bison, felines, a woolly rhinoceros, a bird, a leaping cow — and only one puny man.

Yet how our animal urges express themselves is a strongly cultural and contingent affair. Many human groups have incorporated animals into their religious ceremonies, through practices like animal sacrifice or the donning of animal masks. Others have made extensive folkloric and metaphoric use of animals, with the cast of characters tuned to suit local reality and pedagogical need.

David Aftandilian, an anthropologist at Texas Christian University, writes in “What Are the Animals to Us?” that the bear is a fixture in the stories of circumpolar cultures “because it walks on two legs and eats many of the same foods that people do,” and through hibernation and re-emergence appears to die and be reborn. “Animals with transformative life cycles,” Dr. Aftandilian writes, “often earn starring roles in the human imagination.” So, too, do crossover creatures like bats — the furred in flight — and cats, animals that are largely nocturnal yet still a part of our daylight lives, and that are marathon sleepers able to keep at least one ear ever vigilantly cocked.

Researchers trace the roots of our animal love to our distinctly human capacity to infer the mental states of others, a talent that archaeological evidence suggests emerged anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Not only did the new cognitive tool enable our ancestors to engage in increasingly sophisticated social exchanges with one another, it also allowed them to anticipate and manipulate the activities of other species: to figure out where a prey animal might be headed, or how to lure a salt-licking reindeer by impregnating a tree stump with the right sort of human waste.




I always believe that ultimately, if people are paying attention, then we get good government and good leadership. And when we get lazy, as a democracy and civically start taking shortcuts, then it results in bad government and politics.

~~Barack Obama

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Cher — When you finish with your lazy day, I need a crisis intervention or something. Here’s my problem. We spend 20% on Defense, roughly $665 billion each year. By contrast, Canada spends $21B. (We’ve talked about this.)

And I suppose if America wants to allocate $20% of its annual spending (borrowed money, by the way) on Defense, it can do that. Where I’m getting a little fuzzy is on the logic of us being broke and Paul Ryan focusing almost exclusively on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Tax cuts and loopholes are allowing tax revenue equivalent to 4% of GDP to slip away. (We’ve talked about this.)

We all know where it’s going — the wealthy. And meanwhile the State GOP Gov’s are taking on teachers, unions and (I think) the Constitution with their latest moves.

Here are my questions. Does America really want to give tax cuts to the rich so badly that it is willing to reduce entitlement programs? Would we rather spend more on Defense and thus have to cut social programs and services? Is this what America is saying it wants?

I understand who the GOP works for and why their purchased reps say and do what they do, but I don’t understand the great middle is remaining so quiet. Can you help me understand?


Cher- French planes over Benghazi, now.


Nice Obama quote, and so true. Excellent idea to repeat some of the very important articles on Saturdays. There is always so much to read, it’s really difficult to keep up.