Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Happy Birthday To A Texas Legend

GOP Evolution

Support For Background Checks Still Strong

Public Policy Polling did a new survey in four states that had senators who voted against the Senate bill requiring background checks for all gun buyers, to see if that vote had affected those senators in their home states. The poll surveyed 1,166 Alaska voters (moe 2.9), 600 Arizona voters (moe 4.0), 500 Nevada voters (moe 4.4), and 600 Ohio voters (moe 4.0). The survey was done on April 25th and 26th.

The poll showed that all five of the senators in the survey (Flake, Murkowski, Begich, Portman, and Heller) had a drop in their approval ratings. This should not be a surprise since, as the bottom chart above shows (from the same PPP poll), a clear majority of voters in all five states support the idea of making all gun buyers go through a background check.

Because of their vote against background checks, 52% of Arizona voters say they would be less likely to support Flake in the future, 39% of Alaska voters would be less likely to support Murkowski and Begich in the future, 36% of Ohio voters say they would be less likely to vote for Portman in the future, and 46% of Nevada voters are less likely to support Heller in the future.

The Gallup Poll surveyed voters on the same issue on a national basis. Their poll was done between April 22nd and 25th of more than a thousand randomly selected voters (with a 4 point moe). They found the following:


Clearly, the American people are disappointed by the bill's failure to pass the Senate. But it looks like the disinformation campaign by the NRA and some Republican right-wingers was partially successful. Many people evidently thought the bill included some extraneous features like a national gun registry (it did not), because when these same respondents are asked if they would vote for background checks the numbers are much higher.


And the support for background checks cuts across political lines. Here are the percentages of those who would vote to expand background checks by party:

There is still strong support among the American public for expanded background checks. That means this could well be an issue in the 2014 elections.

Austerity Unfairness

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

CIA Corrupts Puppet Afghan Government

Is the CIA just a nest of incompetent fools? One could easily assume that after looking at their ridiculous actions regarding the Afghan government (a puppet government installed by the United States in an election where only American-approved candidates could run for office). For more than 10 years now, the CIA has been dropping off suitcases, backpacks, and trash bags full of money each month at the Afghan president's office -- money that totals in the tens of millions of dollars.

I guess the CIA thought it was buying the good will of the Afghan government and the Afghan people, but it hasn't worked out that way. All it did was corrupt the government (as Karzai, his family, and other government officials tucked the money into foreign bank accounts) and make the warlords in that country more powerful (since Karzai gave them some of the money to stay in power -- and keep collecting the cash). The Afghan people got nothing.

An anonymous American official has said, "The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States." And a former deputy chief of staff for Karzai said, "We called it 'ghost money'. It came in secret, and it left in secret." And to make matters even worse, we now know that Iran was sending Karzai huge and secret amounts of money at the same time -- which our government decried as an attempt to influence the Afghan government (ignoring the fact that we were doing the same thing for the same reason).

I'm not saying we shouldn't have tried to help the Afghan people. After all, we destroyed that country and should have paid to help rebuild it. Sending food, building supplies, educational aids, and even money (with oversight to see it was spent for the good of the people) would have made imminent sense. But dropping off bags full of money at the president's office in secret was a fool's errand, and was destined to fail -- whatever the purpose was.

And there is no evidence that the secret money drop-offs have stopped. While we are cutting aid to hurting Americans (claiming we cannot afford it), we still spend millions paying off corrupt government officials in Afghanistan. Personally, I don't see how such idiotic actions can be defended.

Off The Court Courage

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Austerity Hurting - Will Affect Unemployment

Many economists warned that the recent austerity measures (aka sequestration cuts) would slow the economic growth and negatively affect the nation's slowly improving jobs situation. Now it looks like that may already be happening. As of last Friday, 271 companies had reported their sales and only 38% of them reported an increase. As a whole, the aggregate sales of those 271 companies actually fell by 1.45%.

The nation was expected to have a weak 2% economic growth for 2013, but after looking at the declining sales figures some are predicting it could be even lower. Personally, I think those cuts could make the economy slip back down into negative growth (throwing the nation back into recession (defined by three quarters of negative economic growth). This would make life much harder for the residents of Main Street -- who still have not shaken off the effects of the Bush recession.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Pulling money out of the economy in hard times almost has to result in economic slowdown, and that is exactly what the sequestration cuts did -- it pulled millions of dollars out of the economy. That means people relying on government help will have less money to spend, and businesses will be hurt by that drop in spending. And with stagnant or falling sales, businesses don't hire new workers (and may actually start to lay off workers again).

The new unemployment numbers of the Labor Department will be released next friday for the month of April, and they are expected to be weak (showing little new hiring). And now that the new Republican-inspired austerity is starting to kick in across the nation, we can expect poor unemployment numbers for the next few months (and that is a best-case scenario).

When are we going to realize that the low taxes for the rich and deep cuts for everyone else is just the wrong thing to do in troubled economic times like these? Austerity has never cured a recession. It only delays any recovery from recession, and that is what is happening now.

A Monument To Disaster

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

What Kind Of Society Are We ?

How is it that this nation will go to great lengths to prevent terrorist deaths, even though we have very few of those deaths in this country, but we refuse to take any action at all against a far greater threat -- the profusion of guns in the country causing thousands of times more deaths than terrorism. We even refuse to do something as simple as requiring a background check for those wanting to buy a gun, thus allowing the most dangerous among us to easily buy any kind of guns they want with an unlimited amount of ammunition.

The excuse given for this behavior is the sacredness of the Second Amendment, but even the most stupid among us know that is not true. The Second Amendment, like the First Amendment, has never been absolute. And the Supreme Court has already declared background checks to be constitutional.

We have a choice to make. Are we going to put the profits of gun and ammunition makers over the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year, or are we going to take some action to keep guns out of the hands of those we agree should't have them (and limit the types of guns people can own)? The answer will show the world what kind of people we are, and what kind of society we live in.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cowboys Sign 11 Undrafted Free Agents

The draft is over, and the Cowboys did get seven players -- who will hopefully contribute to making the team better. But they didn't stop there. Immediately after the draft ended the Cowboys got on the phone searching for undrafted players who might help the team. They have signed 11 of those undrafted free agents.

Of course, the chances of those free agents making the team is pretty slim. But the Cowboys are better than most teams at finding a few really good players from the players not drafted. Good examples of this on the current squad are Tony Romo (quarterback) and Miles Austin (wide receiver), both of whom the Cowboys signed to a free agent contract after the draft had ended. So maybe a player or two will make the squad from the eleven free agents signed this year. Here are the players they signed:

Jakar Hamilton (safety)
South Carolina State

Dalton Williams (quarterback)

Brandon Magee (linebacker)
Arizona State

Kendial Lawrence (running back)

Devin Smith (cornerback)

Dustin Harris (cornerback)
Texas A&M

Cameron Lawrence (linebacker)
Mississippi State

Greg Herd (wide receiver)
Eastern Washington

Paul Freedman (fullback/tight end)

Taylor Reed (linebacker)

Jeff Heath (defensive back)
Saginaw Valley State

Now it will be interesting to see if any of these players (or the drafted players) make it through training camp and on to the season roster.

No Gun Problem ?

Health Care System Is Still Broken

(The figures above are from CNN, and based on the Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance Survey.)

Those are some pretty shocking numbers. They are the number of Americans who did not seek or get the health care they needed because they could not afford to do so. The fact is that visiting a doctor, filling needed prescriptions, and getting recommended care would save many lives -- but far too many Americans simply cannot afford to do it.

At least 80 million million adults in this country (about 43% of working-age people) still don't receive the health care they need (by not being able to afford one or more of the things listed above). The Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare) was supposed to fix this problem, and allow all Americans to get the health care they need -- especially preventative care (which can catch serious illnesses in their early stage, when they can still be cured).

Obamacare has been a failure in two different ways. First, poor people and low-wage workers were supposed to be covered by a expansion of Medicaid, and that is happening in a lot of states. But thanks to a Supreme Court decision that allows states to opt out of Medicaid expansion, several Republican-controlled states (like Texas, where over 28% of the population has no health insurance) are refusing to expand their Medicaid programs -- meaning that millions of poor and low-wage people will continue to be without any health insurance at all.

Second, Obamacare depended on getting most of the population covered by private health insurance. That was a mistake. About 28% of the above numbers are workers with what is called "good insurance". But their deductibles are so high that they still cannot afford the important preventative care (or medications) that they need. Their private insurance plans provide little more than an illusion of giving them medical care.

Obamacare was a valiant attempt to fix the health care system, but it is a failure -- because it still leaves too many people without the means to get the care that they need. It is only a band-aid on a serious wound that requires surgery. And we still have a broken system that needs fixing.

It is time to admit that there are some things that can be done better by government than the for-profit private sector. Health care is one of those things. All other developed nations recognize that their citizens have a right to decent health care, and they make sure their citizens get that care -- many of them through government provided health insurance.

This country needs to cover all of its citizens with government-run single-payer health insurance (sort of like Medicare expanded to cover everyone). It is this country's great shame that it still considers health care to be a commodity, available only to those who can afford to pay for it. Decent health care should be recognized as a basic human right, and treated as such.

Media Fail

Political Cartoon is by Rob Tornoe at Media Matters.

Obama's Humor At Correspondent's Dinner

Whatever they might think of his politics (or his accomplishments and failures), I think most Americans know that President Obama is a decent man with a very good sense of humor. This is shown in the photo above, where during a visit to the University of Texas he slips his foot on the scales while a cohort was trying to weigh himself. The president is also not afraid to use that humor to poke fun at himself, and that has made him very popular at the annual White House Correspondent's Dinner. Here are some of Obama's jokes from this year's Correspondent's Dinner:

How do you like my new entrance music?  (Applause.)  Rush Limbaugh warned you about this — second term, baby.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’re changing things around here a little bit.  (Laughter.)

Actually, my advisors were a little worried about the new rap entrance music.  (Laughter.)  They are a little more traditional.  They suggested that I should start with some jokes at my own expense, just take myself down a peg.  I was like, guys, after four and a half years, how many pegs are there left?  (Laughter.)

Now, look, I get it.  These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.  (Laughter.)  Time passes.  You get a little gray.  (Laughter.)

And yet, even after all this time, I still make rookie mistakes.  Like, I’m out in California, we’re at a fundraiser, we’re having a nice time.  I happen to mention that Kamala Harris is the best-looking attorney general in the country.  (Laughter.)  As you might imagine, I got trouble when I got back home.  (Laughter.)  Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?  (Laughter and applause.)

And then there’s the Easter Egg Roll, which is supposed to be just a nice, fun event with the kids.  I go out on the basketball court, took 22 shots — made two of them.  (Laughter.)  That’s right:  two hits, 20 misses.  The executives at NBC asked, “What’s your secret?”  (Laughter and applause.)

I want to give a shout-out to our headliner, Conan O’Brien.  (Applause.)  I was just talking to Ed, and I understand that when the Correspondents’ Association was considering Conan for this gig, they were faced with that age-old dilemma:  Do you offer it to him now, or wait for five years and then give it to Jimmy Fallon?  (Laughter.)  That was a little harsh.  (Laughter.)  I love Conan.

And of course, the White House press corps is here.  I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate.  (Laughter and applause.)

The History Channel is not here.  I guess they were embarrassed about the whole Obama-is-a-devil thing.  (Laughter.)  Of course, that never kept Fox News from showing up.  (Laughter.)  They actually thought the comparison was not fair — to Satan.  (Laughter and applause.)

But the problem is, is that the media landscape is changing so rapidly.  You can’t keep up with it.  I mean, I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college around 2:00 a.m.  (Laughter.)  It’s true.  (Laughter.)

There are other new players in the media landscape as well, like super PACs.  Did you know that Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million of his own money last year on negative ads?  You’ve got to really dislike me — (laughter) — to spend that kind of money.  I mean, that’s Oprah money.  (Laughter.)  You could buy an island and call it “Nobama” for that kind of money.  (Laughter.)  Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race.  (Laughter and applause.)  I probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’d have thought about it.  (Laughter.)  Michelle would have taken it.  (Laughter.)  You think I’m joking?  (Laughter.)

I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to minorities.  And look, call me self-centered, but I can think of one minority they could start with.  (Laughter.)  Hello?  Think of me as a trial run, you know?  (Laughter.)  See how it goes.  (Laughter.)

If they won’t come to me, I will come to them.  Recently, I had dinner — it’s been well publicized — I had dinner with a number of the Republican senators.  And I’ll admit it wasn’t easy.  I proposed a toast — it died in committee.  (Laughter.)

I am not giving up.  In fact, I’m taking my charm offensive on the road — a Texas barbeque with Ted Cruz, a Kentucky bluegrass concert with Rand Paul, and a book-burning with Michele Bachmann.  (Laughter and applause.)

My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in Congress — it turns out, absolutely nothing.  (Laughter.)  But the point of my charm offensive is simple:  We need to make progress on some important issues.  Take the sequester.  Republicans fell in love with this thing, and now they can’t stop talking about how much they hate it.  It’s like we’re trapped in a Taylor Swift album.  (Laughter.)

I’m also hard at work on plans for the Obama Library.  And some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace, but I’d rather keep it in the United States.  (Laughter.)  Did anybody not see that joke coming?  (Laughter.)  Show of hands.  Only Gallup?  Maybe Dick Morris?  (Laughter and applause.)

News - Then And Now

Political Cartoon is by Pat Bagley in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Krugman On Bush II Presidency

With the opening of his presidential library, George W. Bush has returned to the public eye. Polls still show that most Americans view his presidency as a failure -- and I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. One of the best appraisals of the damage this man did to our country was written by Paul Krugman in his New York Times column. Here is what Krugman had to say:

. . .it does need to be said: he was a terrible president, arguably the worst ever, and not just for the reasons many others are pointing out.
From what I’ve read, most of the pushback against revisionism focuses on just how bad Bush’s policies were, from the disaster in Iraq to the way he destroyed FEMA, from the way he squandered a budget surplus to the way he drove up Medicare’s costs. And all of that is fair.
But I think there was something even bigger, in some ways, than his policy failures: Bush brought an unprecedented level of systematic dishonesty to American political life, and we may never recover.
Think about his two main “achievements”, if you want to call them that: the tax cuts and the Iraq war, both of which continue to cast long shadows over our nation’s destiny. The key thing to remember is that both were sold with lies.
I suppose one could make an argument for the kind of tax cuts Bush rammed through — tax cuts that strongly favored the wealthy and significantly increased inequality. But we shouldn’t forget that Bush never admitted that his tax cuts did, in fact, favor the wealthy. Instead, his administration canceled the practice of making assessments of the distributional effects of tax changes, and in their selling of the cuts offered what amounted to an expert class in how to lie with statistics. Basically, every time the Bushies came out with a report, you knew that it was going to involve some kind of fraud, and the only question was which kind and where.
And no, this wasn’t standard practice before. Politics ain’t beanbag and all that, but the president as con man was a new character in American life.
Even more important, Bush lied us into war. Let’s repeat that: he lied us into war. I know, the apologists will say that “everyone” believed Saddam had WMD, but the truth is that even the category “WMD” was a con game, lumping together chemical weapons with nukes in an illegitimate way. And any appearance of an intelligence consensus before the invasion was manufactured: dissenting voices were suppressed, as anyone who was reading Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) knew at the time.
Why did the Bush administration want war? There probably wasn’t a single reason, but can we really doubt at this point that it was in part about wagging the dog? And right there you have something that should block Bush from redemption of any kind, ever: he misled us into a war that probably killed hundreds of thousands of people, and he did it in part for political reasons.
There was a time when Americans expected their leaders to be more or less truthful. Nobody expected them to be saints, but we thought we could trust them not to lie about fundamental matters. That time is now behind us — and it was Bush who did it.

Result (Of No Regulation)

Political Cartoon is by John Branch in the San Antonio Express-News.

Poverty Is Not A Sin - Ignoring It Is

Far too often these days we honor greed more than generosity, and make heroes of the greediest among us -- and then wrap that love of greed in religion ("god helps those who help themselves"). We look down on those in our society who have the least, ignoring the fact that they may have been born with less and offered less opportunity. And we tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, while denying them the boots (opportunity) to do that with. We live in the richest nation that has ever existed, but make excuses instead of eliminating poverty. We are a very sick society, but instead of healing ourselves we celebrate our sickness -- our greed and heartlessness. Could there possibly be any excuse for this?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cowboys Finish Draft With 3 More Picks

The Cowboys tried to add a little depth at some critical positions with their last three picks of this year's draft -- picking players at cornerback, running back, and outside linebacker. The players they picked are:

114th PICK (17th pick in round 4)
B.W. Webb, William and Mary
cornerback (5' 11", 185 lbs)

151st PICK (18th pick in round 5)
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
running back (6' 0", 204 lbs)

185th PICK (17th pick in round 6)
DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina
outside linebacker (6' 2", 243 lbs)

That wraps up the Cowboys draft for 2013. If they get anymore help this year, it'll have to come from signing some good free agents (players who didn't get drafted). And that is a definite possibility, since the Cowboys are traditionally one of the best teams at finding free agents who can play some football. It is not unusual for one or two free agents to make the team each year. Remember, Tony Romo was a free agent.

I'm going to give the Cowboys a draft grade of B- this year. Of course, that grade could go up or down, depending on how many make the team after training camp and are able to effectively contribute to the team's success.

I think Frederick will make a good serviceable lineman for several years, either at center or at guard, and will probably start for the team this year. He's not the superstar I was hoping for, but I think he will help to improve the offensive line. And Wilcox, the safety taken in round 3, also has a very good chance of starting this year. That makes two probable starters, which is not too bad.

I also believe Webb, the cornerback, and Randle, the running back, could contribute in the upcoming season -- not as starters, but as quality back-ups (and the Cowboys needed some depth at both positions). The two players I'm not sure will get much playing time, assuming they make the team, are tight end Escobar and wide receiver Williams. Both are going to have to compete with some very good players to see much game action. I don't know much about linebacker Holloman, and just hope he was worth picking.

Work Solves Problems - Not Prayer

A Coalition Of Gangs

It looks like Democrats, progressives, and a majority of Americans aren't the only ones with a very low opinion of the current Republican Party. Some long-standing Republicans share that negative view. David Stockman (pictured above), former Republican congressman and budget director for President Reagan, had some pretty negative words for the current Republican Party. He called it merely "a coalition of gangs", and went on to say:

"The Republican Party is not really a party. It doesn’t stand for anything except re-electing itself. The neocons are only oriented to an aggressive, imperialistic foreign policy of big defense establishment and suppression of our civil liberties. That’s bad.

"The tax cons want to just cut taxes — any time, any day — regardless of the fiscal situation.That has gone to an absurd length. The social cons, social policy people — the right-to-life issue and gay marriage and all of that — that’s irrelevant to governing a democracy in a free society.

"That’s basically the heart of the Republican Party. In that mix, how can you find anything that’s going to stand for conservative economics, fiscal rectitude, free markets, sound money? It’s not there.

"The Republican Party is basically irrelevant to the economic crisis that faces the country."

He also had some harsh words for Wall Street and corporations:

"When you have Wall Street and corporate leaders who don’t care about any principle except keeping the game going and stimulating it for one more quarter so they can report better earnings and get a pop in the stock and cash in their options, the corporate leadership in America today is basically sold out. They support everything."

I don't usually agree with much that Stockman says, but this time I think he hit the nail right on its head. 

Congress Deserves The Credit

Political Cartoon is by Stuart Carlson at carlsontoons.com.

Perry Gets His Feelings Hurt By Cartoon

We've known for a while that Rick Perry was a terrible debater, and an even worse governor. Now we learn he is far too thin-skinned to be a politician. The cartoon above, by Jack Ohman, appeared recently in the Sacramento Bee, and it seems to have hurt the governor's feelings. He is demanding an apology.

Perry wrote a letter to the paper's editor saying "it was with extreme disgust and disappointment I viewed your recent cartoon. . .I won't stand for someone mocking the tragic deaths of my fellow Texans and our fellow Americans."

Of course, the cartoon doesn't mock anyone except Rick Perry. He recently bought ads in California, --telling businesses there they should relocate to Texas, because Texas has far fewer regulations on businesses. It is well within political (and humor) boundaries for anyone, especially a California newspaper, to point out the results of Perry's "no regulation" attitude. With proper regulation and inspection, the tragedy in West could have been prevented and the "tragic deaths" averted.

And it doesn't look like the Perry should hold his breath waiting for that apology -- because neither the paper nor the cartoonist have any intention of apologizing. The paper's editorial page editor said:

Jack Ohman, "made a strong statement about Gov. Rick Perry's disregard for worker safety, and his attempts to market Texas a place where industries can thrive with few regulations."

"It is unfortunate that Gov. Perry, and some on the blogosphere, have attempted to interpret the cartoon as being disrespectful for the victims of this tragedy," Leavenworth said. "As Ohman has made clear on his blog, he has complete empathy for the victims and people living by the plant.

"What he finds offensive is a governor who would gamble with the lives of families by not pushing for the strongest safety regulations. Perry's letter is an attempt to distract people from that message."

And the cartoonist added:

"My job, as I understand it, is to be provocative," Ohman wrote. "I provoke, you decide. I don't dictate, I put out my opinion along with everyone else. I sign my name. I own it. In my opinion, I could have gone further. Much further."

Maybe Perry should drop out of politics and get a real job (something he's never had in his life). Politicians are always (and properly) subject to criticism for the silly things they do -- and Perry's actions make him even more vulnerable to criticism than most.

Agreement (Among Idiots)

Political Cartoon is by Steve Sack in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Think About The Future

Conservatives like to talk about personal responsibility, but too many times they just want to use that as an excuse to keep this nation from acting to solve serious problems. Global climate change is one of those problems. We need to stop worrying about the costs to corporate entities (which they can afford), and start worrying about the costs to our children and grandchildren -- or they will indeed be asking, "Why didn't they act when something could have been done?"

GOP Symbol

Political Cartoon is by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Killing For God ?

This is one thing I have never understood about religion. Almost all religious people claim to believe in a loving god -- but they are willing to kill people (especially those who believe in a different religion) in that god's name. Is this what a truly loving god would want? Or is it just what those people want, and they are hiding behind religion to accomplish it? I think the latter is much more likely -- and probably why humans invented religion in the first place.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Cowboys Get 3 Players In 2nd & 3rd Rounds

I'm a little more satisfied with the Cowboys draft after day two. With their three second day picks, the Cowboys beefed up their receiving corps with a tight end and a wide receiver -- then they picked a free safety. All three seem to be good players. The tight end will have to earn his way to playing time (since the Cowboys already have two good tight ends in Witten and Hanna), but the wide receiver is very fast (4.4 on the 40) and has a good chance of getting a lot of playing time. The safety could be a starter, if he's as good as the Cowboys think he is. Here are those three picks:

47th PICK (15th pick of 2nd round)
Gavin Escobar, San Diego State
Tight End (6'6", 254 lbs)

74th PICK (12th pick of 3rd round)
Terrance Williams, Baylor
Wide Receiver (6'2", 207 lbs)

80th PICK (18th pick of 3rd round)
J.J. Wilcox, Georgia Southern
Safety (6'0", 213 lbs)

On Saturday, the Cowboys have three more draft picks -- the 114th (17th pick of 4th round), the 151st (18th pick of 5th round), and the 185th (17th pick of 6th round). It would be nice if they could get some defensive line help and a good running back.

Immigration & Islam Are Not The Problem

Sequester Cuts Are For You - Not Congress

As you probably know, a few weeks ago the Congress allowed rather drastic across-the-board cuts to all government discretionary spending -- well, nearly all discretionary spending. Congress, as usual, exempted themselves and their staff from any pay or benefit cuts (and left in tact all corporate subsidies and tax loopholes for the rich). After all, budget cuts are for us ordinary citizens -- not congresspeople (or their rich benefactors).

But it seems they screwed up. They didn't realize the cuts to the FAA might actually affect them and their rich friends. Because of the cuts, the FAA has furloughed a bunch of air traffic controllers -- and that has resulted in delays of commercial flights. And that means that congresspeople and many of their rich friends are having their own flights delayed -- and that's something that can't be allowed. After all, the sequester wasn't supposed to affect Congress or the rich.

But don't worry, Congress has taken care of the problem. Legislation was rushed through the Senate and House (on a bipartisan basis), and will soon be signed by the president -- legislation that will get the air traffic controllers back to work. Now those congresspeople (and their rich bosses) won't have to suffer flight delays any longer.

But the rest of America will still feel the effects of the ridiculous sequester cuts. Think Progress has compiled a partial list of things that will still suffer huge cuts (but notice that none of these are programs that will affect Congress or rich people):

1. Long-term unemployment: There are 4.7 million Americans who have been unemployed for longer than six months, but sequestration cut federal long-term unemployment insurance checks by up to 10.7 percent, costing recipients as much as $450 over the rest of the year. Those cuts compound the cuts eight states have made to their unemployment programs, and 11 states are considering dropping the federal program altogether because of sequestration — even though the long-term unemployed are finding it nearly impossible to return to work.

2. Head Start: Low-income children across the country have beenkicked out of Head Start education programs because of the 5-percent cuts mandated by sequestration, as states have cut bus transportation services and started conducting lotteries to determine which kids would no longer have access to the program, even though the preschool program has been proven to have substantial benefits for low-income children. In all, about 70,000 children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

3. Cancer treatment: Budget cuts have forced doctors and cancer clinics to deny chemotherapy treatments to thousands of cancer patients thanks to a 2 percent cut to Medicare. One clinic in New York has refused to see more than 5,000 of its Medicare patients, and many cancer patients have had to travel to other states to receive their treatments, an option that obviously isn’t available to lower-income people. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) proposed restoring the funding, but the legislation so far hasn’t moved in Congress.

4. Health research: The National Institutes of Health lost $1.6 billion thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing important health research into AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. That won’t just impact research and the people who do it, though. It will also hurt the economy, costing the U.S. $860 billion in lost economic growth and at least 500,000 jobs. Budget cuts will also hamper research at colleges and universities.

5. Low-income housing: 140,000 low-income families — primarily seniors with disabilities and families with children — will lose rental assistance thanks to sequestration’s budget cuts. Even worse, the cuts could likely make rent and housing more expensive for those families, as agencies raise costs to offset the pain of budget cuts, and sequestration will also cut from programs that aid the homeless and fund the construction of low-income housing.

6. Student aid: Sequestration is already raising fees on Direct student loans, increasing costs for students who are already buried in debt. The budget cuts reduce funding for federal work study grants by $49 million and for educational opportunity grants by $37 million, and the total cuts will cost 70,000 college students access to grants they depend on.

7. Meals On Wheels: Local Meals on Wheels programs, which help low-income and disabled seniors access food, have faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts, costing tens of thousands of seniors access to the program. Many of those seniors have little access to food without the program, but Congress has made no effort to replace the funding.

8. Disaster relief: The Federal Emergency Management Administration will lose nearly $1 billion in funding thanks to sequestration, jeopardizing aid for families, cities, and states right as the spring storm season begins. The aid package Congress passed for Hurricane Sandy relief will also see more than $1 billion in reductions.

9. Heating assistance: The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) helps nearly 9 million households afford their heating and cooling bills. Sequestration will cut the program by an estimated $180 million, meaning about 400,000 households will no longer receive aid. These cuts come on top of $1.6 billion in reductions since 2010.

10. Workplace safety: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has long suffered from a lack of funds, which means its staff is so stretched that many workplaces go without an inspection for 99 years. The fertilizer plant that exploded in West, Texas, for example, hadn’t had a visit from OSHA since 1985. That will get worse, as sequestration will cut the agency’s budget by $564.8 million, likely leading to 1,200 fewer workplace inspections.

11. Obamacare: Sequestration cuts a number of important programs in the Affordable Care Act: $13 million from the Consumer Operated and Oriented Plan Program, or CO-OPs; $57 million from the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control program; $51 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund; $27 million from the State Grants and Demonstrations program; and $44 million from the Affordable Insurance Exchange Grants program, or the insurance exchanges.

12. Child care: Child care costs can exceed rent payments or college tuition and waiting lists for getting assistance are already long. Yet sequestration will reduce funds even further, meaning that 30,000 children will lose subsidies for care. For example, Arizona will experience a $3 million cut to funding that will force 1,000 out of care.

The Question (And Answer)

Political Cartoon is by Clay Bennett in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

House GOP Poised To Kill Immigration Reform

The national Republican Party realized after the last election that it was going to be very difficult for them to win back the White House (and the Senate) without reaching out to the Hispanic community. More than 70% of Hispanics voted Democratic in the 2012 election, and they compose the fastest growing portion of the electorate (while Whites are a diminishing portion of the electorate) -- a trend that is expected to continue unabated.

Those national GOP leaders thought passing an immigration reform bill (with a path to citizenship for undocumented workers) would be a good way to reach out to Hispanics. And they were right. Immigration reform is an issue that is very important to a large majority of Hispanics, and opposing that issue is a good way to continue to alienate Hispanic voters.

It looked like the Republicans might be on the way to rehabilitating themselves on this issue, as a bipartisan group of senators have agreed on a comprehensive immigration reform bill -- and its beginning to look like that bill might actually pass in the Senate. But for a bill to become law, it must pass both houses of Congress -- and the House Republicans have just signaled they don't want real immigration reform.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has announced that the House will not consider immigration reform in one big reform bill -- but will divide reform up into several small bills. He also refused to assure voters that immigration reform will be passed this year. The first bills to be considered by the House would be on workplace enforcement and a work visa program for temporary workers. That's because these would be popular with the GOP's teabagger base. It would deny permanent jobs to undocumented workers, but still allow employers to import cheap labor.

It also gives the House Republicans an opportunity to kill the "path to citizenship" portion of immigration reform -- which the racist and anti-immigrant base voters of the party don't like. But the Senate says it will not deal with immigration on a piecemeal basis. They want immigration to be dealt with in a comprehensive bill, and say they will not pass the piecemeal bills the House GOP wants. This means there is a good chance that no immigration bill will be passed.

Why the difference between the Senate GOP and the House GOP? Well, the senators must run statewide, which means they have to appeal to a much wider range of voters (including Hispanic voters). But the House GOP members, thanks to their 2010 gerrymandering efforts, only have to run in their safe white districts -- which means they only have to answer to their teabagger base, and not the public at large.

I think the national GOP leaders were serious in their desire to reach out to Hispanic voters. But their teabagger base is not ready for that, and because the base doesn't want to reach out to Hispanics, neither do the members of the House GOP. A political party can only go where their base voters allow them to go -- and too many of the Republican base still holds racist and anti-immigrant values.

This is going to hurt the GOP in state and national elections, which is good news for Democrats.


Political Cartoon is by Lalo Alcaraz.

Cutting Social Security Won't Fix The Budget

I'm getting very tired of all the lies about Social Security. Social Security is not the cause of a single penny of the budget deficit (because it is funded through a dedicated payroll tax paid by workers, and not by the federal government). Even conservative icon Ronald Reagan knew that. And he also knew that cutting Social Security would not balance the budget (since it didn't create the budget deficit). So it's time for Congress to stop searching for sneaky ways to cut Social Security benefits (like the chained CPI method of figuring inflation). Just leave Social Security alone, and pay back the money borrowed from the Social Security Trust Fund.

If you really want to cut the budget deficit, then spend more money helping the poor and creating jobs -- which will create more taxes and taxpayers as it creates demand and new jobs. Then eliminate subsidies for the corporations, ban the tax advantages for outsourcing, and tax the funds they are hiding overseas. And raise taxes on the rich, so they pay a bigger percentage than the middle class does (and tax all income as earned income).

Those things would eliminate the budget deficit. Cutting benefits for Social Security would not. Stop lying to the people!


Political Cartoon is by Nick Anderson in the Houston Chronicle.

Stop The Outsourcing

If you are blaming China for the outsourcing of American jobs, then you're blaming the wrong people. China couldn't take a single American job unless an American corporate mogul decides to send that job there. It's time to stop the outsourcing of good American jobs. And the first thing to do is to stop paying the giant corporations to outsource our jobs (by giving them tax breaks to do it). And personally, I would like to see an import tax on goods made abroad for American corporations when they try to bring them here to sell (after abusing cheap foreign workers to make them).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cowboys Take Wisconsin Center In 1st Round

It's hard to get a real difference maker in the NFL Draft when you have a mediocre football season -- a season that's not good enough to get you in the playoffs and not bad enough to get a superstar draft pick. I was hoping for a really good offensive or defensive lineman -- a "can't miss" pick that would be a sure upgrade for the line. But when the 18th pick came around all the best linemen on both sides of the ball had already been picked.

The Cowboys traded their 18th pick for a number 31 pick and a third round pick (from the 49ers). Then with the 31st pick, the Cowboys reached down into the second round and picked a center from the Wisconsin Badgers -- Travis Frederick (6' 4", 338 lbs). The Cowboys were weak at center last year, so maybe this is an upgrade. I really hope so. Being picked in the first round (even at number 31), Frederick needs to be a starter next season -- and a good one.

I still think they need another guard or tackle and an interior defensive lineman. Unfortunately, you never know what you're really getting when you draft after the first round. It could be a diamond in the rough, or it could be a poser. I guess we'll have to trust that the Cowboy scouts have found some guys with real value further down in the draft. All in all, I'm pretty disappointed in the first day of the draft.

Private Insurance Is The Wrong Answer