Monday, November 26, 2007

Bush's sudden passion for fiscal discipline is hypocrtical

The New York Times wrote today that:

Mr. Bush’s sudden passion for fiscal discipline is hypocritical...

This White House is guilty of runaway spending — on the war and on tax cuts for the rich. Ending the war and rolling back excessive tax cuts are the way to control spending, not cutting needed government services."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

In fact, I did say it myself when on September 29, 2007 I wrote:

The two main causes of the Bush era deficits are its high end tax cuts and the War in Iraq.

Congressional Budget Office data show that Bush's tax cuts have been the single largest contributor to the reemergence of substantial budget deficits. Legislation enacted since 2001 has added almost $2.3 trillion to deficits between 2001 and 2006, with half of the deterioration in the budget due to the tax cuts (about a third was due to increases in security spending, and only a sixth to increases in domestic spending).

56.5% of these tax cuts went to the richest 10% of wage earners, those averaging $256,000. Only 14.7% went to the bottom 60% who average $44,000.

Unlike in previous wars, the United States has cut taxes at the same time it has increased military spending."It's fair to say all of the money spent on the war has been borrowed," says Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank in Washington. "But eventually everything has to be paid for."

And the bill is growing!

Just last week President Bush requested an additional $42.3 billion in “emergency” funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. If passed, the 2008 war bill will be almost $190 billion, the same as the 10 year Farm Bill increase the Journal singled out for criticism and the largest single-year total for these wars. It is an increase of 15 percent from 2007.

It will bring the year end total for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since Sept. 11, 2001 to $800 billion, still less than half the
$2 trillion total projected cost.

As Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen once said about the Defense budget, "a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money"-money that could buy a lot of healthcare, infrastructure, early childhood education or deficit reduction!

Read the entire New York Times editorial here.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Illegal immigrant rescues boy

Man was boy's ‘angel’ after mom dies in Ariz. desert van crash, officials say

The Associated Press

PHOENIX - A 9-year-old boy looking for help after his mother crashed their van in the southern Arizona desert was rescued by a man entering the U.S. illegally, who stayed with him until help arrived the next day, an official said.

Jesus Manuel Cordova, the man illegally entering the states, likely saved the boy, according to Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada who said his actions should remind people not to quickly characterize illegal immigrants as criminals.

“They do get demonized for a lot of reasons, and they do a lot of good. Obviously this is one example of what an individual can do,” he said.

You can read the complete story about this remarkable story here

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wisconsin Congressional delegation splits on Peru Free Trade Agreement

Defying appeals from labor leaders, environmentalists and foes of free-trade, nearly half the Democrats in the House joined with the Bush administration’ to support a trade liberalization agreement with Peru that the White House hopes will lead to the approval of future trade deals in Panama, Colombia and South Korea .

A New York Times article by Steven Weisman explained why so many Democrats, several of whom were elected because they opposed free trade deals that lacked labor and environmental protections, supported President Bush in passing the Peru Trade Bill:

"Democrats from the prosperous areas of the East and West Coast have become especially responsive, many Democrats say, to the desire of Wall Street and the high technology, health, pharmaceutical and entertainment industries to expand their sales overseas. These industries have also become major Democratic contributors."

So Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lieutenants "whipped" the party caucus energetically and did better than expected--109 Dems voting for the Peru trade bill, 116 Dems against- to please Wall Street and drug companies!

Wisconsin's Congressional representatives split their vote. Democrats Dave Obey, Steve Kagen and Tammy Baldwin voted against the bill. Democrat Ron Kind and Republicans Tom Petri, James Sensenbrenner and Paul Ryan voted yes. Milwaukee's Gwen Moore (D) missed the vote.

The economic consequences of the new trade agreement with Peru are relatively minor. It will cause some U.S. job loss because it contains incentives for U.S companies to relocate and it will hurt Peruvians by opening their agricultural market to exports.

Its impact will not compare to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which has led to significant job loss in Wisconsin and the nation.

Proponents of NAFTA promised that it would generate large numbers of net new good jobs. Instead, over a million jobs that would otherwise have been created in the US have been lost, and wages for workers without a college education have been fallen.

In Milwaukee we have seen Master Lock, Tower (A.O. Smith), Briggs and Stratton, Delphi and Johnson Controls among others move thousands of family supporting jobs to Mexico and use the threat of relocation to reduce their remaining Milwaukee employees' wages.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Wisconsin lost 25,403 jobs because of NAFTA.

Nor has NAFTA helped Mexico. Real wages of Mexican manufacturing workers have fallen despite a decade of strong GDP growth and the agricultural sector has been devastated. There have been substantial increases in Mexico's informal sector work such as street vending and unpaid family work in stores and restaurants. One major study has concluded that "NAFTA has not helped the Mexican economy keep pace with the growing demand for jobs…The agricultural sector, where almost a fifth of Mexicans still work, has lost 1.3 million jobs"

While the Peru Free Trade Agreement will not be as bad as NAFTA, it will hurt workers in both countries.

In political terms, however, the Peru Free Trade Agreement delivers an ominous message - that when faced with a choice between money and their own rank-and-file, the Democratic leaders in the House chose the money. They chose the money even though it required them to pass legislation with Republican votes. Even when a majority of their own caucus were opposed. Even when it meant handing the shrinking president, George W. Bush, a rare legislative victory.

If the Democrats voted for this bill to prove they aren't anti-trade, the question is who do they think they need to prove that to?

If they voted to generate contributions from Wall Street and pharmaceutical companies, they may increase their campaign contributions, but lose votes!

The US economy is staggering. The housing market continues to free fall-foreclosures are skyrocketing and housing starts are at a four year low. Bankruptcies and homelessness are on the rise. There is a severe credit crunch, consumer confidence is plummeting, the auto industry is in trouble and job growth is anemic.

The cost of food, gasoline, health care, higher education and utilities are soaring at a time when millions of Americans are surviving by the grace of their credit cards. The resultant economic insecurity helped Democrats win control of both Houses of Congress in the last elections.

Despite the President's unpopularity, a Democratic victory in November 2008 is not assured. Congress's approval ratings are no higher.

If Democrats turn a deaf ear to the economic insecurities of the nation's working men and women as so many did on this vote, they may find these men and women staying home in November. That would be unfortunate indeed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Badger tax exemption is fiscally irresponsible!

Guest Editorial

by Chuck Gobel

In a stunning display of bipartisanship, on October 30, ten Republican assembly persons were joined by four Democrat assembly persons to introduce AB 559.

In an equally stunning display of legislative efficiency, on November 14, seven Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee were joined by six Democrat members of the Ways and Means Committee and voted unanimously in favor of the bill and to move the bill to the entire Assembly.

The fiscal note on the bill, which arrived on November 6, indicates that passage of the bill would decrease revenue at both the state and local level. What does this bill do to inspire such swift action in a state that is so strapped for cash at both the state and local level?

Here’s the answer: “Alvarez wants tax exemption” (MJS, November 15, 2007, p7C) The exemption sought is for donations made for preferential treatment to obtain tickets for sporting events. Currently the major universities (UW, UW-M, Marquette, and UW-Green Bay) demand such a donation. According to the article, “The right to purchase is an amount paid to a school or institution in excess of the face value of a season ticket.” (Note: Unbelievably, apparently, the Green Bay Packers already have been granted this exemption.)

This is not a donation! If anyone is confused as to whether this demand is a donation or the ticket price, try to get the ticket without the donation.

This ‘donation’ is the price of the ticket, and as such should be taxed in the same manner as any other ticket is taxed. (Under the bill, the amount that would be a direct sales tax becomes an income and franchise tax credit equal to the sales tax. And just to sweeten the deal, if the credit exceeds the tax liability, the excess can be carried over to a future year.

Why should we, as citizens who pay sales taxes on hosts of things we purchase and need everyday, be concerned?

In addition to the equity issue, which is huge, there is the financial issue. As reported in the MJS article, Alvarez and Vince Sweeney, senior associate athletic director, said if the Department of Revenue were to start collecting the tax on this “donation”, the Athletic Department would owe $400,000 in the first year. Moreover they said if the tax were collected retroactively to 2001 the department would owe up to $2 million dollars. Whoa! Six years of avoiding tax payments! Scofflaws take heart!

Undoubtedly, with the bipartisan support in the Assembly and a Republican and a Democrat sponsor in the Senate, AB 559 is, as the saying goes, “good to go!”

The governor, when it reaches him, should just put AB 559 in his pocket and let it die a quiet and well deserved death.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Center for American Progress videos

The Center for American Progress , a progressive think tank, has released two good television spots. Check them out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dave Obey stands up for Wisconsin's workers!

Early last week, President Bush vetoed a bill that financed education, health care and job training. On November 15th, Congress failed to get the two-thirds vote (277-141) needed to override the veto.

The $150.7 billion legislation would increase our nation's investment in education by$3.2 billion including an additional $25 million for the Carl Perkins Basic State Grant, one of the only sources of federal support for adult vocational education.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act provides federal grants to community colleges, including Wisconsin's technical colleges, and high schools to train students from low-income families for jobs. Educating these students is the key to solving the Wisconsin's growing shortage of skilled workers, broadly recognized as the biggest obstacle to the state's economic growth, as well as one strategy for tackling Milwaukee's high poverty rate.

At the Milwaukee Area Technical College(MATC), the state's largest two-year college with over 50,000 students and 125 associate degree and diplomma programs, Carl D. Perkins funds the bilingual, multicultural and special needs offices. Computer labs, academic support centers, pre-college instruction necessary for entry into skills training and English as a Second Language classes are also financed through this program.

In 2004, fully 32.3% of MATC's grads received services provided by Perkins while over 20% of all MATC students received support services and instruction through these funds.

Perkins was last reauthorized in 1998, and President Bush has repeatedly tried to kill the program. Last year, states received about $1.3 billion from the program, with about 40 percent going to two-year colleges. The proposed increase was the first in six years for this program whose real value (adjusted for inflation) has fallen to $950 million.

Wisconsin's David R. Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, nailed it when he denounced Mr. Bush for rejecting the bill:

“The same president who is asking us to spend another $200 billion on the misguided war in Iraq and is insisting on providing $60 billion in tax cuts next year to folks who make over a million bucks a year” is “now refusing to provide a $6 billion increase to crucial domestic investments in education, health care, medical research and worker protections,” Mr. Obey said.

In an editorial today the Journal Sentinel mischaracterizes President Bush's action by suggesting that his veto may have been based on a principled opposition to earmarks. If that was the case, he would never have signed similar bills laden with almost twice as many earmarks when his Republican allies controlled Congress.

The President is hiding behind fiscal responsibility to promote his costly agenda of high end tax cuts (1.6 trillion) and military adventurism (projected cost of $2 trillion).

Congressman Obey is right. We need to make strategic investments in the nation and Wisconsin's labor force. The education and training bill should be passed and Carl D. Perkins increased.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sheriff Clarke's hypocrisy

Sheriff David Clarke routinely denies the existence of Milwaukee's social and economic problems.

The good Sheriff ignores more than a century of research dating back at least to the 1840's Irish immigration that links high rates of poverty and joblessness to a wide range of social problems and pathologies.

Clarke routinely lectures the community, often in letters to wingnut Charlie Sykes, about the community's alleged lack of high moral standards.

But when it comes to his own deputies violating department policy, breaking the law and lying about it, Milwaukee's morality cop has a different and lower standard:

"If you're going to fire every cop who violates the Constitution," Clarke explained, "we're not going to have many left."

WOW! Talk about not practicing what you preach!

Either the Sheriff is a policy schizophrenic or he's a total hypocrite!

Before he pens another one of his sanctimonious letters, Mr. Clarke ought to take hard look in the mirror or better yet read one of those letters about "high standards!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Red Wines Help Kill Foodborne Pathogens

Here's another reason to pour yourself a glass or two of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir or Shiraz.

According to research conducted by the University of Missouri these wines make for potent bacteria killers.

Now before you pour another glass of your favorite vino under the pretense of killing harmful pathogens, two cautions. Not all red varieties were found to be helpful in killing harmful bacteria. Red Zinfandel, one of my favorites, for example, exhibited no inhibitory properties on the bacteria. Second, the research was conducted in test tubes which is not enough to determine if a similar observed action would occur in humans who normally don't live in test tubes. Nothing was said about glass houses!

Whatever! It's nice to know that the red wine you covet not only tastes good, but actually is good for you too.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Olbermann: waterboarding & the President's criminal conspiracy

Navy interrogation instructor-waterboarding is the drowning torture

Last week the U.S Senate confirmed President Bush's appointment of retired federal judge Michael Mukasey as the nation's 81st attorney general despite Mukasey's adamant refusal to declare waterboarding illegal.

Waterboarding is a centuries-old interrogation method in which a prisoner’s face is covered with cloth and then doused with water to create a feeling of suffocation. It was used in 2002 and 2003 by C.I.A. officers questioning at least three high-level terrorism suspects, government officials say.

Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions.

As the New York Times editorialized today: " It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”

Mukasey who fills a vacancy left when Alberto Gonzales resigned amid questions about his credibility, was appointed with the support of Democratic Party Senators, Chuck Schumer (NY)and Diane Feinstein (CA).

Frank Rich argues that the failure of Democrats to block this appointment has broader implications.

" What makes the Democrats’ Mukasey cave-in so depressing is that it shows how far even exemplary sticklers for the law like Senators Feinstein and Schumer have lowered democracy’s bar. When they argued that Mr. Mukasey should be confirmed because he’s not as horrifying as Mr. Gonzales or as the acting attorney general who might get the job otherwise, they sounded whipped. After all these years of Bush-Cheney torture, they’ll say things they know are false just to move on.

In a Times OpEd article justifying his reluctant vote to confirm a man Dick Cheney promised would make “an outstanding attorney general,” Mr. Schumer observed that waterboarding is already “illegal under current laws and conventions.” But then he vowed to support a new bill “explicitly” making waterboarding illegal because Mr. Mukasey pledged to enforce it. Whatever. Even if Congress were to pass such legislation, Mr. Bush would veto it, and even if the veto were by some miracle overturned, Mr. Bush would void the law with a “signing statement.” That’s what he effectively did in 2005 when he signed a bill that its authors thought outlawed the torture of detainees.

That Mr. Schumer is willing to employ blatant Catch-22 illogic to pretend that Mr. Mukasey’s pledge on waterboarding has any force shows what pathetic crumbs the Democrats will settle for after all these years of being beaten down..."

Both of Wisconsin's Senators, Russ Finegold and Herb Kohl, voted against the Mukasey appointment.

Malcolm Nance, a former Navy interrogation instructor who trained American servicemen in how to cope with waterboarding, was not so evasive in his testimony to Congress, flatly stating saying that water boarding is not a simulation of torture, but actually the "drowning torture" itself.

Nance's interview with NSNBC is posted below.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Paul Krugman refutes healthcare excuses and lies

In his New York Times Column today, Paul Krugman writes:

The United States spends far more on health care per person than any other nation. Yet we have lower life expectancy than most other rich countries. Furthermore, every other advanced country provides all its citizens with health insurance; only in America is a large fraction of the population uninsured or underinsured.

You might think that these facts would make the case for major reform of America’s health care system — reform that would involve, among other things, learning from other countries’ experience — irrefutable. Instead, however, apologists for the status quo offer a barrage of excuses for our system’s miserable performance.

Krugman devotes the rest of today's column to refuting these excuses, exaggerations and outright lies which have left 47 million American without health care.

Lies? Yes....Lies.

In an earlier Column Krugman had asked why journalists aren't questioning Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani's character after Giuliana lied about prostate cancer survival rates in Britain in an effort to discredit universal health care.

Krugman shows that a man’s chance of dying from prostate cancer is about the same in Britain as it is in America and concludes: So Mr. Giuliani’s supposed killer statistic about the defects of “socialized medicine” is entirely false. In fact, there’s very little evidence that Americans get better health care than the British, which is amazing given the fact that Britain spends only 41 percent as much on health care per person as we do.

You can read that column here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Stiglitz: the economic consequences of Mr. Bush

Nobel laureate and former Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Joseph E. Stiglitz, has written a scathing critique of the Bush administration's failed economic policies.

In a column entitled "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush," he writes:

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.

It's a long, comprehensive critique that is well worth the read. Here's the link.