Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Indiana Property Tax Caps: Should They Be In The Constitution?

Indianapolis, IN - The Indiana Institute for Working Families released a policy brief, Indiana Property Tax Caps: Using Dollars and $ense to Make the Right Decision, which examines the property tax restructuring legislation, and discusses whether a key component of the property tax restructuring - the caps - should be placed in the State's constitution.

"Property taxes are a real hot button issue. We want all Hoosiers to be educated about the issue when they vote this fall," said Lisa Travis, Team Leader of CAA Network Support.

In March 2008, the Indiana General Assembly enacted legislation overhauling the State's property tax system. The purpose of the "1-2-3" legislation as it has come to be known, was to cap property taxes for homeowners, rental property owners, and businesses at 1%, 2 %, and 3% of assessed value, respectively. In 2009, the caps were in the process of being phased-in and were set at 1.5%, 2.5%, and 3.5%. Under the 2009 caps, 2.7% of all property tax cap credits were distributed to homeowners with the vast majority of the tax cap credits (97.3%) being given to owners of rental properties and businesses taxed under 2.5% and 3.5% caps.

Beginning in 2010, the 1%, 2%, and 3% caps will be in full effect, which means the use of the tax cap credits could change dramatically in 2010. A March 2009 analysis, by the Indiana Legislative Services Agency (LSA), estimates that the cost of the homestead tax caps could grow by nearly 600% when the homeowners' cap is tightened from 1.5% to 1%.3

While property taxes were reduced for many Hoosier homeowners, these tax cuts were paid for through an increase in the state's sales tax and the elimination of a number of existing property tax relief mechanisms. As a result, renters are shouldering a large portion of the cost of property tax relief for homeowners. One estimate found that as many as 60% of Indiana renters would pay more in taxes under the restructuring, while close to 80% of homeowners would pay less.

The next stage of the property tax debate requires deciding whether or not to place the tax caps in the State constitution. Voters will have their say at the polls this November. However, the property tax caps are already in Indiana state statute. Adding the caps to the constitution will not result in increased property tax cuts for homeowners. Instead, it will tie the hands of future Hoosiers and their representatives to adjust the property tax caps in times of economic distress (as it takes two legislative sessions to remove an amendment from the State constitution).

"The full impact of the caps on local services such as schools, fire and police protection, and road maintenance will not be clear until much later. Protecting these untested provisions from future alteration is unnecessary and irresponsible," said Lisa Travis, Team Leader of CAA Network Support.

To view the policy brief in its entirety, please visit www.incap.org.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Truthout 2/1

William Rivers Pitt | Schooled
William Rivers Pitt, Truthout: "In my last article, I made the following observation regarding the challenges President Obama faced on the eve of his Wednesday evening State of the Union address: 'The American people, well-trained in the art of short-term memory loss, have come to the conclusion that everything happening now is Obama's fault, and the polls reflect this without dispute. One speech on Wednesday night won't fix all that ails us, but if Mr. Obama doesn't hit precisely the right notes in the delivery, his second year could come to make his first year seem like a Cape Cod clambake by comparison.'"
Read the Article

Art Levine | What Happens If Obama's Plan Can't Create Enough Jobs?
Art Levine, Truthout: "The president pivoted in last week's State of the Union speech to emphasizing jobs as his health care plan stalled. But there are serious doubts among progressive economists, independent analysts and even small businesses that could receive his proposed tax credits whether his jobs creation package will actually work."
Read the Article

Shiite Pilgrims Targeted as Iraq Bombings Intensify
Jane Arraf, The Christian Science Monitor: "A female suicide bomber walked into a tent full of Shiite pilgrims on Monday, killing at least 46 people and wounding another 100 in the latest attack in the run-up to Iraqi elections next month."
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Obama Budget Aims at Solidifying Women's Support
James Rosen, McClatchy Newspapers: "With women's advocacy groups voicing growing unease with administration policy, President Barack Obama will propose a $3.8 trillion budget on Monday that would exempt programs for women and girls from spending restrictions he's proposed for other programs."
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Dean Baker | The Second Great Depression Bogeyman
Dean Baker, Truthout: "Our political leaders continually assert that we should be thanking them that we are not in a second Great Depression rather than complaining about how bad things are. The second Great Depression theme came up repeatedly in the debate over the reappointment of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke. It also featured prominently in Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's defense of his handling of the AIG bailout."
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Haiti Women's Micro-Lending Bank Brings Big Cash to Rescue (VIDEO)
Peggy Simpson, Women News Network: "A micro-credit program and banking system for more than 200,000 women in Haiti has come to the rescue of the overall economy in the wake of the devastating earthquake. At a time when Haitian commercial banks remain closed, Fonkoze, the Haitian branch of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, mobilized over one weekend to get funds to its members in rural towns as well as Port-au-Prince."
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Seven Days in January: How the Pentagon Counts Coups in Washington
Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com: "Sometimes it pays to read a news story to the last paragraph where a reporter can slip in that little gem for the news jockeys, or maybe just for the hell of it. You know, the irresistible bit that doesn't fit comfortably into the larger news frame, but that can be packed away in the place most of your readers will never get near, where your editor is likely to give you a free pass."
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Personal Corporatehood: Coping With the Reason Divided of Citizens United
Randall Amster J.D., Ph.D., Truthout: "There's great consternation brewing over the recent Supreme Court decision that cements and extends the misbegotten logic of 'corporate personhood,' and rightly so. Surely, one of the most farcical and tortuous doctrines ever established in our system of jurisprudence, this conflated concept has drawn the ire of (small-d) democrats at least as far back as Thomas Jefferson, who wrote in 1816, 'I hope we shall ... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.'"
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On the Ground in Port-au-Prince
Bill Quigley, Truthout: "Hundreds of thousands of people are living and sleeping on the ground in Port-au-Prince. Many have no homes, their homes destroyed by the earthquake. I am sleeping on the ground as well - surrounded by nurses, doctors and humanitarian workers who sleep on the ground every night. The buildings that are not on the ground have big cracks in them and fallen sections, so no one should be sleeping inside."
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Taxing the Rich
Lawrence S. Wittner, Truthout: "Decades ago, right wingers began championing cuts in income taxes for the rich and - when that lowered government revenue - turned around and claimed that government could no longer "afford" to maintain vital public services like education and health care. Unfortunately, in an effort to curry favor with the wealthy and their corporations, many state and national officeholders began to adopt the right wing's tax-cutting model."
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Remembering Our Humanity
Michael N. Nagler, Truthout: "The decade has not begun with a paean to human wisdom. Two recent acts of folly in particular share a deep and pernicious connection that bears some pondering, and I am not even referring to the capture of Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts. I am referring to the 5-4 Supreme Court decision on Thursday last week ratifying an absurd and dangerous notion that had been let loose in the public discourse almost by accident nearly a century ago, namely the legal 'personhood' of corporations, and secondly to the introduction of full-body scanning for 'security' that is coming soon to airports near you."
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Big Bodies vs. the Biosphere
W. David Kubiak, Truthout: "In the fog of war, climate chaos and economic ruin, the import of the United Nations' COP10 biodiversity treaty conference in Nagoya in October 2010 may be easily overlooked. Given the mighty array of corporate forces now encircling this treaty's premises, that could prove a huge mistake."
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James Perry's Run for Mayor of New Orleans
Jordan Flaherty, ColorLines Magazine: "On New Year's Eve in 2004, nine months before Hurricane Katrina hit, bouncers in the Bourbon Street club Razzoo's killed a black college student named Levon Jones. The outrage led to near-daily protests outside the club, threats of a black tourist boycott of the city and a mayor's commission to explore the issue of racism in the French Quarter. Despite widely publicized advance warning, a 'secret shopper' audit of the Quarter found rampant discrimination in local businesses. Bars had different dress codes, admission charges and drink prices - all based on whether the patron was black or white."
Read the Article

Common Dreams headlines 2/1

'Peace Prize' President Submits Largest War Budget Ever

'Climate Emails Hacked by Spies'

Afghan 'Geological Reserves Worth a Trillion Dollars'

CIA Operatives Moonlight in Corporate World

Detente with Iran Recedes as US Strengthens Gulf Defenses

'Orphan Rescue' Attempt Hits Nerve among Haitians

and more...



Free Speech for Corporation: What Does the Citizens United v. FEC Decision Mean for You and for Democracy?

Afghanistan's Embattled Hospitals

FP morning post 2/1

China threatens sanctions over U.S.-Taiwan arms deal

Top story: Reacting angrily to a planned U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, China has threatened to slap sanctions on U.S. companies participating in the deal. China has also suspended planned visits between high-ranking military officials, postponed a planned arms control meeting, and summoned U.S. ambassador John Huntsman to voice its disapproval of the deal, which was announced on Friday. The $6.4 billion deal includes 60 Black Hawk helicopters, 114 Patriot air defense missiles, and two Osprey mine-hunting ships.

The Chinese media lambasted the United States for the deal with the government-run China Daily saying it, "exposes [its] usage of double standards and hypocrisy on major issues related to China's core interests." The People's Daily described as evidence of "rude and unreasonable Cold War thinking".

The latest tensions could be the first of a series of diplomatic flare-ups between the United States and China this year. President Barack Obama is also expected to meet soon with the Dalai Lama, further straining ties with Beijing.


  • The United States is resuming airlifts of injured Haitians to U.S. hospitals, five days after the flights were suspended.
  • Aid agencies have launched a new food distribution program focusing primarily on women.
  • Ten Americans from an Idaho church group were arrested for trying to transport 33 children over the Dominican border without proper identification.

Middle East

  • Envoys of the Dalai Lama met with Chinese officials in Beijing.
  • The Pakistani Taliban denied reports that leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone strike and says it will produce evidence that he is alive.
  • North and South Korea held talks on Monday, days after gunfire was exchanged across the border.


  • The African Union elected Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika as its new president, despite a bid from Libyan leader Muammar al Qaddafi to stay on.
  • A Royal Dutch Shell oil pipeline was sabotaged in Nigeria shortly after the country's Mend rebels declared they were ending their ceasefire.
  • Heavy mortar fire between African Union peacekeepers and Shabaab rebels in Mogadishu killed at least 12 civilians.



  • Russian police broke up anti-Kremlin demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, arresting more than 100.
  • U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in Cyprus for unity talks.
  • German authorities say a Swiss source offered to sell them confidential bank data showing tax evasion by over 1,500 German citizens.

-By Joshua Keating


SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

Good and boring

New York Times

In times of crisis, good news is no news. Iceland’s meltdown made headlines; the remarkable stability of Canada’s banks, not so much.

Yet as the world’s attention shifts from financial rescue to financial reform, the quiet success stories deserve at least as much attention as the spectacular failures. We need to learn from those countries that evidently did it right. And leading that list is our neighbor to the north. Right now, Canada is a very important role model.

Yes, I know, Canada is supposed to be dull. The New Republic famously pronounced “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” (from a Times Op-Ed column in the ’80s) the world’s most boring headline. But I’ve always considered Canada fascinating, precisely because it’s similar to the United States in many but not all ways. The point is that when Canadian and U.S. experience diverge, it’s a very good bet that policy differences, rather than differences in culture or economic structure, are responsible for that divergence.

And anyway, when it comes to banking, boring is good.

First, some background. Over the past decade the United States and Canada faced the same global environment. Both were confronted with the same flood of cheap goods and cheap money from Asia. Economists in both countries cheerfully declared that the era of severe recessions was over.

But when things fell apart, the consequences were very different here and there. In the United States, mortgage defaults soared, some major financial institutions collapsed, and others survived only thanks to huge government bailouts. In Canada, none of that happened. What did the Canadians do differently?

It wasn’t interest rate policy. Many commentators have blamed the Federal Reserve for the financial crisis, claiming that the Fed created a disastrous bubble by keeping interest rates too low for too long. But Canadian interest rates have tracked U.S. rates quite closely, so it seems that low rates aren’t enough by themselves to produce a financial crisis.

Canada’s experience also seems to refute the view, forcefully pushed by Paul Volcker, the formidable former Fed chairman, that the roots of our crisis lay in the scale and scope of our financial institutions — in the existence of banks that were “too big to fail.” For in Canada essentially all the banks are too big to fail: just five banking groups dominate the financial scene.

On the other hand, Canada’s experience does seem to support the views of people like Elizabeth Warren, the head of the Congressional panel overseeing the bank bailout, who place much of the blame for the crisis on failure to protect consumers from deceptive lending. Canada has an independent Financial Consumer Agency, and it has sharply restricted subprime-type lending.

Above all, Canada’s experience seems to support those who say that the way to keep banking safe is to keep it boring — that is, to limit the extent to which banks can take on risk. The United States used to have a boring banking system, but Reagan-era deregulation made things dangerously interesting. Canada, by contrast, has maintained a happy tedium.

More specifically, Canada has been much stricter about limiting banks’ leverage, the extent to which they can rely on borrowed funds. It has also limited the process of securitization, in which banks package and resell claims on their loans outstanding — a process that was supposed to help banks reduce their risk by spreading it, but has turned out in practice to be a way for banks to make ever-bigger wagers with other people’s money.

There’s no question that in recent years these restrictions meant fewer opportunities for bankers to come up with clever ideas than would have been available if Canada had emulated America’s deregulatory zeal. But that, it turns out, was all to the good.

So what are the chances that the United States will learn from Canada’s success?

Actually, the financial reform bill that the House of Representatives passed in December would significantly Canadianize the U.S. system. It would create an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, it would establish limits on leverage, and it would limit securitization by requiring that lenders hold on to some of their loans.

But prospects for a comparable bill getting the 60 votes now needed to push anything through the Senate are doubtful. Republicans are clearly dead set against any significant financial reform — not a single Republican voted for the House bill — and some Democrats are ambivalent, too.

So there’s a good chance that we’ll do nothing, or nothing much, to prevent future banking crises. But it won’t be because we don’t know what to do: we’ve got a clear example of how to keep banking safe sitting right next door.

McClatchy Washington report 2/1

  • President Obama's proposed 2011 budget, which will be officially unveiled today, calls for spending $1.3 trillion more than the government takes in — then continue with deficits of more than $700 billion a year for at least a decade. The proposal would keep in place Bush-era tax breaks for those earning under $250,000, but let them expire for those making more.

  • It happened in 1994. The state's congressional delegation went from 8-1 Democratic to 7-2 Republican. Among the Democrats who lost was Rep. Tom Foley, the first sitting House speaker to lose a re-election bid since the Civil War. Now Democrats and Repubicans in Washington state are wondering if it could happen again.

  • Hakimullah Mehsud was Pakistan's most wanted man and a top target for the U.S — especially after he appeared in a video with the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees Dec. 30 at an Afghan outpost known as FOB Chapman. He was the target of two drone strikes, one on Jan. 14 and the other, Jan. 17

  • There should be no major surprises in the 2011 defense budget, which the Obama administration and the Pentagon will unveil today, unlike a year ago when some big programs got hit by the budget ax. The first defense budget developed by President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose details were not released until April last year, whacked some big-dollar programs, including Lockheed Martin's F-22 Raptor fighter jet.

  • On Feb. 1, 1960, a Monday like today, Franklin McCain and three other freshmen at N.C. A&T University in Greensboro, walked a mile from campus to the F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime on North Elm Street, to make a statement against segregation. They purchased a few items — McCain bought toothpaste and a composition book — and asked for receipts. Then they found the "whites-only" lunch counter and simply sat down.

  • Scott Roeder watched television in his motel room at the Garden Inn, trying to relax. Roeder was frustrated, having made his latest trip to Wichita, and to Reformation Lutheran Church. This time, the Saturday evening service was in Swahili. The young women wearing short skirts had offended him. On top of all that, the reason he'd been going to the church wasn't there. Again.

  • For Capitol insiders, it's easy to chalk it up as a bluff when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes terminating welfare-to-work and in-home care for the disabled if California doesn't get billions in federal money he's requested. But it's no chess game for a welfare-to-work mother seriously trying to find a job, or a person in a wheelchair whose living stipend has already been slashed twice in one year.

  • The Obama administration's announcement Sunday about the resumption of the flights came just hours after former Federal Emergency Management Director R. David Paulison -- who won praise for leading FEMA in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- said he was worried that the response in Haiti was too haphazard.

  • It's been roughly five years since Rhodes came home from his third tour in Iraq, and despite a highly-decorated 29-year career in the Army, and praise from the likes of Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, for his efforts in suicide prevention, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes still wrestles with his own demons.

  • In a downturned economy, going to the movies is an enduring entertainment option. Still one of the cheapest out-of-home entertainment venues, movie theaters are ringing up profits with the proliferation of premium technology, such as IMAX and 3-D, and because movie-going — even during the the Great Depression — has always been driven by product: movies that people want to see.

  • In the past week, there's been much discussion of possible talks with the Taliban. Afghan parliament members held meetings in the Maldives, a U.N. official met apparently with an intermediary in Dubai, and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai asked for Saudi help in setting something up. But those who know the Taliban best say there's no authorization for talks.

  • Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush headlined a fundraiser for Bill McCollum's gubernatorial campaign, starred in a YouTube video touting Jeff Atwater's campaign for state chief financial officer and helped install state Sen. John Thrasher as the state party's heir apparent. The capper came Thursday when he appeared on NBC's Today Show.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Truthout 1/31

The President's Leadership Challenge: A Call for Bold Action
Rinaldo Brutoco, Truthout: "Mr. President, there has never been any doubt you are a brilliant orator. And it is also clear that nothing you have said will cause the Republicans in the Senate to break their stranglehold on progress, using threats of filibusters to destroy the majority rule that is the hallmark of every other democracy in the world. People are asking for results they can understand."
Read the Article

Government Executes Protesters in Iran
GlobalPost: "Iran hanged two opposition protesters on Thursday and sentenced nine more to death for taking part in widespread rallies against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad following last June's presidential election."
Read the Article

Sundance Reveals the Dark Underside of Political Financing in the USA
Romain Raynaldy, Les Echos: "At the Sundance Festival, American documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney recounts the descent into hell of the former lobbyist with links to the Republican Party, Jack Abramoff, offering an indictment of the corruption that infects political financing in the United States."
Read the Article

Why the Tea Party Convention is Tea-tering on the Edge
Patrik Jonsson, The Christian Science Monitor: "With two major speakers throwing in the towel, the first-ever Tea Party convention is giving Americans a glimpse at internecine fighting over the direction of the libertarian movement ... so far, the first-ever Tea Party Nation Convention, slated for next weekend at NashvilleĆ­s Opryland, has been anything but a show of unity."
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Single-Payer Health Care Bill Advances to California State Assembly
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "Despite a firm veto threat from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Senate on Thursday passed a measure along party lines to create a $200 billion state-run, single-payer health care system. The bill - SB 810 - now heads to the state Assembly for consideration."
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Lawmakers, Veterans Groups Discuss Benefits Backlog
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "Last week, Democratic and Republican members of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs met with Chairman Bob Filner to talk with 40 veterans' service organizations to discuss priorities for Congress' second session."
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Drifting Toward Catastrophe: A Seven-Headed Beast
Bernard Weiner, Truthout: "This country, humanity, the globe are rushing pell-mell to disaster, mostly by neglecting what needs to be done while we're diddling with the political minutiae. This tendency to avoid the obvious larger questions reminds one of the thrust of Albert Einstein's famous quote: 'The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.'"
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(VIDEO) GRITtv: Rembering Howard Zinn
Laura Flanders of GRITtv interviews Howard Zinn in 2008.
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Systemic Failures, by Design
Mark Montgomery, Truthout: "Over the past dozen years, the US has experienced a series of dangerous and costly systemic failures throughout our security and regulatory framework. The unfettered bubble in technology, missed opportunities to prevent 9/11 - leading to two ongoing wars, the tragic response to Katrina, the largest financial crisis in history, the Fort Hood massacre and the 'underwear bomber' incident on Christmas Day all share one commonality."
Read the Article

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Truthout 1/30

Jason Leopold | Justice Department Clears Torture Memo Authors John Yoo, Jay Bybee of Misconduct
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "A long-awaited Department of Justice watchdog report that probed whether John Yoo and his former boss Jay Bybee violated professional standards when they provided the Bush White House with legal advice on torture has cleared both men of misconduct, according to Newsweek, citing unnamed sources who have seen the document."
Read the Article

Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D. | The Battle of the Titans: JPMorgan vs. Goldman Sachs
Ellen Hodgson Brown J.D., Truthout: "We are witnessing an epic battle between two banking giants, JPMorgan Chase (Paul Volcker) and Goldman Sachs (Geithner/Summers/Rubin). Left strewn on the battleground could be your pension fund and 401K."
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Kerry Kennedy and Monika Kaira Varma | Human Rights and Haiti
Kerry Kennedy and Monika Kaira Varma, Truthout: "Overwhelmed by sadness, empathy and disbelief, the world's eyes and hearts are focused on the rescue and relief efforts resulting from the earthquake in Haiti. However, many who have worked in Haiti fear that a preventable and long term disaster lies on the horizon if international interventions do not break with past patterns. As international aid begins to pour into Haiti, we have a brief moment to break with past mistakes and bring real change to Haiti."
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Obama Orders Cut in Federal Government's Greenhouse-Gas Emissions
Mark Clayton, The Christian Science Monitor: "President Obama Friday told federal agencies to cut energy use to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 28 percent by 2010. Agencies are taking measures ranging from using more solar energy to switching from gasoline vehicles to hybrid vehicles."
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(VIDEO) Haiti Untold: Nonviolence and Humanization at the Grassroots
Amster J.D., PhD, t r u t h o u t: "A number of commentators have questioned the accepted logic that disasters bring out the worst in people, directly challenging the pervasive 'looters run amok' imagery often perpetuated by the media and held out by lawmakers as a rationale for military occupation. Having done relief work following Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, I have found that people are more likely to work together - even if only out of necessity - when severe hardship strikes. In fact, it is precisely the isolation and individualism of ordinary daily life that tap into our worst instincts, while the removal of these impediments can actually liberate our better qualities."
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Senate Quietly Passes Iran Sanctions Bill
Grace Huang, Truthout: "The Senate quietly passed legislation Thursday implementing tough new sanctions against Iran that advocacy groups say will cause more pain for the citizens of the country than for the government it's intended to cripple."
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It's Not Too Late to Limit or Reverse the Impact of the Supreme Court's Disastrous Decision in Citizens United v. FEC
Fran Korten, Yes! Magazine: "Pro-democracy groups, business leaders, and elected representatives are proposing mechanisms to prevent or counter the millions of dollars that corporations can now draw from their treasuries to push for government action favorable to their bottom line. The outrage ignited by the Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission extends to President Obama, who has promised that repairing the damage will be a priority for his administration."
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Eugene Robinson | Outsider in Chief
Eugene Robinson, Truthout: "President Obama's first State of the Union address didn't signal a political shift to the left or the right. It sounded more like a shrewd attempt to move from the inside to the outside - to position himself alongside disaffected voters, peering through the windows of the den of iniquity called Washington and reacting with dismay at the depravity within."
Read the Article

Friday, January 29, 2010

Truthout 1/29

The Coal Ash Industry Manipulated EPA Data
Joshua Frank, Truthout: "The coal ash industry manipulated reports and publications about the dangers of coal combustion waste, reports Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group stated that the Environmental Protection Agency allowed the multibillon-dollar coal ash industry to have virtually unfettered access to the EPA during the Bush administration and now under President Obama."
Read the Article

Senate Confirms Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a Second Term
Jason Leopold, Truthout: "With just 72 hours left before his term ended, the Senate voted 70-30 Thursday to confirm beleagued Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second, four-year term."
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Legislation to Counter Supreme Court's Campaign Finance Ruling Gaining Support
Kyle Berlin, Truthout: "In the wake of last week's sweeping 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down several longstanding prohibitions on corporate political contributions, Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation to counter some of its effects."
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Photo Essay: Homeless Often Hidden in Tennessee
John Mottern, Truthout: "'Tent City' is a place hidden out of sight and historically out of mind. It sprawls over a mud-rutted, brush-tangled acre of landscape nestled under a network of highway bridges along the Cumberland River on the outskirts of downtown Nashville, Tennessee. It is impossible to find unless one is directed or taken there. The camp is surrounded by a variety of chain-link fencing placed in different configurations that appear to have been installed in stages over many years."
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Veterans' Agency Gets New Computers - and Complaints
Mary Susan Littlepage, Truthout: "The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has a new computer system - the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). VBA and the Office of Information and Technology are hoping the new system will help better manage the mountain of paper, electronic documents, correspondence and other content created and handled as part of their day-to-day business processes."
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AWOL From the State of the Union: Peace, Reconciliation and Debt
Robert Naiman, Truthout: "On foreign policy, while the president said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed key opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about US domestic politics, the president is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy."
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Tony Blair Defends Iraq Invasion During Heated Testimony Before Inquiry Panel
Ben Quinn, The Christian Science Monitor: "Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair invoked the terror of 9/11 as he defended his support for the invasion of Iraq during an appearance Friday at Britain's inquiry into the war. With his legacy overshadowed by the 2003 intervention, Mr. Blair argued that while the 2001 attacks on the US had not changed the threat from Iraq, they completely shifted his perception of the risk posed from terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction."
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US Jobless Claims Drop Less Than Expected
Grace Huang, Truthout: "The number of US workers who filed new claims for initial unemployment benefits declined slightly last week, though many economists expected a steeper drop. A Labor Department report released Thursday showed that initial claims fell from 478,000 in the week of January 23 to 470,000. According to Reuters, economists anticipated a drop to 450,000 instead."
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"Dangerous Enemies and More Dangerous Friends: Why the US Needs a Holistic Approach to Yemen"
James R. King, Truthout: "Just a few short months ago, the Republic of Yemen was probably better known for its singular status as the only country that starts with the letter 'Y' than for anything substantive related to its history, culture or contemporary politics. Today, however, one can hardly turn on the television without being bombarded with some news on Yemen. But as media pundits, policymakers and average Americans rush to catch up on their knowledge of this once obscure country, nuance is often sacrificed at the altar of thirty-second sound bites and quick-fix solutions."
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The Silent Destruction
Le Monde's Herve Kempf on biodiversity, "We shall weep over the fate of Brazil's manatee, Papua-Asia's forests, the Galapagos' hammerhead shark; we shall rush off to see 'Oceans' and 'Avatar.' But while we're looking elsewhere, the massacre continues here."
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Evo's New Cabinet: Ten Men, Ten Women
EFE, Los Tiempos (Translation: Ryan Croken): "On Saturday, January 23, Bolivian President Evo Morales kicked off his second term as leader of the country by announcing the appointment of his new Cabinet. Morales has replaced more than half of the ministers from his previous administration, and brought gender parity to his new team by apportioning exactly half of the ministerial positions to women."
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Robert Reich | Obama Needs to Teach the Public How to Get Out of the Mess We're In
Robert Reich, RobertReich.org: "The President wants businesses that hire new employees this year to get $5,000 per hire, in the form of a tax credit. That will come to about $33 billion. It's good step. He's also supporting a cut in the capital gains tax for small businesses. That makes sense; after all, small businesses generate most jobs."
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Regardless of Polls, Afghans Say Mood in Country is Worsening
Jean MacKenzie, GlobalPost: "There is a loud sound of head-scratching in Kabul these days as Afghans and foreigners alike ponder the results of a poll conducted jointly by ABC News, the BBC and German television company ARD."
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March of the Peacocks

New York Times

Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference between true deficit hawks and showy “deficit peacocks.” You can identify deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

One week later, in the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt.” Obama now: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

What’s going on here? The answer, presumably, is that Mr. Obama’s advisers believed he could score some political points by doing the deficit-peacock strut. I think they were wrong, that he did himself more harm than good. Either way, however, the fact that anyone thought such a dumb policy idea was politically smart is bad news because it’s an indication of the extent to which we’re failing to come to grips with our economic and fiscal problems.

The nature of America’s troubles is easy to state. We’re in the aftermath of a severe financial crisis, which has led to mass job destruction. The only thing that’s keeping us from sliding into a second Great Depression is deficit spending. And right now we need more of that deficit spending because millions of American lives are being blighted by high unemployment, and the government should be doing everything it can to bring unemployment down.

In the long run, however, even the U.S. government has to pay its way. And the long-run budget outlook was dire even before the recent surge in the deficit, mainly because of inexorably rising health care costs. Looking ahead, we’re going to have to find a way to run smaller, not larger, deficits.

How can this apparent conflict between short-run needs and long-run responsibilities be resolved? Intellectually, it’s not hard at all. We should combine actions that create jobs now with other actions that will reduce deficits later. And economic officials in the Obama administration understand that logic: for the past year they have been very clear that their vision involves combining fiscal stimulus to help the economy now with health care reform to help the budget later.

The sad truth, however, is that our political system doesn’t seem capable of doing what’s necessary.

On jobs, it’s now clear that the Obama stimulus wasn’t nearly big enough. No need now to resolve the question of whether the administration should or could have sought a bigger package early last year. Either way, the point is that the boost from the stimulus will start to fade out in around six months, yet we’re still facing years of mass unemployment. The latest projections from the Congressional Budget Office say that the average unemployment rate next year will be only slightly lower than the current, disastrous, 10 percent.

Yet there is little sentiment in Congress for any major new job-creation efforts.

Meanwhile, health care reform faces a troubled outlook. Congressional Democrats may yet manage to pass a bill; they’ll be committing political suicide if they don’t. But there’s no question that Republicans were very successful at demonizing the plan. And, crucially, what they demonized most effectively were the cost-control efforts: modest, totally reasonable measures to ensure that Medicare dollars are spent wisely became evil “death panels.”

So if health reform fails, you can forget about any serious effort to rein in rising Medicare costs. And even if it succeeds, many politicians will have learned a hard lesson: you don’t get any credit for doing the fiscally responsible thing. It’s better, for the sake of your career, to just pretend that you’re fiscally responsible — that is, to be a deficit peacock.

So we’re paralyzed in the face of mass unemployment and out-of-control health care costs. Don’t blame Mr. Obama. There’s only so much one man can do, even if he sits in the White House. Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.

I’m sorry to say this, but the state of the union — not the speech, but the thing itself — isn’t looking very good.

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