In the USA...
March 23, 2013 07:30 AMBernie Sanders Leads Senate in Vote to Block Cuts for Social Security and Disabled Vets
By Diane Sweet
We should thank our lucky stars that we have Bernie Sanders in the Senate. The Senate on Friday evening voted to block cuts in benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans.
The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put the Senate on record against changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated in a way that would result in significant cuts.
“The time has come for the Senate to send a very loud and clear message to the American people: We will not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country. We will not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor on the widows who have lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan defending our country,” Sanders said.
The amendment opposed switching from the current method of measuring inflation to a so-called chained consumer price index. President Barack Obama favors a chained CPI as part of what the White House calls a “grand bargain” that Obama hopes to reach with congressional Republicans.
The proposed change would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65. Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle also would be cut. Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits already average less than $17,000 a year.
More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans receiving Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a chained CPI. That figure includes 9 million veterans with an average yearly benefit of about $15,500. A veteran with average earnings retiring at age 65 would get nearly a $600 benefit cut at age 75 and a $1,000 cut at age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are probably needed the most, that veteran would face a cut of $1,400 – a reduction of 9.2 percent.
A chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits for average senior citizens who are 65 by more than $650 a year by the time they are 75 years old, and by more than $1,000 once they reach 85.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vGik2JFc8V8
**********Texas takes step toward secession with Rick Perry’s plan to hoard gold
By David Edwards
Friday, March 22, 2013 9:21 EDT
Giovanni has filed a bill to establish a Texas Bullion Depository to store the $1 billion worth of gold bars that are owned by University of Texas Investment Management Co. (UTIMCO), which are currently being housed by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Speaking to conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Tuesday, Perry said that lawmakers were in the process of “bringing gold that belongs to the state of Texas back into the state.” Beck has been a longtime paid spokesperson for the precious metal seller Goldline, which agreed to refund up to $4.5 million to former customers last year after being sued for marking up gold more than 50 percent.
“If we own it, I will suggest to you that that’s not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not,” Perry told Beck.
Former Rep. Ron Paul on Thursday explained to The Texas Tribune that the gold would be safer in the hands of Texans.
“If you think gold is a hedge, or a protection, you always want it as close to the individual and the entity as possible,” Paul said. “Texas is better served if it knows exactly where the gold is rather than depending on the security of the Federal Reserve.”
For his part, Capriglione said that he had gotten the idea while attending a tea party rally with Perry in Tarrant County earlier this year.
“Something on the scorecards of a lot of these businesses in deciding whether they want to come to Texas is stability and gold as being one of those items,” Capriglione insisted. “I think it’s been in his consciousness for a while in trying to get some sort of depository in the state of Texas.”
“We don’t want just the certificates. We want our gold. And if you’re the state of Texas, you should be able to get your gold.”
Tangent Capital Partners senior managing director Jim Rickards speculated to Yahoo Finance on Thursday that creating a “Fort Knox of Texas” could be a step in Texas creating its own currency and eventually moving to secede.
“This bill contains a provision that says to the federal government that you, the federal government, purport to confiscate this Texas gold, we, the state of Texas, consider that to be null and void,” Rickards pointed out. “And under the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, they have that power.”
Earlier this year, more than 100,000 people signed a petition on the White House website calling on President Barack Obama’s administration to allow the state to secede.
White House Office of Public Engagement Director Jon Carson responded by noting that the Supreme Court in 1869 that states do not have a right to secede.
Carson noted that the Founding Fathers established a Constitution and “enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”
In a 2009 interview, Perry had joked that Texas was “thinking about” becoming an independent republic, but he dismissed the call to secede last year.
************Officer testifies stop-and-frisk program motivated by quotas and race
By Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian
Friday, March 22, 2013 13:29 EDT
Officer secretly recorded conversation with his supervisor in which he is apparently told to target ‘male blacks 14 to 21′
The New York police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program is being driven by a high-pressure quota system imposed upon lower-ranking officers by their supervisors, two NYPD officers testified in court this week.
The claims were made as part of a landmark class action lawsuit that began Monday. The suit seeks to prove that the nation’s largest police department has demonstrated a widespread and systemic pattern of unconstitutional stops that disproportionately target minorities.
Lawyers for the city have dismissed allegations of quotas and scrutinized the credibility of the suit’s plaintiffs, including their allegations of racial bias on the part of the department.
“The quota allegations are a sideshow,” city attorney Heidi Grossman said in opening statements Monday. “Crime drives where police officers go,” she added. “Not race.”
The trial represents a historic challenge to the legacies of NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly and mayor Michael Bloomberg, who have both vocally supported stop-and-frisk.
The NYPD has stopped approximately 5 million people over the last decade. According to department data, the vast of majority of those stopped are African American or Latino, many of them young men. In recent years nearly nine out of 10 of those stopped by police have walked away from the stops without a summons or arrest.
Darius Charney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in opening statements that the trial is about more than numbers. “It’s about people,” he said. The NYPD has “laid siege to black and Latino communities” through “arbitrary, unnecessary and unconstitutional harassment”, Charney added.
Supporters of stop-and-frisk, including Bloomberg and Kelly, maintain that it is an essential tool that save lives and removes guns from the streets. Without stop-and-frisk, New York City would descend into violence not seen in decades, they argue. Young men of color – the group most frequently cited as victims of the program – would bear the brunt of violent crime, they say.
Both the mayor and the commissioner – as well as the city itself and several named and unnamed officers – are the defendants in the suit.
By law, the NYPD is permitted to stop a person if it has a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is about to commit a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or has just finished committing a crime. An officer can frisk a person – patting them outside the clothing – if they have reason to believe the person is an armed threat. An officer can search someone – reach inside clothing – if they have encountered an object they have reason to believe is a weapon.
These conditions regularly go unmet, stop-and-frisk critics argue. They say the program has produced a sense of second-class citizenship in minority communities in which individuals – particularly young men – are routinely subjected to illegal and degrading stops.
‘We were handcuffing kids for no reason’
The trial began Monday with two packed courtrooms; one where the actual proceedings are taking place and one for the overflow of spectators, activists and politicians. The first four witness were each African American men who described stops they had experienced. City attorneys worked to expose inconsistencies between the witnesses testimonies and depositions, prove bias against the police department and discredit their claims of racial profiling.
By mid-week lawyers for the plaintiffs shifted focus from the experience of street stops to the internal NYPD incentive structure that allegedly motivates them.
Officer Adhyl Polanco began his testimony Tuesday by saying “there’s a difference between” the department’s policies on paper and “what goes on out there”, on the city’s streets.
Polanco testified that in 2009, officers in his Bronx precinct were expected to issue 20 summons and make one arrest per month. If they did not they would risk denied vacation, being separated from longtime partners, undesirable assignments and other consequences.
Polcano claimed it was not uncommon for patrol officers who were not making quotas to be forced to “drive the sergeant” or “drive the supervisor”, which meant driving around with a senior officer who would find individuals for the patrol officer to arrest or issue a summons to, at times for infractions the junior officer did not observe.
“We were handcuffing kids for no reason,” Polanco said. Claiming he was increasingly disturbed by what he was witnessing in his precinct, Polcanco began secretly recording his roll call meetings.
In one recording played for the court, a man Polanco claimed was a NYPD captain told officers: “the summons is a money–generating machine for the city.”
Bronx police officer Pedro Serrano also secretly recorded comments made by supervisors at the same Bronx precinct. His recordings were also played for the court this week.
On a track played Thursday, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack was heard telling Serrano he needed to stop “the right people, the right time, the right location”. When asked what he believed McCormack meant Serrano told the court: “he meant blacks and Hispanics.”
Later in the tape McCormack says: “I have no problem telling you this … male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem [to] tell you this, male blacks 14 to 21.”
Serrano claims his attempts to raise concerns about stop and frisk and the existence of quotas have been met with retaliation, including fellow officers vandalizing his locker with stickers of rats.
He choked up on the witness stand Thursday, as he described his reason for joining the suit.
“As a Hispanic living in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times,” Serrano said. “I just want to do the right thing.”
© 2013 Guardian News and Media
March 23, 2013Senate Passes $3.7 Trillion Budget, Its First in 4 Years
By JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — After a grueling, all-night debate that ended close to 5 a.m., the Senate on Saturday adopted its first budget in four years, a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that would fast-track passage of tax increases, trim spending gingerly and leave the government still deeply in the debt a decade from now.
The 50-to-49 vote sets up contentious — and potentially fruitless — negotiations with the Republican-dominated House in April to reconcile two vastly different plans for dealing with the nation’s economic and budgetary problems. No Republicans voted for the Senate plan on Saturday, and four Democrats — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana — also opposed it. All four are red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014.
“The Senate has passed a budget,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, declared at 4:56 a.m.
The House plan ostensibly brings the government’s taxes and spending into balance by 2023 with cuts to domestic spending even below the automatic “sequestration” levels now roiling federal programs and it orders significant changes to Medicare and the tax code.
The Senate plan, in contrast, includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy and calls for special fast-track rules to overhaul the tax code and raise $975 billion over 10 years through legislation that could not be filibustered. Even with that tax increase and prescribed spending cuts, the Senate plan would leave the government with a $566 billion deficit in 10 years, and $5.2 trillion in additional debt over that time.
“The first priority of the Senate budget is creating jobs and economic growth from the middle out, not the top down,” Ms. Murray, the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said. “With an unemployment rate than remains stubbornly high, and a middle class that has seen their wages stagnate for far too long, we simply cannot afford any threats to our fragile recovery.”
Republicans were dismissive of the Democrats’ priorities.
“Honest people can disagree on policy, but where there can be no honest disagreement is the need to change our nation’s debt course,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Budget Committee’s ranking Republican. “The singular truth that no one can escape is that the House budget changes our debt course while the Senate budget does not.”
Passage of the competing plans does advance a more orderly process after nearly three years of crises and brinkmanship. If House and Senate negotiators can agree on a framework for overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs like Medicare, their committees could go to work on detailed legislation, possibly under special rules that protect the bills from a Senate filibuster.
If the negotiations prove fruitless, the next budget crisis looms this summer when Congress must again raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the federal debt. House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Thursday revived a rule — breached in January — that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts.
Final passage of the Senate budget was upstaged by the process that got the senators to it, a record-breaking marathon known since 1977 as the budget “vote-a-rama.” More than 500 amendments were filed, and 70 were voted on. They were advisory only, but they put the Senate on record backing a dizzying variety of subjects, from limiting the regulation of sage grouse and preventing the United Nations from infringing on Americans’ right to bear arms, to repealing a tax on medical devices that helps finance the president’s health care law and building the Keystone XL pipeline through the Midwest.
By 4 a.m., the senators were sitting quietly in their seats, plowing through amendments like sleepy schoolchildren, breaking only to give the Senate pages a standing ovation and to grumble when a senator demanded a roll-call vote if a voice vote would suffice. As the senators recorded their final votes, they hastily headed out of the Capitol for a two-week spring recess.
It was the 32nd all-night Senate session since 1915, and the first since an Iraq War debate in 2007 stretched from 10 a.m. to 5:09 the following morning, according to the Senate Historical Office.
But the sleepy bonhomie did not bridge the budgetary divide between the parties. Senate Republicans and Democrats could not even agree on what was in the Senate budget. Ms. Murray said the plan matched its $975 billion in revenue increases with equivalent cuts and interest savings. But Republicans said it did not, since the proposal reversed $1 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, but did not count that against the spending cuts.
Those differences did not lend themselves to much optimism going forward.
“The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out in their budget resolution won’t become law,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.
March 22, 2013Tight Deadlines and Lagging Funds Bedevil Obama Health Care Law
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — It was another turbulent week for President Obama’s health care law. Congress rejected a White House request for nearly $1 billion to carry out the law, even as federal responsibilities increased to include the supervision of insurance markets in more than half the states. Then, on Friday, Republican attacks on the law continued in the Senate, where Democrats beat back Republican proposals to repeal the law and many of its tax increases.
Federal officials are racing to set up insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, in 33 states — more than they ever expected.
Enrollment begins in six months, and the amount of work to be done is staggering, officials say.
Mr. Obama scored his biggest legislative achievement exactly three years ago when he signed the Affordable Care Act. But this week the administration cautioned officials to be careful about suggesting that the law would drive down costs.
After extensive research, the administration said it was unwise to tell consumers that they could get “health insurance that fits your budget.” That message, it said, is “seen as highly motivational, but not as believable.”
Millions of people have benefited from the law, gaining access to cancer screenings and other free preventive services, discounts on prescription drugs and coverage for sick children.
But many Americans are unaware of the law’s provisions.
Supporters of the law, including some who worked full-time to secure its passage, say President Obama has done little to trumpet its benefits, educate the public or answer the critics.
“The president’s legacy rests on this thing, but the administration has not done a good job of explaining the law or what people should expect,” said Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who worked on health policy at the White House from 2009 to 2011.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, highlighted the benefits on her blog and in Twitter messages this week.
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip, said the law had helped slow the growth of health costs and was “having a very positive impact on millions of lives.”
But in its latest poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of the uninsured said they did not have enough information to understand how the law would affect them. Public opinion remains deeply divided, with 40 percent of Americans having an unfavorable view of the law and 37 percent holding a favorable view.
The administration says 41 million people may be eligible for new insurance options. Of that number, 28 million live in states where the federal government will be running the exchanges, by itself or in partnership with state officials. One-fifth of those eligible have not graduated from high school.
Congress turned down a request from the administration for an additional $949 million to set up the exchanges and help people enroll. Republicans opposed the request, and Democrats did not push for it.
Federal officials face a series of tight deadlines. By April 30, insurers are supposed to file applications describing the benefits and costs of the products they want to sell. Virtually every product offered to individuals, families and small businesses will be new or revised to comply with federal standards.
The federal government and the states will review the proposals to make sure that the rates are justified, and that each health plan has enough doctors and hospitals to serve its customers.
In June, the federal government plans to establish a telephone call center to assist consumers. Millions of people will seek tax credits to help them pay premiums. The federal government is creating a computer network to help verify income and citizenship. The network is designed to allow each state to exchange data with the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and other agencies.
By early September, the federal government and states plan to certify health plans approved for sale to the public. On Oct. 1, consumers can enroll. Coverage starts in January, when most Americans will be required to have insurance. “We are on track and on schedule,” said Gary M. Cohen, the federal official in charge of the operation. But Democratic senators express growing concern that the federal government, like some states, may not be ready.
“The administration needs to step up its game,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.
In November, it appeared that Republican leaders might accept the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. But Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said opposition hardened after Republicans saw “the many pages of regulation proceeding in a torrent from federal agencies since the election.”
Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, predicted that the law would “crumble of its own weight.”
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, strongly supports the law, but said: “There are huge challenges ahead. The one I am most concerned about is affordability.” Mr. Wyden worries that many workers will be unable to afford family coverage offered on the job and ineligible for subsidies offered in the exchange.
States remain the primary regulators of health insurance.
However, most states have not incorporated the new federal standards into state law, according to a survey by the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, and officials in 22 states said that as a result they had little or no power to enforce the federal standards.
**********John Boehner: The Corporate Dummy Who Mouths The Message Of His Masters
By: Adalia Woodbury
Mar. 22nd, 2013
John Boehner’s one trick pony show got old along time ago. Anytime there is any discussion about finances, Republicans always chant the same mantra. Unless we get savage cuts, we’re going to hold our breath and stomp our feet. It’s an act that has been brought back over and over again, despite bad reviews and audiences walking out of the show.
This time Boehner wants to hold our credit rating hostage in the name of destroying programs that a majority of Americans, including Republicans, hold dear. It shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that Republicans did the exact same thing during previous debt ceiling debates. The tactic remains the same. The only difference is the increasingly draconian demands. In Boehner’s words, “Dollar for dollar is the plan,”
In other words, for each dollar it takes to service the debt that Republicans built with unpaid wars and relieving the privileged from their civic responsibility of paying their fair share of taxes, Boehner wants cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Since abandoning the lie about a “debt crisis” Boehner has latched on to the new/old right wing catch phrase, “entitlement crisis,” like the good corporate dummy that he is.
Boehner went on to say,
“The president has been clear that he’s not going to address our entitlement crisis unless we’re willing to raise taxes. I think the tax issue has been resolved,” said Boehner. “So at this point then, I don’t know how we’re going to go forward.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Boehner and his corporate ventriloquists fail to understand that the tax issue was not resolved to the satisfaction of the American people. The November election, along with subsequent polls show that most Americans favor the sort of balanced approach to the debt proposed by President Obama. In other words, the people that Boehner is supposed to work for want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes. Moreover, his continued demands to gut Social Security, block grant Medicaid and couponize Medicare were resolved – in November 2012. America said no. It isn’t as if Boehner doesn’t care about that. However, it illustrates that Boehner remains unclear on the concept that Republicans should disregard voters at their own peril.
They also fails to understand the story about the boy who cried wolf. First, Boehner trotted out the fictional debt crisis and tried to blame Obama for the sequester that Republicans wanted. It took some time, but truth did triumph and force Boehner to admit in various interviews that he lied. It isn’t as if his corporate ventriloquists worry about things like credibility because their credibility isn’t at stake. As soon as their dummy’s credibility is compromised to the point of laughability, they’ll simply buy a new puppet, and they’ll keep buying as many new puppets as it takes.
That explains why Boehner continues to belabor the idea that we are in some sort of crisis to justify continued attacks on government programs that benefit most of America. At the same time, the manufactured crisis isn’t severe enough for the privileged to share in the sacrifice.
This time, as was the case the last time Republicans stomped their feet, lied and tried to blackmail the President into submission to their rejected and failed ideas, our credit rating is at stake. But don’t you worry. John Boehner would never put our credit rating at risk. It’s the same thing that he and other House Republicans said last year and the year before that. They hope you won’t remember that the debt in question is money already spent and more precisely already spent by Republicans.
Chances are international creditors recognize that Boehner is crying wolf, but that’s not the point.
Republican antics do little to instill confidence that we are capable of governing ourselves. But then, that plays into their overall theme that corporations should run America because government is so hopelessly dysfunctional.
This is reinforced by the fact that Republican lawmakers are corporate dummies masquerading as political leaders. In reality, Boehner and McConnell are corporate ventriloquist dummies in the same vein as Wayne Lapierre. They appear, for all the world to see, as buffoons far removed from the Americans they pretend to represent. More so, when they stand for a given position one minute and completely reverse themselves minutes or hours later.
In reality, they are nothing more than dummies mouthing the message their corporate ventriloquists tell them to say. They dare not think for themselves, or adopt policies that are more in tune with America’s mainstream because they fear what happens to dummies that fail to perform to their corporate owner’s whims.
This far from absolves Republican lawmakers. Rather it reinforces the idea that the GOP’s problems are far more than outreach deep. Just as Americans reject the idea that corporations are people, we don’t want puppets masquerading as lawmakers.
***********McCain Shoots Boehner’s Argument Out of the Water by Urging GOP to Raise Revenue
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 22nd, 201
Stop the presses. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) praised President Obama for reaching across the aisle and said Republicans should compromise on the budget by increasing tax revenues. McCain praised the President for changing “significantly” from his first term, by reaching out to Republicans for a compromise on the Grand Bargain.
In an interview on Political Capital With Al Hunt airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television, McCain said, “I’m open — have always been open — to closing loopholes, eliminating special deals for special interests. If you call that, ‘raising revenues,’ I’ve been guilty all my political career” of trying to cut special-interest loopholes.”
Watch here via Bloomberg TV:
Closing loopholes is a way Republicans can agree to raise revenue without appearing to be raising taxes. It’s can be seen as political cover for Republicans who signed the Norquist pledge; however, House Republicans balked at Boehner’s attempt to slide hidden revenues into the Grand Bargain in 2011.
This puts McCain at odds with the line House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is trying to sell the public, that Obama won’t compromise (translation: Obama won’t cave to Republican demands like Boehner has to).
The truth is that it’s absurd to try to balance the budget with cuts alone (would you try to get out of debt by quitting your job and refusing to raise any revenue to pay your bills, thinking you’ll just cut your expenses down until you can roll along on the lowest income since Eisenhower?), but this Republican led House will stop at nothing in order to attack the social programs of The New Deal. Obviously they aren’t too worried about actual spending, or they would agree to make cuts to the defense budget. Instead, they take aim at Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, etc.
Boehner doesn’t care that his House created sequester will leave veterans homeless; he can’t afford to care. Boehner can’t get the House Republicans to even consider compromise, and he’s not about to open himself to further embarrassment by allowing a vote on a sequester replacement.
Jason Easley explained the real reason we have no sequester replacement:
In May, 16 Republicans voted against their own party’s sequester replacement bill. The number of Republican defections jumped to 21 when the Republican sequester replacement option was passed again in December. Republicans currently have a 17 vote majority in the House, so the odds are that Van Hollen’s bill would pass if it came to the floor for a vote.
In Boehner’s eyes, better to let the country tank than to allow a vote on a Democratic plan that might pass.
President Obama has proposed a balanced budget that is much more fair than the Paul Ryan budget passed by the House yesterday. Obama already gave Republicans 2 trillion in cuts, and in his plan he balances spending cuts with increased revenues so that the poor do not have to bear the entire burden of the balanced budget.
McCain took on the intransigence of his party, “I am more than willing to give the president of the United States the opportunity to sit down and work with us… And we may have to make some concessions on our side…. Why are we doing all these things that only benefit the special interests who still have enormous influence here? Republicans have betrayed our base by allowing this kind of pork-barrel and earmark spending to go on.”
McCain has always had his own opaque ideas about principles, and watching from the outside it’s hard to tell what causes him to jerk from one side to another. But in this case, McCain has always had a hatred for pork. McCain clearly can’t understand why his party is refusing to compromise, but then, McCain must still believe in what his party allegedly stands for instead of admitting that it has become nothing but a corporate shill.