Saturday, September 24, 2011

EPA and Clean Air Act under Attack - again

The innocuous sounding Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (Train) Act of 2011 (H.R. 2401) is actually a thinly-disguised attempt initiated by Republicans to cripple the EPA, the only Federal agency directly responsible for implementation of the Clean Air Act. 

TRAIN represents the most significant attack on the Agency since Clean Air was signed into law by President Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago.  The Act would establish a cabinet-level Committee to analyze EPA regulations on “air, waste, water and climate change’ from a fiscal perspective.  TRAIN would also provide breathing room for utilities, especially coal-fired plants, by delaying implementation of EPA rules that would limit mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions (all known carcinogens) and seriously weaken cross-state pollution requirements.  Those utilities that profit from pollution fear enactment of the Rule would require the shutdown of outdated, pollution-belching plants across the country.     

While the Committee for Cumulative Analysis of Regulations and Impact Energy and Manufacturing in the United States would consist of the Secretarys of Treasury, Commerce, Labor and Energy as well as Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors and FERC, Small Business Administration and the US International Trade Commission to consider regulatory impacts on the economy, Clear Air's requirement since 1970 has been to focus directly on public health concerns.  It is worth noting that neither the Secretary of Health and Human Services nor representative of any Federal public health agency are included as members of the Committee.   

Even as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation along with many public health organizations opposed the Act, Republicans refer to EPA as a ‘rogue agency’ in persistent denial of the connection between bad air and respiratory illness.  Touted under the guise of more efficient regulation via a cost benefit analysis, opponents of the EPA and the Clean Air Act apparently believe that they and their families are immune from smog and particulate matter that contributes to lung cancer, increased heart attacks and asthma as Rep. Jim Lankford (Ok) offered the lame assurance that Republicans were not ‘out to poison American children.”  Lankford later revealed he has a daughter with asthma.

Final passage adopted TRAIN on a 249 – 169 vote with an astounding 19 Democrats joining the Republicans in support.  Those Democratic Representatives willing to gamble with their constituents’ health including two members each of the black and Hispanic caucuses were Altmire (Pa), Barrow (Ga), Bishop (Ga), Boren (Ok), Boswell (Ia), Cardoza (Cal), Chandler (Ky), Costa (Calif), Costello (Ill), Critz (Pa), Cuellar (Tx), Donnelly (In), Holden (Pa), Matheson (Ut), McIntrye (NC), Peterson (Minn), Rahall (WVa), Ross (Ark), and Sewell (Ala).

While the President has promised to veto TRAIN if it reaches his desk, the Act now goes to the Senate for action or to be relegated to the ‘Passed the House but Never Made it to the Senate Floor’ bin of history.      

Friday, September 23, 2011

Free Trade Agreements to Move Forward

Despite campaigning against NAFTA and Free Trade Agreements in 2008, three pending FTA's (South Korea, Colombia and Panama) supported by the President have been delayed  because of objections from the AFL-CIO.   Re-election is, after all, just around the corner.  

With Senate Republicans in strong support of free trade and after considerable wrangling with labor and its Democratic allies in Congress, an amendment offered by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act (HR 2832) was approved to provide $900 million worth of training and financial aid over three years to American workers displaced by foreign competition.  The amendment was adopted on a bi-partisan vote of 69 – 28 with 16 Republicans joining the Democrats.   The Club for Growth (ie Grover Norquist) and the Heritage Action for America opposed the Amendment.

Those 16 Republicans were Sens,  Blunt (Mo), Boozman (Ar), Brown (Ma), Coats (In), Cochran (Ms), Collins (Me), Heller (Nv), Hoever (Nd),  Lugar (In), Isakson (Ga), Johanns (Ne), Moran (KS),  Murkowski (Ak), Portman (WI), Snowe (Me) and Wicker (Ms).

With the Administration and Democrats assured of the necessary political cover, the way is now clear for each FTA to come before Congress for adoption.  While the Republicans were not enthusiastic in their support for TAA, this vote shows a willingness to  “compromise’ when they receive something of value in return.  Meanwhile, the neo-Democratic International Globalist party has shown itself willing to accept bad trade deals that will do nothing to create American jobs, correct the trade deficit or improve the U.S. economy.  Now that AFL concerns have been ameliorated by concessions that will do little for its members, labor opposition to the three pending FTA's can be expected to dissolve, paving the way for liberal Congressional Democrats to support the President's effort to further globalize the planet.  If this were simply a matter of the President learning the tricks of the trade sooner or playing the game of political hardball more astutely, we can only imagine a brighter future for millions of Americans - but has that ever really been the problem?   
During debate, Sen. Cornyn (R-Tx) offered an amendment to “require the President to sell at least 66 Lockheed-Martin F 16 fighter jets to Taiwan”.   With 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster, the amendment was defeated 48 – 48 on a tie vote.  Four Democrats including Sens. Blumenthal (Conn), Manchin (WVa), Menendez (NJ) and Nelson (Fl) with Sen Leiberman (I-Conn) voted with the Republicans.      

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Truth, the Fed and Debt Forgiveness

The Super-Duper Congressional Deficit Committee held its first meeting as if its conclusions are not already decided, the unhappy truth is that the economic recovery remains in a weakened state thanks to usury interest payments ($1.4 billion a day) to financial institutions like the Fed Bank and its Wall Street cronies.  Mandated by the debt ceiling agreement to cut $1.5 trillion from the $14 trillion deficit ($7 trillion of which belongs to George Bush), the Super Dupers can be expected to fulfill President Obama’s long sought goal of $4 trillion in cuts facetiously known as the Grand Bargain. 

You can bet your bottom dollar that these cuts will not include the President’s irrational allegiance to multiple proxy wars worth over $1 trillion or increased revenues from tax cuts for the wealthy which have added $1.8 trillion to the deficit.    

Perhaps the most positive outcome of the 2008 economic meltdown is that the American taxpayer, heretofore blissfully uninformed, has now taken a sudden interest in economic matters after being rudely awakened by a long overdue reality check.  Beyond the usual pablum provided by the ‘lamestream’ media (thank you Sarah Palin), President Obama continues to skillfully avoid the fact that the American people have been exploited by the same Big Banks who are major campaign contributors to his campaign and that his glib pronouncements have avoided explaining why and how this catastrophe occurred.     

The American public may not yet fully understand that when the Government borrows to pay its bills, one option is the Federal Reserve Bank. Despite a name chosen to evoke a Federal agency, the Federal Reserve Bank is a privately-held financial institution with certain vague quasi-governmental functions, independent of Government regulations.  While the Fed Chair is appointed by the President and attending Congressional hearings are part of the façade that the Fed is being accountable, Congress has no authority to require the Fed or its Chair do anything.  The recent one year one-time audit “required” by the Paul/Grayson/Sanders amendment (as a result of public outrage at Congress which the Fed dared not ignore) revealed a $16 trillion interest-free ‘loan’ to the Too-Big-to-Fail Banks at a time when the nation’s states facing their own deficit crisis were denied Fed assistance. . 

Organized to resemble a central bank, the Fed is more like a cartel of shared financial interests as it artfully dodges the appearance of an unholy concentration of power and wealth.  Since the Fed is not a bona fide  agency within Government, the country would be better served by a public banking function entrusted to the Treasury Department with the ability to ‘forgive’ national and state debts.  Some economists estimate that the amount of the $14 trillion debt owed to the Fed varies from 10% to 40 %.  

The two institutions are nevertheless deeply entwined as the Federal government is a major revenue source for the Fed.  Here’s one example of how taxpayer money benefits the Fed but the reverse is not true.  If the government borrows $10 billion, the Fed has accrued a significant asset on its books not just in the form of interest due on the $10 billion but, thanks to the fractional reserve system, the Fed now has an extra $100 billion to loan out – creating massive new interest opportunities.  As a privately-held institution, the Fed’s sole raison d’etre is to create profits and/or interest-free loans for its members rather than accommodate the needs of its country of origin.  

The American people would also benefit from a better understanding of the motivation to cut Social Security benefits.  With assertions that the Social Security Trust Fund is solvent for the next 25 years since it is a pay-as-you-go system paid for with payroll deductions, the Fund has collected more in payments than it has been paid out in benefits for the last 27 years.  What the American public has yet to discover is that the Federal government has looted, raided and “borrowed” from the Fund for the last 30 years and by the end of 2010, the Federal government owed the Fund $2.6 trillion (18% of the country’s current $14 trillion deficit).   That debt owed is why the White House, Congress and assorted Deficit Commissions have put Social Security on the table – and if Obama, the Super-Duper Twelve and Congress agree to reduce Social Security benefits, sleight-of-hand legislative tricks will translate into a reduced repayment owed to the Fund and voila! reduce the deficit. 

With SS cost-of-living increases frozen since 2009, can America’s soon-to-be seniors expect the Federal government to honor its legal and moral obligation to replenish the Fund?   When Congress felt the need to dip into the Social Security Trust Fund for some quick cash, did they also dip into their own Federal pension system?

Even as the Preamble to the Constitution to ‘promote the general welfare’ established the Government’s legitimate role to serve the public interest, efforts to frighten the American public that if the nation’s People Programs are not unmercifully slashed and the deficit not reduced, unspeakable events may occur.  Not to disregard the bitter reality of unemployment statistics and home foreclosures, what has been lost in all the histrionics is a rational presentation by the President offering economic facts and fundamentals that shed more light on our current predicament.          

Obviously, a deficit has resulted from borrowing to fund Federal programs.  Without a deficit, public investments in education and technological innovation would be lost.  Without deficit spending, Government, as we know it, would cease to support the needs of its citizens and even cease to exist.  History has proven that public investments like infrastructure improvements  generate jobs and revenue that pays back government debt.   

Some of the country’s largest and most profitable private sector businesses accrue high levels of debt as a reasonable cost of doing business as their contribution to growing the economy.  One measure of an institution’s economic health is its debt-to-equity ratio comparing money borrowed to annual income.  As GE operates with a 3 to 1 ratio borrowing three times more than its income for investment purposes, the United States generates a $14 trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product which represents the market value of goods and services produced) while carrying a $14 trillion debt for a healthy debt ratio of 1 to 1.               

Another measure of fiscal condition is debt compared to GDP.   According to the CIA World Factbook and Eurostat, the US debt to GDP of 70% may provide little comfort but fares better than expected when compared to the UK at 76%, Canada at 84%, Germany at 83% and France at 82%

By comparison, after WWII with debt at 120% of GDP and a $260 billion war debt (equivalent to $3 trillion in 2011) which was rolled over, the Federal government had the political will to invest in a GI Bill and a Federal Highway system that stimulated the economy faster than it created debt.   The country remained in goods hands as the US debt was reduced every year from 1947 until 1980 when Ronald  Reagan sold the idea that debt was ‘out of control’ as he increased the Federal debt by $1.8 trillion.

As the Government teeters on an obscure economic brink with erratic stock market swings, huge
majorities of the public disapproving of Congressional and Presidential efforts on the economy as a mere 19% believe the country is headed in the right direction, both institutions have failed in their fiduciary responsibility.   As the American public accurately perceives that at the heart of the failed economy is a badly mismanaged and corrupt Government,  not one contemporary politician or mainstream economist has a clue of what should be done, that the true picture of Government indebtedness may be more severe than we know and that an imminent economic catastrophe will disintegrate what remains of civil society.  

Demoralized and discouraged, the American people, with too few real choices on Election Day, will either vote for the candidate who honors them with truth-telling and a concrete employment policy and a plan to stem the rate of foreclosures or they may instead opt to take in a double feature at the neighborhood theatre.  And you can take that to the bank.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Top 20 Congressional Recipients of Big Pharma Campaign Funds

Carper, Tom (D-DE)                     $47,600
Nelson, Ben (D-NE)                     $46,650
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA)              $46,000
Brown, Scott P (R-MA)                $44,400
Hoyer, Steny H (D-MD)                $43,500
Upton, Fred (R-MI)                       $43,500
Corker, Bob (R-TN)                      $42,500
Boehner, John (R-OH)                   $36,500
Clyburn, James E (D-SC)               $33,000
Pitts, Joe (R-PA)                             $30,500
Schwartz, Allyson (D-PA)               $29,500
Hatch, Orrin G (R-UT)                   $29,500
Barrasso, John A (R-WY)              $29,000
Camp, Dave (R-MI)                       $28,500
Gillibrand, Kirsten (D-NY)              $28,250
Menendez, Robert (D-NJ)               $27,500
Eshoo, Anna (D-CA)                       $27,000
Cantor, Eric (R-VA)                         $26,000
Casey, Bob (D-PA)                          $26,000
Lance, Leonard (R-NJ)                    $24,500

cite:  Center for Responsive Politics

Thursday, September 1, 2011

U.S. House of Representatives - Progressive Caucus

Co Chairs                                                                     Vice Chairs

Keith Ellison                                                                 Tami Baldwin
Raul Grijalva                                                                 Judy Chu
                                                                                    William Clay
Whip                                                                            Sheila Jackson-Lee
                                                                                    Chellie Pingree
Hank Johnson
                                                                                    Senate Member
                                                                                   Sen. Bernie Sanders
House Members

Karen Bass                                                                     
Xavier Becerra                                                                  
Earl Blumenauer                                                                                  
Robert Brady                                                                                                  
Corinne Brown                                                                            
Michael Capuano                                                                                
Andre Carson                                                                                      
Donna Christensen                                                                               
Yvette Clarke                                                                               
Emanuel Cleaver                                                                        
David Ciciline                                                              
Steve Cohen                                                    
John Conyers                                                                          
Elijah Cummings                                                                                             
Danny Davis                                                    
Peter de Fazio                                                 
Rosa de Lauro                                                 
Donna Edwards                                               
Sam Farr                                                         
Chakra Fattah                                                 
Bob Filner                                                       
Barney Frank                                                  
Marcia Fudge                                                  
Luis Gutierrez                                                  
Maurice Hinchey                                             
Mazie Hirono                                                  
Michael Honda                                    
Jesse Jackson, Jr.                                            
Eddie Bernice Johnson
Marcy Kaplan
Dennis Kucinich
Barbara Lee
John Lewis
David Loebsack
Ben Ray Lujan
Carolyn Maloney
Ed Markey
Jim McDermott
James McGovern
George Miller
Gwen Moore
Jim Moran
Jerrold Nadler
Eleanor Holmes Norton
John Olver
Frank Pallone  
Ed Pastor
Donald Payne
Jared Polis
Charles Rangel
Laura Richardson
Lucille Roybal-Allred
Bobby Rush
Linda Sanchez
Jan Schakowsky
Jose Serrano
Louise Slaughter
Pete Stark
Bennie Thompson
John Tierney
Nydia Velasquez
Maxine Waters
Mel Watt
Peter Welch
Frederica Wilson
Lynn Woolsey

Quote of the Month

"Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws."  attributed to Meyer Amschel Rothschild by Sen. Robert Owen, Chair of Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, 1913

Recommended Reading: The Way of the World" by Ron Suskind

A Pultizer Prize winning investigative reporter, Suskind provides the necessary evidentiary details of criminality to justify a full Congressional investigation into how the Bush/Cheney cabal deliberately deceived the American public regarding the invasion of Iraq.