Monday, March 3, 2008
The economy is undergoing a "slowdown" according to President Bush, a "recession" according to 61 percent of Americans. Regardless of the name, 83 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, "and almost two thirds are pessimistic now and about the future." One large source of economic stress is the credit crisis, which has spread from the subprime mortgage sector to the U.S. credit card market. "If America's $14 trillion economy is a high-powered engine, credit is the motor oil that helps it run smoothly. When the lubricant is in short supply, the economy -- like an engine -- is more prone to knocks and stalling." "The squeeze is reaching beyond Wall Street to Main Street, hitting everything from the availability of student loans to credit-card interest rates to the prices of municipal bonds in retirees' portfolios." Today, the Washington Post reports that college students will see higher costs for loans -- and "some students may be denied private loans entirely" at community and for-profit schools -- because of the credit crisis. Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke acknowledged last month that the credit crunch is fueling the economy's downturn. "More expensive and less available credit seems likely to continue to be a source of restraint on economic growth," he said.
CREDIT CARDS -- THE NEXT FINANCIAL CRISIS:
A new report by Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Christian Weller and Research Associate Tim Westrich details how a rise in credit card defaults could produce an economic fallout on par with the mortgage crisis of last year. Lenders have tightened access to credit in the mortgage market, "forc[ing] families to look elsewhere to borrow money to pay for ever more costly necessities," including health care and college education. "[C]onsumers who once relied on home equity to make ends meet are now increasingly relying on credit cards," Weller and Westrich write. As a result, credit card debt reached a record high of $790.2 billion last November. Approximately "35 million customers can only afford to make the minimum payment every month, which means it could take years for them to pay off their debt," the report notes. That debt is increasing rapidly. Between April 2006 and December 2007 -- the same period during which the housing market was collapsing -- inflation-adjusted credit card debt increased four times faster than between March 2001 and March 2006. Weller and Westrich point out that "lenders package credit card debt into securities" in a process similar to the securitization of subprime mortgages. As such, "increased credit card debt could ultimately translate into higher loan default and thus a liquidity crisis similar to that in the mortgage market."
OPAQUE AND UNFAIR LENDING:
Despite these warning signs, credit card companies continue to aggressively target customers with less-than-perfect credit -- often the same victims of predatory subprime lending schemes. "Direct mail credit card offers to subprime customers in the United States jumped 41 percent in the first half of this year, compared with the first half in 2006," the Boston Globe reported. Travis Plunkett, legislative director of the Consumer Federation of America, said, "It's another sign that some credit card issuers are engaging in risky, irresponsible lending to vulnerable consumers." At the same time, "[c]ard issuers also are raising fees in anticipation of increased delinquencies as the economy slows. Industry-wide penalty fees rose to $18.1 billion last year from $17.1 billion a year earlier." Last month Bank of America "sent letters notifying some responsible cardholders that it would more than double their rates to as high as 28%, without giving an explanation for the increase."
POLICIES TO PROTECT BORROWERS:
Such abusive practices have led policymakers to seek greater checks on credit card companies to protect consumers. The Center for American Progress issued a 2006 paper recommending an incentive-based, credit card safety rating system modeled after the New Car Assessment Program's five-star safety rating. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a similar proposal, the Credit Card Safety Star Act, in December. Such a rating system would not preclude additional legislation that would eliminate other practices considered abusive or unfair. For example, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has also introduced a credit cardholders' Bill of Rights, which includes provisions requiring card companies to give cardholders 45 days notice before raising interest rates and prohibiting card companies from arbitrarily changing the terms of their contract with a cardholder. Another bill sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) would prohibit card companies from charging interest on debt that is excessive.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the 27th, Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said that "[t]he Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai controls just 30 percent of the country," "the resurgent Taliban controls 10 percent to 11 percent of the country," and that "the majority of Afghanistan's population remains under local tribal control." Defense Intelligence Agency director Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told the same committee that "Pakistani military operations in the [region] have not fundamentally damaged al-Qaeda's position" and tribal areas in Afghanistan "remain largely ungovernable and, as such, they will continue to provide vital sanctuary to al-Qaida, the Taliban and regional extremism more broadly. "The last 12 months have seen the worst violence in Afghanistan since 2001, when U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power.  More on the current state of Afghanistan here.
The back-and-forth continued this week between presumptive Republican nominee John McCain and the Federal Election Commission over John McCain's desire to opt out of the public financing system for the primary election. In a Feb. 25 response to FEC Chairman David Mason, McCain's attorney (who is a former FEC chairman himself) cited precedents for releasing McCain from the presidential campaign fund and its spending limits, because while McCain had qualified for taxpayer financing, he had not yet collected any money. Mason had also asked McCain's campaign to provide additional evidence that the promise of public financing was not used to secure a $4 million line of credit (which would be against the rules). The campaign provided a letter from its bank's attorneys, one of them a -- you guessed it -- former FEC chairman, saying that the bank was very careful not to factor public financing into its evaluation of the loan. Also this week, the Democratic National Committee complained to the FEC that McCain had broken the rules in a number of ways and shouldn't be released from the limits of the public financing system, which would limit his campaign to about $5 million in spending between now and the Republican convention. (When he ran for president in 2004, DNC chairman Howard Dean also pulled out of the public system after qualifying, which McCain's campaign cited in its letter to the FEC this week, but the DNC asserts that situation was different.) Of course, the FEC can't settle this matter right now because they don't have a quorum -- and not because all the former commissioners seem to have become election attorneys in private practice. Who's holding up the nominees in the Senate? Well, on the Democratic side, one of those senators has been Barack Obama. Small world.
*Correspondence between the FEC and the McCain campaign:
*Summary of the DNC's complaint: http://www.democrats.org/a
Friday, February 22, 2008
The candidates competing to be your next president raised $3.3 million per day last month, according to reports that those still in the running and those who dropped out filed last night with the Federal Election Commission. January brought the field's total haul since fundraising began to $685 million, $586 million of it now spent. With $36 million in January -- the most any candidate has ever raised in a month while still in competitive primaries -- Barack Obama was the top fundraiser, by far. Hillary Clinton came in with about $14 million, plus $5 million from her own pocket. (Had she not lent herself that money, she would have had less to spend going into Super Tuesday than John Edwards.) Republican John McCain collected $12.6 million and reported a total of $5.5 million in loans and other debts. Summary figures for the candidates have been updated on OpenSecrets.org. The Donor Lookup, Fundraising Over Time and State/Metro data are also new. Updates to the site, including categorization of January contributors by industry and employer, will continue into next week as we analyze the data.
*Race for the White House: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Look up individual donors to presidential candidates: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Fundraising by state and metro area: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Fundraising over time: http://www.opensecrets.org
FUNDRAISING SUGGESTS TIGHT RACE IN OHIO, EDGE FOR CLINTON IN TEXAS
Following the money, you could have predicted how Tuesday's Democratic primaries in Wisconsin and Hawaii were going to turn out -- Barack Obama had a commanding fundraising lead over Hillary Clinton in both states. As for the Republican primary in Wisconsin (the GOP in Hawaii will assign delegates at a convention in May), the top Republican fundraiser last year was Tommy Thompson, the state's former governor, who ended his presidential campaign way back in August. John McCain was the top fundraiser among the remaining Republican candidates. Looking ahead to the next big contests, the fundraising in Ohio suggests a tight race between Clinton and Obama. And McCain was far outraised in the Buckeye State by dropouts Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. In Texas, Clinton has a wide lead over Obama among larger donors. Both Democrats have raised more in Texas than McCain has.
*Fundraising in Ohio: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Fundraising in Texas: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Presidential primary calendar: http://www.opensecrets.org
CONGRESSIONAL RETIREES THROW THEIR OWN PARTIES
For a group that doesn't plan to run for re-election in November, this year's exceptionally large class of congressional retirees has sure been raising and spending a lot of money. Last year the 26 House and Senate retirees -- almost all of them Republicans -- managed to spend $13.5 million from their campaign accounts and political action committees, or well over half a million dollars each. In some cases, it looks like they're paying for their own extended retirement parties.
*Read the full article: http://www.capitaleye.org
"Not since the Depression has a larger share of Americans owed more on their homes than they are worth," reports The New York Times, as Congress weighs various proposals to help the "8.8 million homeowners, or 10.3 percent of the total," who "are underwater."
Despite his rhetoric against lobbyists and special interests, "virtually every one" of Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) "closest advisers" are "part of the Washington lobbying culture." McCain's campaign manager, chief political adviser, and other senior advisers are all current or former lobbyists. Some are still being paid by lobbying firms while working on the campaign.
Former Gitmo prosecutor Air Force Col. Morris Davis, who resigned over political interference in the military tribunals, has agreed to appear at a hearing for defendant Salim Hamdan. "I'm more than happy to testify," Davis said. He called it "an opportunity to tell the truth."
In "the first confirmed ground operation by the Turkish military into Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion," as many as 10,000 Turkish troops pursued separatist Kurdish rebels across the border into Iraq yesterday. The operation raises concerns of a wider conflict between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurds.
Influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia on Friday to extend a ceasefire for another six months. Those who honor Sadr's "pledge will be treated with respect and restrain," the U.S. military said.
Several hundred Serb demonstrators, "incensed by the U.S. recognition of Kosovo's independence, overran and burned part of the American Embassy in the Serbian capital of Belgrade on Thursday." The European Union said the attacks "risked harming efforts to bring the Balkan nation closer to the EU."
Yesterday, Congress held a bipartisan meeting to broker a compromise on surveillance legislation. Republican lawmakers, however, prevented their staffs from attending. House Speaker Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responded by noting conservatives want "to have a political issue rather than a strong new FISA bill in place as quickly as possible."
A "surge of immigrants" are going to court "to force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to complete their background checks and act" on their citizenship applications, which are often delayed for several years. In 2005, there were 4,400 suits filed against USCIS "over delayed name checks," up from 270 in 2005.
And finally: Last weekend, Janet Huckabee, wife of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, had a room booked at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas. She was in town "to root for fellow Arkansan and friend Jermain Taylor," who was boxing against Kelly Pavlik. At the last minute, however, "plans changed" and Huckabee ended up staying at "the pride of Sin City, the Hooters Casino Hotel." "It was the only thing, quite frankly, that was available," said Huckabee.
Monday, February 18, 2008
SENATORS VOTE TO BAN WATERBOARDING, McCAIN NOT AMONG THEM:
The Senate approved an intelligence bill that bans waterboarding, "temperature extremes and other harsh tactics that the CIA used on al-Qaeda prisoners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks." The measure will limit the CIA "to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S Army Field Manual." CIA Director Michael Hayden recently acknowledged that the agency had used the tactic of waterboarding on at least three prisoners nearly five years ago. Other administration officials, such as Attorney General Mike Mukasey, have refused to say that waterboarding is torture. The White House has even left open the possibility of using the technique in the future. While Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has previously called waterboarding "very exquisite torture" and co-sponsored a bill to ban any military use of the technique, he voted against yesterday's Senate bill banning waterboarding -- effectively siding with President Bush, who has vowed to veto the bill.
REP. LEWIS LEADS IN EARMARKS, DESPITE FEDERAL INVESTIGATION:
Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), under investigation for funneling money to a contributor's clients, "was among the top lawmakers securing money for special projects in this year's spending bills," according to Taxpayers for Common Sense. Lewis ranked second among all House members in "solo earmarks." Though the current status of the Lewis investigation is uncertain, in May 2006, "federal authorities in Los Angeles began looking into the relationship between Lewis and Washington lobbyist Bill Lowery, a former congressman from San Diego." In 2007, "Lewis collected $59,000 in donations from Lowery, members of his lobbying firm, and clients, some of whom received earmarks supported by Lewis." The investigation is an offshoot of the Randy "Duke" Cunningham case, in which the former congressman is serving jail time after pleading guilty to accepting bribes.
ADMINISTRATION SHUTS DOWN WEBSITE TRACKING U.S. ECONOMIC INDICATORS: With the U.S. economy faltering, conservatives have attempted to deflect attention from the crisis by blaming the media's negative coverage and insisting the United States is not headed toward a recession, despite what economists are predicting. The Bush administration's latest move is to simply hide the data. Forbes had awarded EconomicIndicators.gov one of its "Best of the Web" awards. As Forbes explains, the government site provides an invaluable service to the public for accessing U.S. economic data. Economic Indicators is particularly useful because people can sign up to receive e-mails as soon as new economic data across government agencies becomes available. While the data will still be available online at various federal websites, it will be less readily accessible to members of the public. The Bush administration has decided to shut down this site because of "budgetary constraints," effective March 1, even though Bush recently submitted a record $3.1 trillion budget to Congress for FY '09.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -- a bill authored by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 -- grants eligible workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year in case of a serious health condition, or to care for a new child or sick family member. The law protects an employee's job during such an absence and provides various benefit and privacy protections. For nearly fifteen years, the law has made it easier for over 50 million American workers to provide a better balance between work, health, and family life. The FMLA currently allows employees up to two days after the beginning of a shift to notify their employers of their intention to claim time off. But the Labor Department recently proposed changes to the law that would add restrictions to the FLMA -- provisions benefiting employers and making it more difficult for workers to take advantage of the law. Some of the proposed changes include requiring workers to notify their bosses in advance when taking non-emergency leave, allowing employers to require "fitness-for-duty" evaluations for those who took FMLA time off, requiring employees to obtain medical certifications of their illnesses every year, and allowing businesses to exclude workers who took FMLA time from perfect attendance awards.
EMPLOYEES NEED MORE PROTECTIONS:
Even if the Labor Department's proposals -- which some businesses regard as welcome news -- are not adopted, the FMLA needs to expand in order to cover more American workers and to provide increased benefits. As it currently stands, the FMLA does not apply to businesses employing fewer than 50 people, a provision that allows the exclusion of nearly 40 million America workers from the law. Millions more are excluded because of rules not covering part-time workers and those who have not worked for their present employer for over one year. Yet "while unpaid leave has helped millions of families, there is little question that many employees have been unable to take time to care for a new child or an ill loved one because they cannot afford the lost pay." Indeed, a study released last year by Harvard University and McGill University found that the United States lags "far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies" such as maternity leave and paid sick days. According to the study, the United States is one of just five countries out of 173 "that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave." Expanding the FMLA is necessary because nearly "half of all full-time private sector workers (and three quarters of low-wage workers) in the U.S. get no paid sick days." Businesses also suffer in productivity and other workers face health risks when sick employees are forced to go to work. In fact, expanding employee benefits has overwhelming support: "95 percent of the public thinks it is unacceptable for employers to not provide paid sick leave" while "60 percent think it is illegal."
House, Education, and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-CA) has said that the Labor Department proposal tightening the FMLA "clearly benefits employers at the expense of workers." Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, has also criticized the proposals, saying they "will make it more difficult for workers to use this leave when they need it" and "impose burdensome new paperwork requirements on both workers and heath providers." Hearings on the Labor Department's proposals will be held this week in both the House and Senate. The National Journal notes that, under a new administration, Congress "could do away" with the Labor Department rule change proposals in "early in 2009 under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to withdraw regulations within 60 session days after they are published."
CALIFORNIA LEADS THE WAY:
On July 1, 2004, California's Paid Family Leave (PFL) Law went into effect. The law is a 100 percent employee-funded provision that provides workers in that state "with a maximum of six weeks of partial pay [55% of wages up to a maximum of $882 per week] each year while taking time off from work to bond with a newborn baby, newly adopted or foster child, or to care for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or registered domestic partner." While five other states have proposed similar bills to provide some form of paid leave, California is currently the only state mandating comprehensive paid family leave. Nearly 85% of California adult residents in every segment of the population support paid family leave, and one survey of California businesses found that more workers returned to their jobs where employers offered leave benefits beyond what is required.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
FIRST-EVER STRIKE AT WAL-MART MEXICO
In January 2008, at a Wal-Mart Dispatch Center in Shenzhen, China, 55 employees sat for two days in a meeting room to demand back overtime pay. Instead of paying overtime, Wal-Mart had given the employees "compensative rest". Wal-Mart's public relations department said that the company is in the process of researching the overtime problem and will be able to give a response at a later time. According to Pan Dungang of Guangdong's Wen Tian law firm using compensative rest instead of overtime pay is illegal. [Nanfang Daily via Sina, 1/4/08]
- Workers strike at three units of Mexico's Walmex [Reuters]
Wal-Mart de Mexico (Walmex), the country's biggest retailer, suffered its first-ever strike this week when 300 workers from two stores and a restaurant walked out for a day in a dispute over pay and conditions.
An exhaustive federal study of environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states was supposed to be released last July, but the Bush administration has kept it under wraps - reportedly because it contained such potentially "alarming information" as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates.
The Center for Public Integrity published key excerpts of the report that top officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thought was too hot for the public to handle.
Click here to read the investigation.
The Center is receiving tremendous recognition to our report, Iraq: the War Card - Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War. In only two weeks since its release, it has already generated a great deal of worldwide news coverage and citizen response.
Here are a few things people are saying about it:
- "Sure to evoke passionate responses from supporters and opponents of the Iraq war..." (USA Today)
- A nonprofit group pursuing old-fashioned accountability journalism..." (The Washington Post)
- The Center "has done a real service to place nearly 1,000 of these in one easy-to-access location..." (Daily Kos)
CIA Director Michael Hayden has acknowledged for the first time publicly that the agency had used the tactic of waterboarding on at least three prisoners nearly five years ago. Waterboarding is an interrogation practice in which, "the victim's lungs fill with water until the procedure is stopped or the victim dies." As Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism specialist who taught at the Navy's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in California, told Congress, "Waterboarding is a long-standing form of torture used by history's most brutal governments, including those of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, Iraq, the Soviet Union and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia." Yesterday, "after years of dodging and dissembling, the Bush administration boldly embraced" its record of torture and said it would "definitely want to consider" using it again. "It will depend upon circumstances," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said, adding that future acts of waterboarding would "need the president's approval," and the White House would notify "appropriate members of Congress."
LEGAL PARSING: In 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for waterboarding a U.S. civilian. "Water boarding was designated as illegal by U.S. generals in Vietnam 40 years ago." Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said in an interview this month, "There's just no doubt in my mind -- under any set of rules -- waterboarding is torture." But inside the Bush administration, such clarity has succumbed to legal parsing. "I would feel" waterboarding was torture "if it were done to me," Attorney General Michael Mukasey told Congress recently. But Mukasey, who promised to lead a legal review of the practice before being confirmed, is now refusing to brief Congress on the legality of waterboarding. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told the New Yorker in January, "Whether it's torture by anybody else's definition, for me it would be torture." But McConnell said his comments should not be interpreted to reflect an official administration position. When he said waterboarding was "torture," McConnell explained to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), he meant he just personally didn't like water up his nose.
FROM DENIAL TO OPEN ADVOCACY: For years, the White House had done its best to deny the obvious: that it had employed waterboarding against prisoners. When Vice President Dick Cheney told a conservative talk radio host in Oct. 2006 that it would be a "no-brainer" to "dunk" an individual in water if it would save lives, the White House tried to dispel any notion that Cheney was embracing waterboarding. Now the White House strategy has changed -- "the administration has apparently decided that this is a debate they can win out in the open." The switch comes as Congress is considering legislation that "if passed, would require all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies to abide by the Army Field Manual's prohibition against waterboarding." The White House said yesterday it wants to retain the option to use waterboarding, even while President Bush has frequently claimed "we do not torture." "Torture is illegal," Fratto said after McConnell's testimony. "We don't torture -- we maintain and as we have said many times that the programs have been reviewed, and the Department of Justice has determined them to be legal."
SPOTLIGHT ON THE SENATE: In December, the House passed an amendment that extends the current prohibitions in the Army Field Manual against torture to U.S. intelligence agencies and personnel. Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Christopher Bond (R-MO) has said he would lead an effort to remove that requirement when the legislation reaches the Senate floor. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who in the past has made a series of statements against the use of waterboarding, has placed a hold on the anti-waterboarding bill. A number of key Republican swing votes -- including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) -- will likely make the difference if the bill comes to a vote. McCain has previously called waterboarding a "horrible, odious" technique that "should never be condoned in the U.S."
InfoCision Management Corporation client Citizens United has produced a film now in distribution attacking Hillary Clinton called “Hillary, the Movie”. Citizens United has embarked on a legal battle to advertise their film unconstrained by campaign finance laws. A Federal District Court ruled that the group could not air advertisements without attaching a disclaimer and disclosing their donor list. Claims that the film should be treated as a documentary prompted "outright laughter from the judges". Citizens United now has its sights set on a new target: Barack Obama.
The group has budgeted about $1 million to produce a documentary film about Mr. Obama that is set to be distributed this summer. At the moment, Citizens United has its researchers poring over Mr. Obama’s records as a community organizer, state legislator and United States senator in the same way that it lied and disregarded Mrs. Clinton’s record. And with the absolute purpose of playing upon the ignorance of the people InfoCision will be calling for donations to get the barely literate suckers to cough up their last dime.
Citizens United was co-founded by Floyd Brown in 1988 and currently headed by David Bossie. Its offices are on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., near the White House. It has run smear ads of President Clinton's record on terrorism, and ads praising President Bush's terrorism record. Citizens United filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Fahrenheit 9/11 using the same law it is now fighting against. "Obama is a completely clean slate,” David Bossie has said, “We will develop the image that we want the people to see. We’re doing the hard work of the research right now. The American people don’t know much about Obama, except that they like his speaking style.”
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
President Bush took office in 2001 with an advantage few presidents have enjoyed: a $236 billion budget surplus. But Bush quickly "blew through" President Clinton's surplus. Now the next administration will have to pay the price for Bush's fiscal irresponsibility. With his new budget, Bush is trying to create the appearance of compensating for his fiscal exuberance, terminating or reducing 151 government programs -- while still producing near record deficits. While Bush's budget plan "has little chance of surviving in a Democratic Congress," he is in effect washing his hands clean of his economic mismanagement, delaying "until 2009 decisions on how to cope with short- and long-term financial problems." The next president will "inherit a fiscal meltdown,"Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) said. Conrad and Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) are considering setting up "a bipartisan commission to help the next president and Congress deal with these issues, possibly through legislation."
IRRESPONSIBILITY OF BUSH'S TAX CUTS:
In 2001, Bush said his tax cuts would cost the government $1.3 trillion, but his 2009 budget -- which calls for making his signature tax cuts permanent -- indicates they would "cost the government more than $2 trillion in their second decade." Extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would give the top one percent of households more than $1.1 trillion in benefits over the next decade, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities -- more than the entire amount the government spends on elementary and secondary education or veterans' medical care. Without offsets, permanent tax cuts would increase deficits and add to national debt, "essentially doubl[ing] the size of the debt in 2050." Not surprisingly, Bush has not proposed adequate measures to pay for the cuts. Conrad noted the irony of preserving Bush's tax cuts while proposing devastating blows to Medicare and Medicaid. "We believe that is a very odd sense of priorities. That is not a sense of priorities that are shared by the American people," he said. The budget also includes $19.7 billion for SCHIP funding, but this would not "allow states to cover more uninsured children" and is still inadequate to maintain current programs.
EXORBITANT DEFICIT AND DEBT:
"Slumping revenues and the cost of an economic rescue package will combine to produce a huge jump in the deficit to $410 billion this year and $407 billion in 2009, the White House says, just shy of the record $413 billion set four years ago." This deficit will undoubtedly hamstring future administrations. For example, budget experts "agree that there is not enough money to be had" from conservative approaches to cut "wasteful federal spending." But the White House remains cheerful. "This budget is one that keeps spending under control," Bush trumpeted. And while Bush has attempted to embrace fiscal conservatism by cutting earmarks, his budget would only cut pork by $18 billion, a number "so small as to be of symbolic importance." Furthermore, unless the "economy rebounds" and revenue pours in, "deficits will push the cumulative federal debt past $12 trillion in the next five years." "I would suggest to you the debt is the threat," Conrad stated, saying Bush will likely see an "almost a doubling of the national debt on his watch."
THE SECRET BUDGET:
The "budget achieves balance by 2012," Bush said yesterday. But the forecast is likely to be worse than what the White House is saying. To achieve its deficit goals, the White House predicts the economy will grow at 2.7 percent rate this year, "higher than what private sector economists" anticipate and a full point higher than the Congressional Budget Office's projections. House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-SC) said a more likely scenario is a "deficit that remains in the $200 billion range in 2012." Moreover, billions in spending are unaccounted for in the budget. For example, Bush budgeted $70 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- but only accounted for costs up to the first half of FY2009. In reality, around $200 billion is expected to be spent. Furthermore, Bush did not take into account the costs "of assuring that higher alternative minimum tax rates originally aimed at several hundred very wealthy people don't hit tens of millions of middle-income earners." Conrad accused Bush of "hide-the-ball budgeting." Gregg concluded that this budget is "not a serious budget."
In February 2007, the Center for Disease Control confirmed the presence of the dangerous germ salmonella in recalled peanut butter sold under the Wal-Mart Stores house brand Great Value. ConAgra Foods Inc. had recalled all Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter made at its Sylvester, Ga., plant after federal health officials linked the product to a salmonella outbreak that had sickened at least 329 people from 41 states. [USA Today, 2/23/07]
Saturday, January 26, 2008
In a 2007 Wal-Mart report it was noted that nearly 5 percent of employees are on Medicare, about 2 percent were covered by Medicaid, and another 1 percent used an alternate state program. "I don't believe that our goal was ever to convince someone to move off of Medicare or their retirement plan . . . to Wal-Mart health-care coverage," said Linda M. Dillman, who oversees risk management and benefits for the retailer. Wal-Mart has tried to fight back against its negative public image by offering $4 generic prescription drugs. [Washington Post, 1/11/07]
Thursday, January 24, 2008
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
- Isaiah 50:7-9
Voting in South Carolina and Nevada last weekend narrowed the Republican field to six. After the two InfoCision Management Corporation clients, Rep. Duncan Hunter of California and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson both dropped out -- Hunter after receiving little support at the Nevada caucus and Thompson after coming in a distant third in the South Carolina primary. Hunter trailed all but one other Republican candidate at the end of the 3rd Quarter in fundraising, having raised a total of $1.9 million in the first nine months of the year. Thompson, who entered the race later than his competitors, raised a total $12.8 million. Thompson's most generous contributors included retirees, lawyers and the real estate industry. Hunter's included retirees, lawyers and lobbyists. He is retiring from Congress after this year.
*Presidential profile for Duncan Hunter: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Presidential profile for Fred Thompson: http://www.opensecrets.org
NUMBER OF PACS HAS INCREASED SLIGHTLY SINCE JULY
More than 4,200 political action committees are now registered with the Federal Election Commission, representing a 1.5 percent increase during the last six months of 2007, the FEC announced last week. The commission's semi-annual count of committees controlled by corporations, trade associations, labor unions and ideological groups has remained relatively constant for more than 20 years, hovering between 3,800 and 4,200 organizations. As new committees register, a roughly equal number close up shop. Corporate PACs remain the largest category, with 1,601 committees registered.
*FEC news release: http://www.fec.gov/press
*OpenSecrets.org's PAC database: http://www.opensecrets.org
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In January 2007, Wal-Mart released their health insurance coverage numbers for 2006 enrollment period. Wal-Mart reported it had 636,391 workers signed up for one of the company’s health-insurance plans during the fall enrollment period. However, Wal-Mart was quoted in newspapers the previous year citing employee coverage at 638,000. If the previous year’s count was accurate, employee enrollment declined 1.6 percent in the latest period. "That figure should never have been used," Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 1/12/07]
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The Shanghai Stock Exchange has suspended trading in shares of Bank of China,
The move comes after Bank of China stock tumbled on Monday after reports that the bank might post a 2007 loss because of a big write-down on billions of dollars of US sub-prime mortgage related investments.
"Bank of China failed to make a statement on an important event so trading in its shares will be suspended for all day on January 22," the Shanghai exchange said on its website on Tuesday without elaborating.
A subsequent statement from Bank of China released later on Tuesday said its board was "not aware of any reasons" for the recent sharp declines in its share price.
The Bank of China's Shanghai-listed local-currency A shares were suspended but its Hong Kong-listed H shares continued trading on Tuesday, falling 8.6 per cent by midday.
Meanwhile unease over Chinese exposure to the US sub-prime crisis hit shares in other mainland banks, with financial stocks leading falls on the Shanghai market on Tuesday.
By midday, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China had slipped 4.8 per cent, Communications Bank fell 2.9 per cent and China Construction Bank Corp. lost 4.6 per cent.
Analysts said the market had expected Bank of China to comment on the reports of heavy losses due to its exposure to
Hong Kong's South China Morning Post said on Monday that Chinese banking regulators had warned the country's government that Bank of China and two other state banks would make provisions for all their assets hit by
The report heightened concerns about
Bank of China says its sub-prime related assets were worth $7.95bn at the end of September last year.
Chinese officials are increasingly voicing concern about the fallout of the
On Monday the semi-official China Business News reported that a government task force recently made an assessment of the potential impact of the sub-prime crisis on Chinese banks, with "not very positive" conclusions.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
According to Wal-Mart’s SEC filing, CEO Lee Scott’s total compensation was $29.7 million. Scott’s salary is 900 times the pay of the average Wal-Mart worker despite pressure from regulators and shareholders to rein in excessive executive pay in the industry. [Arkansas Business Weekly, 4/20/07; Asia Times, 10/13/07]
A church-produced evangelical Christian movie is aimed at evangelism and is inappropriate for public schools, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told Alabama educators.
After receiving complaints, Americans United has urged officials at Tuscaloosa City Schools to stop showing the film "Facing the Giants."
"This movie is not educational; it's evangelistic," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Parents and taxpayers expect our public schools to teach, not preach."
In a Jan. 15 letter, Americans United attorneys note that the film was shown repeatedly in classrooms last semester at Paul W. Bryant High School and that the school's principal plans to continue airing it in the future. The movie depicts the story of a losing high school football coach who turns his struggling team around by convincing them that "With God, all things are possible…."
"Facing the Giants was produced by a Baptist church to bring about a single result: Christian conversion.... [F]ederal courts have consistently held that public-school teachers cannot present religious messages to students or use teaching materials that do so," wrote Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Alex Luchenitser and Litigation Counsel Heather Weaver.
The AU attorneys said public schools must be neutral when it comes to religion and may not provide religious instruction to children.
The letter cites an array of quotes from the film that are obviously aimed at proselytizing.
For example, the film's coach tells his players that "football is just one of the tools we use to honor God," and that "[God] sent his son Jesus to die for us so we can live for Him." In a locker-room pep talk, he urges his team "to remember what God has brought us…. As long as we honor God, nothing is impossible…. Give your best to God…. Give God the glory."
The film was produced by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The Rev. Michael Catt, senior pastor of the church, told a gathering at the 2007 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., that 3,000 people have been converted to Christianity by the movie.
"We never got into it [film-making] to make money," Catt told the Summit pastors' breakfast. "We got into it to spread the gospel."
TV preacher Pat Robertson's "700 Club" reported last summer that Catt spoke at a Southern Baptist Pastors Conference in San Antonio and declared that all aspects of the movie were "bathed in prayer." (Robertson called the movie "magnificent.")
Americans United's letter urges the school officials to uphold the separation of church and state and to take prompt steps to ensure that the film is no longer shown to students in the Tuscaloosa City Schools District.
After twice battling Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and losing, Democrat Jack Davis is now challenging federal campaign finance law. The millionaire industrialist, who spent more than $2 million of his own money to unseat Reynolds in 2006, has persuaded the Supreme Court to review the constitutionality of the "millionaires' amendment." This measure in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 allows congressional candidates who face wealthy opponents to collect more money from individuals than the law would normally allow, ostensibly to even the odds. Davis says this provision protects entrenched incumbents from the only people who beat them: wealthy challengers. He says the additional disclosure requirements he faced limited his free-speech rights. The Supreme Court will consider a lower court's ruling that upheld the law, stating that it was Davis's choice to spend his own money and, in doing so, allow his opponent to collect more money from donors. The Supreme Court may also consider a case involving an anti-Hillary Clinton movie that the conservative group and InfoCision client Citizens United wants to advertise in key primary states. A three-judge panel said that advertising the movie should be considered direct advocacy against a candidate and, therefore, should be subject to campaign finance laws, including the disclosure of donors.
*Campaign contribution limits: http://www.opensecrets.org
*FEC primer on the millionaires' amendment: http://www.fec.gov/press/bkgnd
*2006 Reynolds-Davis race: http://www.opensecrets.org
*2004 Reynolds-Davis race: http://www.opensecrets.org
*Citizens United Political Action Committee: http://www.opensecrets.org
Throughout the '80s, Denise Matthews, who gained infamy as Vanity - the remarkably gorgeous girlfriend and pin-up protégé of music icon Prince - was the proverbial wet dream. He created the group Vanity 6 for her and produced the hit album of the same name. After leaving the Prince camp, she had two successful solo albums Wild Animal and Skin On Skin. One song from Wild Animal, called "Strap On 'Robbie Baby'" made the PMRC's infamous filthy 15 list, clocking in at number 4. By the mid-'90s, the sex-drenched rock star and actress cheated death, put away the lingerie and became a Christian Evangelist. She is preparing to release a self-published, tell-all memoir called The Black Box, to demonstrate how her life was transformed through faith in God. The following is a interview from the magazine Vibe.
When you began going around the country to preach, was it hard for folks to get past the fact that you were the same chick that was moaning "Nasty Girl" in her underwear?
Getting past my past? Well, that was a process, a very serious process indeed. My God. As a person, [I'm] constantly changing, trying to be better. Back when I was Vanity, it was all about being sexy, getting slimmer, and getting cuter. Things have changed. Now it's not the outward appearance, it's the inward man that I'm trying to change. And that's the message I bring to the people.
How often do you get the 'Aren't you Vanity?' line?
[Laughs] You know, it depends on where I'm at. If I'm going into a different city, like in the
Your book is very open about your wild partying lifestyle and past cocaine abuse. At one point you were nearly on your deathbed in 1994, blind and deaf, after suffering a stroke, kidney failure and a heart attack. What do you say to the cynical bastard that thinks that most celebrities find religion when it's convenient?
Well, we all make the mistake of thinking, and I did too so many times, that God did this to us. But we kill ourselves and choose who we want to be. I put the drugs in my mouth, I did the fornication, I had all the lust, and I chose the way of "sex sells." I wanted to be famous and rich. I chose to be Vanity.
Your turbulent romantic relationship with Prince, who gave you the name Vanity and created and produced Vanity 6, is the stuff of rock 'n' roll legend. Is it true that when you first met Prince at the American Music Awards in January of '82, that you arrived with Rick James and left with Mr. Nelson?
People have so many renditions of what I did [laughing]. I remember one time somebody said that the reason I left Prince was because I was having his baby [laughing]. Do they make this stuff up? You have to read my book to find out what really happened.
Are you shocked at Prince becoming a Jehovah's Witness? This from the same cat who basically inspired explicit lyrics stickers and was a walking sex act in high heels.
I believe that God is calling him (Prince) like he is calling many others. I cannot judge Prince's heart. Everything takes time, so my heart is just to pray for him and that he finds what he's looking for just as I pray for myself as I continue to find my own way because you can be on the path one day and then go off the wrong path the next.
Obviously, some fans are going to buy your book to read about your wild days as a sex symbol. But what do you really want readers to get out of The Black Box?
I think it's important to understand the title of my book. The black box is the only thing that survives a plane crash, and I want people to know that I'm a survivor. I go to wherever God calls me, wherever the church calls me to come to minister and preach the word of God. God told me, "Speak the