2012...orks-tea-party - %2

We're still at War: Photo of the Day for December 18, 2012

Tue Dec. 18, 2012 10:41 AM EST
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Duane O'Keefe, an infantry platoon sergeant assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, looks into a valley for signs of insurgent activity near Combat Outpost Bowri Tana in Khost province, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Abram Pinnington.

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What a Fiscal Cliff Deal Will Probably Look Like

| Tue Dec. 18, 2012 10:32 AM EST

Paul Krugman is agonizing over the fiscal cliff deal that's apparently on the table right now:

The tax hike on earned income only falls on those making $400,000 or more. As I understand it [...] taxes on unearned income are going back to pre-Bush levels: capital gains at 20 instead of 15 percent, dividends taxed as ordinary income. If I’m wrong about that, this is easy: no deal. And there’s extra revenue too, notably from changing the treatment of itemized deductions: instead of being a deduction from taxable income, they offer a tax credit, not to exceed 28 percent — which means a further substantial tax rise for people in the top bracket. Overall, there’s more revenue in this deal than you get from letting the high-end tax cuts expire after the cliff.

So the revenue side isn’t that bad....Also on the plus side, extended unemployment benefits and more infrastructure spending....But then there’s the Social Security cut.

Switching from the regular CPI to the chained CPI doesn’t affect benefits immediately after retirement, which are based on your past earnings.What it does mean is that after retirement your payments grow more slowly....This is not good; there’s no good policy reason to be doing this, because the savings won’t have any significant impact on the underlying budget issues. And for many older people it would hurt.

I suppose it was never likely that Obama was going to get a deal that liberals would be wholly enthusiastic about, and I'm not excited about the Social Security cut either. However, one thing to watch out for is whether there's more to it. It's possible that Obama will agree to chained CPI but insist on compensating changes for the lowest earners, so that the most vulnerable seniors are held harmless. We'll have to wait and see.

In addition to the fact that the Social Security cuts would hurt retirees, I continue to think it sets a bad precedent to link Social Security to a broad deficit deal that's otherwise focused on general fund spending and revenue. Social Security is a separate program, and if a deal is going to be made, compromises should be made within the program. It's one thing to hammer out an agreement to raise revenues and cut benefits that affect only Social Security, but it's quite another to cut Social Security benefits in return for general fund tax increases. I don't like that, and I don't like the idea that Obama is setting a precedent to do that kind of thing again in the future.

Overall, this doesn't sound like it's the worst deal in the world. So far, though, I'm with Krugman: it doesn't sound all that great either, and it's not clear if it's better than what Obama could get if he simply waited a bit and went over the cliff. But I guess that was never in the cards. He seemed intent from the beginning on avoiding that.

Video: Colbert Super-PAC Donates Its Leftovers

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 9:25 PM EST
"If you eat a ham in the shape of a rival's head you gain all their knowledge…and all their sodium too."

The Ham Rove Memorial Fund, rumored to be linked to Stephen Colbert's super-PAC (okay, definitely linked), announced it will donate more than $135,000 to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit organization that aims to expose money's effect on elections and public policy. Colbert, host of Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, won a Peabody Award this year for his work in educating the American public about the implications of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling through Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow (ABTT), his satirical super-PAC.

On his December 13 show, Colbert announced that he legally wasn't required to disclose the whereabouts of the nearly $774,000 remaining in the war chest of his super-PAC after the election. Coincidentally, the same exact amount was just donated to a new memorial fund named in honor of ABTT's former chief strategist Ham Rove, a bespectacled slab of ham who suffered a tragic end when he fell upon a knife that Colbert happened to be swinging wildly in his immediate vicinity.

The Ham Rove Memorial Fund then divvied up the cash to the CRP as well as the Campaign Legal Center, another organization that fights for transparency in politics, several Hurricane Sandy relief organizations, and the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which helps wounded troops returning home from war.

Adopting Chained CPI Is a Terrible Idea on Its Own

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 7:52 PM EST

Somebody just asked me what I think about the idea of adopting a new measure of inflation ("chained CPI") as a way of slowing the future growth of Social Security benefits. I am, as I've said before, generally in favor of some kind of balanced deal that would cut benefits a bit and raise taxes a bit in order to improve Social Security's finances. Chained CPI is worth considering as a component in such a deal.

However, no such deal is on offer. The only proposal being offered right now is to adopt chained CPI, full stop. As far as I'm concerned, that's unacceptable, and no Democrat should even think about endorsing it. We can argue all day about whether Social Security needs rescuing in the first place, and if we decide it does, we can then argue about exactly which combination of measures would be fairest and best. But some things should be completely off the table, and passing a package that's 100% benefit cuts is one of them. It's ridiculous. This is really a no-brainer.

Blast From the Past: NRA Propaganda Anticipates Newtown

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 6:33 PM EST
NRA Freedom in Peril
Front cover of the NRA's 2006 brochure "Freedom in Peril" National Rifle Association

"Second Amendment freedom today stands naked in the path of a marching axis of adversaries far darker and more dangerous than gun owners have ever known." So opens "Freedom in Peril," a slick 2006 brochure by the National Rifle Association that serves up the group's agenda with a heavy dose of omnious hyperbole. The UN and George Soros are coming for your guns! PETA will ban hunting! Suburban dads must defend their families from torch-carrying marauders!

NRA dad vs mob

The document's text and its illustrations are so over-the-top that when they were first leaked by Wonkette, there was speculation that they were a hoax. But the NRA confirmed they were real, though it maintained they were from a stolen draft of a publication that has still yet to be publicly released.

In their introductory note, NRA president Waye LaPierre and chief NRA lobbyist Chris Cox warn of "the coming confrontation" between the "pro-freedom voting bloc" and "the gun-ban crowd." Though they focused on the threat of anti-gun legislation carried out under the guise of fighting terrorism, LaPierre and Cox also anticipated the calls for action that might follow an event such as the Newtown massacre:

It's inevitable that terrorists will infest America for generations to come. It's also inevitable that an anti-gun president will occupy the White House, and anti-gun forces will control the U.S. House and Senate. This is when the alchemy explodes, never to be contained again. When these two certainties intersect, America's anti-gun agenda will emerge in full force masquerading as an anti-terrorist agenda. Unless we are well-financed to face that moment, the final disarmament of law-abiding Americans will occur beneath the shroud of anti-terrorism legislation. […]

History teaches us that their assault will be precipitated by a high-profile criminal act, like an L.A. riot, a D.C. sniper or a schoolyard shooting. All it takes is a rare, tragic anomaly to roll out a blood-red carpet for the gun-ban crowd.

The brochure criticizes the "tragedy chasers" and "vultures" who sensationalize and politicize gun violence, including school shootings. The NRA has a history of not commenting on prominent shootings (including, so far, Newtown), though "Freedom in Peril" suggests that it will not stand on the sidelines much longer:

Until now, NRA has rightfully declined to join the debate, because no effective solution includes infringement of the Second Amendment. Although tragic, these incidents have called for no more anti-gun measures than any other crime committed with firearms.

But the advent of domestic terrorism, compounded with recent high-profile school shootings, force America's gun owners to join the national discussion in a way we can no longer decline. Not because the Second Amendment is at fault, but because the Second Amendment is at risk.

As its guardian, NRA must accept the financial responsibility to take its place at that table of debate, and prevail. […]

Too often, the media have given enormous attention to school murderers as a tactic to promote the gun-control agenda. Too often, such attention has likely led other sociopaths and losers to conclude that their one chance to become famous is to attack a school.

The document also features fantastic images of the NRA's foes, including Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, and congressional Democrats.

NRA gun foes
NRA Democratic foes

And it's not just the liberals and one-world-government types you should be afraid of. "Freedom in Peril" also reminds NRA members who the real scary gun owners are: "[T]o criminal aliens, America is a giant supermarket, and nobody's minding the store."

NRA gangs
BoingBoing still has the full document; download it here.

Joe Scarborough Says the Sandy Hook Massacre "Changed Everything"

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 4:48 PM EST

Today on MSNBC's Morning Joe, former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough came out forcefully against the gun lobby, saying that Friday's horrifying shooting in Connecticut changes everything including his past views on gun control.

Scarborough said that while he once viewed gun control as a "powerful, symbolic" struggle between big government and individual rights. Now he sees the issue as a matter of public safety.

"The ideologies of my past career are no longer relevant to the future that I want, to the future that I demand for my children, " Scarborough said in his eight-minute monologue on the tragedy.

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for December 17, 2012

Mon Dec. 17, 2012 3:30 PM EST
Cpl. Berkeley Lewis, a rifleman with 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, fires his M4 carbine during training at the SR-7 range at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jeff Drew.

Is Factory Farm Poop Giving Fish a Sex Change?

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 2:57 PM EST
An infographic from a new paper suggesting that synthetic hormones from factory farms are affecting the sexual development of fish in nearby streams.

In his 1977 classic The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry described a major change that came along with the post-World War II rise of factory-scale animal farms.

"Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm—which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer," Berry wrote. "The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems."

On diversified farms, manure is a vital resource that's used to build fertility and organic matter in soil. But when you cram animals together by the thousands, you generate way more manure than can be absorbed by nearby land—and your vital resource suddenly becomes a waste problem. The tendency is to over-apply manure in fields surrounding factory farms—which then runs off into streams, helping fertilize the algae blooms that plague the Midwest's lakes, which I reported on last week.

But it's not just excess phosphorus and nitrogen that's the problem. It's also the hormones and other chemicals fed to confined animals—they, too, end up in their manure and thus into waterways. A quarter century after Berry's observation, we're just now figuring out the implications. A team of scientists from Purdue and the Environmental Protection Agency looked at fish populations in Indiana streams downstream from CAFOs, or confined-animal feedlot operations. Their findings, released this month, are sobering. In CAFO-tainted water, 60 percent of minnows turned out male. In the non-contaminated water, the male ratio was 48 percent. The CAFO-exposed water also showed lower species biodiversity, and the fish in them had reduced fertlity.

The takeaway is that CAFO manure running into streams appears to be affecting the sexual development of fish. Although it's impossible to pinpoint an exact cause, the authors point out that the CAFO water showed heightened levels of synthetic hormones used in livestock farms "during the period of spawning, hatching, and development for resident fishes."

And one of those hormones, trenbolone, has also turned up as a possible culprit in other studies, reports Environmental Health News:

The same synthetic hormone, trenbolone, detected at high levels in the Indiana streams was linked to an all-male population of zebrafish in a 2006 laboratory study by University of Southern Denmark researchers. In addition, a study led by Orlando in 2004 found male minnows in a stream near a confined animal feeding operation had lower than average testosterone and were sexually immature.

Like all individual studies, the current one is suggestive, not definitive. But it raises serious questions about what we're sacrificing to feed our appetite for cheap meat.

Yet More Republican Attempts to Game the System

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 2:32 PM EST

There are different ways for parties to win elections. The most obvious way is to support more popular policies than your opponents. Unfortunately for Republicans, their fever swamp wing, from Newt Gingrich through the tea party, has made that increasingly difficult.

But there's a second option: make sure that, one way or another, votes for the other party don't count as much as votes for your party. Gerrymandering is the most obvious method, and Republicans have played this game more and more aggressively over the past decade. There are also policies that make it less likely that Democratic constituencies will be allowed to cast votes. That's the idea behind photo ID laws, which reduce participation by the poor, the young, and ethnic minorities. But if that's still not enough, what's next? Well, how about gerrymandering the electoral college? National Journal reports:

Republicans alarmed at the apparent challenges they face in winning the White House are preparing an all-out assault on the Electoral College system in critical states, an initiative that would significantly ease the party's path to the Oval Office.

Senior Republicans say they will try to leverage their party's majorities in Democratic-leaning states in an effort to end the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes. Instead, bills that will be introduced in several Democratic states would award electoral votes on a proportional basis.

If, say, Michigan switched to a proportional system, then Mitt Romney wouldn't have won zero of its 16 electoral votes this year. He would have won eight or nine. Voila! More votes for Mitt.

Do this in other states that are either solidly Democratic or trending Democratic, and you could snag 40 or 50 extra electoral votes for the Republican nominee. Needless to say, there are no plans to do something similar in states that tend to vote for the Republican candidate. Texas and Georgia have no intention of going proportional and allowing the Democratic nominee to get a share of their electoral votes.

There's a brazenness here that almost makes me optimistic. These are rearguard efforts to rig the system, and in a way, they're an admission that Republicans understand just how doomed they are if they remain the party of corporations, the rich, and hating gays. In the end, though, they're unlikely to work. The GOP will continue losing votes, and as they do, even their attempts to game the system will get repealed, making their situation even more desperate.

In the meantime, though, they'll keep trying. They'll try anything aside from actually facing up to what their party has become. The only question is, for how long?

As Secretary of State, John Kerry Would Be a Climate Hawk

| Mon Dec. 17, 2012 1:33 PM EST

Over the weekend, various news outlets reported that President Obama is going to tap Sen. John Kerry to serve as the next Secretary of State. This is not much of a surprise, since the other reported leading candidate for the post, UN ambassador Susan Rice, withdrew herself from consideration last Thursday. For climate hawks, having Kerry at the helm at State would be very good news.

Kerry is among the most fierce advocates for climate action in the Senate. Here he is in a floor speech from August talking about why climate change is "as significant a level of importance" as Syria and Iran:

Well, this issue actually is of as significant a level of importance, because it affects life itself on the planet. Because it affects ecosystems on which the oceans and the land depend for the relationship of the warmth of our earth and the amount of moisture that there is and all of the interactions that occur as a consequence of our climate.

Kerry is also the co-author of the last major climate bill anyone tried to pass in the Senate. At its rollout in September 2009, he called the bill "the beginning of one of the most important battles we will ever face, as legislators and as citizens."

He's also been a champion of international climate action since way back in 1992, when he attended the first major meeting on it in Rio, Brazil. On the 20th anniversary of the Rio summit this year, Kerry made a floor a statement on the ongoing climate paralysis:

Twenty years ago this month, a Republican President of the United States helped bring together all the world's largest economies in Rio to confront the issue of global climate change. The President was unequivocal about the mission. George Herbert Walker Bush said simply, "The United States fully intends to be the world's preeminent leader in protecting the global environment." How dramatic and sad it is that twenty years later, shockingly, we find ourselves in a strange and dangerous place on this issue—a place this former President wouldn't even recognize. When it comes to the challenge of climate change, the falsehood of today's naysayers is only matched by the complacency of our political system ... We should be compelled to fight today’s insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change—a silence that empowers misinformation and mythology to grow where science and truth should prevail. It is a conspiracy that has not just stalled, but demonized any constructive effort to put America in a position to lead the world on this issue, as President Bush promised we would and as Americans have a right to expect we will.

That's not to say that Clinton hasn't also expressed interest in climate change; she has. But it seems that it would be far higher up the priorities list for Kerry.