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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Warren 2016 Campaign Underway Without Her


Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: AP)
Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: AP)


By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News

31 December 14

owa is where many presidential campaigners rise from underdog to contender. In 2008, Barack Obama shocked everyone and handily defeated Hillary Clinton in what was the beginning of the end of Hillary’s “unbeatable” bid to return to the White House, this time around as the commander in chief. 

In 1976, Jimmy “Who” became Jimmy Carter, on his way to becoming President Carter.

Iowa success can also be short-lived. After he had spent nine months at the bottom of the pack, Iowa caucus-goers gave birth to the presidential aspirations of Mike Huckabee, who then limped into New Hampshire and eventually lost to John McCain.

So far, only one campaign has been launched in Iowa for 2016. The candidate, Elizabeth Warren, continues to say she is not running, but it seems some people refuse to accept that. For months, the freshman senator from Massachusetts has repeated the same response when asked about a 2016 presidential bid.

“No, I’m not running for president” has been her often repeated reply.

But in October, everything changed.

October 22, 2014: Elizabeth Warren was asked about running for president by People magazine — and gave a more open-to-interpretation answer than she had all year.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “If there’s any lesson I’ve learned in the last five years, it’s don’t be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open.”

Jump forward to December 17th in Des Moines, Iowa. A group called “Run Warren Run” kicked off the first campaign of the 2016 presidential race. No, it is not authorized by Senator Warren, but it is not a minor effort.

“Elizabeth Warren has been fighting tirelessly against the Wall Street lobbyists, against the special interests,” Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org Political Action, told more than 75 people at a downtown coffee shop. “This is our moment to stand up and fight for her.”

The Iowa event was the group’s first organizing meeting, and there will be a similar event in New Hampshire in January. The campaign is seeking staffers in both states and trying to build volunteer and donor support. Another grass-roots group, “Ready for Warren,” has made a number of visits to Iowa since the summer.

MoveOn plans to spend $1 million on its Warren effort. Another liberal group, Democracy for America, said Wednesday it will join the campaign and pledged $250,000.

Ilya Sheyman said MoveOn plans to open offices and hire staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, the states that kick off the presidential nominating process, and ultimately to air television ads in those states. The group will begin its “Run Warren Run” push with a website allowing supporters to sign a petition urging her to pursue a White House bid and featuring a video about her.

“We want to demonstrate to Senator Warren that there’s a groundswell of grass-roots energy nationally and in key states and to demonstrate there’s a path for her,” Mr. Sheyman said.

While Warren continues to deny she will run, and Hillary Clinton continues to lead in the polls, one has to wonder if the continued effort to draft Senator Warren is creating some doubt in the Clinton camp. Heightened interest in Warren is a clear sign that the Democratic Party base is not excited about Clinton candidacy. Hillary has an aging base of support that should for the good of the party step aside for a candidate who will energize the base, like Obama did in 2008. 

Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Get ready for GOP's Magical Mystery Tour

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)


By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog
29 December 14
 
ccording to reports, one of the first acts of the Republican congress will be to fire Doug Elmendorf, current director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, because he won’t use “dynamic scoring” for his economic projections.

Dynamic scoring is the magical-mystery math Republicans have been pushing since they came up with supply-side “trickle-down” economics.

It’s based on the belief that cutting taxes unleashes economic growth and thereby produces additional government revenue. Supposedly the added revenue more than makes up for what’s lost when Congress hands out the tax cuts.

Dynamic scoring would make it easier to enact tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, because the tax cuts wouldn’t look as if they increased the budget deficit.

Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) calls it “reality-based scoring,” but it’s actually magical scoring – which is why Elmendorf, as well as all previous CBO directors have rejected it.

Few economic theories have been as thoroughly tested in the real world as supply-side economics, and so notoriously failed.

Ronald Reagan cut the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent and ended up nearly doubling the national debt. His first budget director, David Stockman, later confessed he dealt with embarrassing questions about future deficits with “magic asterisks” in the budgets submitted to Congress. The Congressional Budget Office didn’t buy them.

George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus from Bill Clinton but then slashed taxes, mostly on the rich. The CBO found that the Bush tax cuts reduced revenues by $3 trillion.

Yet Republicans don’t want to admit supply-side economics is hokum. As a result, they’ve never had much love for the truth-tellers at the Congressional Budget Office.

In 2011, when briefly leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich called the CBO “a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that has not been internally generated.”

The CBO has continued to be a truth-telling thorn in the Republican’s side.

The budget plan Paul Ryan came up with in 2012 – likely to be a harbinger of what’s to come from the Republican congress – slashed Medicaid, cut taxes on the rich and on corporations, and replaced Medicare with a less well-funded voucher plan.

Ryan claimed these measures would reduce the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office disagreed.

Ryan persevered. His 2013 and 2014 budget proposals were similarly filled with magic asterisks. The CBO still wasn’t impressed.

Yet it’s one thing to cling to magical-mystery thinking when you have only one house of Congress. It’s another when you’re running the whole shebang.

Now that Elmendorf is on the way out, presumably to be replaced by someone willing to tell Ryan and other Republicans what they’d like to hear, the way has been cleared for all the magic they can muster.

In this as in other domains of public policy, Republicans have not shown a particular affinity for facts.

Climate change? It’s not happening, they say. And even if it is happening, humans aren’t responsible. (Almost all scientists studying the issue find it’s occurring and humans are the major cause.)

Widening inequality? Not occurring, they say. Even though the data show otherwise, they claim the measurements are wrong.

Voting fraud? Happening all over the country, they say, which is why voter IDs and other limits on voting are necessary. Even though there’s no evidence to back up their claim (the best evidence shows no more than 31 credible incidents of fraud out of a billion ballots cast), they continue to assert it.

Evolution? Just a theory, they say. Even though all reputable scientists support it, many Republicans at the state level say it shouldn’t be taught without also presenting the view found in the Bible.

Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? America’s use of torture? The George W. Bush administration and its allies in Congress weren’t overly interested in the facts.

The pattern seems to be: if you don’t like the facts, make them up.

Or have your benefactors finance “think tanks” filled with hired guns who will tell the public what you and your patrons want them to say.

If all else fails, fire your own experts who tell the truth, and replace them with people who will pronounce falsehoods.

There’s one big problem with this strategy, though. Legislation based on lies often causes the public to be harmed.

Not even “truthiness,” as Stephen Colbert once called it, is an adequate substitute for the whole truth.

Gas prices could go even lower in 2015

Will gas prices drop further in 2015? (photo: Getty Images)
Will gas prices drop further in 2015? (photo: Getty Images)


By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

30 December 14

il prices are currently down by 40 percent from where they were in June, and the economies of oil-exporting countries like Russia and Venezuela are tanking.

Coincidence? A simple case of more supply than demand? Cunning moves in a global chess game between a desperate empire and its rivals? Maybe. But even if current geopolitical situations are temporarily causing oil prices to drop, the U.S. government may be about to implement new regulations that would stick it to oil speculators while helping ordinary Americans keep more money in their pocket, and wants to hear from you on whether or not reining in Wall Street is a good idea. If you’re not sure, think back to six summers ago, when oil prices were at an all-time high.

In the summer of 2008, I drove my grandpa’s pickup truck to my unpaid internship at an NBC affiliate in Lexington, Kentucky, five days a week. It was an hour-long round trip in a vehicle that got less than 20 miles per gallon, and gas was around $4.25 a gallon then, and even higher in urban areas like Chicago and the Bay Area. The fuel needle came close to E every few days, and it cost right around $70 every time I filled up. Almost all the money I made working on my grandpa’s farm during those long, hot summer days went right back into the tank. So why was gas so expensive back then?

In 2011, a report from the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) found that a large reason for the high gas prices that summer was that oil speculators were dominating 80 percent of the market; they controlled just 30 percent of the market in the late 1990s, when gas was a little over a buck a gallon. ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson and Goldman Sachs both admitted that speculation on Wall Street caused oil prices to rise by as much as 40 percent. During the record-high oil spike of 2008, Saudi Arabia told the Bush administration that roughly $40 of every barrel of oil was the result of speculators driving up the price. It’s also worth noting that unlike airlines and trucking companies, who buy oil in futures, speculators don’t actually contribute to the economy, as they don’t use a drop of the oil they bet on – they’re just out to make a shitload of money in a short amount of time. Their jobs don’t need to exist.

So what exactly does a speculator do? One textbook example can be found in Cushing, Oklahoma, during the first quarter of 2008. Five big energy traders, three of them from outside the United States, bought up actual crude oil for sale in Cushing, which is a major junction point for oil delivery, then turned right around and “shorted” it in sales to other investors between January and April of that year. This made the price of oil fluctuate rapidly in the process, and those speculators pocketed the profit. The market was mobbed by speculators like those in the Cushing scheme, all of whom wanted to make a quick buck by manipulating oil prices. By the time summer came around, oil was at $147 a barrel.

In July of 2010, two summers after the one where speculators mugged Americans at the pump, the Dodd-Frank Act, which was intended to rein in the financial industry, was signed into law. One of the provisions of Dodd-Frank intended to cap speculators’ share of the market at 10 percent, which Wall Street fought tooth and nail. In December of 2011, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) sued the CFTC for trying to write regulations that would comply with the Dodd-Frank law’s mandate for tighter rules on speculators. To put that in plain English, a bunch of casino gamblers who make money off of other people’s misery sued the government for trying to do its job. And the first time, they won.

In September of 2012, a federal judge sided with Wall Street and ruled that the CFTC’s proposed rules on speculation had not been proven necessary under the law. The ISDA and SIFMA, who represent some of the big banks responsible for the global financial crash of 2008 like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase, celebrated the ruling and hoped it would establish precedent to stop any future attempts at reining in their destructive greed. However, U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins wrote in his ruling that the decision didn’t invalidate any future attempts to more closely interpret the law and write new rules. As recent history shows, the CFTC didn’t back down from the fight. It appealed the decision, and vowed to try again.

In November of 2013, the CFTC voted 3 to 1 to pass a new set of rules that would limit speculation on 28 core markets, including crude oil, fuel oil, gasoline, and natural gas. So far, the CFTC has received 13,000 public comments on the proposed rules.

And in December of 2014, regulators re-opened the public comment period for the new speculation limits. Comments can be submitted on the CFTC’s website, and all will be considered until the January 22, 2015, deadline. If public comments are overwhelmingly supportive, it’s likely the CFTC’s rules will become official in the spring, making the prices for everyday needs like groceries and gasoline drop as a result.

Obviously, everyone is happy that filling up the tank doesn’t cost as much. We can celebrate that new, sustainable forms of energy are becoming more prevalent, and that our economy has become less dependent on fossil fuels. But keeping speculators in check is exactly what our government is intended to do. If the CFTC’s new limits on speculators go through, it’ll be a big victory for working people, and that should be celebrated more than anything. 

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at carl@rsnorg.org, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014: Beginning of the End for the GOP

When it comes to issues, progressives and liberals made considerable gains in 2014. (photo: AP)
When it comes to issues, progressives and liberals made considerable gains in 2014. (photo: AP)

By Scott Galindez, Reader Supported News
26 December 14
readersupportednews.org

rogressives and liberals made huge gains on many fronts in 2014. Of course, the Congressional elections were a nightmare, but that’s because the Democrats once again had no unifying message. They distanced themselves from an unpopular president instead of presenting an agenda for progress.

On the local level and in the courts, however, progress was made. While Americans voted for candidates who opposed what they believe in, when asked to vote on the issues they voted for a progressive agenda.

Marriage Equality
Marriage equality continues to grow by leaps and bounds, not only across the nation but around the globe.

This year we saw 19 states win marriage equality – compared to eight in 2013 – for a total of 35 states plus Washington D.C. With the addition of Scotland, Luxembourg and Finland, there are now 20 countries with nationwide marriage equality.

In the U.S. there was a notable increase in marriage equality states in 2014, expanding from 34 percent to 64 percent in just one year. Gallup puts support for marriage equality at 55 percent – a 15-point increase in just five years.

Momentum is on our side, and Republicans who continue to fight against marriage equality are finding themselves on the wrong side of the issue and continuing to alienate a significant block of voters. Democrats could make equality a national issue and gain momentum at the ballot box.

Minimum Wage
On New Year’s Day, 21 states will implement minimum wage increases that are estimated to boost the incomes of 4.4 million low-paid workers, according to an analysis of Census data by the Economic Policy Institute. For the first time, as a result of these increases, a majority of states – 29, plus the District of Columbia – will have minimum wages that surpass the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Of the 21 states with minimum wage increases on New Year’s Day, four (Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota) approved the increases through ballot measures in the 2014 elections. When the issue is put before the voters, they pass minimum wage increases by large margins. Raising wages is another issue that a Democratic Party with backbone could ride to substantial electoral gains.

Marijuana Legalization
In 2014, 36 state legislatures had bills under consideration to create new medical marijuana laws, to impose only a fine for possession of marijuana, and/or to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Several of those proposals were enacted. Three states — Maryland, Minnesota, and New York — passed effective medical marijuana laws this year, while Maryland, Missouri, and the District of Columbia’s legislative bodies replaced possible jail time with fines for simple possession of marijuana. Eleven states approved bills to allow high-CBD strains of marijuana, though most of those laws are very unlikely to actually provide access even to the limited group of patients they are intended to protect.

In several jurisdictions, voters themselves decided marijuana policy issues. Voters in Alaska and Oregon chose to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol. Washington D.C.’s voters overwhelmingly approved allowing adults to grow and possess limited amounts of marijuana — though the measure will go into effect only after surviving a Congressional review. Guam’s voters approved medical marijuana. The only statewide marijuana initiative to fall short in 2014 was in Florida, where medical marijuana received 58% of the vote, but needed 60% to pass.

Legalization is another issue that a party that decided to stand for something could use to make significant gains.

Climate Change
This year marked the first major demonstration of how dramatically the quarter-century-old climate movement has changed, diversified, and grown. No longer is global warming an issue solely for environmentalists. People from more than 1,000 organizations walked in the People’s Climate March in New York, including trade unions, schools, and faith-based, social justice, student, and public health groups, among others. Thousands of activists joined marches in cities around the globe that day.

Despite the growth of the movement, climate change deniers gained seats in Congress. But polling shows that the issue is part of a broader agenda that could lead to a new majority in America.

Cuba
Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to a dramatic shift in Florida politics. As long as right-wing Cubans continue to take extreme positions, their political influence will shrink. Young Cubans do not hold the same hard-line views as their parents. The Cuban vote is turning blue in Florida, a shift that will damage the GOP’s electoral chances in future elections.

Racial Justice
The high profile cases of unarmed African Americans being killed by an increasingly militarized police force has led to a vibrant movement for racial justice, and against the militarization of the police. The Republicans again are on the wrong side of the issue. While law and order traditionally does well at the ballot box, police violence has crossed the line. Voters will support reform candidates and could reject candidates that support the police unconditionally.

Winning Agenda
While there are many other issues that could make up a winning agenda, the ones I chose were the highlights of 2014. If we add issues like money in politics, violence against women, student loan debt, inequality, the environment, women’s issues, and labor issues, we can build a coalition that will end the GOP’s hold on Congress. It’s the coalition that allowed the Democrats to hold Congress in the past. If the Democrats turn away from their Wall Street supporters and build that coalition again, it will end the GOP’s control of Congress.

Many didn’t see the progress in 2014, but a shift has begun, a shift that could change our country, if we recognize it and act. I hear you: odds are the tone-deaf Democrats won’t see it, and will continue to hand elections to the Republicans. But we can choose to believe, and if we act and don’t wait for politicians to act for us, we can win. 

Scott Galindez was formerly the co-founder of Truthout.

GOP taught racism to North Korea

Glenn Beck. (photo: file)
Glenn Beck. (photo: file)

GOP Figures Used Racist Ape Imagery for Obama Before North Korea Did

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment
28 December 14
 
orth Korea lashed out at President Barack Obama on Saturday, blaming him for the Sony film, “The Interview,” and for the North Korean internet outage, adding “Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest..” Given the long history of racist associations of African-Americans with animal primates, it seems indisputable that this metaphor was meant as a racist slur.

North Korea, however, was simply treading a path that was already well worn by some prominent American GOP voices.

Former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said just last spring that “a trained ape” could do Obama’s job better than he does.
” “Special interest! What planet have I landed on? Did I slip through a wormhole in the middle of the night and this looks like America? It’s like the damn ‘Planet of the Apes.’ Nothing makes sense! The guy who’s helped destroy all these pensions, Andy Stern, is now on the financial oversight committee. Is this who we want to take advice from?
“The unions who have collapsed all of the businesses, who have collapsed all of their pensions, they are bankrupting everything they touch, and we go to them and we say, yes, tell me, what should we do? It’s like any marital tips from Tiger Woods.”
There isn’t very much doubt, especially given the further reference to Tiger Woods as a philanderer (with white women) that the Planet of the Apes crack was a piece of race-baiting.

In spring of 2011 a senior GOP official from Orange County, Ca., sent around by email with a picture attached of Obama as monkey.

In 2012 a GOP official sat silently as the radio host interviewing him called president Obama a monkey. The Republican politician called support for Obama “a national sickness.”

Depicting African-Americans as apes or monkeys has a long history in the USA. It leads to discrimination.

So the path for the paranoid and oppressive North Korea regime to demean the head of state of the USA was paved by some prominent Republicans.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

If Obama Were a White Republican...

African American professor Cornel West once called Obama a
African American professor Cornel West once called Obama a "Rockefeller Republican." (photo: Mike Thieler-Pool/Getty)

He'd Be a Conservative Hero (Can You Spell B-I-G-O-T?)

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
26 December 14

f Ronald Reagan were alive today, he would be one of Barack Obama’s biggest fans. In the six years he’s been president, Obama has managed to turn our country’s economy, at its worst point since the Great Depression, into one booming along with the greatest quarterly GDP growth in 11 years. The Dow Jones closed above 18,000 this week – the highest ever. And yet, despite an apparently surging economy, 95 percent of income gains since 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent. Not even Ronald Reagan’s economic policies created inequality on that scale.

Since his first inauguration, President Obama has masterfully steered the benefits of the recovery to only the wealthy, while the net worth of average working Americans has dropped by 40 percent since before the recession. Today’s middle class is actually poorer than it was in 1989, when Reagan left the White House. Even though the most recent unemployment rate is 5.8 percent, most of the new jobs that have been created since the recession have been in low-paying sectors, like retail and fast food. The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which most workers in those industries earn, has less buying power than the minimum wage in 1968.

According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if the minimum wage had kept up with worker productivity since then, it would be $16.54 an hour today. This means Americans are working harder than ever, but aren’t getting a penny ahead. When you use that data to paint a picture with the most recent quarterly GDP growth surge and the new record-high closing on the Dow Jones, the image is actually quite ugly. The insane growth our economy is experiencing, combined with the fact that 99 percent of Americans aren’t seeing 95 percent of the income gains from that rapid economic surge, means that our hard work is simply feathering the nest of the ownership class. Income inequality hasn’t been this severe since right before the crash that caused the Great Depression.

President Obama could be pushing for the pitifully-low minimum wage for tipped workers to be increased from $2.13 an hour, where it has stayed since 1991. He could sign executive orders to pay all federal workers $15 an hour, to allow government contracts to go only to model employers who pay a living wage, and to allow all government workers to have the right to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. He could be investing billions of tax dollars into in creating public sector jobs aimed at rejuvenating American infrastructure – which American engineers have given a D+ in their most recent assessment – rather than lowering the deficit with cruel austerity like the continued budget sequester.

At the very least, President Obama could have vetoed the federal budget “cromnibus” bill that was recently passed, sparing low-income women, infants, and children from another $93 million in cuts to their food assistance. But we’re talking about the president who already approved $8.7 billion in cuts to food stamps in the latest farm bill. Even the last lifelines of help for the most desperate Americans have been slashed to pieces and put on hold by the Obama administration. Even if Republicans are singlehandedly holding social safety nets like food stamps and unemployment extensions for the long-term jobless hostage, the fact that President Obama hasn’t even fought that hard for these programs speaks volumes.

Republicans applauded Clinton when he cut welfare in the 1990s, but there’s been nothing but silence from today’s crop of Congressional Republicans for Obama’s cuts to the welfare state.

Instead of fortifying his legacy with economic populism, Obama has presided over an economic “recovery” where only the rich have benefited – the first “recovery” of its kind. If Obama were a Republican instead of a Democrat, Republicans would be singing his praises. Instead, liberals and partisan Democrats are celebrating the news of growth they don’t benefit from, and are the first to shout from mountaintops about lower deficit numbers. In terms of economic policy, Obama and his most diehard supporters are Reagan Republicans. But despite their similarities in economic policy, Reagan would be even more proud of Obama for his foreign policy. 

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, President Obama has extended George W. Bush’s War on Terror from just Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and even the Philippines. The U.S. military has more of a presence than ever in the Middle East since Obama took office, with the Iraq War alone costing as much as $4 trillion. Obama has been just as steadfast a supporter of Israel as any of his predecessors – standing by them even as they bombed civilian targets in Gaza earlier this year. He recently signed off on supplying the Israeli weapons stockpile with another $200 million infusion; this is the same stockpile that Israel used to bomb Gaza. And thanks to Obama’s signature, Israel will now have the capability to refuel fighter jets in mid-air, which would be necessary if Israel wanted to launch airstrikes in Iran.

It speaks volumes that President Obama agreed to cut food stamps by $8.7 billion and WIC by $93 million, but committed to spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years to upgrade our nuclear weapons stockpile. Even while Obama has supported the idea of equipping police officers with body cameras, his defense department stands by the Pentagon’s 1033 program that allows military equipment like grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and apache helicopters to flow to local and county police departments.

And despite his historic move to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, Obama is still stuck in a cold war mentality of the U.S. having to command the widest array of nuclear weapons. Obama’s record on foreign policy and the military-industrial complex puts Reagan’s to shame. The ludicrous “Star Wars” program and the 1983 invasion of Grenada don’t hold a candle to the current administration’s imperialist worldview.

From a policy standpoint, it makes no logical sense for Republicans to hate Obama as much as they do. He’s simultaneously expanded the worst economic policies we saw under Reagan and the worst foreign policy we saw under George W. Bush. The rich are richer than ever before, the middle class is becoming poorer, and the poor have had their already razor-thin social safety nets cut to the barest of margins. On top of all of that, the U.S. military is engaged in permanent wars all over the Middle East, and the cold war mentality that drove Reagan and George H.W. Bush is still very much alive in the current White House. The only reasonable explanation left for Republicans’ fervent opposition to everything Obama says and does is that he’s black.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at carl@rsnorg.org, and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Sophia, Noah most popular names in AZ

Sophia Holds Title for 4th Year as Most Popular Girls Name in Arizona; Noah Takes the Number 1 Spot for Boys

Sophia holds the number one spot for girls’ names in 2014 for the fourth year in a row after unseating Isabella which also held it for four years.  Noah took the number one spot on the boys list this year.  Liam, last year’s top boys name, dropped to number 2.

Both lists feature line jumpers in the top 10 this year.  On the boys list, Sebastian jumped from 19 to 7 and Elijah went from 15 to 9 between 2013 and 2014.  The 2014 girls list introduces Victoria to the top 10, moving up from 18 last year.

So far, there have been 42,374 boys born in the state and 40,239 girls for a total of 82,613*.

*Not the official birth total for Arizona for 2014
 
Top 20 Baby Names in Arizona in 2014

BOYS

1. Noah
2. Liam 
3. Alexander
4. Daniel
5. Jacob
6. Ethan
7. Sebastian
8. Michael
9. Elijah
10. Jayden
11. Anthony
12. David
13. Aiden
14. Logan
15. Mason 
16. Matthew
17. Benjamin
18. Isaac
19. William
20. James

GIRLS

1. Sophia
2. Emma
3. Mia
4. Isabella
5. Olivia
6. Ava 
7. Emily
8. Abigail
9. Sofia
10. Victoria
11. Charlotte
12. Elizabeth
13. Zoey
14. Aria
15. Harper
16. Scarlett
17. Amelia
18. Evelyn
19. Avery
20. Madison

Spending bill favors corporations over people

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

The Government Problem - Who's It For?

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

25 December 14

ome believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.

Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.

It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.

The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.

For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.

Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.

But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.

The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.

It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.

Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.

In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.

Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.

Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.

In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.

An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.

In addition to the provisions in the recent spending bill that reward Wall Street, health insurers, the travel industry, food companies, and defense contractors, other corporate goodies have been long baked into the federal budget.

Big agribusiness gets price supports. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers get their own special “carried-interest” tax loophole. The oil and gas industry gets its special tax subsidies.

Big Pharma gets a particularly big benefit: a prohibition on government using its vast bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate low drug prices.

Why are politicians doing so much for corporate executives and Wall Street insiders? Follow the money. It’s because they’re flooding Washington with money as never before, financing an increasing portion of politicians’ campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s decision this year in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, following in the wake of Citizen’s United, already eliminated the $123,200 cap on the amount an individual could contribute to federal candidates.

The new spending legislation, just enacted, makes it easier for wealthy individuals to write big checks to political parties. Before, individuals could donate up to $32,400 to the Democratic or Republican National Committees.

Starting in 2015, they can donate ten times as much. In a two-year election cycle, a couple will be able to give $1,296,000 to a party’s various accounts.

But the only couples capable of giving that much are those that include corporate executives, Wall Street moguls, and other big-moneyed interests.

Which means Washington will be even more attentive to their needs in the next round of legislation.

That’s been the pattern. As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, individuals and entities with lots of money have greater political power to get favors from government – like the rollback of the Dodd-Frank law and the accumulation of additional corporate welfare. These favors, in turn, further entrench and expand the wealth at the top.

The size of government isn’t the problem. That’s a canard used to hide the far larger problem.

The larger problem is that much of government is no longer working for the vast majority it’s intended to serve. It’s working instead for a small minority at the top.

If government were responding to the public’s interest instead of the moneyed interests, it would be smaller and more efficient.

But unless or until we can reverse the vicious cycle of big money getting political favors that makes big money even bigger, we can’t get the government we want and deserve.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

It's a Wonderful Life, Comrade

James Stewart, left, Thomas Mitchell, right, and Donna Reed appear in the 1946 movie 'It's A Wonderful Life.' (photo: AP)
James Stewart, left, Thomas Mitchell, right, and Donna Reed appear in the 1946 movie 'It's A Wonderful Life.' (photo: AP)


By Michael Winship, Moyers & Company
24 December 14

number of years ago, I was telling a longtime city dweller friend of mine yet another story about the small, upstate New York town in which I grew up.

Simultaneously baffled and captivated, he said, “I think you were born and raised in Bedford Falls,” the fictional burg at the center of Frank Capra’s classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Well, I wasn’t. Actually, I grew up about 27 miles west of there. Its real name is Seneca Falls, NY – yes, the same place that’s also the birthplace of the women’s suffrage movement. While not absolutely certain, there’s a compelling body of circumstantial evidence that Capra had the town in mind when he created his cinematic version of Bedford Falls. The steel bridge over the canal, for example, like the one from which the hero George Bailey contemplates jumping in a suicide attempt, only to dive in to save his guardian angel, Clarence. The old Victorian homes, the design of town streets, a large Italian population, mentions of nearby cities Rochester, Buffalo and Elmira are just a few of the other similarities. There’s even the perhaps apocryphal tale of Frank Capra finding inspiration after stopping in Seneca Falls for a haircut on his way to visit an aunt.

Enough coincidences abound that Seneca Falls now holds a yearly “It’s a Wonderful Life” festival, and although it may not draw as many visitors as the nearby Women’s Rights National Historical Park, there’s also an “It’s a Wonderful Life” museum. Whatever the ultimate truth, there’s no denying that the movie is a storybook evocation of bygone small town America, places like Seneca Falls and my own hometown, right down to the underside of greed and malice that often lurks just around the corner from the film’s compassion and wholesome neighborliness. As for Frank Capra, as he prepared to make the movie, he told the Los Angeles Times, “There are just two things that are important. One is to strengthen the individual’s belief in himself, and the other, even more important right now, is to combat a modern trend toward atheism.”

Which makes it all the crazier that when the movie first came out, it fell under suspicion from the FBI and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) as Communist propaganda, part of the Red Scare that soon would lead to the blacklist and witch hunt that destroyed the careers of many talented screen and television writers, directors and actors.

Screenplay credits on “It’s a Wonderful Life” went to Frances Goodrich and her husband Albert Hackett, Capra and Jo Swerling, although a number of others took turns at different times, including Clifford Odets, Dalton Trumbo and Marc Connelly – not an unusual situation in Hollywood. But a 1947 FBI memorandum, part of a 13,533-page document, “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry,” first went after the writers Goodrich and Hackett:
“According to Informants [REDACTED] in this picture the screen credits again fail to reflect the Communist support given to the screen writer. According to [REDACTED] the writers Frances Goodrick [sic] and Albert Hackett were very close to known Communists and on one occasion in the recent past while these two writers were doing a picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Goodrick [sic] and Hackett practically lived with known Communists and were observed eating luncheon daily with such Communists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robinson, screen writer. Both of these individuals are identified in Section I of this memorandum as Communists.”
The memo goes on to cast doubt on the movie’s storyline, in which Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey and his struggling savings and loan fight on behalf of the good people of Bedford Falls against the avarice and power of banker and slumlord Henry Potter, played by Lionel Barrymore:
“With regard to the picture ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a ‘scrooge-type’ so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

“In addition, [REDACTED] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [REDACTED] related that if he had made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiners in connection with making loans. Further, [REDACTED] stated that the scene wouldn’t have ‘suffered at all’ in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [REDACTED] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and ‘I would never have done it that way.’”
This was part of an FBI evaluation of several Hollywood movies – others included “The Best Years of Our Lives” (which beat “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director), “Pride of the Marines,” and Abbott and Costello in “Buck Privates Come Home.”

Wait – it gets nuttier. According to the media archival website Aphelis, “Among the group who produced the analytical tools that were used by the FBI in its analysis of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was Ayn Rand.”

“Abbott and Costello Meet Ayn Rand” – what a comedy horror picture that would have made, scarier and funnier than their encounters with Frankenstein or the Wolfman. Rand’s group told the FBI:
“The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories and to make people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication. Few people would take Communism straight, but a constant stream of hints, lines, touches and suggestions battering the public from the screen will act like drops of water that split a rock if continued long enough. The rock that they are trying to split is Americanism.”
But redemption of an odd sort came for “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the infamous October 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. Just days before the appearance there of the Hollywood 10 – writers (and one director) who refused to testify and subsequently went to prison — a parade of “friendly witnesses” (including Ayn Rand, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney) came before the committee to insinuate and weave dark tales of Communist infiltration and subversion in the movie business. One of them was a former Communist and screenwriter named John Charles Moffitt. Aphelis reports:
“When asked by HUAC Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling if Hollywood is in the habit of portraying bankers as villainous characters, Moffitt takes the opportunity to try to clear the reputation of Frank Capra’s movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life:’ he tries to argue that the film isn’t, in fact a Communist movie.”

MR. STRIPLING. The term “heavy” has been used here as a designation of the part in which the person is a villain. Would you say that the banker has been often cast as a heavy, or consistently cast as a heavy, in pictures in Hollywood?

MR. MOFFITT. Yes, sir. I think that due to Communist pressure he is overfrequently cast as a heavy. By that I do not mean that I think no picture should ever show a villainous banker. In fact, I would right now like to defend one picture that I think has been unjustly accused of communism. That picture is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The banker in that picture, played by Lionel Barrymore, was most certainly what we call a “dog heavy” in the business. He was a snarling, unsympathetic character. But the hero and his father, played by James Stewart and Samuel S. Hines, were businessmen, in the building and loan business, and they were shown as using money as a benevolent influence.
At this point, there was a bit of commotion in the hearing room.
THE CHAIRMAN. Just a minute. Come away. Everybody sit down. Will all you people who are standing up please sit down? And the photographers.

MR.MOFFITT. All right.

THE CHAIRMAN. Go ahead.

MR. MOFFITT. Well, to summarize, I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively and it can be used benevolently. I think that picture was unjustly accused of Communism.
Since then, the movie has been more than redeemed as it slowly became a sentimental and beloved holiday perennial. And if anything, its portrayal of a villainous banker has been vindicated a thousand fold as in the last seven years we’ve seen fraudulent mortgages and subsequent foreclosures, bankers unrepentant after an unprecedented taxpayer bailout and unpunished after a mindboggling spree of bad calls, profligacy and corkscrew investments that raked in billions while others suffered the consequences.

It’s a wonderful life, alright, but not if you’re homeless or unemployed tonight, not if your kids are hungry and you can’t pay for heat. There are still a lot of Mr. Potters in the world. We know who you are and we’ll keep calling you out. God rest ye merry, gentlemen.