In the USA...Obama says U.S. won’t balance budget in next 10 years
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 7:04 EDT
President Barack Obama warned America will not balance its budget within a decade because Republican plans to do so would entail slashing social programs many citizens rely on for support.
Even as he set out to woo lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill, including Republican foes, Obama called for an approach that restores fiscal stability but also protects healthcare for the poor and the elderly and shields the middle class.
“My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we are going to be bringing in more revenue,” Obama told ABC News.
Obama said a plan unveiled by Republican congressman Paul Ryan on Tuesday which balances the budget in 10 years was too punitive.
“We’re not going balance the budget in 10 years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare, you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid.”
“You’ve essentially got to either tax middle class families a lot higher than you currently are, or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised.”
Obama is calling for a deficit cutting solution that raises new revenue by closing loopholes favored by the rich and corporations.
His Democrats say Ryan’s approach would entail painful cuts to Medicaid government health programs for the poor and Medicare for senior citizens.
Earlier, Obama visited Capitol Hill for lunch with Democratic senators.
But in the next two days, he will enter the lion’s den in separate talks with Republicans from both chambers and will also meet minority lawmakers from his own Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.
Obama has often appeared to shun the back-slapping and arm-twisting that greases power between a president and Congress, but has made a new effort in recent days, and dined with a dozen Republican senators last week.
Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has used his mastery of procedure to gum up Obama’s legislative program, complimented the president for his effort, though offered no real signs of a breakthrough.
“With regard to what a lot of you have described as the president’s charm offensive, we welcome it,” McConnell told reporters.
“The reports I got from the members who went down to dinner with him last week was excellent — that they had a good exchange. I told the president on Friday I hope he’ll invite all of our members down for these dinners.”
Democrats said the president mostly spoke about deficit cutting and budget issues and also expressed optimism that a bipartisan deal to fix America’s broken immigration system could be reached.
“He thinks it’s very important that we solve these problems together and he says that working together with Republicans in terms of getting a grand bargain, or a major dent in this issue, is critically important,” said Democratic Senator Carl Levin.
But “compromise is essential and he hasn’t seen enough of it from (Republicans) yet,” Levin said.
Democratic senator Tom Harkin said several senators brought up Republican plans to cut spending on social programs, adding: “We’re cautioning about that, be careful about this grand bargain.”
While atmospherics were improved, there were signs Tuesday, as Republicans and Democrats unveiled rival budgets, that staunch divisions over basic political philosophy could derail the latest push for compromise.
Ryan, the Republican party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, said his budget would alleviate the “crushing burden” of debt that is threatening America’s future and would cut $4.6 trillion in spending.
The plan contains no new tax revenue and demands massive spending cuts, as well as major changes to cherished social programs like Medicare and Medicaid, in a bid to balance the budget within a decade.
Ryan on Tuesday described his plan as an “invitation to the president of the United States and to Senate Democrats to come together to fix these problems.”
“Show us how to balance the budget,” he said.
Democrats in Congress are unveiling their own budget plans, which include nearly $1 trillion in new revenues and $1 trillion in cuts.
The White House, under fire from Republicans over delays in its own budget blueprint, predicted Obama’s own plan would emerge after April 8.
**********Sen. Bernie Sanders introduces amendment to ban corporate spending in elections
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 19:16 EDT
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on Tuesday introduced the Democracy is for People Amendment, which seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.
“What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies,” Sanders said in a statement. “Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”
The 2010 ruling held that limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and union violated the First Amendment. The decision paved the way for so-called Super PACs, which have allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unprecedented amounts to influence elections.
The proposed amendment states that only “natural persons” can make political contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections. The amendment, if enacted, would completely bar for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations and unions from spending money in elections.
“The Democracy is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable,” Deutch said.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has also proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Schiff’s amendment would give the federal government the authority to impose “reasonable content-neutral limitations” on independent political contributions and spending.
But Deutch suggested such an amendment did not do enough to reverse the negative consequences of Citizens United.
“Any constitutional amendment that simply gives Congress the option of regulating campaign finance fails to immediately achieve what the American people want, and that is a complete reversal of Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions that have allowed corporations and the wealthy few to drown out the voices of everyday voters,” he explained in a statement.
*************States push forward with new gun laws while Congress stalls
By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 20:10 EDT
Three months after the mass shooting of 20 young children in a school in Connecticut, states across America are adopting starkly conflicting approaches to reducing gun violence.
Colorado and New York are in the process of introducing some of the toughest gun controls the country has ever seen at local level. Meanwhile, in South Dakota and Georgia, Republican-controlled assemblies are rushing through radical pro-gun policies that include the first law in the US that will allow teachers to bear arms in the classroom.
In Denver, state senators on Monday began approving a slew of new laws that give Colorado some of the most rigorous regulations on gun ownership in the country. Out of seven new bills on the table, five look likely to clear the Senate and move towards enactment.
They include: bills to provide background checks on all gun purchases and to require the buyer to pay for the tests; a bill to limit the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds; another to force gun owners applying for a concealed carry permit license to undergo physical training; and a new law banning domestic abusers from having guns.
Two other provisions – a proposal that would have prohibited the concealed carrying of firearms on college campuses, and a bill to hold gun makers liable for the violent acts committed by those “negligently entrusted” with assault weapons – were dropped in Colorado after it became clear they lacked political backing.
Colorado’s progressive stance on gun controls is a reflection of the state’s sensitivity to mass shootings, having suffered two of the most notorious examples: the Columbine high school massacre in 1999 in which 12 students and a teacher died; and, just 20 miles away, the Aurora shooting last year where 12 people were killed in a cinema.
Tom Mauser, father of the Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, said that the package of reforms passing the Colorado legislature would “send a message to the rest of the nation and Washington DC that we can take steps to reduce violence”. He said Colorado was a “bellwether state, a purple state, and a pro-gun state, so when we show we can take reasonable moves to reduce violence that’s significant, given that we haven’t seen much coming out of the capital.”
But a very different response to the Newtown tragedy is being rolled out by states such as South Dakota. Last week it passed the country’s first law that specifically grants teachers the right to carry guns in the classroom.
The new law, passed with the active backing of the largest gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, gives school boards the power to create “school sentinels” – teachers, staff or parent volunteers armed to “protect students”. The South Dakota governor, Dennis Daugaard, signing the legislation, said it would “provide the same safety precautions that a citizen expects when a law enforcement office enters onto a premises”.
The vast gulf in political response to Newtown expressed by Colorado and South Dakota is replicated in several other states. New York has introduced stringent new controls that include a seven-bullet limit on magazines, restrictions on assault weapons and registration of all semi-automatic firearms.
On the other side of the divide, Georgia is in the process of throwing out previous bans on carrying guns in bars, churches and college classrooms. Towns in Georgia, Idaho and Maine are discussing the idea of forcing all their residents to own guns in what they say would be a move to increase security for their communities.
Such divergence in approaches to gun regulation mirrors the huge political fault line within Washington, where Congress members are at loggerheads over how to prevent another Newtown. Measures that would impose renewed restrictions on military style assault-weapons and an upper limit on the size of magazines appear to be in danger of failing in the US Senate, though an extension of federal background checks on all gun sales has a greater chance of success.
Should moves to increase gun controls falter at national level, the highly diverse steps that are being taken at state level are likely to become all the more important. Advocates of greater gun controls believe that though a large cavern exists between states, there is a growing emergence of a middle ground.
“On the extremes you can find a giant gap in America,” said Josh Horwitz, head of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “But you can also find a convergence in opinion, with more and more people agreeing that we must have universal background checks.”
Horwitz pointed to new polling from the coalition group Mayors Against Illegal Guns that suggested that though politicians may be miles apart, voters across America are in accord over the need for background checks on all gun sales.
Support for an extension of such FBI monitoring, that is designed to prevent criminals and mentally unstable individuals buying guns, is running at an impressive 91% in Georgia and 79% in South Dakota – bridging the gap with Colorado and New York where such controls are already being enacted.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
**********John Kerry shows off to diplomats by speaking Norwegian
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 19:49 EDT
US Secretary of State John Kerry showed off more of his hidden language skills on Tuesday, revealing he still knew some Norwegian picked up as a boy when he spent a couple of years in Oslo.
And he won praise from his Norwegian counterpart Espen Barth Eide, who said after talks at the State Department that Kerry “can even speak quite impressively Norwegian phrases.”
America’s new top diplomat had tried out some phrases “and we were quite impressed by his memory,” Eide told journalists.
During his first overseas trip after taking over as secretary of state from Hillary Clinton, Kerry delighted his European hosts by speaking French, German and Italian on stops in Paris, Berlin and Rome.
The son of an American diplomat, Kerry spent much of his boyhood in Europe as he accompanied his father to various postings.
He told Eide that he had “wonderful memories of Norway” and the times he had spent in the “parks and the fjords there.”
Kerry also praised Norway’s role on the global stage.
“On almost every challenge or conflict in the world today, Norway plays one of the giant outsized roles of any country on this planet,” Kerry said. “I think it’s safe to say that Norway is one of the great global citizens.”
**********Rep. Alan Grayson: Paul Ryan wants sick poor people to die
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 23:05 EDT
Rep. Alan Grayson, a notably blunt Democrat from Florida, blasted House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday night.
While discussing the Republican congressman’s latest budget proposal on Current TV, Grayson accused Ryan of wishing a large swath of Americans would die.
“In one case after another, you look at his principles, you look at his vision, and they’re a nightmare for America,” he said. “He wants Americans to work until they die, he wants poor people who get sick not be able to see a doctor, not to get the care they need, not to get better, he wants them to die, and he wants an America that consists of nothing but cheap labor for his corporate patrons.”
Ryan’s budget would repeal most of Obamacare, partially privatize Medicare, and cut discretionary spending on food stamps and other programs, while lowering the corporate tax rate. Grayson claimed that Ryan also wanted to cut Social Security, citing Ryan’s self-professed admiration for the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand.
“Paul Ryan believes that Social Security is unconstitutional,” Grayson explained. “Just like anyone who follows the writings of Ayn Rand would believe. If you read the Fountianhead, if you read similar fiction — although they don’t regard it as fiction — you come to the conclusion that these are people who believe government itself, anything that does anything for people other than defend the borders, is fundamentally immoral and unconstitutional.”
Grayson made similar comments in 2009, mockingly describing the Republican’s health care plan as “die quickly.”
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNlg2TefVg8&feature=player_embedded
*********Sen. Elizabeth Warren slams Republicans: Worry less about helping big banks
By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 17:37 EDT
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts slammed Republicans on Tuesday for holding up the confirmation of Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
At a Senate Banking Committee hearing, the progressive senator suggested Republicans were using false arguments to fight the nomination of Cordray. Warren, who was a key figure in setting up the relatively new agency, questioned why Republicans believed it was wrong for the CFPB to have a single director, but was acceptable in the case of numerous other agencies like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
“I see nothing here but a filibuster threat against Director Cordray as an attempt to weaken the consumer agency,” Warren said. “I think the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, bad for credit unions, for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market.”
“The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks, and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans and on credit reports,” she added.
The Consumer Bureau was created by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to regulate financial services such as mortgages and credit cards. The agency issued new rules to restrict high-risk home loans in January and began looking into predatory private student lenders in February.
Senate Republicans previously blocked Cordray’s confirmation to the CFPB in 2011, but Cordray later became the director of the agency through a recess appointment. Republicans have called for the agency to have significantly reduced powers, claiming it currently lacks proper oversight.
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Sen. Warren, below:http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=huLdONZf66w
*********Costco Proves Republicans Wrong By Paying a Living Wage and Watching Profits Soar
By: Jason Easley
Mar. 12th, 2013
Costco is proving Republicans and the Wal-Mart wrong by paying workers a living wage while also earning record profits.
While Wal-Mart experienced February sales that were considered, “total disaster,” Costco’s earnings for the second quarter of the year climbed 39%. The New York Times reported, “Costco Wholesale’s net income for its second quarter climbed 39 percent as it pulled in more money from membership fees, sales improved and it recorded a large tax benefit.”
Costco CEO Craig Jelinek openly supports raising the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, “At Costco, we know that paying employees good wages makes good sense for business. We pay a starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business, and we are still able to keep our overhead costs low. An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty. We support efforts to increase the federal minimum wage.”
Costco is proof that the Republican idea that labor must be stomped on in order for our economy to prosper is wrong. It is possible for companies to earn record profits while respecting their workers and paying them a living wage. Wal-Mart embodies the conservative ideology that the country functions best when wealth is concentrated at the top. To match the Walton family’s fortune, an average Wal-Mart employee would have to work for the company for 7 million years. This model is what Republicans are advocating for the entire country, and it is failing to lead to prosperity.
Given Costco’s record profits, Wal-Mart’s blaming of the payroll tax and gas prices for their decline in sales doesn’t wash. Costco’s customers also faced higher gas prices and payroll taxes, but their sales were up six percent during the first quarter of the year.
Despite what both Wal-Mart and Republicans have been saying, companies can prosper and still have a conscience. When companies pay a living wage, workers benefit. When workers make more money, they spend more money. When people spend more money, the economy is stronger. When the economy is stronger, the nation as a whole benefits.
The economic virtuous circle that Republicans and their corporate benefactors thought they killed is alive, well, and living at Costco.