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Longwood Gardens. Photo by joanneleon. January, 2010

“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.”

-- Charles Dickens





Jethro Tull- Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow
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News and Opinion


Fiscal Cliff Quotes of the Day

Ezra:

On the spending side, the Democrats’ headline concession will be accepting chained-CPI, which is to say, accepting a cut to Social Security benefits. Beyond that, the negotiators will agree to targets for spending cuts. Expect the final number here, too, to be in the neighborhood of $1 trillion, but also expect it to lack many specifics. Whether the cuts come from Medicare or Medicaid, whether they include raising the Medicare age, and many of the other contentious issues in the talks will be left up to Congress. ...link
Krugman (read the whole thing, he's caving):
It sounds as if Ezra Klein is hearing more or less the same things I’m hearing: Republicans willing to give up a lot more on tax rates, although not fully undoing the Bush tax cuts in the 250-400 range; additional tax hikes via deduction limits in a form that hits the wealthy, not the upper middle class (28 percent and all that); unemployment extension and infrastructure spending; but “chained CPI” for Social Security, which is a benefit cut. ...link
On the Senate floor Monday afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate will likely come back into session the day after Christmas to deal with "the fiscal cliff and a few other items."  ...link
[They only act quickly when they know they will be able to skip town right afterward and go on recess.]
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress, when it moves at all, moves slowly. But when its back is against the wall, as it will be on any deal to resolve the year-end "fiscal cliff," it can be very efficient.

For example, barely two days separated the announcement of a deal on the debt ceiling on July 31, 2011, and its enactment on August 2.
[...]
"I think the goal is to get a deal before Christmas," a senior House Republican aide said, adding it may take until New Year's Eve to get it ready for a vote by the House and Senate.
...link

Some comments from the Krugman article and the Ezra Klein article.
Chained CPI? Doesn't the federal government know that what seniors now get with Social Security benefits is, in most cases, simply insufficient?
Heads they win, tails we lose.

Team Cat Food deserves much credit for wedging progressives between a rock and a hard place with this grand bargain. Do we pick Door #1: telling retirees (mostly women) to cut back on food or Door #2: kicking unemployed people to the curb when their benefits run out next month. This trial balloon, if that's what it is, should go over like a lead balloon.

I opt for Door #3, which is the permanent exit for any elected official who dares go along with this alleged deal. As an insurance program, Social Security has not contributed one dime to the almighty deficit. It should be off the table. If anything, we should be raising or scrapping the cap on deductions, not reducing benefits.

Professor Krugman:

I cannot go along with the unnecessary cuts in Social Security that the application of chained CPI would cause -- a bad deal.

Reducing Social Security benefits via the Chained CPI should not occur until we reduce the defense budget -- there is where the savings in expenditures can be found. When we reduce the Pentagon's budget by 20 percent, then we can talk about cutting expenditures in other areas.

Should President Obama sign on to the Chained CPI, then I suspect the Democrats will get mauled in the 2014 mid-term elections.

So this deal is a terrible thing for the US economy. It is the fallout of decades of mainstream economics stupidity - treating a sovereign mobey issuing government like an income constrained household. Objectives sought - the decreased deficit - make no sense in themselves, a sovereign state can run as big a deficit as the econony needs to get to full employment any time and we cannot predict future necessary deficits ( they are decided by the business cycle and since no mainstream economist predicted the crisis it means mainstream econ cannot predict future necessary deficits) so the whole venture is misguided and pointless.
An honest review. The lamp of Diogenes.
Bad deal. Don't do it. A Democratic President who cuts Social Security benefits would be setting himself up. The Repubs will simply campaign against the Dems screaming that they cut old folks Social Security. Just like they did with Medicare in 2010 and 2012. Not getting more than one year on the debt limit would also be a mistake.
The repubs need to get it through their thick skulls that social security is not an entitlement and needs to be off the table. Next year with a few little tune ups and of course reinstating the FICA deductions from Americans payrolls it will be good for eons.  

Medicare and medicaid need some work but the biggest change needed is NEGOTIATED health care and drug rates bringing down America's costs to a defined average of costs around the world. This alone would bring costs down substantially and enable the best health care plan of all- UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE for ALL Americans.  

What really needs cutting and cutting and cutting is the $1.5+ TRILLION a year for defense, 146 security forces, 16 intel agencies/depts and 700+ foreign military bases....end all these senseless wars and cut all these in half or more...that alone would shave $700-900 BILLION A YEAR off the deficit.  

What Chained CPI Means, and Why a Cut in a Time of Inadequate Social Security Benefits Makes No Sense

Chained CPI only makes sense if you think Social Security benefits and the cost of living adjustment are currently adequate enough for seniors. The fact that 15.1% of seniors are in poverty, according to the newest measure, shows that this is not at all the case. We need higher, not lower, Social Security benefits, as retirement security outside of the program withers. But adequacy is not the goal of those who want to slash benefits. And Democratic enablers call it something they can “live with.” Obviously none of them are 80 or older.

This was, I believe, the first article about Social Security cuts that came out and caused a shit storm.  Let's be clear. Chained CPI is slashing Social Security benefits, exactly what the president promised the country he would not do in his campaign pledges.   The American people have made it clear, time and time again that we do not want cuts to Social Security. Wall Street criminals, Pete Peterson and his 1% billionaires want to cut Social Security, not the American people.  This is a "tough choice" that the people have mandated the president not make for them.  Social Security has nothing to do with deficits, debt OR the fiscal cliff.  This agenda would be a huge betrayal to the people who elected him.  But wait, how could this be?  The hyperpartisans here have been screaming at anyone who said that Obama would keep the same 2011 grand bargain items on the table this time around.  If this is true, they were dead wrong, yet again, and will likely be apologists for this too, like everything else.
Obama Said to Weigh Social Security Concession in Talks

President Barack Obama is considering a possible budget concession on Social Security cost-of-living increases after House Speaker John Boehner dropped his opposition to raising tax rates for some top earners, said two people familiar with the talks.
[...]
Switching the inflation yardstick to the so-called chained consumer price index would reduce Social Security cost-of-living benefit increases and generate fresh revenue because it also would reset income-tax brackets. Some Democrats in Congress have said they’re willing to make that change.
[...]
White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “I’m not going to get into specific policy proposals,” when asked about using chained CPI. He added that Obama is “prepared to make tough choices.”
[...]
Other Democratic leaders including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois haven’t ruled out the idea, without endorsing it. Obama also didn’t close the door in an interview earlier this month with Bloomberg News.
[...]
While Reid has declared Social Security off the table in any deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts, the CPI revision has been a centerpiece of most of the major bipartisan efforts to trim the debt.
[...]
“This is not a fringe idea,” said Jared Bernstein, a former member of Obama’s economic team and a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Democratic- aligned group wrote a February paper advocating the chained CPI under “certain conditions.”

Putting Medicare changes in perspective

The reports come from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a leading nonprofit that specializes in health-policy analysis. Their report titled Medicare’s Role and Future Challenges is actually an infographic that provides a helpfully concise look at who Medicare covers, what kinds of services its beneficiaries use, and, as the authors put it, “the balance policymakers must strike between setting fair payments, keeping care affordable, and sustaining the program for future generations.” (One eye-popping stat: Out-of-pocket medical expenses ate up 26% of the average Medicare beneficiary’s Social Security benefit in 2010, up from just 14% in 2000.)

Keep the link to this report handy: As the debate in Washington about spending and taxes continues (and it’s likely to get very arcane, very fast) it can help you get a clearer sense of what’s at stake for Medicare.

No Cuts to Medicare and Social Security in Last Minute Budget Deal
Americans deserve responsible solutions, not short-sighted changes that could hurt us all.

But some in Washington are also considering cramming changes to Medicare and Social Security into a last-minute budget deal. They’re looking for funds to offset cuts to defense and other federal programs – and benefits for seniors and their kids and grandkids are on the table.

Social Security, the Fiscal Cliff, the Chained CPI
Proposals to reduce benefits will harm today's retirees — and the longer you live, the more benefits you'll lose.

Social Security benefits will take an estimated $112 billion out of the pockets of current and future retirees in the next 10 years alone.

In a Nov. 8 letter to Congress, AARP adds that Social Security is not the cause of the nation's large budget deficits, explaining that Social Security is a self-financed, off-budget program and any reduction in it does nothing to address the shortfall in the rest of the federal budget.

9 Girls Dead Following Deadly Blast in Afghanistan
As US mourns 20 children killed in gun massacre amid calls for greater gun control, landmine blast leaves Afghans mourning

Agence France-Presse reports that "despite international clearance efforts, more than three decades of war have left Afghanistan one of the most heavily-mined countries in the world."

Following its latest annual report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), Mark Hiznay, editor of the report, said that despite the "great gains" made towards achieving a mine-free world, "eliminating the daily impact landmines have on countless communities will require a sustained international effort for years to come.”

The US is not a signtory to the landmine treaty, thus maintaining the right to produce them.

Complicit in 20 Children’s Death, Mitch McConnell Claims He Can Do Nothing

No, Mitch McConnell. We may not be able to do anything to lessen their anguish, but we sure as hell can do more than your proposed solution–to pray.

I’ve been mentally responding to reactions like this much as The Economist’s Democracy in America did generally.

So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It’s our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to “mourn” the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.

Unless Mitch McConnell is willing to reverse his career of catering to the NRA, he has no business offering solace to the victims. Because he was one of the people ensuring the perpetrators of this gun violence would have easy access to their guns.

Best news I've heard in ages.
Group Launches to Encourage Transparency & Aggressive Journalism, Help WikiLeaks Survive Blockade

A foundation dedicated to promoting and funding aggressive journalism and media organizations that push for transparency and accountability in government is launching on Monday.

Called the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), it hopes to help organizations like WikiLeaks combat censorship and even prevent the watering down of coverage because of corporate or government pressures.

The organization is co-founded by Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and John Perry Barlow, a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead who co-founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Rainey Reitman, a founder and steering committee member for the Bradley Manning Support Network, and Trevor Timm, who is a writer and activist for EFF.

Also on the Board of Directors is writer Glenn Greenwald, actor John Cusack, Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director at Free Press, Josh Stearns, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, and Xeni Jardin, founding partner and co-editor of Boing Boing.

Mesa County, CO Sheriff authorized to use drones 'similar to a K-9 unit'
Operations manual emphasizes safety documentation, mum on privacy issues

As a “beta test site” for two drone manufacturers since 2009, MCSO claims one of the most advanced UAV programs in the country, to the point that the department is “beginning to implement [drones] into day to day operations.” Flight logs from MCSO’s UAVs reflect this operational integration, as the department’s two drones have been deployed for a range of uses. These include training exercises, crime scene reconstruction, suspect apprehension, missing persons searches and wildfire support.

Most law enforcement agencies across the country that have unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are restricted by their FAA certificates to operating them within narrow parts of their respective territories. The Seattle Police Department, for instance, is authorized to fly its two drones within a nautical half-mile of three parks on the city’s waterfront. These restrictions effectively limit these agencies to training and evaluation exercises using drones rather than deploying them operationally.

The Second Great Betrayal: Obama and Cameron Decide that Banks are above the Law

One of the “tells” that reveals how embarrassed Lanny Breuer (head of the Criminal Division) and Eric Holder (AG) are by the disgraceful refusal to prosecute HSBC and its officers for their tens of thousands of felonies are the false and misleading statements made by the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the settlement.  The same pattern has been demonstrated by other writers in the case of the false and disingenuous statistics DOJ has trumpeted to attempt to disguise the abject failure of their efforts to prosecute the elite officers who directed the “epidemic” (FBI 2004) of mortgage fraud.
[...]
Geithner’s fear is that the vigorous enforcement of the law against the systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) that caused the crisis could destabilize the system and cause a renewed global crisis.  I have often expressed my view that the theory that leaving felons in power over our largest financial institutions is essential to producing financial stability is insane.  Geithner, it turns out, is very sensitive to that criticism.  I will return to that subject after setting the stage.
[Emphasis added]

Jane Mayer.  This one is a must read.
ZERO CONSCIENCE IN “ZERO DARK THIRTY”

Top senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee have amplified that position in additional interviews this week. Speaking with the Huffington Post, Feinstein said of the movie’s narrative, “Based on what I know, I don’t believe it is true.” Republicans, too, criticized the movie’s plot. “It’s wrong. It’s wrong. I know for a fact, not because of this report—my own knowledge—that waterboarding, torture, does not lead to reliable information … in any case—not this specific case—in any case,” said John McCain, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, who was himself tortured during the Vietnam War. The Huffington Post also quoted South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, another Republican member of the Armed Services Committee, saying, “I would argue that it’s not waterboarding that led to bin Laden’s demise. It was a lot of good intelligence-gathering from the Obama and Bush administrations, continuity of effort, holding people at Gitmo, putting the puzzle together over a long period of time—not torture.”
[...]
As Boal, the screenwriter, has protested in recent interviews, “It’s a movie, not a documentary.” But in the very first minutes of “Zero Dark Thirty,” before its narrative begins to unspool, the audience is told that the story it is about to see is “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” If there is an expectation of accuracy, it is set up by the filmmakers themselves. It seems they want it both ways: they want the thrill that comes from revealing what happened behind the scenes as history was being made and the creative license of fiction, which frees them from the responsibility to stick to the truth.

Very odd article.  It says there might be others who divulged information. It also says that most likely, nothing will come of this.
Bin Laden film leak was referred to Justice; leaker top Obama official

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON Pentagon investigators concluded that a senior Defense Department official who’s been mentioned as a possible candidate to be the next CIA director leaked restricted information to the makers of an acclaimed film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and referred the case to the Justice Department, according to knowledgeable U.S. officials.

The Justice Department received the case involving Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers in September, but so far it’s declined to launch a criminal prosecution, said two senior U.S. officials who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The case involved a determination by investigators of the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office that Vickers provided the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty” with the restricted name of a U.S. Special Operations Command officer who helped plan the May 2, 2011, raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan, one official said.
[...]
Vickers, a former Army special forces operator and onetime CIA paramilitary officer, is the top intelligence adviser to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and oversees the Pentagon’s vast intelligence operations. He’s been frequently mentioned as a candidate to replace retired Army Gen. David Petraeus as CIA director.





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