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Longwood Gardens. Photo by joanneleon. January, 2010

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News and Opinion


Fiscal Cliff Quotes of the Day


The GOP-controlled House is moving ahead Thursday on a bill that would raise taxes on people earning over $1 million a year, sparing most workers from a tax hike but leaving in place painful budget cuts to the military and domestic agencies as "fiscal cliff" talks appear stalled.

The move, dubbed "Plan B" by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, seems to be aimed at upping the year-end pressure on Capitol Hill Democrats and President Barack Obama, but it looks to be a dead letter in the Senate and earned a White House veto threat Wednesday.
[...]
But to a remarkable extent, the two sides have flip-flopped.

Republicans have for years argued that voting to renew most Bush-era tax cuts on income, investments and elsewhere, but allowing upper-end tax cuts to expire would be a debilitating blow to the economy and small businesses. Now, they point to the 99-plus percent of taxpayers who wouldn't be affected by their latest plan.
...link

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Tomorrow, the House will pass legislation to make permanent tax relief for nearly every American, 99.81 percent of the American people.

And then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on the Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.  ...link

After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the president said, the country needs to see its leaders working together to compromise.
“If there’s one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what’s important,” he said.  ...link
"The White House's opposition to a backup plan ... is growing more bizarre and irrational by the day," Boehner said through his spokesman, Brendan Buck
[...]
Business leaders have descended on Washington to lobby for a deal to avoid going over the cliff while putting public finances on a more sustainable path. Without an agreement to narrow deficits over the long run, the United States could eventually lose investors' trust, triggering a debt crisis.
 ...link
Obama in focus, yet all over the map

It was a most audacious application of the Emanuel rule.

“Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel said when he was tapped to be President Obama’s chief of staff.

Standing in the White House briefing room Wednesday afternoon, Obama observed that recommendation in unorthodox fashion, invoking the grade-school massacre in Newtown, Conn., to advance his agenda not just on gun control but on taxes, the debt limit, energy and immigration reform.

What If All the World’s Debt Just Went Away

Just for fun, imagine if all debt were wiped away when the Mayan Calendar ends this Friday…

How would the world be different?  What would become possible for you personally in your life?  How would nations and corporations invest our newfound wealth differently if we all started from a clean slate?  Problems like global warming and extreme poverty would instantly become financial drops in the bucket—easily tackled with fair contracts and forward-looking investments.  The structural debts of entrenched subsidies, invested capital, tax havens, and trade agreements that keep them from being addressed would simply no longer exist.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  Well just such a fantasy used to be standard practice in the Hebrew Tradition throughout the early days of their civilization.  They held a great Jubilee every seven years to erase all debt and end economic slavery.  Accounts kept on stone tablets were broken.  Those stored on papyrus were burned to ash.  Slaves were returned to their families.  Everyone was given a fresh start.  (This tradition is being revived today through the Occupy-inspired project, Rolling Jubilee, that has already abolished more than $9,000,000 in US debt for everyday citizens.)

Fiscal Cliff: Let's Call Their Bluff

The “fiscal cliff” has all the earmarks of a false flag operation, full of sound and fury, intended to extort concessions from opponents.  Neil Irwin of the Washington Post calls it “a self-induced austerity crisis.”  David Weidner in the Wall Street Journal calls it simply theater, designed to pressure politicians into a budget deal:

The cliff is really just a trumped-up annual budget discussion. . . . The most likely outcome is a combination of tax increases, spending cuts and  kicking the can down the road.
'Take Our Undies Next!': Austerity Leaves Greek Workers with Little Left
'We can no longer live on what we earn,' say workers in Athens

But the "austerity measures" required by the International Monetary Fund and European Union leave many in or near poverty, those who marched on Wednesday said.

"We can no longer live on what we earn, so what's the point?" said Nikos Stamatopoulos, leader of the Athens subway workers' union, whose monthly salary has been cut from €1,700 ($2,240) to €800 ($1,050) next year. "We'll keep fighting these (cuts) because we have to."

The Associated Press reports that one group of marchers held up a mock clothes line with the words "Take These Too" written across 16 pairs of underpants.

This seems odd.  I thought the conclusion was that it was an intelligence failure at the root of the problem.  Have any intelligence officials been held accountable?
Benghazi report forces resignation of four US state department officials
Account of events leading up to death of the US ambassador and three other Americans finds 'grossly inadequate' security

Three of those who resigned were the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Eric Boswell; the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, Charlene Lamb; and an official who was at first unidentified but later named by the Associated Press as Raymond Maxwell, the deputy assistant secretary of state overseeing the Maghreb nations of Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

The independent review board – chaired by a former US ambassador, Thomas Pickering, with Admiral Michael Mullen, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, as his deputy – strongly condemned the handling of security by Lamb and Boswell, and their lack of co-operation.

"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report said.

Lamb appeared at a congressional hearing into the attack in October where she defended the security measures taken in Benghazi. "I made the best decisions I could with the information I had," she said.
[...]
The report blames a number of contributing factors for the security failures from budget cuts to the fact that security personnel relied too heavily on intelligence to warn of impending attacks and didn't pay enough attention to what was going on around them, including a series of assaults over previous months in the International Red Cross and British diplomats.

Newtown kids v Yemenis and Pakistanis: what explains the disparate reactions?
Numerous commentators have rightly lamented the difference in how these childrens' deaths are perceived. What explains it?

Citizens of a militaristic empire are inexorably trained to adopt the mentality of their armies: just listen to Good Progressive Obama defenders swagger around like they're decorated, cigar-chomping combat veterans spouting phrases like "war is hell" and "collateral damage" to justify all of this. That is the anti-Muslim dehumanization campaign rearing its toxic head.

There's one other issue highlighted by this disparate reaction: the question of agency and culpability. It's easy to express rage over the Newtown shooting because so few of us bear any responsibility for it and - although we can take steps to minimize the impact and make similar attacks less likely - there is ultimately little we can do to stop psychotic individuals from snapping. Fury is easy because it's easy to tell ourselves that the perpetrator - the shooter - has so little to do with us and our actions.

Exactly the opposite is true for the violence that continuously kills children and other innocent people in the Muslim world. Many of us empowered and cheer for the person responsible for that. US citizens pay for it, enable it, and now under Obama, most at the very least acquiesce to it if not support it. It's always much more difficult to acknowledge the deaths that we play a role in causing than it is to protest those to which we believe we have no connection. That, too, is a vital factor explaining these differing reactions.
[...]
All of this has led to rhetoric and behavior that is nothing short of deranged when it comes to discussing the Muslim children and other innocents killed by US violence. I literally have never witnessed mockery over dead children like that which is spewed from some of Obama's hard-core progressive supporters whenever I mention the child-victims of Obama's drone attacks. Jokes like that are automatic. In this case at least, the fish rots from the head: recall President Obama's jovial jokes at a glamorous media dinner about his use of drones to kill teeangers (sanctioned by the very same political faction that found Bush's jokes about his militarism - delivered at the same media banquet several years earlier - so offensive). Just as is true of Gibbs' deranged and callous rationale, jokes like that are possible only when you have denied the humanity of those who are killed. Would Newtown jokes be tolerated by anyone?

Dehumanization of Muslims is often overt, by necessity, in US military culture. The Guardian headline to Monbiot's column refers to the term which Rolling Stones' Michael Hastings reported is used for drone victims: "bug splat". And consider this passage from an amazing story this week in Der Spiegel (but not, notably, in US media) on a US drone pilot, Brandon Bryant, who had to quit because he could no longer cope with the huge amount of civilian deaths he was witnessing and helping to cause[...]





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Debate

Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?

Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.

Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum."  ~ Noam Chomsky

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