Paul Krugman at The New York Times writes—Health Care Horror Hooey:
Remember the “death tax”? The estate tax is quite literally a millionaire’s tax — a tax that affects only a tiny minority of the population, and is mostly paid by a handful of very wealthy heirs. Nonetheless, right-wingers have successfully convinced many voters that the tax is a cruel burden on ordinary Americans — that all across the nation small businesses and family farms are being broken up to pay crushing estate tax liabilities.E.J. Dionne Jr. at The Washington Post might have used blunter language in taking note that the only way to get anything worthwhile done in the face of this obstinately obstructionist Congress is for Obama [...] to do more, not less, on his own:
You might think that such heart-wrenching cases are actually quite rare, but you’d be wrong: they aren’t rare; they’re nonexistent. In particular, nobody has ever come up with a real modern example of a family farm sold to meet estate taxes. The whole “death tax” campaign has rested on eliciting human sympathy for purely imaginary victims.
And now they’re trying a similar campaign against health reform. [...]
Hey, I have a suggestion: Why not have ads in which actors play Americans who have both lost their insurance thanks to Obamacare and lost the family farm to the death tax? I mean, once you’re just making stuff up, anything goes.
Republicans are unhappy that President Obama is invoking his executive powers to govern in the face of a do-nothing-in-2014 House of Representatives. To hear them talk, you would think our chief executive is modeling himself on the late Hugo Chávez and wants to seize dictatorial control.Additional pundit excerpts can be read below the fold.
This, of course, is nonsense. In fact, Obama has in many ways been less aggressive in his use of executive authority than his predecessors.
Take the matter of executive orders. According to the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Obama issued 147 executive orders in his first term. This compares with 173 in George W. Bush’s first term, 200 in Bill Clinton’s, 213 in Ronald Reagan’s and 320 in Jimmy Carter’s single term in office. By this standard, Obama is not doing a very good job if he wants to be a tyrant.
Moreover, since getting major bills through the House is about as likely as an equatorial country dominating the Winter Olympics, Obama’s supposedly aggressive measures have been rather restrained initiatives to achieve widely shared goals. He has accomplished as much through the White House’s ability to convene and persuade as through command.
Larry Harris, former chief economist of the Security and Exchange Commission, writes at the Los Angeles Times— Raise the minimum wage? No, subsidize wages instead:
What's a better way? Do away with minimum wages altogether and institute wage subsidies. The government should give vouchers to unemployed workers seeking low-income jobs. Those vouchers would provide wage subsidies to employers who hire them. The subsidies would be based on the wages that the employers offer, with the greatest subsidies going to the lowest-wage jobs.Riiiiiiiight. No legal minimum wage, and the lower wage you offer somebody, the more the government will pay you to hire them. But Mr. Harris doesn't suggest how wages will be set. Since the minimum wage will be out the window, will the government set wage levels so that it can determine how big vouchers will be? Maybe the Chamber of Commerce can provide a list of what the subsidy should be for janitors, store clerks and burger flippers. No business would, of course, seek to get more and bigger vouchers by lowering the low wages they already pay. Sounds like a super plan. $5 to the first person who can tell me without looking which school of economics Mr. Harris hails from.
The subsidies would lower labor costs, thereby increasing the number of jobs employers offer to low-income workers. Wages earned overall by the poor would increase, more young people would get jobs and gain valuable work experience, fewer people would be on the streets, fragile businesses could thrive and new companies would start up. More jobs also would reduce welfare grants and increase payroll taxes, which could help fund the subsidies. Everyone would be better off as the subsidies lowered product prices and increased production.
Firmin Debrabander at The New York Times writes—Locke and Load: The Fatal Error of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Philosophy:
Gun rights advocates argue that we must arm more people, and empower them to wield their guns confidently and boldly if we would achieve greater law and order. They have it wrong. More guns, and more emboldened gun owners, lead to more travesties of justice, more chaos, vendettas, a state of war, Locke would say. Ironically, this also defeats the other cause célèbre of the gun rights movement: autonomy. For gun rights advocates, the gun is the premier mark of individual sovereignty. I believe this is what makes the gun rights movement especially intoxicating for millions of Americans, and resistant to reform and regulation. However, autonomy is doomed in a Stand Your Ground world. It makes no sense to speak of autonomy, freedom, or self-determination in a state of war. As Locke knew too well, the sovereignty of the individual is intolerably tenuous where all are sovereign. Of course, this suits the N.R.A. just fine, and the industry whose interests it represents.Dean Baker at Beat the Press at The Center for Economic and Policy Research writes—The Decision to Let Lehman Fail:
Gretchen Morgensen picks up an important point in the Fed transcripts from 2008. The discussion around the decision to allow Lehman to go bankrupt makes it very clear that it was a decision. In other words the Fed did not rescue Lehman because it chose not to.Juan Cole at Informed Comment writes—The Iran Breakthrough TV News is Ignoring: Uranium Stockpile falls below amount Needed for Bomb:
This is important because the key regulators involved in this decision, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and Timothy Geithner, have been allowed to rewrite history and claim that they didn't rescue Lehman because they lacked the legal authority to rescue it. This is transparent tripe, which should be evident to any knowledgeable observer. (Who has legal standing to stop a bailout?)
Anyhow, in retrospect the choice not to rescue Lehman in a context where the Fed was unprepared to deal with the consequences certainly was disastrous. We all make mistakes, but this gang of three made a whopper. And reporters have an obligation to make this clear to the public, not to assist in the cover-up.
There has been a rash of articles about how difficult the negotiations of the UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany are and how unlikely they are to succeed.David Moberg, veteran labor reporter at In These Times writes that at the start of the winter meeting of the executive council of the AFL-CIO Labor Leaders React to Volkswagen Loss; Some Express Frustration with Democrats:
But these pieces are burying the lede. The [International Atomic Energy Agency], which has been hostile to Iran under the leadership of Yukiya Amano, is saying that Iran is fulfilling its side of the bargain so far and that a key source of anxiety, the stockpile of 19.25% [low-enriched uranium], is no longer worrisome.
Though organizing strategies were a small part of the formal agenda in Houston, the loss at Volkswagen prompted much discussion of what lessons to learn going forward. Most union leaders seem to agree that the defeat represents, as Communications Workers of America (CWA) president Larry Cohen said, “a turning point for the right wing in this country.” Unions will have to counter such tactics more effectively in the future. “What works is inside organizing and links to the community,” Cohen said, citing the experience of the CWA, UAW and other unions in successful campaigns. “The key is that organizing is part of a democracy movement and not separate, as the Corkers of the world would like it to be.Ruth Conniff at The Progressive writes—Walker's Denials No Longer Hold Up:
On the sidelines, organizers debated other possible contributors to the UAW loss, such as its neutrality agreement with Volkswagen, which gave up house visits to workers (except by worker request), but opened the plant to union representatives. Faced with a choice between employer neutrality and house visits, veteran organizers did not agree on which alternative they would pick. The favored answer seemed to be ”both.”
Amid the disappointment, union organizers took note of other wins, and Trumka urged them to act more aggressively and collegially.
Others lamented the absence of Democrats, supposed allies of labor, from the fight. National Nurses United executive director RoseAann DeMoro, whose union has organized 7,000 nurses in southern states like Texas and Florida in the past three years, asked why Democratic politicians did not forcefully challenge Corker and the right. “Why aren’t Democrats 100 percent for labor?” she asked. “Where are our allies? Who’s standing with us visibly, forcibly? Democrats know the value of organized labor. They might say it sometime.”
Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly denied knowing about the illegal campaign work going on while he was County Executive of Milwaukee. But the emails released on Wednesday by a court of appeals show that those denials don't hold up.Lee Fang at the Republic Report writes—Chevron’s Lobbyist Now Runs the Congressional Science Committee:
Again and again, Walker appears in the emails talking to his "inner circle," all of whom used a private email network set up in his office.
A map of that office, Exhibit A in the original criminal complaint against Kelly Rindfleisch, shows that Walker sat within 25 feet of Rindfleisch and the other "inner circle" staff who were tapping away on their secret laptops.
For Chevron, the second largest oil company in the country with $26.2 billion in annual profits, it helps to have friends in high places. With little fanfare, one of Chevron’s top lobbyists, Stephen Sayle, has become a senior staff member of the House Committee on Science, the standing congressional committee charged with “maintaining our scientific and technical leadership in the world.”Chris Mooney at Mother Jones writes—Is the Arctic Really Drunk, or Does It Just Act Like This Sometimes?:
Throughout much of 2013, Sayle was the chief executive officer of Dow Lohnes Government Strategies, a lobbying firm retained by Chevron to influence Congress. For fees that total $320,000 a year, Sayle and his team lobbied on a range of energy-related issues, including implementation of EPA rules under the Clean Air Act, regulation of ozone standards, as well as “Congressional and agency oversight related to offshore oil, natural gas development and oil spills.”
Just when weather weary Americans thought they'd found a reprieve, the latest forecasts suggest that the polar vortex will, again, descend into the heart of the country next week, bringing with it staggering cold. If so, it will be just the latest weather extreme in a winter that has seen so many of them. California has been extremely dry, while the flood-soaked UK has been extremely wet. Alaska has been extremely hot (as has Sochi), while the snow-pummeled US East Coast has been extremely cold. They're all different, and yet on a deeper level, perhaps, they're all the same.But some other scientists who agree that global warming is changing some aspects of the weather aren't yet ready to buy Francis's thesis.
This weather now serves as the backdrop—and perhaps, as the inspiration—for an increasingly epic debate within the field of climate research. You see, one climate researcher, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory suggesting that winters like this one may be growing more likely to occur. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream—in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we've all been experiencing. "There is a lot of pretty tantalizing evidence that our hypothesis seems to be bearing some fruit," Francis explained on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The current winter is a "perfect example" of the kind of jet stream pattern that her research predicts, Francis added (although she emphasized that no one atmospheric event can be directly blamed on climate change).