Category Archives: government

Osama bin Laden dead – details.

With the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death, the war in the Middle East is once again trust into the limelight for the United States. After the so called ‘war on terrorism’ has largely been eclipsed in the public mind by more domestic concerns, like our flagging economy, the news of the death of one of the forerunners of the al-Qaida group has brought the issue to the forefront. And it was done during Obama’s watch. This could prove to be a feather in the President’s cap.

Americans gather to celebrate the news at the White House and Ground Zero while the stock markets get a modest boost from higher moral and confidence. U.S. officials say that the body of the master terrorist has been buried at sea, following Islamic practice and tradition that the deceased be buried within 24 hours. It was hard to get a country to accept the remains of the man who was the face of terrorism, so it was decided to bury bin Laden at sea. (This probably means they dumped the body over the side of a boat in whatever ocean or sea they were closest to. Don’t have any illusions here.)

DNA testing offered a “99.9%” certainty that bin Laden was the man shot dead during the raid and detailed photo analysis by the CIA and matching physical features confirmed the identity of the body. U.S. Blackhawk helicopters ferried about two dozen troops from Navy SEAL Team Six, a top military counter-terrorism unit, into the compound identified by the CIA as bin Laden’s hideout — and back out again in less than 40 minutes. Bin Laden was shot in the head, officials said, after he and his bodyguards resisted the assault.

It is unclear what this will mean. People have already stated that while bin Laden’s death is a great blow to terrorism and a victory for the United States, the war is not over. I fear that we have only cut off the head of a hydra, and two will spring up in its place. Homeland Security and the FDA has already issued travel warnings as the threat of retaliation from remaining el-Qaida members and those with radical sympathies is very real.

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Cunningham seeks changes to child labor laws and Burns wants to create a ‘training wage’.

I caught a snippet of a debate on television last night while getting ready for bed (because CNN is the default channel in my house – kill me) about changing the child labor laws. Of course, I had to search the internet to find out what they were yapping about. Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham has proposed a bill that would “modify” child labor laws. The proposal would eliminate the prohibition of employment of children under age fourteen and repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen has to obtain a work permit in order to be employed. It would remove restrictions on when and how many hours a child may work. It also would remove the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ.

I know the big thing in Washington right now is to bang your drum and chant “shrink the government” but there is a big difference between getting rid of regulations and expenditures that are useless or outdated and getting rid of regulations that keep your fellow Americans from doing something amoral and stupid. Because, let’s face it, humans are greedy, morally bankrupt, horrible, stupid people and the only thing keeping them from doing something disgusting is the fear of being punished. Child labor laws were created to keep young children (single digit ages) out of dangerous factory/manufacturing jobs but there is a big difference between wanting to work at the 7-Eleven and working in a textile factory where your task is to run under the huge cloth looms to untangle a snag in the threads and where failing to run back out quickly enough would result in your death. I agree that laws should reflect our time but doing away with the law completely is just as detrimental.

Jane Cunningham says that “parents should be in charge, deciding on the work ethic of their children,” which is so ignorant that it makes me cringe. Removing the regulations on how long and when a child can work is just asking for trouble. Parents, and I use that term loosely in some cases, are so wrapped up in their own lives that they don’t notice what their child is doing while other parents simply will not care. A similar bill in Maine proposed by David Burns takes the idiocy a step further, by establishing a “training wage” for new workers 20 years old or younger. It would reduce the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $5.62 an hour for the first 90 days of employment. What this will result in, is young workers being fired after the 90 day period is over and a new teen worker being brought in at the reduced wage continually. You are working under the premise that Americans are ethical, decent people that will treat their fellow humans with respect, even a teen, but reality is that they are not. You are deluding yourself if you think otherwise.

The loss of fingers, limbs, and even death was the result of little children working in factories. They were employed because their small fingers and arms could fit into the gaps of machinery where tools and adults couldn’t. Children were often maimed or crushed doing this.

Missouri Lawmaker Seeks to “Modify” Child Labor Laws – Huffington Post

Cunningham defends proposal to eliminate many child labor law restrictions -STL Beacon

Teen “training wage” bill draws opposition – Maine Bangor Daily News

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Congress gears up for the debt discussion – no, not that one. The other one.

The people in our government are buttheads and here is the reason why: both the Republicans and the Democrats have announced their party’s negotiators for the upcoming talks over the nation’s debt limit and they are pretty much a handpicked selection of people guaranteed to NOT come to an agreement. The Republicans have picked Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl. Please note that the invitation was for four congressional Republicans but the GOP decided to waste the time of only two. The Democrats chose Max Baucus and Daniel Inouye from the Senate and James Clyburn and Chris Van Hollen from the House. Of those, only Van Hollen seems to make any sense, having taken part in the 2011 budget negotiations that ended just last week. Basically, this is going to turn into a staring match where nothing gets done. Much like the negotiations for this year’s federal budget went.

Paul Ryan, the architect of the Republican budget that protects tax breaks for the wealthy and turns Medicare into a voucher system, is not finding a lot of support for his proposal. House Republicans voted 235-4 in favor of the plan but touching entitlement programs is incredibly unpopular with the public. Ryan was booed when talking about his proposed budget plan when holding a town hall meeting in his southern Wisconsin congressional district. Only Obama’s call to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans enjoys solid support. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 72% of Americans wanted Congress to raise taxes on wealthy Americans making more than $250,000 a year.

Americans would prefer to keep Medicare just the way it is and also oppose cuts in Medicaid and the defense budget. More than half of those polled say they are against small, across-the-board tax increases combined with modest reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits. Basically, Americans want the government to sort itself out without having themselves pay any more money. Better yet, to reduce what we are paying in taxes now. (You do realize that it doesn’t work that way, right? Basic math there, Bobo.)

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Big surprise – more tax issues.

Obama will head out on the road this week to begin the effort to get support for the debt reduction plan he outlined last week. He’s not doing so on the greatest footing. Last year, before elections created a Republican controlled House, a new tax plan would have had some chance to reach his desk. Not so much now. House Speaker John Boehner, even before Obama made his speech last week, spoke in opposition to any plan that would raise taxes – calling it “unacceptable” and a “non-starter”. But there are signs that Obama may get the support he needs if he focuses solely on corporations and the wealthy.

The touchiest part of Obama’s plan is his pledge to not extend the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, those making $250,000 or above. (Oh, déjà-vu! We’ve heard that before.) The GOP has always had the image of protecting the wealthy, the fat-cats, while the Democrats are often accused of an endless “tax and spend” cycle. Now, almost everyone thinks that the Republicans have pretty much cheated middle-class America while pandering to the wealthy. The wealthy aren’t paying their fair share in taxes and the middle-class is drowning in the kickback.

Nearly six in ten Americans have the belief that the wealthy aren’t paying their share of taxes and nearly seven in ten think the same about corporations. Two-thirds of those making under $100,000 a year believe that those in the upper-incomes are not paying enough in taxes. This public opinion might give Obama the backing he needs in order to get a new tax plan going. Plus, the middle-class is a huge target in any election but particularly one where the economy will be a central issue. If Obama can use quashing tax cuts for the wealthy to appeal to those middle-class voters it could be a huge advantage in upcoming elections.

That is if people can get past the knee-jerk reaction that increasing taxes hurts economic growth. Lesser known facts, like the U.S. corporate tax being the highest in the world and that ending the Bush tax cuts could impact 894,000 small businesses, could allow the Republicans to ultimately win the tax debate. But turning public opinion makes tax issues less of a sure thing for the GOP.

Obama’s winning message on taxes? – The Washington Post

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Budget bill moves through Senate and on to Obama. Up next: the debt ceiling.

Both the House and the Senate passed the budget bill yesterday, with the Senate voting 81-19. Fifteen Republican senators, three Democrats, and one independent voted against the measure. Now the legislation moves on to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. But the fight over the 2011 budget may have weakened John Boehner when many of his own party abandoned him when voting in the House on the measure took place yesterday afternoon. Without Democrat help, the bill may never have passed. But don’t be fooled into thinking anybody is having fuzzy feelings for the opposite party, 108 of the no votes came from House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.Now Capitol Hill turns its attention to raising the national debt limit but the king of the Republicans may be doing so with a weaker hand. Boehner’s little GOP kingdom has become disenchanted with him. The federal debt ceiling, currently just under $14.3 trillion, is projected to be breached by mid-May and the Treasury Department’s accounting tricks will only last until early July. Conservatives and tea party members are demanding that their leaders shrink the government and are howling at the suggestion of raising the debt ceiling. But they may end up having no choice. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and others have warned of dire consequences to the global financial markets if the debt limit is not extended and the government begins defaulting on its loans.

With debate over the debt limit intensifying, Republicans are discussing attaching some tough statutory language to the bill that would allow the ceiling to be increased only if Congress institutes broad spending cuts in federal agency budgets and in entitlement programs such as Medicare. Those proposals might unify House Republicans for an initial passage of the debt ceiling, but they might also fail in the Democratic controlled Senate. Such an outcome would send Boehner back to the bargaining table with Obama and Reid. This past week’s reaction to the spending bill from GOP conservatives may leave the White House assuming Boehner will not be able to deliver a majority on his own, prompting Obama’s side to not give in to as many of the speaker’s demands.

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The House passes new budget bill but nobody is happy about it. As usual.

What is going on in our government? The House passed the budget bill that had been created last Friday but House Speaker John Boehner had to turn to Democratic support to get it done. The vote was 260 to 167 (it takes 217 ‘yes’ votes to pass a bill) but 59 Republicans broke with their party to vote against the measure. In turn, 81 Democrats voted for the deal. The budget deal, which makes $38 billion in federal spending cuts, has been criticized by some conservative Republicans as being inadequate in addressing the government’s ballooning debt. Of the 59 GOP defections, 27 were freshmen members, most that had been elected with Tea Party backing. The Senate is poised to vote later today and Obama will certainly sign it into law.

The 2011 spending measure produces its $38 billion in cuts to domestic accounts by including almost $18 billion changes to benefit programs, like children’s health care, highway funding and a fund for crime victims. “This bill is nothing more than a Tea Party checklist targeting programs that help the most vulnerable,” said liberal Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., ticking off cuts to food aid for the poor, grants to local police departments and help for children of inmates. “It’s shameful, a moral disgrace.” Obama, however, was able to ease cuts to favored programs like medical research, family planning programs and education, while largely ridding the bill of conservative policy initiatives to block last year’s health care law and new environmental regulations.

Later today, Republicans dominating the House will launch debate on a 10-year blueprint that promises to cut the long-term budget plan Obama laid out in February by more than $6 trillion. The GOP measure, a non-binding blueprint that sets a theoretical framework for future legislation, would also sharply cut Medicaid and transform it into a block grant program runs by the states. It doesn’t touch Social Security, however, or immediately cut Medicare.

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Long-term plan to drop deficit revealed by Obama today.

President Obama unveiled a framework Wednesday to reduce the deficit over the next 12 years by $4 trillion — a goal that falls short of targets set by his deficit commission and House Republicans — and called for a new congressional commission to help develop a plan to get there. This plan comes just after Capitol Hill came to a hard fought agreement over this year’s budget, which is already half over I might add. Of course, any plan Obama puts into action will be kicked to the curb with the next presidency. In fact, undoing what Obama has spent the last three years doing might be a campaign promise from any presidential hopeful. After all, Obama himself was elected with the promise of change and any other candidate can use the same song and dance.

In his most ambitious effort to claim the mantle of deficit cutter, Obama proposed sharp new cuts to domestic and military spending, and an overhaul of the tax code that would raise fresh revenue. But he steered clear of fundamental changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — the primary drivers of future spending. The proposal includes a mixture of tax hikes, drastic spending cuts, reductions in the Pentagon’s budget, and smaller entitlement reforms. It would seek to achieve a final balance of three dollars in spending reductions for every dollar generated in additional tax revenue.

“Now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s,” the president said in a speech at George Washington University. “We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs and win the future.”

Oh, great. Were you paying attention in the 1990’s, Mr. President? That decade of “fiscal responsibility” is what got us in the mess we are in today. We lived on credit and thought plastic money meant that we would never run out of cash. Then the world blinked and it all fell to shit. I hope Obama can realize that a return to the old ways is not an option and never was. He’s saying two different things in this quote. In no way was the 1990’s characterized by living within our means and many people over extended themselves. When the housing bubble burst, people found that the one object that had pour their resources into, their house, was practically devalued.

We do need to begin to live within our means but the rest of the United States and the world have to stabilize their economies as well. As it is we can barely afford the products we need to continue basic life, like gas. The rest of world is charging full steam ahead while we flounder behind.

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Just how much did the GOP give and how much did the Democrats take?

Still, Obama and his Democratic allies accepted $600 million in cuts to a community health centers program, $414 million in cuts to grants for state and local police departments, and a $1.6 billion reduction in the Environmental Protection Agency budget, almost $1 billion of which would come from grants for clean water and other projects by local governments and Indian tribes. The National Institutes of Health, which funds critical medical research, would absorb a $260 million cut, less than 1 percent of its budget, instead of the $1.6 billion cut sought by House Republicans. Family planning programs would bear a 5 percent cut rather than being completely eliminated. Homeland security programs would see their first ever cut, although mostly to first responder grants given to state and local governments, and the IRS budget would be frozen.

About $10 billion of the cuts comes from targeting appropriations accounts previously used by lawmakers for so-called earmarks, those pet projects like highways, water projects, community development grants and new equipment for police and fire departments. Republicans had already engineered a ban on earmarks when taking back the House this year. Republicans also claimed $5 billion in savings by capping payments from a fund awarding compensation to crime victims. According to an arcane bookkeeping rule, this allows the government to claim the entire contents of the fund as budget savings. Renewable energy programs are cut $407 million, almost 20% of their budget, and The Army Corps of Engineers, which funds flood control and inland waterway projects, will suffer a $578 million cut, about 10% of its budget.

Conservative Republicans and Tea Party people are already expressing their displeasure with the budget plan, saying that the almost $38 billion in cuts barely make a dent in the country’s budget woes. They are also upset that policy “riders” added by the Republicans, like those on abortion, were dropped during negotiation. These little add-ons included attempts to block the EPA’s ability to issue global warming rules, moves to stop the implementation of Obama’s healthcare overhauls, new rules to govern the Internet, and an attempt to chop an initiative aimed at catching people running guns to Mexican drug lords off at the knees.

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Obama pulls some strings to save some programs.

It now seems that due to some tricky maneuvering, Obama may have been able to save several of his favorite programs from biting the dust in the new budget cuts. There has been grumbling that Obama hasn’t been doing enough in regards to the budget war and has been seen not really taking that much of an active part in the negotiations. Although, I don’t think that people understand that much of the work is being done by aids. Boehner and Reid may be the images we’re seeing on the TV but it is their lieutenants that are really swimming around under the surface.

By using some accounting hocus-pocus and left over money from previous years, Obama was able to protect Pell grants for poor college students, health research, and “Race to the Top” aid for public schools. Big holes in foreign aid and Environmental Protection Agency accounts were generally patched and the Republicans also gave up controversial cuts to the Agriculture Department’s food inspection program. These maneuvers allowed Obama to reverse many of the cuts passed by House Republicans in February when they slashed this year’s budget by more than $60 billion. (Remember that? The GOP has been using a weed-whacker for months!) This saved favorites like the Head Start early learning program and maintained the maximum Pell grant of $5,550 and funding for the “Race to the Top” initiative that provides grants to better preforming schools.

Many of the cuts agreed to on Friday and that will be voted on on Thursday are one-time savings and the shifting of money from one place to another that is being scored as a “cut”. (Yes, it’s a game. Whoever can use the word “cut” the most, wins, even if the money is just going somewhere else.) One-time cuts include a $350 million program enacted in 2009 for dairy farmers then suffering from low milk prices and $650 million from simply not repeating a one-time infusion into highway programs passed the same year. Actual cuts are far tamer and include cuts to earmarks, unspent census money, leftover federal construction funding, and $2.5 billion from the most recent renewal of highway programs and $3.5 billion from unused spending authority from a program providing health care to children of lower-income family. (So, what you are saying is that very few cuts were actually made and that somewhere, somehow you are just finding extra money? Did the Easter Bunny leave it for you to find on the White House lawn?)

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Government shutdown averted! — Kind of…

So, the shutdown of the government was averted just in the nick of time. The Cherry Blossom Festival went on in DC over the weekend despite fears that the parades would be canceled and, except for a car pulling a balloon that burst into flames and had to be towed away, everything went off grandly. Our dear Federal rats (and I call them rats because they acted just like rats would when they realize the ship they are on is sinking – stupidly and desperately) were able to seal a deal just an hour before midnight. Well, sort of. What actually happened was that Congress approved a short-term spending measure to keep the government from shutting down until next week. The final agreement will not in fact be voted upon until Thursday. (Just enough time for someone to change their minds.)

The proposed measure would cut $37.8 billion from the federal budget through the end of September, a little more than half of the $61 billion the Republicans were originally playing for. The Democrats wanted to cut billions less but agreed to the larger figure when the GOP agreed to drop demands to take federal funds away from the group Planned Parenthood. The cuts, if passed, would add up to the largest budget reduction for federal agencies in U.S. history. But it’s clear that the Republicans have the power in this situation. They have managed to upset what is still a predominantly Democratic held government. Remember, the Democrats still hold the majority in the Senate.

Some Tea Party conservatives have expressed their displeasure with the smaller figure and said GOP leaders should have held out for the $61 billion worth of cuts. The Republicans now have set their sights on the 2012 budget and, from the looks of it, are planning to propose even more cuts. (They’ll eventually just slash themselves out of existence. Won’t that be nice!) This is the first test of their strength since taking over the House and it looks like they may have come out on the top of the pile.

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