DISPATCHES

TAXES COULD DO ‘SUPER’ JOB

As the “supercommittee” shambled off in late November without the hoped-for “grand bargain” to find $1.2 tln in deficit reductions (mainly because Republicans refused to consider any net tax increases), that left the prospects of across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic spending to take up the slack.

Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, in his New York Times column (11/28) noted that restoring high-income tax brackets to their level before 1980 could raise more than $1 tln over the next decade. But that is not being seriously considered. Instead, there are proposals to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67, which would save the federal government $125 bln over the decade, but would deal a major blow to millions of senior Americans as they were pushed out of Medicare and into private insurance, which has substantially higher costs. “And even when fully phased in, this partial dismantling of Medicare would reduce the deficit only about a third as much as could be achieved with higher taxes on the rich,” Krugman wrote. “So raising taxes on the very rich could make a serious contribution to deficit reduction. Don’t believe anyone who claims otherwise.”

Another way to close the deficit is to tax financial transactions. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore), are proposing a tiny fee on stock and bond transactions, Krugman noted. “And here’s the thing: Because there are so many transactions, such a fee could yield several hundred billion dollars in revenue over the next decade. Again, this compares favorably with the savings from many of the harsh spending cuts being proposed in the name of fiscal responsibility.

“But wouldn’t such a tax hurt economic growth? As I said, the evidence suggests not — if anything, it suggests that to the extent that taxing financial transactions reduces the volume of wheeling and dealing, that would be a good thing.

“And it’s instructive, too, to note that some economies already have financial transactions taxes — and that among those who do are Hong Kong and Singapore. If some conservative starts claiming that such taxes are an unwarranted government intrusion, you might want to ask him why such taxes are imposed by the two countries that score highest on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.”

Lou Dubose has posted several helpful suggestions for closing the deficit at WashingtonSpectatorblog.org. He noted that the Project on Government Oversight and Taxpayers for Common Sense came up with nearly $600 bln in budget savings that the Department of Defense could make without harming national security.

Among other things, the report at pogo.org notes that the Defense Department spends $200 bln on contractors each year, which is $50 bln more than what is spent on all uniformed personnel in the service branches. A modest 15% reduction in government spending on contractors each year would net $30 bln per year (or $300 bln over 10 years.).

With the threat of Russian tanks rolling into West Germany considered unlikely, a reduction of US troops in Western Europe seems long overdue. Pulling 20,000 US troops out of Europe would leave 35,000 there but would save $30 bln over 10 years.

Stopping production of the V-22 Osprey aircraft, which has been plagued with safety problems as well as cost overruns, and replacing them with MH-60 or CH-53 helicopters would save $12 bln over 10 years and create a safer and more efficient combat force.

Stopping production of the B and C models of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and replacing them with the F/A-18 Hornet, which is already in use and cheaper than the F-35s that are still in the pipeline, would save $43.64 bln.

“Add $60 bln in savings from a modest increase in TRICARE premiums that retired military personnel pay for healthcare, along with other military healthcare reforms suggested by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and you quickly get to $445 bln,” Dubose noted. See the rest in “Spending Less, Spending Smarter” at pogo.org.

Dubose also noted (11/21) that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is going after $100 bln in tax revenue that the US loses to corporations that shelter their profits in foreign banks, including 18,877 businesses that are registered at one address in the Cayman Islands. Republicans have blocked Levin’s Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act in the past five sessions, but a Dallas-based law firm, Brown PC, advises its corporate tax clients that despite past failures, Levin’s crusade against offshore accounting may finally be gathering enough support to become law. “Saying no to a potential $100 bln in tax revenue (all without a rate increase) could be difficult for any lawmaker amid today’s heavy budget cuts and spiraling deficit,” Brown said. Dubose added, “As I do the math, $100 bln a year over 10 years gets the Federal Treasury close to the $1.2 tln in deficit reduction the Supercommittee failed to achieve.”

Dubose also suggested a tax on the rich. “Of course, a tax on the rich stands no chance in this Congress,” Dubose wrote (11/28). “But these policy debates are not about this Congress. They might not be about the next Congress, or the Congress elected in 2014. They are about the future of the country, part of national conversation opened up up by the Occupy Wall Street movement.”

As for the transaction tax Krugman mentioned, Robert Polin, Dean Baker and Marc Schaberg have been making the case for a tax on stock, bond and derivatives transactions — sometimes called a “Tobin Tax,” after its proponent, Nobel Prize-winning economist James Tobin, who reintroduced the idea in 1978.

Dubose notes that, according to Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men, President Obama insisted on a financial transactions tax, but he was talked out of it by Lawrence Summers (who as a Harvard economist in 1989 had written about the desirability and feasibility of implementing such a tax to curb excess associated with short-term speculation as well as to raise revenue).

Britain has had a “transfer fee” since 1891 and trades on the London Stock Exchange are currently taxed at 0.5%.

Harkin and DeFazio’s “Wall Street Trading and Speculators Tax” would impose a tax of 0.03% on financial trading. The Congressional Joint Tax Committee reported that it would raise $352 bln in revenue over the next 10 years. “It is hard to argue with this substantial revenue derived from a tax of $3 on $10,000 of Wall Street trading,” Harkin said. But Dubose noted that the DeFazio-Harkin bills are dead on arrival in a House controlled by Republicans and a Senate routinely resorts to a procedural veto to block all progressive legislation.

“But it’s a policy initiative that progressives should not abandon,” Dubose wrote. “Consider. It imposes a tax on the institutions that delivered the country into the Great Recession. Not only on the institutions responsible for the recession, but on the specific activity by which they created it. Bankers and Wall Street traders are less popular than Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. And after the Supercommittee collapsed and triggered big cuts in defense and other discretionary spending, the need for new sources of revenue is even more pressing.”

Dubose concluded, “Democrats should relentlessly demagogue the tax bill that Harkin and DeFazio are trying to pass — until opposing it becomes a greater burden than Republicans in Congress can bear. Even if it takes a few years.”

ANOTHER SURVEY FINDS FOX NEWS MISINFORMS. A survey of adults in New Jersey, conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University in October and released 11/21, found that viewers of the right-wing cable network are 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those who watch no news at all. Fox News watchers also were 6 points less likely to know that Syrians have not yet overthrown their government than those who watch no news.

By contrast, the survey found some media sources have a positive effect on political facts. For example, people who report reading a national newspaper like the New York Times or USA Today are 12 points more likely to know that Egyptians have overthrown their government than those who have not looked at any news source. And those who listen to the non-profit NPR radio network are 11 points more likely to know the outcome of the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. However, the best informed respondents are those that watched Sunday morning news programs: leading to a 16-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Egypt and an 8-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Syria.

Eric Boehlert noted at MediaMatters.org (11/22) that Fairleigh Dickinson’s findings in New Jersey was at least the seventh survey that put the spotlight on the tendency of Fox News to misinform people. In 2003, during the Iraq War, the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes study found widespread public misperceptions about the Iraq war, but viewers of Fox News were significantly more likely than average to have misperceptions. In 2009, a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found Fox fans were overwhelmingly misinformed about the proposed health care reform. In October 2010, two Ohio State University researchers released a study conducted the previous month that found that the more people view Fox News, the more unfounded rumors they had heard about the proposed construction of an Islamic community center in the vicinity of “Ground Zero” in Lower Manhattan and the more they believe those rumors. In December 2010 Stanford University, in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, released a report that found exposure to Fox News was associated with more rejection of mainstream scientists’ claims about global warming, with less trust in scientists, and with more belief that ameliorating global warming would hurt the US economy. In December 2010, a survey conduced by the Program on International Policy Attitudes showed that regular Fox News viewers “were significantly more likely” to hold misinformed views on issues of national importance. In February 2011 the Kaiser Family Foundation found that loyal Fox News viewers knew less about health care reform than did CNN and MSNBC viewers.

FED BANK RESCUE COST $7.7T. The nation’s biggest banks were in trouble so deep they needed $1.2 tln from the Federal Reserve in emergency loans on Dec. 5, 2008, at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy, Bloomberg Markets reported in its January issue. Banks reaped $13 bln from the Fed’s below-market rates, the magazine reported.

When guarantees and lending limits are figured in, the Federal Reserve had committed $7.7 tln as of March 2009 to rescue the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the US that year.

“Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.

“A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger,” the magazine reported.

“When you see the dollars the banks got, it’s hard to make the case these were successful institutions,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who introduced an unsuccessful bill to limit bank size. “This is an issue that can unite the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. There are lawmakers in both parties who would change their votes now.”

The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest US banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open. It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 bln Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

Former Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.), said knowledge of how much trouble the banks were in might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking. “Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.

LOOMING GOP TAX HIKE. All six of the Republican members of the supercommittee wrote a joint op-ed in the Washington Post (11/26), trying to avoid blame for the panel’s failure. There was a lot of nonsense in the piece, Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com, but one tidbit stood out:

“The 2001 and 2003 changes to the tax code reduced marginal rates for all taxpayers as well as the rates for capital gains, dividends and the death tax. For technical reasons, all of these provisions expire at the end of next year — meaning that if Congress does not act, Americans will face the largest tax increase in our history,” the Republicans wrote. “This prospect has put a wet blanket over job creation and economic recovery. It would be the wrong medicine for our ailing economy. As President Obama has famously said, ‘You don’t raise taxes in a recession.’”

Benen noted that the six Republicans are playing fast and loose with several key details, hoping the public won’t know the difference. “For example, the mere possibility of tax increases in 2013 is not holding back the economy in 2011. That’s ridiculous.”

But even if you look at the argument at face value: the Republican lawmakers are saying they’re against a tax increase in the short term, and believe such an increase would hurt the economy. But they have balked at President Obama’s call for an extension of the payroll tax cut, which is set to expire in January.

“And that leaves GOP lawmakers in an interesting position. On the one hand, they’re killing a super-committee deal because they refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2013. On the other hand — indeed, at the exact same time — the identical Republicans have no qualms about supporting a tax increase on practically every American who earns a paycheck, which would kick in on Jan. 1 ...

“You see the problem. Republicans are afraid a tax increase affecting a small sliver of the population over a year from now is awful for the economy, but they’re comfortable with a tax increase affecting practically everyone a month from now.”

STIMULUS WORKED (REGARDLESS OF WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD). Republicans insist that the Recovery Act in 2009 failed and is proof that government stimulus doesn’t work, and the D.C. punditocracy has largely accepted that talking point. But the Congressional Budget Office reported (11/22) that President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package continues to benefit the struggling economy. The agency said the measure raised GDP by between 0.3% and 1.9% in the third quarter of 2011, which ended 9/30. Total GDP in that quarter was 2%, the Commerce Department reported.

CBO said the stimulus also lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.2 and 1.3 percentage points and increased the number of people employed by up to 3.3 mln. (TheHill.com.)

BANKS MAY HAVE ILLEGALLY FORECLOSED ON 5,000 MILITARY FAMILIES. For months, major banks have been dealing with the fallout of the “robo-signing” scandal, following reports that the banks were improperly foreclosing on homeowners and, in many instances, falsifying paperwork that they were submitting to courts. Banks have been forced to go back and reexamine foreclosures to ensure that homeowners did not lose their homes unlawfully. In the latest episode of this mess, Financial Times reported (11/28) that the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has found that banks — including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup — may have improperly foreclosed on up to 5,000 active members of the military.

Pat Garofalo noted at Think-Progress.org (11/29) that military members have been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. Last year alone, 20,000 members of the military faced foreclosure, a 32% increase over 2008. The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is tasked with ensuring that military members and other consumers are treated fairly by financial services companies — a job that is obviously necessary — but Republicans in Congress have, so far, refused to confirm a director for the agency, leaving it unable to fulfill all of its responsibilities.

DEFENSE BILL CODIFIES DETENTIONS. [Updated from original post] The Senate (12/1) approved the National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867) after a spirited but little-noted debate over provisions that would codify the military’s authority to pick up and imprison without charge or trial civilians anywhere in the world, including US citizens on US soil. The bill was drafted in secret by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and passed (11/15) in a closed-door committee hearing without a public hearing. Chris Anders of the American Civil Liberties Union said the detention provision effectively repeals the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits military involvement in domestic law enforcement. Anders noted that the White House, the secretary of defense, the attorney general and directors of national intelligence and the FBI opposed the indefinite detention provisions as harmful and counterproductive and the White House threatened a veto.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) offered an amendment to delete the detention authorization and instead order a congressional review of detention power. That amendment failed, 38-60 on 11/29 (Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., joined 35 Democrats supporting the amendment — see the roll call below) and the bill appeared headed for passage. It likely will require a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House, which among other things included a worldwide declaration of war on terrorists.

The Senate also rejected an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) that would have explicitly prevented the indefinite detention of Americans without trial, on a 45-55 vote. She then got approval (99-1) of a compromise amendment that says the bill does not alter current authorities relating to detention, leaving either side free to argue whether current law allows or prohibits indefinite military detention of Americans captured in the US.

Adam Serwer noted at MotherJones.com (12/2) that the compromise "leaves the question of domestic military detention open, leaving the matter for Supreme Court to resolve should a future president decide to assert the authority to detain a US citizen on American soil. Senators who defended the detention provisions can continue to say that current law allows Americans to be detained based on the 2004 Hamdi v Rumsfeld case in which an American captured fighting in Afghanistan was held in military detention. Opponents can continue to point out that the Hamdi case doesn't resolve whether or not Americans can be detained indefinitely without charge if captured in their own country, far from any declared battlefield. They have the better of the argument.

"The compromise amendment however, does nothing to address the Obama administration's concerns about the bill. The Directors of the FBI and CIA, the secretary of defense, and the director of national intelligence have all said that the bill's provision mandating military detention of non-citizen terror suspects apprehended on American soil would interfere with terrorism investigations and harm national security. That hasn't changed. The question is whether or not the administration is willing to make good on its threat to veto the bill, or whether it was just bluffing."

In our view, the military should not be involved in detention of civilians in the US unless regular law enforcement has broken down. In any case, any suspected terrorist detained by US police or military at home or abroad has the right to due process of law and access to courts — as odious as their actions or their aspirations might be. Either that, or they are prisoners of war and should be treated in accordance with the Geneva conventions. But the right to due process is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and cannot be repealed by an act of Congress.

The good news is that there appears to be enough senators to sustain a veto, but urge the White House to veto the bill and let your senators know they should stand up for due process, even if it means a suspected terrorist wannabe gets his day in court.

Here is the roll call vote on the Udall amendment.

AYES (38): Akaka (D-HI), Baucus (D-MT), Bennet (D-CO), Bingaman (D-NM), Blumenthal (D-CT), Boxer (D-CA), Brown (D-OH), Cantwell (D-WA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Coons (D-DE), Durbin (D-IL), Feinstein (D-CA), Franken (D-MN), Gillibrand (D-NY), Harkin (D-IA), Johnson (D-SD), Kerry (D-MA), Kirk (R-IL), Klobuchar (D-MN), Lautenberg (D-NJ) Leahy (D-VT), Menendez (D-NJ), Merkley (D-OR), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Nelson (D-FL), Paul (R-KY), Reid (D-NV), Rockefeller (D-WV), Sanders (I-VT), Schumer (D-NY), Tester (D-MT), Udall (D-CO), Udall (D-NM), Warner (D-VA), Webb (D-VA), Wyden (D-OR).

NAYS (60): Alexander (R-TN), Ayotte (R-NH), Barrasso (R-WY), Blunt (R-MO), Boozman (R-AR), Brown (R-MA), Burr (R-NC), Casey (D-PA), Chambliss (R-GA), Coats (R-IN), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Collins (R-ME), Conrad (D-ND), Corker (R-TN), Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), DeMint (R-SC), Enzi (R-WY), Graham (R-SC), Grassley (R-IA), Hagan (D-NC), Hatch (R-UT), Heller (R-NV), Hoeven (R-ND), Hutchison (R-TX), Inhofe (R-OK), Inouye (D-HI), Isakson (R-GA), Johanns (R-NE), Johnson (R-WI), Kohl (D-WI), Kyl (R-AZ), Landrieu (D-LA), Lee (R-UT), Levin (D-MI), Lieberman (ID-CT), Lugar (R-IN), Manchin (D-WV), McCain (R-AZ), McCaskill (D-MO), McConnell (R-KY), Moran (R-KS), Nelson (D-NE), Portman (R-OH), Pryor (D-AR), Reed (D-RI), Risch (R-ID), Roberts (R-KS), Rubio (R-FL), Sessions (R-AL), Shaheen (D-NH), Shelby (R-AL), Snowe (R-ME), Stabenow (D-MI), Thune (R-SD), Toomey (R-PA), Vitter (R-LA), Whitehouse (D-RI), Wicker (R-MS).

Begich (D) and Murkowski (R) of Alaska did not vote.

COURT REJECTS TEXAS GERRYMANDER. US Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) once again apparently has escaped Republican attempts to gerrymander him out of a winnable district. Former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay this past January was convicted of felony money laundering charges stemming from his extraordinary efforts to get the Legislature in 2003 to redraw Doggett into a “fajita strip” district that stretched from Austin to the Rio Grande (Doggett won anyway and a federal court in 2006, rulling in a Voting Rights Act lawsuit, redrew the map and restored Doggett’s Austin base). This year the GOP-dominated Legislature carved Doggett’s liberal Austin hometown among five congressional districts that stretched as far away as the outskirts of Fort Worth and Houston and into San Antonio, Waco and West Texas. Doggett found himself in a majority Latino district based in San Antonio. But a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio tossed out the map (11/23) and substituted a new one that complies with the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters in states with a history of diluting minority votes. The court consolidates three districts in Austin/Travis County, including one that Doggett can win. Democrats hope to pick up at least three of four seats the state gained with the new census count. Under the court-ordered map, minorities will have a shot at winning 13 of 36 districts, up from 10 under the Legislature’s map, according to the Lone Star Project. Texas Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott (R) has asked the US Supreme Court to stop the lower court order, but a stay is considered unlikely.

BARNEY FRANK SETS RETIREMENT. Some progressives probably have mixed emotions about the announcement that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) will retire in 2013. As chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Frank shepherded the , Dodd-Frank financial reform bill through the House, but we don’t think the shortfalls in that bill are Frank’s fault and had more to do with the problems getting a stronger and better bill through the Senate.

Frank was a solid liberal, a former president of Americans for Democratic Action who scored 100% on their key liberal issues in 2010 and had a lifetime progressive score of 94.53% in votes rated by ProgressivePunch.org. That ranked him 47th in the House. Last year he teamed with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to push for a serious re-examination of defense spending as part of an economically and socially responsible deficit reduction plan. But Frank had a sharp tongue and didn’t suffer fools gladly, which is probably one of the main reasons he decided at age to hang it up next year, at age 71, rather than go glad-handing in a reconfigured district for one more term. He said he hopes to spend the next year working to implement the financial reforms and promote military savings as part of long-term deficit reduction, rather than running for re-election.

He said of the House under Republican rule: “It consists half of people who think like Michele Bachmann and half of people who are afraid of losing a primary to people who think like Michele Bachmann and that leaves very little room to work things out.”

When he’s gone, Suzy Khimm wrote in the Washington Post Nov. 28, Democrats will be forced to fill the void to keep the Dodd-Frank Act intact.

ALABAMA RETHINKS IMMIGRATION LAW AFTER GERMAN BUSINESSMAN JAILED. When the Alabama Legislature passed a bill to criminalize undocumented immigrants and authorize police to jail foreigners who didn't have the proper papers, lawmakers apparently never considered, "What could possibly go wrong?"

When thousands of Latino residents, including legal immigrants, took the hint and disappeared to states where their brown skin would not make them subject to arbitrary traffic stops and possible incarceration on felony charges, farmers protested that they were left without workers willing to harvest their crops and merchants in small towns also complained that their business dried up. The law also has created long lines as local governments are required to check immigration status for routine tasks such as acquiring a dog license or turning on electric utilities.

But lawmakers took little notice until a German executive of Mercedes-Benz visiting his company's factory, which employs 3,400 near Tuscaloosa, was pulled over in November for driving a rental car without a tag. When the police officer asked the man for his license, all he had was his German ID card. So he was hauled off to the police station.

That embarrassed state Sen. Gerald Dial, who voted for the law in June along with every other Republican legislator but one. Dial told Elizabeth Dwoskin of Bloomberg News (11/23), "Mercedes has done more to change the image to Alabama than just about anything else. We don't want to upset those people."

Gov. Robert Bentley (R) told business leaders in November that the law is "very complicated" and should be simplified, but Dwoskin reported that none of the politicians who expressed doubts about HB56 wants it repealed. They want to preserve the penalties for hiring illegal immigrants and the mandate for police to question the legal status of traffic violators.

The state has worked hard to convince foreign companies that Alabama is a welcoming place to outsiders. “Thirty years after the events surrounding civil rights in Alabama we successfully recruited Mercedes-Benz, and the biggest hurdle we had to overcome,” said former Gov. Jim Folsom Jr. (D) “was the perception of racism here.”

A Chinese company, Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group, which announced plans to build a $100 mln plant with 300 jobs in Thomasville, Ala., "is having second thoughts" about Alabama in light of the controversial law, according to David Bronner, chairman and chief executive of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. who told George Talbot of the Mobile Press-Register (11/16) Chinese officials have expressed concerns to him on numerous occasions. He said the new immigration law also caused Spanish owners of BBVA Compass to cancel plans for an $80 mln bank tower in Birmingham. Bronner said the law has had a chilling effect on foreign investment in Alabama at a time when the state economy is increasingly dependent on international companies. "Every ethnic group has cold feet about us right now," said Bronner. "We’ve given our competitors a hammer to beat us over the head with, and they’re using it."

Greg Canfield, the state's top industrial recruiter, told the Press-Register he's heard no such complaints. (DailyKos.com.)

DERIVATIVES REGULATOR UNDERFUNDED. House Republicans insisted on cutting President Obama’s budget request for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission by more than a third, in a blow to the agency’s new rule in overseeing the derivatives market, Politico.com reported (11/14). Obama requested $303 mln for the fiscal year that began 10/1 but the House-Senate conference report is expected to come closer to $205 mln, a virtual freeze at current appropriations levels. ““We have seen the results of an ill-funded and ill-equipped regulator. It isn’t a pretty picture,” said Bart Children, a Democratic commissioner. “Congress can fund our agency and we can do the job they have instructed us to do or we will have to pick and choose priorities. We certainly can’t do it all without the needed resources.”

Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (11/29) that Republicans in June actually wanted to cut the commission’s budget 15% from current levels. “The only possible conclusion to be drawn is that the Republicans in Congress believe that the way ‘the markets’ worked in the run-up to the disastrous autumn of 2008 is the way ‘the markets’ are *supposed* to work”

WIS. RECALL DRIVE GETS FAST START. Wisconsin Democrats say that in the first 12 days of their petition effort they collected 300,000 signatures, more than half of the number needed to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) after he led the effort to pass legislation to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights.

Sponsors have 60 days to collect 540,000 signatures, or 25% of the turnout for the last gubernatorial election, but John Nichols wrote at TheNation.com (11/28) that nobody expected the recall drive to move as quickly as it has. And conservative communities in Republican regions of the state have taken the lead in collecting recall signatures against the Republican governor whose combination of job-killing economic schemes and cuts to basic services and public education have done damage beyond Wisconsin’s big cities.

The battering the state’s rural and small-town economy has taken under Walker is coupled with divisive policies and extreme cuts. The governor’s assault on collective-bargaining rights has strained relations at the county, city, village, township and school district levels. And his determination to cut state funding for public services and public education in order to fund tax cuts for out-of-state corporations has been especially devastating for rural communities, small towns and small cities, Nichols wrote.

United Wisconsin (unitedwisconsin.com) hopes to trigger only the third gubernatorial recall election in the nation’s history, following North Dakota in 1921 and California in 2003.

However, WisCons apparently are proceeding with plans to sabotage the recall effort by collecting signatures and not turning them in and posing as groups such as “Occupy Madison” that in a website posting claimed “Walker Recall a success, all necessary signatures collected.” A person on a Edgewood College campus in Madison faked interest in signing a petition but instead tore it up, the Madison Journal Sentinel reported (11/22). A person in St. Croix tore up a petition to recall Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and grabbed a Walker petition, which was recovered by the startled petitioners, according to DailyKos.com (11/23). Destroying or defacing a recall petition is a felony, according to the state Government Accountability Board.

AGGRESSIVE QUESTIONER BACK IN AT PRESS CLUB. The National Press Club (11/15) suspended journalist Sam Husseini for two weeks after he engaged in aggressive questioning of Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia, criticizing the Saudi human rights record. Following an outcry in the media, the Press Club decided to lift the suspension, ThinkProgress noted (11/28). “I welcome this decision and aim to ask ever tougher and sharper questions. I hope others will as well,” wrote Husseini, a staffer with the Institute for Public Accuracy, in response to the lifting of his suspension. “I had asked the Saudi ambassador about the legitimacy of his regime, but if tough questions are not welcome at the Press Club, or at other media institutions, then their legitimacy is also undermined.”

COSTELLO: STEAL MY BOX, BUY SATCHMO’S. Refreshingly, British singer-songwriter and punk elder Elvis Costello has balked at the outrageous $202.66 price - it “appears to be either a misprint or a satire” — his label imposed on his new box set, “The Return Of The Spectacular Spinning Songbook,” and is urging music fans to instead buy “Ambassador Of Jazz,” a ten-album gift box priced at about $150 “by one of the most beautiful and loving revolutionaries who ever lived – Louis Armstrong.” Costello, writing as The Right Rev. Jimmy Quickly, adds, “Frankly, the music is vastly superior.” (Abby Zimet, CommonDreams.org)

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2011


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