The weak economy has caused people to postpone consumption of health care services and has encouraged states and employers to restrain their spending on health.Over the last five years, the growth of health care spending in the US has slowed dramatically - to the lowest rate in the past 50 years. The slowdown is not a surprise. It is a predictable result of the recession and slow recovery that have left millions of Americans without health insurance and dampened household spending.
But the size of the slowdown is surprising, as is the fact that it started several years before the 2008 recession - and not only in the private insurance system, but also in Medicare and Medicaid, the two major government health programmes. (Medicare provides health coverage for retirees, and Medicaid provides coverage for low-income Americans and their children and those with disabilities.)
What explains this slowdown in health care spending? How much of it is attributable to the weak economy, and how much is the result of changes in provider and consumer behaviour?
Two recent studies offer different answers, but both predict that at least some of the slowdown will persist even after the economy recovers. That would be good news for the US economy, which currently devotes nearly 18 percent of GDP to health care, by far the largest share among developed countries. It would also be good news for America's fiscal position, because Medicare and Medicaid are the two largest contributors to the long-term federal budget deficit.
The growth of health care spending declined or remained unchanged in real (inflation-adjusted) terms each year between 2002 and 2011, falling to 3-3.1 percent in 2009-2011, the lowest rates on record since reporting began in 1960. Recent data indicate that after a slight acceleration in 2012, the growth of real health-care spending in 2013 has fallen back to its 2009-2011 average.
As a result of the recession and lagging recovery, health care spending has also slowed significantly since 2009 throughout the OECD. Indeed, for the first time on record, real health-care spending stalled on average in the OECD in 2010, as developed countries, reeling from budgetary constraints, clamped down on health programmes. Growth in health care spending was slower in every OECD country in that year, with the exception of Germany.
A new study by Drew Altman, a respected health care expert and President of the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation, concludes that slower growth in real GDP, along with a lower inflation rate, accounts for more than three-quarters of the slowdown in health care spending in the US after 2001. The weak economy has caused people to postpone consumption of health care services and has encouraged states and employers to restrain their spending on health.
But important cost-containing changes in the private health care system, including more cost-sharing in private insurance plans and tighter controls in managed care, have also contributed to the slowdown. Altman conjectures that, overall, the growth in health care spending between 2008 and 2012 was about one percentage point lower than predicted by deteriorating macroeconomic conditions alone.
If this reduction continues after the economy recovers - as seems likely, given the cost-containment incentives in the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) - the US stands to spend $2 trillion less on health care over the coming decade.
Based on the relationship between changes in real per capita health care spending and changes in unemployment rates at the state level, the recent Economic Report of the President concludes that the recession and lacklustre recovery account for less than 20 percent of the slowdown in health care spending since 2007 - and for an even smaller share of the slowdown that began in 2002. And difficult macroeconomic conditions explain little (if any) of the slowdown in Medicare spending per enrollee since 2001.
Who are vulnerable?
That is not unexpected, because the largely retired Medicare population is less vulnerable to macroeconomic fluctuations than is the working-age population. The Council of Economic Advisers, whose members write the president's report, surmise that structural changes - including stronger incentives for efficiency by hospitals and providers, more cost-sharing in insurance policies, and the substitution of generic drugs for branded drugs - explain most of the deceleration in per capita spending growth.
They also suggest that payment reforms contributed to the slowdown in Medicare's spending growth after 2001, and that early responses to new Medicare regulations in the Affordable Care Act may have caused a further decline after 2010.
The long-term effect on the federal budget implied by a sustained reduction in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending to the rates of the last several years would be profound. These programmes currently claim 21 percent of the budget, with Medicare accounting for two-thirds of that amount.
Even a small reduction in the growth of these programmes would save billions of dollars. Based on the unexpected slowdown in spending growth during the last few years, the Congressional Budget Office recently cut its 10-year projections for these programmes by 3.5 percent, reducing the 10-year deficit by $382bn.
In 2011, Medicare spending accounted for 3.7 percent of GDP. Based on current policies, the government forecasts that Medicare spending per beneficiary will grow at an average annual rate of 4.3 percent and will rise to 6.7 percent of GDP over the next 75 years. If, instead, Medicare spending per beneficiary grew by only 3.6 percent a year, the average rate of the last five years, Medicare's share of GDP would remain unchanged. This would narrow the fiscal gap, a widely used measure of long-term budgetary imbalance, by almost one-third.
Trends in the US budget reflect an inconvenient truth: If the growth of spending on health care programmes cannot be slowed, stabilising the federal debt at a sustainable level will require deep cuts in spending on other priorities and increases in taxes on the middle class. The recent slowdown in the growth of health care spending is a promising sign that America's budgetary tradeoffs may turn out to be less difficult than expected.
Laura Tyson, a former chair of the US President's Council of Economic Advisers, is a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
Original article on AlterNet
My mother went into paid work soon after my father’s clothing store was flooded out in a hurricane, almost wiping him out. She had no choice. We needed the money.
This was some two decades before a tidal wave of wives and mothers went into paid work.
For the few with four-year college degrees the transformation was the consequence of wider educational opportunity and new laws against gender discrimination that opened professions to well-educated women. But for the vast majority it was because male wages were dropping, and wives and mothers had to get paid jobs in order to prop up family incomes.
In 1966, only 20 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home. By the late 1990s, 60 percent. For married women with children under age 6, the transformation was even more dramatic: from 12 percent in the 1960s to 55 percent by the late 1990s. Yet America hasn’t accommodated this shift.
I was proud to have implemented the Family and Medical Leave Act when I was Labor Secretary, but, unlike most rich nations, we don’t require that employers offer paid leave.
Nor do we require equal pay for equal work (women’s pay still lags behind male pay for the same job).
Nor, like most rich nations, do we provide universal child care.
More women workers are in minimum-wage jobs than men, yet our minimum wage hasn’t kept up. (If it had kept up with inflation since 1968 it would be over $10 today.)
We’ve even cut aid pre-natal and post-natal medical care for poor infants and mothers.
And we have put a five-year limit on aid to single women with children — a limit that the ongoing effects of the Great Recession have already proved to be too limited. Nor have we begun to cope with the reality of stagnant or declining real wages that has caused families to work so much harder and longer. Almost all of the economic gains since the late 1970s have gone to the top 1 percent, but our representatives in Washington refuse to acknowledge this or take steps to reverse the trend.
The best way to celebrate Mother’s Day would be to acknowledge that most mothers are now in paid work — or seek to be — and, as working mothers, deserve better.
Original article on Robert Reich .org
Speaking on NBC News yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan pressed for Washington to take military action against Syria.
He repeated unsubstantiated allegations that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, which have been refuted by UN investigator Carla del Ponte, claiming, “It is clear the regime has used chemical weapons and missiles.” Claiming that a “red line” had been crossed, he said:
Hide & seek can be a fun game for kids, but when huge corporations play it in our elections, fun becomes infuriating.
Last year, corporate interests sought to elect their candidates by hiding from voters. In all, $352 million in "dark money" was spent, the bulk of it by corporations that secretly pumped it into trade associations, "social welfare charities," and other front groups run by the likes of Karl Rove, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Koch brothers.
Since surreptitious electioneering puts a fatal curse on democracy, there's now a push in the Securities and Exchange Commission for a rule requiring corporate executives to reveal to their owners – ie, the shareholders – any political donations they make with company money. How sensible. But this simple proposal has caused a fury among those who profit by playing political hide & seek from voters. CEOs of the 200 largest corporations are being rallied to the barricades to stop it, and House Republicans are even trying to make it illegal for the SEC to let shareholders (and the voting public) know which campaigns are being backed by cash from which corporations.
Their rabid panic over a little sunlight reveals just how powerful dark money is. Ironically, the Supreme Court's chief assumption in allowing unlimited corporate cash into our democratic process was that shareholders would be informed, involved, and provide public accountability for their companies' political spending.
Even Justice Antonin Scalia, a cheerleader for corporate politicking is no fan of hiding one's electioneering efforts from voters, "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage," he says. A campaign "hidden from public scrutiny" Scalia writes, is anathema to self-governance. He adds that campaigning anonymously "does not resemble the Home of the Brave."
"Corporate Donations and the S.E.C.," The New York Times, April 25, 2013.
"S.E.C. Gets Plea: Force Companies To Air Donations," The New York Times, April 24, 2013.
"Scallia, J., concurring in judgment," Cite as: 561 U.S.___(2010)
Original article on Jim Hightower .com
The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained documents revealing that the FBI and IRS may be reading emails and other electronic communications of U.S. citizens without obtaining a warrant.
This comes just as reports have emerged that the Obama administration is considering approving an overhaul of government surveillance of the Internet.
Democracy Now! speaks with attorney Ben Wizner, director of the Speech Privacy and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "The FBI wants to be able to intercept every kind of possible communication," he says.
The New York Times reported the new rules would make it easier to wiretap users of all kinds. Wizner explains: "If they get a warrant from a judge to listen to phone calls, they can go to a phone company and a switch can be flipped and they can listen to those phone calls. But there are lots of ways that we communicate online right now through emails, through chats, through text messages, through peer-to-peer encrypted communication -- where the technology doesn't exist for the FBI to get that information in real time."
"I think that there is this belief that greater surveillance leads to greater security. And I think that at times the opposite is true," Wizner says. "Trying to prevent terrorism is trying to find a needle in a haystack. There's just not a lot of terrorists. And the worst way to do that is to make the haystack so large that the needle can't be found. And the more information that gets swept up, stored, the harder it is for law enforcement, with their limited resources, to actually figure out what's going on."
Could New FBI Rules on Online Surveillance Lead to More Cyberattacks?
"The FBI basically wants to require all of these companies to rewrite their code in order to enable more government surveillance," Wizner explains.
"This new proposal adds a new level of danger, because it would require these companies to break encryption," Wizner explains. "There's many kinds of communication that human rights activists use, that journalists use, with end-to-end encryption, so that even the companies that are providing the services can't read the communication. The FBI considers this a 'going dark' problem. They don't want us to be able to communicate with each other in that kind of encrypted way. And in order to accomplish that, they would make the whole Internet less secure, because in order to build in this kind of surveillance back door, you're essentially opening up all of these online platforms to cyber-attack from criminals, from hackers, from foreign governments."
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Original article on Huffington Post
You see them in stores across our country and around the world: colorful and stylish clothing with happy-sounding brand names like Children's Place, Papaya, Joe Fresh, Free Style Baby, and Mango.
But you don't see the factories where these cheerful garments are made, nor are we shown the strained faces of the impoverished workers who make them, paid little more than a dollar a day for long, hard shifts. We only catch a glimpse of the grim reality sewn into these happy brands when yet another factory is in the news for collapsing or burning down, bringing a grotesque death to hapless workers trapped inside.
It's a horror that keeps happening. And after each one, the brand-name marketers and retail profiteers cluck with sympathy for the families of the dead and decry the "tragic accident." As Scott Nova of the Workers Rights Consortium put it after the most recent atrocity, when a Bangladesh factory collapsed and crushed thousands of garment workers, "The response is always the same: Vague promises and public relations dodges, while the pile of corpses grows even higher."
Is there something about clothing factories that makes them disaster magnets? Yes – the massive gravitational pull of corporate greed. Not merely the greed of sleazy factory owners, but most significantly the greed of such "respectable" retailers as Walmart, Benetton, GAP, and H&M. The April collapse in Bangladesh was not an "accident," but the inevitable result of a Western business model that demands such low prices from offshore suppliers that worker safety is their dead-last priority.
In the corporate hierarchy, death is coldly built into the consumer price and routinely accepted in the boardrooms as a justifiable means of adding another dime to the bottom line. For information and action, go to www.workersrights.org.
"The Most Hated Bangladeshi, Toppled From A Shady Empire," The New York Times, May 1, 2013.
"Retailers Split On Contrition After Collapse Of Factories," The New York Times, May 1, 2013.
"Worker Rights Consortium Update/Statement on Bangladesh Apparel Factory Disaster," www.werkersrights.org, April 25, 2013.
"Worker Rights Consortium Decries Latest Garment Factory Disaster in Bangladesh, Calls on Brands and Retailers to Sign Binding Building Safety Agreement and “Put an End to this Parade of Horror,”" www.workersrights.org, April 24, 2013.
"Why aren't Bangladesh factories safer?" www.msn.com, April 29, 2013.
"Deadly Collapse in Bangladesh," www.wsj.com, April 24, 2013.
"Death Toll Reaches over 400 in Bangladesh Factory Collapse," www.globallabourrights.org, April 29, 2013.
"Building Collapse in Bangladesh Kills Scores of Garment Workers, The New York Times, April 25, 2013.
Original article on Jim Hightower .com
Russia and the US have agreed to work towards convening an international conference to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry announced it would follow on from an Action Group for Syria meeting in Geneva last June.
Mr Kerry said they would try to "bring both sides to the table".
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been strained in the last two years by differences over Syria.
Mr Kerry held lengthy talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday during his first visit to Moscow since becoming secretary of state.
He told Mr Putin that their two countries shared "some very significant common interests with respect to Syria", including "stability in the region" and "not letting extremists create problems"."It is my hope that today we will be able to dig into that a little bit, and see if we can find common ground," he added.
He then held further discussions with Mr Lavrov, after which they jointly announced that they would try to organise an international conference on ending the conflict in Syria, if possible before the end of May.
It will try to convince both the Syrian government and opposition to accept a solution based on the core elements of the final communique issued on 30 June 2012, after the UN-backed Action Group for Syria meeting.
The communique called for an immediate cessation of violence and the establishment of a transitional government that could include officials serving under President Bashar al-Assad and members of the opposition.
"We believe that the Geneva communique is the important track to end the bloodshed in Syria," Mr Kerry told a news conference, warning that it must not be a "piece of paper" but rather "the roadmap" for peace.
"The alternative is that there is even more violence," he added. "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos."
Mr Lavrov praised the Syrian government for its willingness to discuss a political transition, but criticised the opposition for not having "said a single word yet which would show their commitment".
He also reaffirmed Moscow's belief that the departure of President Assad should not be a condition for peace talks, but insisted he was not trying to keep him in power.
"We are not concerned by the fate of any individual. We are concerned by the fate of the Syrian people," he said.
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says the plan based on the Geneva communique has not worked so far, and even with the redoubling of US and Russian diplomatic efforts there is no guarantee it will now.
After his visit to Russia, Mr Kerry will travel to Rome to meet Italian, Israeli and Jordanian officials to discuss Middle East issues, including the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Original article on BBC
You never know how popular you are, how smart you are, and how funny your jokes are – until you become the head of a Congressional committee.
If you're named to chair a major legislative panel, suddenly people are eager to show you love, respect… and cash!
Well, not normal people, but corporate lobbyists who want legislative favors from the committee barons. These favor-seekers know that the way to get cozy with powerhouse lawmakers is to show them the money.
Sure enough, in January, nine Republicans were elevated to the top position of their committees in the US House, and in just the first three months of their reign, these newly-crowned chairs have enjoyed an inflow of $1.3 million into their campaign accounts from political action committees. That's 74 percent more than the nine attracted prior to their ascendancy to the throne.
Perhaps you want to believe that the beneficence of the PACs merely reflects an altruistic commitment to good, honest, unbiased public policy. No, no, Nanette – the bulk of the lucre comes from the very industries that the recipients are supposed to oversee. Check out Bill Shuster, for example, top beneficiary of this year's increase in PAC largesse. His haul of over $300,000 since January is five times more than he collected from PACs last year, with big bundles being donated by airlines, cruise ships, railroads, and trucking outfits. Can you guess which committee Bill chairs? Yes, Transportation!
Of course, Shuster would tell you that, by gollies, money can't buy him. But the industries don't need to purchase the committee chairman – a short-term rental is all they want. That $300,000 is just the deposit on Shuster, for he'll be taking regular payments as he pushes their bills along, but what a great deal for lobbyists: a time-share in a member of Congress.
"PACs rain cash on new GOP chairmen," USA Today, Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
Original article on Jim Hightower .com
ust after 6 pm, we learned that the jury had reached a verdict.
All three defendants were found guilty of both counts against them: vandalism and sabotage. They could face a 20 year prison sentence.
All three will spend the night in the Blount County Detention Center. The judge asked the prosecutor if he wanted to allow them to bond out tonight, but the prosecutor said no. He reasoned that the three were found guilty of sabotage, which is a violent offense, so they should not be allowed to go free from court. A bond hearing is set for Thursday morning.
The jury is now deliberating in the federal trial of three protestors charged with breaking into and vandalizing the Y-12 complex last year.
They are considering two charges. The first is a vandalism charge, which neither side talked much about. They were more concerned with the more serious sabotage charge, which could carry a 20 year prison sentence.
In order to be found guilty of sabotage, the jury must believe that the three protestors went on to Y-12 property with the intent to interfere with nuclear security. That's exactly what the prosecution contends. They also say the act damaged the credibility of Y-12 worldwide.
The defense says the act was symbolic, to raise global awareness about their hope for nuclear disarmament. They say it was a miracle that they made it as far as they did, that they never expected to get past the gate. They said if they'd really wanted to disrupt nuclear security, they would have been armed.
Closing arguments are expected to begin after lunch on Wednesday, in the federal trial of three protestors charged with breaking into and vandalizing the Y-12 complex last year.
The prosecution rested late Tuesday, so Wednesday morning, the defense began presenting their case.
All three of the suspects, Michael Walli, Greg Boerje-Obed, and Sister Megan Rice testified in their own defense. All three spoke about the intentions of the break-in. They called it a "symbolic act", not a security threat. They said they wanted to "transform Y-12" and bring peace and healing to an operation they regard as being against the will of God.
The prosecution disputes that, saying the three disrupted operations at Y-12, even temporarily halting the mission of a secret convoy transporting nuclear materials to the complex that day.
The defense also called at expert witness, retired Army colonel Ann Wright. She testified that she had reviewed the inspector general's report of what happened, and in her opinion, did not believe the protestors were an actual security threat. She said in fact, the three did the country a favor be exposing severe security lapses at Y-12.
After lunch, closing arguments are expected to begin, then the judge will give the jury their instructions before they can begin their deliberations.
Because this is a federal trial, cameras are not allowed in the courtroom, but we will bring you the very latest on 10News at 5 and on WBIR.com.
The defense is expected to continue presenting its case Wednesday in the trial of three peace protesters accused of breaking into the Y-12 Complex last July.
Authorities charged Michael Walli, Greg Boerje-Obed, and Sister Megan Rice with sabotage and damage of property.
Prosecutors rested their cased Tuesday after several men who worked as security officers at the time of the break-in testified.
The defense called Rice as its first witness Tuesday.
She told the court the trio did not create a plan as to what it would do once it encountered security personel in Y-12.
She later told reporters she was encouraged by the day's proceedings.
Original article on RSN
When their boss tried to fire them, the workers of Republic Windows and Doors occupied the factory. Now they own it as a cooperative.
Four years ago, as the recession took hold and layoffs around the country were approaching 500,000 a month, a group of workers in Chicago saved a factory and inspired a nation.
Fired by their boss, they occupied instead of leaving. Fired by a second boss, they occupied and formed a worker’s cooperative. Now they are worker-owners of a load of equipment and they’re setting up a factory in a new location.
All they want to do is to get back to making and selling windows. It shouldn’t be this hard to keep good jobs in Chicago, but “A cooperative can be a way of surviving, of moving forward,” says Armando Robles, one of the workers.
Robles was one of 250 workers fired in December 2008 without notice or severance by Republic Windows and Doors when the company announced it was closing its Chicago factory. The company said that it could no longer operate because it had lost its line of credit with Bank of America. The irony of the situation was clear. Bank of America had received billions in government bailouts to keep the economy working, and yet the Republic workers were being laid off without their entitled payments and benefits. Supported by their union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Robles and his fellow workers voted to resist. They occupied the plant for six days, winning back pay, severance, and time for a new company to take ownership. Generating thousands of articles and news reports about their fight, they encouraged a downcast nation, even an incoming U.S. president.
At a press conference during the factory occupation, then President-elect Barack Obama declared: “When it comes to the situation here in Chicago, with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned … I think they are absolutely right.”
The public relations potential, combined with the prospect of stimulus spending and a green economy boom, spurred Serious Energy of California to take over the former Republic plant in February 2009. Among the investors in the new business was Mesirow Financial, a Chicago-based firm, with close ties to (among others), then White House Chief of Staff (soon to be Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel. With $15 million from Mesirow alone, Serious looked forward to landing substantial federal and city contracts.
Two years later, those contracts were yet to materialize. The ballyhooed green economy? Chicago’s grand green retrofitting scheme? They were nowhere in sight, and city and state spending was essentially on ice. By the end of 2009, only 20 of the Republic workers had been hired back. In February 2012, Serious announced it, too, was closing the Chicago factory and selling off the machines.
This time, Robles et al. only needed to occupy for a matter of hours before management agreed to a deal. Serious agreed to give the workers the first option to buy the plant’s equipment and 90 days to come up with a bid.
“Republic walked away from our jobs. Serious walked away from our jobs, but we are not walking away from our jobs,” said Melvin Macklin, who had worked at the plant for more than a decade. In the time between the first layoff and the second, the workers and their families became aware of other options. As it happens, after appearing together with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on GRITtv, Robles and United Electrical field organizer Leah Fried sat down with The Working World, a nonprofit that has helped start and maintain worker cooperatives in Argentina and other parts of Latin America.
With help from The Working World and advice from colleagues in the co-op movement in the United States and abroad, on May 30, 2012, Robles, Macklin and 22 colleagues founded New Era Windows, LLC, a worker-run cooperative incorporated in Illinois to manufacture what they promise will be “quality, affordable windows.”
Despite the initial agreement, it was not until last August, many months and some intense struggle later, that Serious finally agreed to let New Era buy the factory equipment. The struggle was partly political—Serious had to be pressured to keep its pledge to the workers—but it was largely financial. The new worker-owners decided that they would earn equal wages and have equal votes in decision-making. They also agreed to each contribute a fee of $1,000 to “buy in.” At 58, Macklin borrowed some of his buy-in from a nephew, but he says that the stretch to raise the money was worth it.
“There will be no big, fat-cat salaries, no CEOs, CFOs and COOs to pay, so our bottom line will be easier. We already know how to make the best windows. … We don’t know for sure it’ll be successful, but we didn’t know the occupation would be successful—I thought I was going to jail. Unless we step out and try, we’ll never know.”
The workers took the leap, but investors have been less inclined to follow. In spite of preparing a business plan and reaching out to social impact investors, the co-op has thus far been unable to attract venture capital. Even with the collateral of the equipment, the workers have been unable to win any loans. The $500,000 they were able to raise for the purchase came from a single source, The Working World.
“It’s awesome that they’ve done it—this is as grassroots as it gets,” says Brendan Martin, founder and director of The Working World. “But to reverse the rules of capital, you need capital. It’s not enough for workers to realize they have opportunity; resources also have to come to them.”
“There should be governmental help to keep factories open and allow the workers to try to keep their jobs,” says Robles. “When there is no government help, at least there should be social help, community help, anything. The loss to a community is overwhelming when a whole factory closes.”
President Obama knew as much four years ago, at that Chicago press conference. The Chicago workers’ experience was reflective of a national situation, he said.
“When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street.”
You’d think that helping a minority-run green business in a high-unemployment community would be a smart way to help those celebrated “people on Main Street,” but so far, no money has come out of those doors. Absent a rational industrial policy from the government, and a smart new stimulus package, the New Era experiment is in the hands of the market. For almost a year, the workers have hung on, living off their severance, unemployment, and sweat. Their new factory’s almost set up; they hope to start selling early this year, and they’re looking for customers.
More information at newerawindows.com
Laura Flanders wrote this article for How Cooperatives Are Driving the New Economy, the Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Laura is a former host of Air America, and founder and host of GRITtv. She is the author of Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species, and Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians. She writes regularly for The Nation and the Guardian and appears as a regular guest on MSNBC.
- The Cooperative Way to a Stronger Economy
Co-ops—just like people—can get more done together than anyone can do alone. They come in many forms, and are more common than you might imagine.
- The Economy: Under New Ownership
How cooperatives are leading the way to empowered workers and healthy communities.
- From the Culture of Aloha, a Path Out of Gun Violence
Beneath mainstream culture runs a current of domination, individualism, and exclusion that is harming our children. We assume this is normal—but is it really?
Original article on Yes Magazine.org
Prostitutes are amateurs compared to Texas State Sen. Kel Seliger, whose going rate is $20,000-a-pop. At least, that's what he was paid last year by Waste Control Specialists.
First, some background. A decade earlier, WCS parlayed political donations to Gov. Rick Perry into a special deal to build a low-level nuclear waste dump in a West Texas county, right up against the New Mexico border. Headed by Harold Simmons, a right-wing Dallas billionaire and GOP moneyman, Waste Specialists originally promised to take atomic trash from only two states. But after dumping more donations into Perry's 2010 campaign, Simmons was allowed to take trash from 36 other states.
Now, back to Seliger. In exchange for taking 20K from WSC for his 2012 re-election race, he has dutifully rolled over to sponsor a bill in the Texas Legislature this year to let Simmons ratchet-up from low-level waste to highly-radioactive stuff. The bill would also block residents of neighboring New Mexico from contesting this change in Texas courts. Why take this gratuitous slap at New Mexicans? Because towns there actually are closer to WSC's nuclear dump than any Texas towns, and – since radioactivity pays no heed to state borders – Sierra Club members in Eunice, New Mexico, are opposing the Texas permit.
Having taken Simmons' money, Seliger has been pushing hard to turn the trick for him, but the senator is finding that even his Republican colleagues are disgusted by his shamelessness. As the GOP chair of the Natural Resources Committee asked about Seliger's kinky proposition: "Why would we limit affected parties to three sides [of the county] and not the fourth?" The New Mexican neighbors, he said, are "still Americans," and "they should still be offered the opportunity to protest the plant's permit." Stay tuned at www.texas.sierraclub.org.
"Bill would prevent N.M. residents from fighting Texas waste dump," Austin American Statesman, April 17, 2013.
Original article on Jim Hightower .com
Their message could not have been clearer: It is time to finally to do something real to help low wage workers step out of poverty and into the middle class.
The event was the kickoff for a new organizing initiative called Good Jobs Nation, a project that I have been working on with a coalition of faith, community and labor organizations. There was a report released by Demos, which documented that the federal government through its government contracts is the nation's biggest creator of jobs paying less than $24,000 a year, and there was a video released at the event which does a great job of summarizing the issue which you can look at here:
Fast-food workers in New York City, Chicago, and other cities; Wal-Mart workers all over the country have as well; truck drivers that take goods in and out of our nation's ports; and workers at companies who contract with the federal government: They are all organizing. To hear these workers' stories about the terrible pay, lack of benefits, and the way they are treated by abusive employers inspires me to keep fighting on their behalf every day, but it also makes me wonder: Where is Barack Obama? Didn't he get his start in politics fighting for these kinds of workers? Hasn't he talked repeatedly about how he is going to fight for them? Hasn't he quoted the scripture of his faith about looking out for the least of these and being our brothers and sisters' keeper?
Now in fairness to the president, helping some of these workers is not an easy thing given our economy and our nation's politics, and he can't do everything that needs doing without a Congress that is willing to act. He has come out in favor of raising the minimum wage, he has been in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act which would make it easier for low-wage workers to form unions, but Congress has refused to act. But what is profoundly troubling is that the president could help those 2,000,000 low-wage workers working for government contractors with an executive order, and for over four years now, he has refused to act. It's not like today's event is the first time he has heard about this issue. During the 2008 campaign, the idea of this executive order was discussed with him and his policy staff, and he said this would be on his policy agenda; at multiple different points in his first term, a coalition of progressive leaders asked him to sign such an executive order, and he always said he was looking at doing so; to the great credit of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, USDA drafted a regulation that would have guaranteed better treatment for the farm workers supplying food for USDA programs such as school lunches, but the White House -- under intense pressure from the Chamber of Commerce -- sat on it and it never happened.
President Obama has waited too long, and has no more excuses: He needs to act, and act now. The federal government should be leading the way in building a stronger middle class, not eroding it by being the nation's largest producer of low wage jobs. There is no reason for him not to do us, and nothing keeping him from doing it.
Improving the wages and benefits of low-wage workers, and bringing them out of poverty and firmly into the middle class, is one of the central foundational economic issues of our time. Now is the time to act.
Here's video from this morning's event, it is worth taking a look at. The ministers who opened and closed the event were great; the workers who talked were truly wonderful, and gutsy as hell:
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Original article on Huff Post
Mr. Speaker, like most Members of Congress, I was home last week and did two or three different civic clubs. Everywhere I went, when I said it's time to get our troops out of Afghanistan, save lives of our American soldiers, and save money, I would get applause.
Also, in the last couple of weeks, my office has sent out a survey, and 17,000 people of the Third District responded, and 70 percent of the 17,000 said the same thing: Why are we still in Afghanistan spending money we do not have and having our young men and women to give their life for a failed policy known as Afghanistan?
Mr. Speaker, a week ago, I was watching NBC News and Brian Williams broke the story that the CIA admitted that for the last 10 years, each month for the last 10 years they've been carrying cash money to Karzai--cash money. And they said that the best they could do was to estimate that this would be tens of millions of dollars. Poor Uncle Sam. I don't know how he can afford to continue to spend money of the taxpayers that we can't even account for so we can borrow more money from China to uphold Karzai, who's a corrupt leader to begin with.
I wonder where the outrage is in Congress? I have friends on both sides of the aisles that I think the world of and respect very greatly, but why isn't there more outrage by Congress on the money being spent and, more importantly, the lives of those lost?
Last Saturday, Mr. Speaker, an AP article said seven Americans were killed in Afghanistan. Seven Americans were killed. God help the families. Yet we in Congress just sit here and continue to think that Afghanistan is not our problem, it's just somewhere out there, and we'll find the millions and billions of dollars to send over there with no accountability.
Mr. Speaker, I'm on the Armed Services Committee, and I have written a letter to the chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee and asked her to hold hearings and bring in the inspectors general who've been looking into how the waste, fraud, and abuse abounds in Afghanistan. They can't even account for half the money we've spent over in Afghanistan. We've already spent over $700 billion in Afghanistan, and half of it we can't even account for.
I don't blame the American people for being frustrated. I really do not. I'm frustrated, too. And I would hope we can find more members of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party to join together in these budget bills coming up this summer and start bringing our troops out of Afghanistan.
I bring this photograph, Mr. Speaker, that has our marines carrying a flag-draped coffin. I try to do this down in the district, and I do it here on the floor because I'm afraid too many times the American people, unless they've got a family member in Afghanistan, probably, with all of the problems that the American people are faced with, and certainly we are here in Congress, don't think a whole lot about the war. But when you hear about the CIA sending cash money for 10 years, millions and millions and millions of dollars to Karzai so that he can take care of the warlords over in Afghanistan and give a little bit of money to the Taliban so they can buy weapons to kill Americans, then I don't know and I sometimes just am frustrated. Where is the outrage in Congress?
Just a couple more points, Mr. Speaker, before I relinquish my time. I hope that the leadership of the House, led by Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, I hope they will join us, Democrat and Republican, in trying to bring an end to this failed policy in Afghanistan. It is a failed policy. We're not going to change one thing. They've already acknowledged, Mr. Speaker, that we are fighting the Taliban, and most of the Taliban are Pashtuns, the largest tribe in Afghanistan. They will eventually be the leaders, and Mr. Karzai will not even be in Afghanistan. He'll probably be in Switzerland counting his money that Uncle Sam has sent to him. Taxpayer, taxpayer, it is wrong that you're having to pay that bill in Afghanistan.
Families who've lost loved ones and families who have kids losing their legs and their lives, it's not fair to you, either.
So, Mr. Speaker, I ask God to continue to bless our men and women in uniform. I ask God to continue to bless the families who've given a child dying for freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq. I'll ask God to please bless the House and Senate, that we will do what is right in the eyes of God for his people. I'll ask God to bless President Obama, that he will do what is right in the eyes of God for his people. And as I yield back, God, please, God, please, God, please, continue to bless America.Resources Visit CapitolWords for more context. Full Text Above, adapted from the Congressional Record. Original article on SCOUT
In December 1945, with World War II at last ended, President Harry Truman focused on the future of the nation's security. In a message to Congress, Truman proposed a new idea: a unified "Department of National Defense" to more effectively confront the challenges and threats of a post-war world.
Uniting the disparate armed forces under a single departmental banner, he suggested, would bring greater coordination, efficiency and cost savings while enhancing the nation's military preparedness. He emphasized "the necessity of making timely preparation for the nation's long-range security now -- while we are still mindful of what it has cost us in this war to have been unprepared."
Two years later, Truman's vision became reality; in 1949, the department's name was shortened to "Department of Defense" (DOD). This reform served the nation well, with some caveats, during the tense years of the Cold War, as the U.S. military was forged into a fighting and peacekeeping force without equal.
Unfortunately, Truman's original goals of efficiency and savings have proven more elusive. Today's DOD, now the largest federal department, is beset by bureaucratic inertia and rampant inefficiency. Just as Truman sought a rethinking of U.S. defense in order to "overcome permanently the present imperfections in our defense organization," it's time for a similar rethinking about how our defense dollars are invested to ensure the long-term effectiveness of our defense capability.
This need is particularly compelling as our nation struggles with the reality of a $16.7 trillion national debt. Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is known for arguing that the "most significant threat to our national security is our debt."
That recognition is particularly important at the Pentagon, where the department is wrestling with the challenge of providing for the nation's defense needs in an era of budget belt-tightening and expanding entitlements. Indeed, the Obama administration had already slated about $487 billion in defense cuts before sequestration cuts began taking effect in March. The key challenge is to ensure we cut "fat" from the military budget while sparing the "muscle" of our defense capability.
That's not how the current debate is shaping up. Right now, the debate centers not on strategic needs, but on how much military we can "afford" -- with the expectation that Pentagon leaders will somehow figure out how to adapt that number to meet threats from North Korea and Iran and to fill the gap in global defense spending as our European allies slash military budgets.
But the Pentagon can play a valuable role in determining what its future will look like. Defense leaders should be searching for ways to reform out-of-date procurement processes, to collapse layers of Pentagon bureaucracy, and to restrain the growth in personnel and benefits costs. A critical first step in that process should be to conduct a full Pentagon audit to determine how DOD spends taxpayer dollars.
Remarkably, a full audit of the DOD has never been conducted, though it would no doubt shed light on the shortcomings in the department's financial management. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta endorsed the idea of a Pentagon audit, though he did not follow through in his tenure. That means it's up to the current defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, to provide the needed leadership to make it happen.
And it may be that Hagel is just the leader to do so, based upon his recent public statements. In his April 3 speech at the National Defense University (NDU), Hagel articulated a vision for DOD reform that is grounded in both reality and strategic sense. I should note here that I was troubled by the president's nomination of Hagel to serve as defense secretary. My concern, shared by other defense hawks, was that Obama had selected the Republican war hero and defense skeptic to provide cover for carving up of the nation's defense capability.
However, in his NDU speech, Hagel spoke in the voice of a judicious reformer, reasonably explaining the need to get a handle on acquisitions, personnel costs and overhead, which he tagged as the chief drivers of spending growth at DOD.
As a successful entrepreneur, Hagel suggested the DOD look to the private sector to learn lessons about reducing management layers and developing more agile organizational structures. He spoke critically of the unplanned cuts under sequestration -- some $41 billion this year alone -- that are having an adverse effect on military training, maintenance and readiness.
Most importantly, the secretary spoke of American leadership as an essential precondition for global stability, security and peace; arguing that the United States does not have the luxury of withdrawing from the world -- and shouldn't hope for such. "A world where America does not lead is not the world I wish my children to inherit," Hagel stated. That sentiment reflects a clear-eyed view of American power, and why it's worth preserving.
With the winding down of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States now has an opportunity to implement real defense reforms without having a serious impact on immediate battlefield needs. What's important is that these reforms should center on emerging threats and strategic realities, rather than how much money we have (or don't have) to spend. That will be, in Truman's words from 1945, "the best means of keeping the peace."
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). He is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. For more proposals on defense spending, see CVA's 2012 "Defend & Reform" series.Follow Pete Hegseth on Twitter
Original article on Huffington Post
As a fourth generation shrimper and an environmental activist on the Texas gulf coast, I have gone on hunger fasts to protect the seas that my community of fishermen depend upon. I know how far I would go to be heard.
To have a voice. To push for justice. So I can vouch for the experts who say that the 100+ hunger strikes happening now in Guantanamo prison reflect the level of desperation and despair felt by the prisoners there. The detainees are screaming for justice from the outside world. And now they are being heard.
Here is one despairing voice:
Adnan Latif spent 10 years in Guantanamo without being charged. He was a poet, father and a husband and had been cleared for release four times. Yet he continued to be imprisoned. He was found dead in his cell, one of 9 men who have died at Guantanamo. In his own words, Latif asked, “Where is the world to save us from torture? Where is the world to save us from the fire and sadness? Where is the world to save the hunger strikers?”
My question is a lot more personal: Where are we, citizens of America?
This is a US detention and interrogation center. A prison, by all counts. Many have called it a gulag, a shame, a scandal, and they wouldn’t be wrong. The vast majority of the 166 men still trapped at Guantánamo have been held for more than 11 years without charge or fair trial. Eighty-six Guantanamo prisoners were cleared for release more than three years ago. The Navy, Army, and Marines have no reason to press charges.
Currently, more than 100 detainees are on a hunger strike, with 21 being force-fed and 5 hospitalized. The forced tube feeding, according to prisoners who have experienced it, is itself an act of torture and very debilitating. A medical back-up team of at least 40 has arrived at Guantanamo Bay as the number of inmates taking part in the hunger strike continues to rise, fueling speculation that the condition of the hunger-striking prisoners is deteriorating.
If the chains of good ol’ American indifference continue, hard and unabated, as they have currently been, then the men of Guantanamo Bay might remain there until hell freezes over.
Where are you, Mr. President?
When President Obama took office in 2009, he vowed to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison within a year. It’s 2013 and the prison still stands, prisoners remain-- but in solitary confinement, ostensibly to reduce camaraderie and hopefully those hunger strikes! Some consider Guantanamo President Obama’s Shame. However, according to President Obama’s speech on Tuesday, he wasn’t a bit surprised they were having problems. Obama called Guantanamo unsafe and expensive to the US taxpayers and said it lessens cooperation with US allies. He said he would really like to shut it down and he is going to work on it!
Okay, President Obama, the time to talk and ruminate is over with. Now is the time for action. And what can you do? Well, pardon a back woods shrimper from the gulf coast for saying this: Congress may have imposed unprecedented restriction on detainee transfers, but you, Mr. President, still have the power to transfer men right now. You can and should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees.
According to the ACLU, there are two essential steps the president can take. One is to appoint a senior point person so that the administration's Guantanamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats. The president can also order the secretary of defense to start certifying for transfer detainees who have been cleared, which is more than half the Guantanamo population.
You, President Obama, must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo, or the men who are on hunger strikes will die, and you will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.
Where are you, Congress?
Well, Congress, you must not sleep well at night. And contrary to what you believe or what you might believe the American people believe, you can not incarcerate forever a group of people who have not been tried. Sticking them in Cuba will not hide the fact, either. Just as the infamous prison in Northern Ireland where men such as Bobby Sands conducted hunger strikes, died, and stained forever Britain's human rights record, so Guantánamo stains America.
And where am I? Well, I know where this one American is. I stand in solidarity with the Guantanamo prisoners on their hunger strike and I have been, and will continue to, fast indefinitely until justice comes. Shut Guantanamo down!
Diane Wilson is a fourth-generation shrimper, environmental activists, and peace advocate from the Texas Gulf Coast.
Original article on Code Pink
Could Mark Sanford pull off this special election on Tuesday after all? It’s more than possible.
Democrats and Republicans agree the former governor has half a shot at winning the 1st District special election Tuesday.
Only a week ago, operatives were preparing Sanford’s political obituary. But internal and public polls showed the race closing — and suddenly his return to the Palmetto State’s congressional delegation has become more than a possibility.
Publicly, Democrats say they’re unsure if their nominee, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, can win this heavily Republican district.
“I think the race is too close to call,” said outgoing state Democratic Chairman Dick Harpootlian. Colbert Busch is “probably up a couple, 3 points but that’s within the margin of error.”
But even Republicans — some of whom prefer Sanford not return to Congress — privately admit they see a path for him to victory.
“I do, actually,” a GOP Washington operative said. “It’s South Carolina. Stranger things have happened. It’s a crazy, crazy state.”
It’s been four years since Sanford disappeared from the governor’s office to pursue an extramarital affair in Argentina — meanwhile famously telling his staff he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. His comeback campaign featured no shortage of self-inflicted drama either.
After Sanford won his party’s nod in a runoff, The Associated Press reported that his former wife accused him of trespassing on her property in February. The National Republican Congressional Committee swiftly announced that it would not support Sanford’s campaign, and other national GOP groups followed suit.
That’s when Colbert Busch surged. Democrats plunged hundreds of thousands of dollars into the South Carolina airwaves and sent national operatives into the region to support Colbert Busch.
Overnight, operatives started calling Sanford the underdog — a word Democrats now loathe.
“No, no, no,” a state Democratic operative said on May 3 when asked if the word should be applied to him.
But a flurry of endorsements, including nods from the state’s two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, began to drown out the Sanford sideshows. As recently as mid-April, a Washington Post reporter had a difficult time finding anyone in the delegation who would even discuss Sanford on the record.
The NRCC held firm on its decision to not support Sanford or spend any funds on his behalf. But the endorsements from some state and national Republicans show that some in the party are actively preparing for a delegation that could include Sanford.
If that happens, few expect him to be a reliable party-line vote, given that national Republicans rejected him during key points in his campaign.
Meanwhile, Democrats concede that winning is preferable, but they point to a silver lining in losing.
“They will have Mark Sanford as the new face of their party,” one national Democratic strategist said. “I’d rather win, but losing has its upside.”
If Sanford wins, Democrats can continue to push their political narrative of Republicans nominating “damaged” candidates. Already, Harpootlian compared Sanford to other failed Republican nominees, including Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and former Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri.
“This is another instance in which the Republican electorate picked somebody that probably couldn’t win,” Harpootlian said. “That message needs to be driven home, which will divide the Republican Party even more.”
“We think it’s funny,” he added.
But it is serious business to national Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruiters can use a Colbert Busch win to make this pitch to weary Democratic candidates in conservative districts: Why don’t you build a campaign and wait to see whom the Republicans nominate.
What’s more, special-election victories can boost a party’s fundraising in the weeks that follow.
Still, given the district’s makeup, some in Washington have wondered why the Democrats played in South Carolina’s 1st District. Colbert Busch will have a difficult time winning re-election against a different candidate in 2014.
What’s more, the balance of power in the House does not rest with Tuesday’s outcome. House Republicans have a 17-seat advantage, and it’s hard to see how a single vote would influence any major legislation this Congress.
Polls close at 7 p.m. EDT.
Original article on Roll Call
Dold has not yet announced that he will run again, but GOP insiders agree that he is looking closely at a possible rematch. Schneider drew 50.6 percent to Dold’s 49.4 percent (a margin of 3,326 votes), so it isn’t hard to see why the Republican would think his prospects would improve in a nonpresidential year.
Maloney used a late surge to defeat Hayworth after a single term, and the Republican recently filed for a rematch. Hayworth lost by just under 11,000 votes out of almost 277,000 cast for the two major party candidates, and she hopes the midterm electorate — and the absence of President Barack Obama on the ballot pulling Democratic voters to the polls — will help her win back her old seat.
9. Minnesota’s 2nd: Republican Rep. John Kline vs. Democrat Mike Obermueller
Democrats have a clear primary for Obermueller, a former state representative, and they are touting this as a race to watch. But Kline won by more than 29,000 votes (and 8 points), and while Obama won the district narrowly, there isn’t a lot of reason to assume that Obermueller will do dramatically better in 2014 than he did last year.
Schilling lost by about 19,000 votes (6.5 points) in this redrawn, reliably Democratic district. But the former congressman is apparently giving serious consideration to a rematch. Bustos ought not to underestimate the likable Schilling if he runs again, but the fundamentals of the district definitely favor the Democrat. The climb looks terribly steep for any Republican here, even Schilling.
Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com). Read more at his blog, Rothenblog (blogs.rollcall.com/rothenblog).email@example.com | @StuPolitics Original article on Roll Call
Fault lines run along color lines in American public life, and the women's movement is no exception. Over the years, feminism has become more inclusive but there is still hard work to be done to include LGBT women and communities of color.
Nothing will test the political will of our movement or our country more than the way in which we welcome our newest Americans and bring the undocumented out of the shadows into the light of first class citizenship with all its rights and responsibilities.
First things first: feminists have to join the fight.
"I'm so glad you mentioned immigration as a women's issue," said the California Democratic Party convention delegate who had emigrated from Mexico, "because if you hadn't I was going to call you out." We had just finished screening the April 13 west coast premiere of The Dream Is Now to 500 rapt activists at the Women's Caucus and unanimously pledged to support both comprehensive immigration reform and -- via a motion made by Sandra Fluke -- a California Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. Believe it or not, many women's rights advocates don't see immigrants' rights as a "women's issue" either out of privilege or unfamiliarity. Hence the male feminist's comment to me (and as it turned out, to Sandra Fluke as well). That must change -- you cannot call yourself a feminist if you do not advance feminism for all, regardless of color or class or creed or immigrant status.
Second, feminists must push for the most women-friendly immigration bill possible.
As the Senate begins debate on the Gang of Eight bill (a "Gang" with ZERO female members) we must, as Abigail Adams once wrote to her husband, insist that Congress "remember the ladies." This means including policy choices for secure borders, good-paying jobs for all workers, ending human trafficking, sanction exploitative employers, fix the legal immigration system, and create a path to citizenship with equal rights for LGBT Americans and visas to battered women promised during the debate over the Violence Against Women Act. Women are the majority of immigrants yet the minority of immigrant employment visas; immigrant and native born women who work in the service arena -- such as domestic workers -- are not valued for their work, making pennies on the dollar compared to male counterparts;and, women are disproportionately affected by family reunification policies.
Remember the work we did to finally (as in 500 days late) reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act? Visas for battered immigrant women -- known as "U-visas" -- were taken out of VAWA but promised for immigration reform. Now is the time. Revitalize those VAWA coalitions because the same bigotry manifest in opposition to immigrant visas and lesbian victim protections will rear its ugly head now. With immigration reform as with VAWA, we must refuse to be pitted against each other and instead work together for the common good.
Remember the Dreamers whose patriotism was praised when the Democratic House passed, and the Senate filibustered -- the DREAM Act in 2010? Washington promised a path to citizenship, not just a roadblock to deportation. Now is the time to officially embrace DREAMers and their families as Americans with no less an opportunity to serve and contribute.
Remember the promise we all recite "with liberty and justice for all" in the Pledge of Allegiance? Now is the time to include immigration equality. We cannot merely hope that the Supreme Court will overturn the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and lend Constitutional support -- we have to push for what we know is Constitutional now and include our LGBT sisters and brothers in reform. President Barack Obama has commendably said immigration equality "is the right thing to do" and we must fight to make immigration equality the law of the land.
Already some beltway types are saying "don't press too hard for equality" or "let's slow down after Boston" (as if a handful of Caucasian terrorists have anything to do with millions of Asians and Irish and Latino and European immigrants who have done us no harm) or the most sexist, "let the Gang of Eight" men do the talking. Thanks but no thanks. Women must stand and speak for ourselves and all our sisters -- including our immigrant sisters. Thankfully the House immigration discussion involves female leadership but too many women's voices are still not being heard. If we say we believe in equality for all then we must fight for equality for all not betray our immigrant sisters.
Americans of all backgrounds have a chance to work together in solidarity, and women must take the lead, not follow the naysayers or incrementalists. Feminists male and female must advance immigrants' rights as women's rights. We must not let bigotry or Boston stop us from doing what we know is right -- what we pledge is right -- liberty and justice for all.
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Original article on Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House budget office is recalculating how to apply automatic spending cuts for a handful of agencies, freeing up almost $4 billion for the Pentagon and another $1 billion or so for other agencies like the Homeland Security Department and NASA.
Capitol Hill aides familiar with the White House changes say the administration has identified almost $5 billion in cuts that can be restored under its reading of the arcane budget rules governing the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration.
The calculations differ from earlier ones because a partial-year funding bill was replaced in March with a more detailed measure. After administration number crunchers redid their math they were able to restore about $5 billion of the scheduled $85 billion in automatic sequestration cuts under a complicated, previously unused mechanism that dates to a 1985 budget law.
An administration official confirmed the calculations Friday but declined to comment further because the process is ongoing. The official and congressional aides spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes publicly.
The move comes amid increasing public pressure to find ways to lessen the impact of sequestration. Federal agencies are warning that the mandatory cuts could mean cutbacks in services. Last week, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed legislation giving the Federal Aviation Administration the ability to avoid furloughs that were causing flight delays by tapping money in other accounts.
The cuts officially began in March after Congress and Obama could not reach an agreement on a broader budget deal. The automatic cuts had been imposed under a hard-fought 2011 debt and budget pact. They require a 5 percent cut to domestic agency operating budgets and an 8 percent cut to the Pentagon. Social Security was exempted and cuts to Medicare were limited to a 2 percent cut to health care providers. Safety net programs like Medicaid, food stamps and school lunches for the poor were exempted, too.
The cuts have so far failed to live up to the dire warnings issued earlier by agencies, in part because agency budget officers working with Congress have been permitted to transfer money between accounts. That allowed the Justice Department, for instance, to avoid temporary layoffs called furloughs. But budget experts warn that the grip of sequestration will grow tighter as weeks and months pass, leading to teacher layoffs, reduced funding for infrastructure and economic development projects, and a host of other cuts across the budget.
Many liberal activists were infuriated when Congress last week swiftly moved to address problems with air traffic control that led to widespread flight delays while leaving other problems like cuts to preschool for the poor and Meals on Wheels for the elderly unaddressed. Most lawmakers are frequent fliers.
At issue in the latest recalculation are accounts that were cut more deeply under a full-year funding bill enacted in March than they would have been under the across-the-board cuts. They get funds restored. It's up to the White House Office of Management and Budget to calculate the across-the-board cuts.
The recalculation surprised many people on Capitol Hill, but Republicans atop the budget committees declined to criticize the move. Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona have sought to reverse cuts to the Pentagon — and it benefits the most from the new math.
The State Department was a big winner and said Friday that it would be able to avoid furloughing workers, in part because of the new calculations.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it would not have to curtail inspections of food processing plants. It had earlier warned that 2,100 plant inspections would have been cancelled.
Original article on Huffington Post
Ebenezer Scrooge, the Dickens character, perfectly personified the nasty rich. For example, when asked to make a charitable donation for people trapped in poverty, Scrooge curled his lip in contempt and snarled: "Are there no prisons?"
Blessedly, our American society has progressed well-past such heartless disdain. Unless, of course, you happen to be poor in Ohio. Or Georgia. Or in the nationwide utopia envisioned by Newt Gingrich.
Ohio's Civil Liberties Union recently issued a report documenting the Scroogian return of debtor's prisons, finding that municipal courts there are jailing poor people unable to pay court fines. Last summer, a suburban Cleveland court threw 45 people in jail because they couldn't come up with the money for fines they were assessed, and the Sandusky Municipal Court imprisoned 75 down-and-outers for the same "crime." Besides the fact that jailing indigents for debts cost the courts way more than the fines they owe, it also violates the U.S. and Ohio constitutions.
But what the hey – on to Georgia, which has enhanced the debtor prison experience by privatizing it. Say you roll through a stop sign. Uniquely, the Peach Tree State counts that as a criminal offense. Now, say you can't pony up the full fine. Suddenly, you're in the clutches of a for-profit, private probation corporation. It charges probationers a $15 "start-up" fee, a $25 photo fee, and a myriad of other fees – on top of the fine they owe. Fail to pay, go to jail. Where did this ripoff system come from? A private probation outfit bribed the head of Georgia's Board of Pardons to get it passed.
Don't forget Newt! The former GOP presidential contender says America needs to bring back workhouses for welfare children. Neat, huh? Let's criminalize poverty. That'll teach 'em. Scrooge lives!
"America Officially Dickensian, Jailing People for Years for Unpaid Debt," www.alternet.org, April 8, 2013.
"How Private Probation Firms Are Landing Poor Georgians In Jail," www.thinkprogress.org, April 1, 2013.
"Report: Ohio Is Illegally Throwing Poor People In Jail For Owing Money," www.thinkprogress.org, April 5, 2013.
Original article on Jim Hightower .com