Thursday, March 31, 2011

GOP balanced budget amendment to the Constitution - most radical major fiscal policy proposal in decades #p2 #tcot

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Statement by Robert Greenstein on Senate Republican Leaders' Proposed Balanced Budget Amendment

"The balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that Senate Republican leaders unveiled today is the most radical major fiscal policy proposal in decades. It would require a balanced budget every year regardless of the state of the economy, an exceedingly unwise requirement that most economists have long counseled against because it would require the largest budget cuts or tax increases when the economy is weakest and thereby could tip faltering economies into recessions and make recessions worse (see box). It also would require budget cuts of such a magnitude as to force policymakers to severely slash Medicare, Medicaid, and many other programs or scrap them altogether — even while opening the door to massive new tax cuts.

Draconian Spending Cuts

"The amendment would bar total federal spending from exceeding about 16.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product . It says spending in any fiscal year may not exceed 18 percent of the GDP of the previous calendar year (i.e., the calendar year that ended before the fiscal year began). Using CBO's economic assumptions, in the first five years that the amendment would be in effect, the amount of spending allowed would average 16.7 percent of the current year's GDP.

"The last year that federal spending was 16.7 percent of GDP or lower was 1956 . In that year, Medicare and Medicaid did not exist and millions of workers (including many low-income and minority workers) were excluded from Social Security. Federal aid to education barely existed. Most federal environmental protection did not exist. Nor, for that matter, did most basic programs to ease poverty and hardship such as Supplemental Security Income for the elderly and disabled poor, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. More than a third of elderly Americans lived in poverty, infant mortality was far above today's levels, and rates of child malnutrition in some areas of the country approached those of Third World nations.

"Even under President Reagan, federal expenditures averaged 22 percent of GDP — and that was before any members of the baby boom generation had retired; at a time when health care spending was a third lower as a share of GDP than it is today; and before the 9/11 terrorist attacks led policymakers to create a new category of homeland security spending and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to increases in veterans' health costs that will endure for decades.

More Tax Cutting

"Since federal spending would fall to 16.7 percent of GDP, the amendment would create room for very big new tax cuts. That's because, with a balanced budget mandate, revenues could be reduced to that level as well. Most Senate sponsors of the amendment favor making permanent all of President Bush's tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, including those for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts give people with incomes of more than $1 million tax reductions that average more than $125,000 a year, according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Making those tax cuts permanent could be just the start; there would be room for large new tax cuts on top of those. Some policymakers surely would propose further large tax cuts for affluent Americans and large corporations.

"Moreover, new tax loopholes — including loopholes that Congress didn't intend but that high-priced tax lawyers and accountants have found ways to create — would become untouchable once they appeared. That's because the amendment would require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to raise taxes. Not only would this essentially rule out any revenue contribution to deficit reduction, it also would mean that once a tax loophole opened up, it would become virtually impossible to close (because lobbyists generally could prevent a two-thirds vote in both chambers).

"Adding to these problems, the amendment would heighten the risk of a federal government default for the first time in U.S. history. It would require a three-fifths vote of both the House and the Senate to raise the debt limit. In recent years, Congress has found it increasingly difficult to secure the votes needed to raise the debt limit, which currently requires only a majority vote in the House (and a majority in the Senate in the absence of a filibuster).

Mistaken Analogies to States and Families

"Proponents of the amendment likely will argue that states and families must balance their budgets every year and the federal government should do so, too. But claims that the amendment would align federal budgeting practices with those of states and families would be false.

  • States must balance their operating budgets, but they can borrow to finance their capital budgets — to finance roads, schools, and other projects — and most states do so. States also can build reserves during good times and draw on them in bad times without counting the drawdown from reserves as new spending that unbalances a budget.
  • Families follow similar practices. They borrow (e.g., mortgages to buy a home or student loans to send a child to college), and they draw down savings when times are tight.
  • The amendment, however, would bar such practices at the federal level. The total federal budget — including capital investments — would have to be balanced every year, with no borrowing allowed for infrastructure or other investments that can boost future economic growth. And if the federal government ran a surplus one year, it could not draw it down the next year to help balance the budget.

"The amendment would pose many risks to the economy. If another financial crisis hit, such as the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s or the financial market crisis of 2008 and 2009, the federal government would be stuck. It could not mount the critical rescues that it did in those circumstances unless two-thirds of the House and the Senate approved.

"In short, this proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution risks doing serious damage to the economy, to the nation's basic social fabric, and to the well being of most Americans. It would take us much farther from fiscal and economic sanity, not closer to it."


Economists Warn That Constitutional Balanced Budget Amendment Could Cause Serious Damage to Economy

In testimony before the House Budget Committee in 1992, Robert Reischauer — then director of the Congressional Budget Office and one of the nation's most respected experts on fiscal policy — warned: "[I]f it worked [a balanced budget amendment] would undermine the stabilizing role of the federal government." Reischauer noted that the automatic stabilizing that occurs when the economy is weak "temporarily lowers revenues and increases spending on unemployment insurance and welfare programs. This automatic stabilizing occurs quickly and is self-limiting — it goes away as the economy revives — but it temporarily increases the deficit. It is an important factor that dampens the amplitude of our economic cycles." Under the constitutional amendment, he explained, these stabilizers would no longer operate automatically.a

Five years later, when a constitutional balanced budget amendment was under consideration in 1997, more than 1,000 economists, including 11 Nobel laureates, issued a joint statement that said, "We condemn the proposed 'balanced-budget' amendment to the federal Constitution. It is unsound and unnecessary. . . . The proposed amendment mandates perverse actions in the face of recessions. In economic downturns, tax revenues fall and some outlays, such as unemployment benefits, rise. These so-called 'built-in stabilizers' limit declines of after-tax income and purchasing power. To keep the budget balanced every year would aggravate recessions."b

This January, the current CBO director, Douglas Elmendorf, sounded a similar warning when asked about a constitutional balanced budget amendment at a Senate Budget Committee hearing. Elmendorf replied:

Amending the Constitution to require this sort of balance raises risks .… the fact that taxes fall when the economy weakens and spending and benefit programs increase when the economy weakens, in an automatic way, under existing law, is an important stabilizing force for the aggregate economy. The fact that state governments need to work … against these effects in their own budgets — need to take action to raise taxes or cut spending in recessions — undoes the automatic stabilizers, essentially, at the state level. Taking those away at the federal level risks making the economy less stable, risks exacerbating the swings in business cycles.c


a Statement of Robert D. Reischauer before the House Budget Committee, May 6, 1992.
b This statement was issued on January, 30, 1997.
c Federal Service, Transcript of Senate Budget Committee hearing, January 27, 2011.


View the statement:  4pp.

Group Challenges Monsanto's Patent on Genetically Modified Seeds

White House threatens veto of anti-union FAA bill #p2 #tcot

Obama bill signing
Obama signing legislation, which might not happen to the FAA bill. (

Wednesday evening, the White House issued a veto threat of major legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, if it still includes the anti-union measure the House Transportation Committee passed. The measure would undermine union organization votes, counting any non-vote by an eligible employee as a "no" vote.

In a statement of administration policy offered by the Office of Management in Budget, the White House made clear its opposition to an amendment that would revert the law back to its previous language, making it so that if an eligible voter fails to vote for union representation, he or she would be tallied against representation.

"If the President is presented with a bill that would not safeguard the ability of railroad and airline workers to decide whether or not they would be represented by a union based upon a majority of the ballots cast in an election or that would degrade safe and efficient air traffic, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill," the statement reads. "The Administration wishes to address these and other concerns as FAA reauthorization legislation moves through the legislative process."

The statement was not a veto pledge. The language simply states that the president will be advised to veto the bill should it include the controversial provision. But coming one day before the House of Representatives is set to vote on whether to remove the amendment, sponsored by House Transportation Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), from bill, the statement is nevertheless significant.

Aides on the Hill and operatives close to the issue hinted on Wednesday they expected the vote to be tight, with GOP leadership not entirely sure if it had the numbers to stop Mica's amendment from being removed.

As David Waldman wrote earlier, it's got a bit of an out for the White House. "That is, instead of saying . . . that if presented with such a bill the president would veto it, this [says], 'the President's senior advisers would recommend' that he veto it." The vote is today, with the amendment [pdf] stripping the language offered by Reps. LaTourette (OH) and Costello (IL).

The veto sort of threat could work two ways: encourage those GOP members who are already squeamish about the provision (it passed with a one-vote margin out of committee) not wanting to make this a bigger fight. Or it could unite Republicans against the president. That's on the House side. In conference committee with the Senate, which does not have the union-busting measure in its version of the bill, the threat could strengthen the hand of Senate conferees to strip it there. That's if the provision isn't stripped today.

Radioactive waste from Japan reaches Israel,7340,L-4050080,00.html

Radioactive waste from Japan reaches Israel

Nuclear Research Center finds traces of nuclear waste in air. Experts say insignificant concentration of particles not dangerous for health, environment
Roni Sofer

The Soreq Nuclear Research Center detected traces of radioactive waste in the air on Tuesday. Experts say that the insignificant concentration did not pose environmental or health risks.


Like many such centers worldwide, Israel's station for the detection of radioactive particles and gases in the atmosphere, established under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, discovered a tiny amount of nuclear waste emitted from Fukushima's failed nuclear reactors earlier this month.


The station in Soreq operates a high-capacity pump, which draws in air and filters it for particles. The filter is then examined in a radioactive waste lab. On Tueday, the lab discovered in the air sample traces of Iodine-131 with a concentration of 0.00005 becquerel per square meter.


For the sake of comparison, in the first days following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, the concentration of radioactive waste that was found around the failed power plant topped 100,000 becquerel per square meter. In Israel, a radioactive particle concentration of 20 becquerel per square meter was found following the Ukrainian breakdown. Tuesday's measurement is 400,000 times lower than the latter.


Experts from the Israel Atomic Energy Commission stressed that the minuscule concentration is not dangerous for the health or the environment, even if it remains at the same level for a long period of time. The concentrations of radioactive waste found in the US and in Europe are not dangerous either, they said.

.@fixnews Tell FOX: Native Americans are Constitutional #p2 #tcot

Last week, John Stossell said that "no group in America has been more helped by the government than the American Indians." There was immediate pushback, but now there's some pushback against FOX as a whole from Native Americans:

The obtuse rhetorical questions have created groans of outrage from coast-to-coast in Indian Country and prompted Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council, to write a letter to Fox News president Roger Ailes demanding an apology from Stossel and the network.

"In a matter of minutes, Mr. Stossel made a series of misinformed and irresponsible statements that has insulted an entire population of Native Americans and highlighted his level of disrespect and misunderstanding toward Indians," Allan writes in his letter.

Neither Stossel nor the other Fox personalities in the segment are aware that, unlike other minorities or ethnicities, Indians have a unique relationship with the federal government through executive orders and treaties made as — often scant — compensation for land grabs, conquests and genocide.

Had Stossel been better informed, Allan writes, he may have learned "U.S. military campaigns ordered to forcibly remove Indians from those lands, did so with lies, deception and ultimately by slaughtering our men, women and children."

The entire letter can be found here.

Also, it's worth noting that the Constitution practically demands the existence of a Bureau of Indian Affairs. – Congress is specifically charged with regulating commerce "with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." To make a very long story short (i.e.: the framers did not explain well at all what the status of tribes were, mostly because it did not come up much), the Constitution has been interpreted as saying that Indians are not part of states, and that the federal government has to deal with them. That's why there's a Bureau of Indian Affairs, john Stossel. The same reason there's a State Department or a Treasury Department: the federal government has specific agencies to do the specific duties the Constitution lays out.

But this is a somewhat charitable interpretation: the reality has been worse. One of the most famous Indian cases is Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. In this case, famed Justice John Marshall held that "domestic dependent" nations did not own legal title to the land (no matter how long they had held it) but instead legal title was held by the United States, and these native populations could use it. This meant that Native American tribes could only sell their land to the United States government. In essence, this made Native populations the wards of the United States.

This has been the rationale used throughout all of American history to oppress Native American populations: that they are wards of the state that America must do something with. That's how we've ended up with Indian wars, forced relocations, and essentially genocide. For John Stossel to repurpose this as something good for Native Americans is truly astonishing. Stossel is lucky to still be employed.

Calvin & Hobbes Explains Corporate America To You . . .

wingnut fight: Rand Paul: Newt Gingrich has More Positions on Libya Than Wives #p2 #tcot

I do loves me a good wingnut fight.

PAUL: I was happy to see that Newt Gingrich has staked out a position on the war, a position, or two, or maybe three. I don't know. I think he has more war positions than he's had wives.

Oh. Snap.

No one's buying this, Newt.


Rand also got off a good one on Faux News.

There's a big debate over there. Fox News can't decide, what do they love more, bombing the Middle East or bashing the president? It's like I was over there and there was an anchor going, they were pleading, can't we do both? Can't we bomb the Middle East and bash the president at the same time?

Taking pot shots at Newt and Faux on the same day?

Obviously, Rand's not running for president this year.

.@foxnews Top Fox exec admits to lying on-air about Obama being a ‘socialist’ #p2 #tcot

Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon was caught bragging on tape during a conservative cruise ship retreat that he flat-out lied when he speculated on-air "about whether Barack Obama really advocated socialism." Sammon goes on to add that this allegation he personally—and *ahem* privately—found "rather far-fetched." He calls it "mischievious" but wouldn't an honest person call it what it is: LYING? He's the VP of the top TV news outlet in America and he publicly admits to lying on-camera??? Where the fuck is James O'Keefe?

The funny sad thing is, I'm one of those people who desperately wanted Obama to be a socialist! Talk about your delusional and dashed hopes… Anyone who says Obama is a socialist, is either an idiot or like Bill Sammon, a lying liar. (And dig the subtext: Sammon is basically saying "Hey, I'm not dumb enough to actually believe the shit I say on TV"! Hilarious).

If an NPR executive or a CNN VP said something like this against a conservative politician, or even made a generic comment disparaging the right, they'd be forced out of their job within a matter of days. Sammon—AN ADMITTED LIAR, WHO LIED ON FOX NEWS, WHERE HE IS EMPLOYED—should be repudiated and fired by Fox immediately. There is no nuance to what he said. He admitted to lying. That is what he did. The man has no credibility professionally—as an admitted liar, as a supposed newsman—moving forward.

You can help put some heat on Sammon and Fox News by sharing this video on FB and Twitter.

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Stephen Colbert launches ColbertPAC #p2

Stephen Colbert announces his own PAC — complete with introductory video. (Comedy Central)
Stephen Colbert, host of the eponymous Colbert Report has announced his own PAC, complete with over-the-top announcement video. Is he serious? Probably not. Is he funny? Absolutely.

Colbert used the feature-film-preview quality videos released by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty as his spring-board , mocking (in typical Colbert fashion) the dramatic score and fast video cuts. He then proceeds to introduce his own "introductory video" telling viewers, "I want to warn you in advance, if you're epileptic, there are going to be a lot of quick cuts and flashing lights. and if you're not epileptic, you will be after this."

The video, which features an increasingly random series of clips (some of which fail to meet this family-friendly paper's standards) has been making its way around the Internet, as has the link to Colbert's PAC Web site. The site is one page deep with a graphic that looks eerily similar to Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC logo. The site also gives visitors an opportunity to hand over their e-mail addresses and "sign up," as Colbert advertises on air. Although the site (and Colbert) fail to make clear exactly what visitors are signing up for.

While the video on its own is pure comedy, the Web site remains something of a mystery. If Colbert were to seriously consider a run (for his own fulfillment or our enjoyment), he certainly wouldn't be the first celebrity to voice interest.

W.H. downplays report of capitulation on EPA #p2

The White House is trying to put out the fire from an AP report saying the Obama administration may agree to some Republican riders rolling back the EPA's power on key environmental initiatives.

In a statement to POLITICO, the White House repeated its opposition to environmental budget riders, but didn't issue a direct veto threat.

"As the administration has made clear, the funding bill should not be used to further unrelated policy agendas, and we remain opposed to riders that do that, including as it relates to the environment," a White House spokesman said via email.

An AP story Wednesday night quoted a Democratic congressman saying the administration said some restrictions on EPA regulations would have to make it into a final budget deal with Republicans.

It's unclear what EPA regulations would be included: GOP riders on the H.R. 1 spending bill targeted carbon dioxide emissions, mountaintop mining and Chesapeake Bay cleanup standards, among others.

Environmental groups were quick to lash out Thursday morning.

"The reports in the press are troubling, and as far as we know there has been no denial or disavowal," Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp told POLITICO in an email. Krupp and other greens are calling on the White House to take a clear stand against environmental riders.

Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman Ed Chen called for an "unequivocal statement to clear up this confusion. What we would like to hear is no riders period."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune quickly issued a statement urging President Barack Obama to "stand up to polluters" and reject these riders. "Entertaining a deal to dismantle essential clean air protections is a dangerous zero sum game for the public."

But a former Obama White House official suggested that the EPA will be safe when the negotiations are over.

"My sense – uninformed by any conversations with people over there – is that they feel like if they can get agreement on a number then they can negotiate out the policy riders, take some they can live with and draw the line at the ones they can't," the source said in an email to POLITICO. "Assuming the EPA ones fall into the ones 'they can't' category.

"But overall, it seems like they have been driving more toward a number and that they don't want to go into the policy riders until they feel like there's general agreement on the number, at which point the Republicans look like they are blowing up the agreement over their right wing ideological battles if they push the EPA, Planned Parenthood, health care stuff," the former staffer added.

Vice President Joe Biden, who has been negotiating on the administrations' behalf, said Wednesday that everything's in flux.

"The President and I are not really big on any riders at all," Biden told reporters after meeting with OMB Director Jack Lew and Senate Democratic leaders. "But this is a process which is normal for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to get into the details."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) signaled earlier this week that a host of controversial riders may be on the table during budget talks. "We're happy to look at the policy riders, there aren't many of them that excite me, but we're willing to," Reid said Tuesday. "In fact, we've already started looking at some of the policy riders."

Left-leaning Senate Democrats are also up in arms about the prospect of EPA riders getting tacked on to budget bills. Nineteen Democrats sent a letter to Obama earlier this week calling for a budget with "no harmful riders that will enable EPA to maintain the environmental safeguards that have protected the American people for 40 years."

Fed Releases Discount-Window Loan Records Under Order

The Federal Reserve released thousands of pages of secret loan documents under court order, almost three years after Bloomberg LP first requested details of the central bank's unprecedented support to banks during the financial crisis.

The records reveal for the first time the names of financial institutions that borrowed directly from the central bank through the so-called discount window. The Fed provided the documents after the U.S. Supreme Court this month rejected a banking industry group's attempt to shield them from public view.

"This is an enormous breakthrough in the public interest," said Walker Todd, a former Cleveland Fed attorney who has written research on the Fed lending facility. "They have long wanted to keep the discount window confidential. They have always felt strongly about this. They don't want to tell the public who they are lending to."

The central bank has never revealed identities of borrowers since the discount window began lending in 1914. The Dodd-Frank law exempted the facility last year when it required the Fed to release details of emergency programs that extended $3.3 trillion to financial institutions to stem the credit crisis. While Congress mandated disclosure of discount-window loans made after July 21, 2010 with a two-year delay, the records released today represent the only public source of details on discount- window lending during the crisis.

Protecting Its Reputation

"It is in the interest of a central bank to put a premium on protecting its reputation, and, in the modern world, that means it should do everything to be as transparent as possible," said Marvin Goodfriend, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who has been researching central bank disclosure since the 1980s.

"I see no reason why a central bank should not be willing to release with a lag most of what it is doing," said Goodfriend, who is a former policy adviser at the Richmond Fed.

Bloomberg News reporters received two CD-ROMs, each containing an identical set of 894 PDF files, from Fed attorney Yvonne Mizusawa at about 9:45 a.m. in the lobby of the Martin Building in Washington. Bloomberg News has posted the raw documents here. Accessing them will take several minutes.

The documents show the central bank providing credit to borrowers large and small. A page described as "Primary Credit Originations, February 5, 2008" lists the New York branch of Deutsche Bank AG with a loan of $455 million from the New York Fed. On the same day, Macon Bank is listed with a $1,000 loan from the Richmond Fed.

First Tool

The discount window was the first tool Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke reached for when panic over subprime mortgage defaults caused banks to tighten lending in money markets in 2007. The Fed cut the discount rate it charged banks for direct loans to 5.75 percent on Aug. 17, 2007, and it continued to reduce the rate to 0.5 percent by the end of 2008. The rate stands at 0.75 percent today.

Lending through the discount window soared to a peak of $111 billion on Oct. 29, 2008, as credit markets nearly froze in the wake of the bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008, of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. While the loans provided banks with backstop cash, the public has never known which banks borrowed or why. Fed officials say all the loans made through the program during the crisis have been repaid with interest.

The Fed was forced to make the disclosures after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the Clearing House Association LLC, a group of the nation's largest commercial banks.

Lower Court

The justices left intact lower court orders that said the Fed must reveal documents requested by Bloomberg related to borrowers in April and May 2008, along with loan amounts. The late Bloomberg News reporter Mark Pittman asked for the records under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens access to government papers. News Corp.'s Fox News Network LLC filed FOIA requests for similar information on loans made from August 2007 to March 2010.

Former Fed officials, lawyers representing the central bank, and even some Fed watchers have expressed concern that revealing the names of discount-window borrowers could keep banks away from the facility in the future.

"I am concerned that in the next crisis it will be more difficult for the Federal Reserve to play the traditional role of lender of last resort," said Donald Kohn, former Fed vice chairman and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "Having these names made public, or the threat of having them made public, could well impair the efficacy of a key central bank function in a crisis -- to provide liquidity to avoid fire sales of assets -- because banks will be reluctant to borrow."

Won't Use Window

"I think it will make it harder for people to use the discount window in the future," Jamie Dimon, chairman and chief executive of New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the second- biggest U.S. bank by assets, told reporters yesterday after a speech in Washington. "We never intend to use the discount window."

With little more than a phone call to one of 12 Federal Reserve banks, a bank anywhere in the country can ask for cash from the discount window. Banks typically have already given the Fed a list of unencumbered collateral that they use to pledge against the loans. The Fed gives the banks less than 100 cents on each dollar of collateral to protect itself from credit risk.

Discount-window lending was not the largest source of the Fed's backstop aid during the crisis. Bernanke also devised programs to loan to U.S. government bond dealers, and to support the short-term debt financing of U.S. corporations.

To contact the reporter on this story: Craig Torres in Washington at

Oil climbs to highest since 2008 on Libya conflict

The price of oil rose to a 30-month high on Thursday as fighters loyal to Moammar Gadhafi pushed back rebels from key areas in eastern Libya.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude rose $2 to $106.27 a barrel in midday trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. At one point it hit $106.77, the highest it's been since September, 2008. In London, Brent crude rose $2.03 to $116.98 per barrel.

Battles between Gadhafi's troops and rebels have seesawed back and forth in Libyan ports and towns since mid-February, with the price of oil rising more than $20 a barrel since then. Energy consultants Cameron Hanover said traders are beginning to view the Libya uprising as a standoff for now. 'Without control of the air, Gadhafi's troops have been unable to hammer home their gains. And, without strong and well-trained ground forces, the rebels seem incapable of holding onto their gains. Optimism that Libyan oil might return to the market, seen earlier this week, was dashed."

Libya's oil exports, which went mainly to Europe, are shut down. The rebels have said they plan to start shipping oil again, although how soon that could happen is unclear. Libya exported only about 1.6 million barrels of oil a day, or 2 percent of global consumption, but energy traders worry that unrest will spread across the region to disrupt shipments from OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis are the biggest oil producers in the world, supplying about 8.4 million barrels a day. Iran produces more than 4 million barrels a day. Anti-government protests in those countries so far have been limited, although unrest continues in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.

Meanwhile the Saudis are making good on a promise to make up for the deficit of Libyan oil. "Saudi Arabia is beginning to supply European oil companies with crude oil to help alleviate the shortfall from Libya," said Addison Armstrong, senior director of market research at Tradition Energy. "Saudi Arabian Oil Co. has sold three shipments of light, sweet crude for March and April delivery: two to Austrian oil company OMV AG and one to BP."

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration released its weekly report on natural gas supplies on Thursday. It showed that the U.S. abundant reserves grew by 12 billion cubic feet from the week before, to 1.624 trillion cubic feet. That is 4.4 percent above the five-year average.

"Shale plays have fundamentally altered the amount of domestic supply available, leading to large weekly injections," said energy analyst Stephen Schork, who writes the daily Schork Report newsletter. The Energy Department estimates that natural gas in the nation's shale deposits amounts to a 110-year supply.

Natural gas contracts fell 7 cents to $4.284 per 1,000 cubic feet. In other Nymex trading, heating oil rose 6 cents to $3.1105 per gallon, and gasoline futures gained 5 cents at $3.1044 per gallon.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

U.S. Energy Policy after Japan: If Not Nuclear, Then What?

As the crisis at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to unfold, every bit of news that trickles out deepens the debate about nuclear energy. Anti-nuclear activists point to smoldering reactors and radioactive drinking water as reason enough to abandon nuclear power permanently. Others say the fact that the aging plant survived a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and 46-foot tsunami without greater damage signals its ability to withstand major disruptions.

The crisis has raised questions in the United States about the role that nuclear power should play in the country's energy future. The U.S. produces 20% of its energy with nuclear power but has not built a new facility since the accident at Three Mile Island soured public opinion on nuclear energy in 1979. In his State of the Union Address in January, President Obama called for "building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants" as a way for the United States to reach the goal of drawing 80% of its power from "clean energy" sources by 2035. 

Yet while the Administration continues to voice its support, Fukushima may have stalled the expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. for the near future, say Wharton professors and nuclear experts. Despite calls for a "nuclear renaissance," the industry was already struggling to move forward in the midst of an economic downturn and competition from cheap natural gas. Now events in Japan have reignited fears about nuclear's safety, which could cause further delays. The lingering question for U.S. energy policy: If not nuclear, then what? 

Nuclear as part of U.S. energy policy "depends on what leadership we have," says Erwann Michel-Kerjan, managing director of the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center. "Where do we want our country to be? We have been talking about energy independence for a long time. The question is, what do we do about that?"

Before the earthquake in Japan, a growing number of people were saying nuclear. Not only would it allow the United States to become more energy independent, but it would also lower greenhouse gas emissions, the industry argued. When measured by carbon footprint, nuclear is on par with solar, hydro, wind, biomass and geothermal, and in terms of the land use required, nuclear comes out ahead of other green energy sources, they say. For a 1,000 megawatt power plant, nuclear requires about one square mile of space, compared with 50 square miles for solar, 250 for wind and 2,600 for biomass.

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Obama authorizes secret help for Libya rebels #p2 #tcot

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorizing covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.

As is common practice for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "I will reiterate what the president said yesterday -- no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya."

The CIA declined comment.

News that Obama had given the authorization surfaced as the President and other U.S. and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

The United States is part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a U.N. mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi.

Interviews by U.S. networks on Tuesday, Obama said the objective was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power. He spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.

Obama said the U.S. had not ruled out providing military hardware to rebels. "It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point," he told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted to reporters that no decision had yet been taken.

U.S. officials monitoring events in Libya say neither Gaddafi's forces nor the rebels, who have asked the West for heavy weapons, now appear able to make decisive gains.

While U.S. and allied airstrikes have seriously damaged Gaddafi's military forces and disrupted his chain of command, officials say, rebel forces remain disorganized and unable to take full advantage of western military support.


People familiar with U.S. intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorization for a range of potential U.S. government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorization -- for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces -- the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.

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Libyan rebels flee as Obama authorizes covert support

(Reuters) - As Libyan rebels fled in headlong retreat from the superior arms and tactics of Muammar Gaddafi's troops on Wednesday, U.S. officials said President Barack Obama had signed a secret order authorizing covert support for the rebels.

While the United States, France and Britain have raised the possibility of arming the rebels, they have all stressed that no decision had yet been taken.

As Gadaffi's army pushed back the rebels, their lack of heavy weapons and feeble fighting capabilities exposed the vulnerability of their forces in the absence of Western air strikes to tip the scales in their favor.

Despite some dissent within the Western military coalition attacking Gadaffi's forces, news that Obama had given the covert authorization surfaced as he and other U.S. and allied officials began speaking openly about the possibility of sending arms to the rebels.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding," within the last two or three weeks, according to four U.S. government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorize secret operations by the CIA. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.

"As is common practice for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters." The CIA declined to comment.

It took more than five days of allied bombardment to destroy Libyan government tanks and artillery in the strategic town of Ajdabiyah before rebels rushed in and chased Gaddafi's troops 300 km (200 miles) west in a two-day dash along the coast. Two days later the rebels have been pushed back to close to where they started.

While Gaddafi's forces were on the offensive the international face of his government, foreign minister Moussa Koussa, suddenly arrived in London on Wednesday to seek refuge after quitting the government in protest against the attacks by Gaddafi's forces on civilians.

"Koussa is one of the most senior figures in Gaddafi's government and his role was to represent the regime internationally -- something that he is no longer willing to do," a British government spokesman said.

The Libyan army first ambushed the chaotic caravan of volunteers and supporters outside Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, then outflanked them through the desert, a maneuver requiring the sort of discipline the rag-tag rebels lack.

The towns of Nawfaliyah, Bin Jawad and Ras Lanuf fell in quick succession to the lightning government counter-strike.

Rebel spokesman Colonel Ahmad Bani said fighting was going on at Brega, the next town east along the narrow coastal strip that has been the theater of most of the fighting. But many rebels had pulled back further to the strategic town of Ajdabiyah and regrouped.


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House votes to kill main Obama foreclosure aid #p2 #tcot

(Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to kill President Barack Obama's signature program to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

A bill to terminate the program was approved on a 252-170 vote. But the bill is unlikely to clear the Senate.

It was the last in series of four measures brought forward by newly empowered House Republicans to end government assistance for homeowners hurt by the housing crisis.

Republicans argued the foreclosure prevention plan, known as the Home Affordable Modification Program, is ineffective and not worthy of taxpayer support amid soaring budget deficits. The vote broke largely along party lines.

The program, which offers incentives for lenders to modify loans, was launched to great fanfare in the spring of 2009. The Obama administration had hoped it would permanently lower mortgage payments for 3 million to 4 million homeowners.

But fewer than 600,000 borrowers have received permanent loan modifications, and the program has been widely criticized as ineffective from critics on both the left and the right.

"The HAMP program is a failure," said Representative Patrick McHenry, the North Carolina Republican who sponsored the bill. "If we can't eliminate this failed program, what program can we eliminate?"

Analysts see the votes as an effort by Republicans, who last seized control of the House in an election in November with an anti-bailout, anti-spending message, to score points with their political base.

The White House has already threatened to veto the measure. However, it is unlikely to come to that since Democrats, who retained control of the Senate, largely opposed the measure. Both the House and Senate would have to approve the bill for it to reach the president's desk.

About $30 billion has been set aside for the program from the government's $700 billion financial rescue fund, but only about $1 billion of that has been spent so far.

Democrats argued the program should be fixed, not killed.

"The absence of any program leaves people worse off," said Representative Barney Frank, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee.

Even as the Obama administration argues for keeping HAMP in place, it is pressing forward on a separate track that could result in much larger aid for struggling homeowners.

Big U.S. banks are meeting with federal officials and state attorneys general at the Justice Department on Wednesday as they negotiate what could turn into a multi-billion dollar settlement over alleged abuses by the companies that collect mortgage payments.

The banks and authorities are expected to discuss a settlement proposal that the state officials sent out earlier this month, which called on banks to treat borrowers better and to reduce loan balances for some struggling homeowners.

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elitist banker JPMorgan's Dimon slams gov't regulator CFTC on swaps crackdown #p2 #tcot

(Reuters) - Jamie Dimon, chief executive of Wall Street giant JPMorgan Chase, lashed out at efforts by U.S. regulators to police the $600 trillion swaps market, in which his bank is a big player.

New regulations being implemented by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, mandated under 2010's Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms, "would damage America," Dimon said Wednesday at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on capital markets.

He was upbeat about the economy, but criticized aspects of the sweeping Dodd-Frank law.

"Corporate America is in very good shape. It's well-financed, it's well-funded," he said. "The consumer is spending ... housing is better than it was."

Dodd-Frank, he added, poses a "huge cost" for banks and has made regulatory compliance "even more complicated."

The remarks from one of Wall Street's highest-paid bankers, and arguably its most politically influential, came as U.S. regulators work to implement scores of new Dodd-Frank rules in a response to the massive 2007-2009 financial crisis.

Two and a half years since the crisis peaked, the profits and pay scales of big banks that were bailed out by taxpayers, including Dimon's, are up strongly, while many Americans still struggle to recover from a severe recession with high unemployment.

The chamber event also saw Elizabeth Warren come before some of her sharpest critics to defend the independent funding of the U.S. financial consumer watchdog she is setting up for the Obama administration. She said she is a strong supporter of competition and that she believes the chamber is too.

"I know that you believe in it passionately and so do I," she said in the chamber's chandeliered Hall of Flags in its headquarters near the White House. The chamber is the nation's largest and richest business lobbying group.

"The chamber and I have not always seen eye to eye ... But I don't consider myself in hostile territory right now, and that is because I believe we share this principle," she said.


Her appearance at the event was the latest stop in her charm campaign as the administration weighs whether to formally nominate her to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) created by Dodd-Frank.

President Barack Obama has done more recently to reach out to business, after a testy first two years in power, but the chamber has remained a foe, analysts said.

"The chamber has been very aggressive in opposing pretty much any policy the Obama administration has proposed," said Christian Weller, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.

"These attacks on the administration and its policies are very surprising considering that the Obama administration has gone out of its way to make sure that its policies will in fact enhance the functioning of private markets," he said.

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fact checking: The missing context in Obama’s speech on Libya #p2 #tcot

On NBC, the missing story about parent company General Electric

Oberhelman: Headlines misleading *** Actual Caterpillar CEO letter paints far different picture than media coverage

US Chamber of Commerce and Caterpillar Collude to Extort Illinois #p2 #tcot
US Chamber of Commerce and Caterpillar Collude to Extort Illinois

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The US Chamber of Commerce strikes again. Ed laid out Caterpillar's extortion of the state of Illinois in this clip. It seems that the CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., Doug Oberhelman, is bothered by the recent personal and corporate sales tax increases the Illinois legislature passed to balance their budget. Oberhelman has recently been courted by Nebraska, Texas, South Dakota and Virginia, all states with very low to no taxes.

So how does the US Chamber factor in? Well, the Group President of Caterpillar, Inc. is Gerald L. Shaheen, past chair of the US Chamber of Commerce and a current director of the National Chamber Foundation. The National Chamber Foundation recently issued a "study" entitled "Enterprising States", citing those states with the perfect environment for job creation. Unsurprisingly, the states mentioned were states with little to no state taxes, or states which recently cut tax rates -- Texas, North Dakota, Indiana, and Nebraska among them.

This isn't the first time Caterpillar has led the corporate charge against any policy which might actually benefit the middle class either. Last year they were at the front of the charge against health care reform, claiming it would cost them $100 million for retiree health care, which they took pains to write down immediately (along with AT&T and a few other Chamber bigwigs) so that they could show the hit on their balance sheets now for a charge that won't take effect until 2014. That move was intended to anger investors and others who might otherwise have remained neutral on the Affordable Care Act.

It's also no coincidence that Mr. Oberhelman sent his letter in just enough time for it to make the news and generate some buzz ahead of Wednesday's US Chamber-sponsored Capital Markets Summit, where I'm sure the main topic of discussion will be which states should be strafed by conservatives next as corporations strive to end the middle class entirely.

Other news bites from Caterpillar in the past week or so include this gem of a press release about how they're "in a hurry to increase production" -- in Asia. No jobs for the United States, nope, no way. But in Asia, they just can't wait to ramp up the production lines. Or this more specific one:

"By 2015, we will have made $5 billion in investments to increase production capacity at existing and new Caterpillar facilities to support customers in every region of the world, including plans to nearly triple machine capacity across our operations in Asia," said Oberhelman. "This is in addition to more than $10 billion in investments announced in 2010 for three significant acquisitions—Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc., Motoren-Werke Mannheim Holding GmbH (MWM) and Bucyrus International, Inc. Together, these moves represent Caterpillar's commitment to leadership in support of our growing base of customers and to expand our products and services," Oberhelman added.

See, here's how they did that. They sat on their cash after getting a bunch of federal stimulus money, then went on an acquisition spree with the billions in the coffers and built some new facilities around the world. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, they're whining about having to pay state income tax in Illinois. Aww. Poor, hungry Caterpillar.

If it isn't obvious to everyone by now that these corporations think they're running the country, it ought to be after this. They poured money into state-level elections in 2010 and now they expect a return on their investment. Isn't it time we started talking about de-funding THEM instead of letting them de-fund everything else?

Most Americans think Obama does not deserve re-election, according to new poll

Nightly News stays mum on GE's $0 tax bill #p2 #tcot

As the New Yorker's former press critic, A.J. Liebling, famously said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Perhaps that quotation is framed somewhere in a boardroom at the General Electric Corp., which owns NBC News.

In spite of robust profits of $14.2 billion worldwide, GE has calculated a corporate tax bill for 2010 that adds up to zero, via a creative series of tax referrals and revenue shifts. (This was, indeed, the second year running that the company—which has an enormous, and famously nimble, 975-employee tax division, led by former Treasury official John Samuels—paid nothing in U.S. taxes; indeed by claiming a series of losses and deductions, GE came up with a negative tax of 10.5 percent in the admittedly dismal business year of 2009, and realized a $1.5 billion "tax benefit.")

The curious thing about this year's tax story is that it turned up in many major news outlets, with one key exception: NBC News. As the Washington Post's Paul Farhi notes, the network's "Nightly News" broadcast, hosted by Brian Williams, has not mentioned anything about its corporate parent's resourceful accounting, even though the story has been in wide circulation in the business and general-interest press for nearly a week. "This was a straightforward news decision, the kind we make daily around here" network spokeswoman Lauren Kapp told the Post.

One press critic who begs to differ: Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who noted that the Nightly News found the time for a dispatch on the inclusion of slang expressions in the Oxford English Dictionary, such as "LOL" and "OMG." Of course, Comedy Central's corporate parent, Viacom, is also no slouch when it comes to tax strategy: Earlier this year it sold its struggling videogame unit Harmonix for $50—so that it could claim a tax credit of $50 million.

(Photo of Williams: Matt Sayles/AP)

Conservatives claim Biden hid in Aspen (while visiting veterans) during Libya speech #p2 #tcot

Wisconsin Judge Says Anti-Worker Law Still Blocked #p2 #tcot

Bernie Sanders Exposed The 10 Worst Tax Cheats In America #p2 #tcot

That clip above is from a senatorial "Back Off Social Security" rally to rescue Social Security from the clutches of the deranged House Republicans. I liked what Bernie had to say-- as usual-- but other senators participating included Harry Reid, Al Franken, Tom Harkin and Richard Blumenthal. Obviously I wouldn't expect corporate shills like Ben Nelson, Mark Pryor or Joe Manchin at this kind of event but any Democrat who thinks he or she has a higher priority than saving Social Security ought to state what it is and exactly how it kept him or her from the rally. Paul Ryan's Wall Street proposal to begin dismantling Social Security through partial privatization would do exactly what Republicans are doing in every state they control-- wrecking the social safety net and disabling countervailing forces (be they government or unions, public media or even teachers) standing in the way of complete corporate domination of the nation-- a form of classic fascism, which is inevitably and always what right-wing ideology leads to.

As Bernie pointed out, just lift the unfair and ridiculous cap on payroll taxes so that the wealthy start paying the same as everyone else pays and Social Security is home free for eternity.

The day before the rally Bernie called on wealthy individuals and corporations to pay their fair share and called out the worst tax cheats by name, something few if any, other senators would ever even consider doing.
1) ExxonMobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. [Note: Our post last April reported that ExxonMobil was owed $46 million by the IRS.]

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Tea party unpopularity on the rise #p2 #tcot

The tea party movement has been growing less popular over the past year. (Ben Sklar - GETTY IMAGES)
Almost half of Americans have an unfavorable view of the tea party movement, according to a new CNN poll, a 21 percent rise in that number from January 2010.

In the survey, 47 percent of Americans say they see the tea party in an unfavorable light while 32 percent regard the movement favorably.

That makes the tea party about as unpopular as the Democratic and Republican parties.

(The CNN numbers track closely with what the Post found in its most recent poll.)

What explains the tea party's rising unpopularity?

Let's first take a step back and look at the broader picture on the the tea party's favorable and unfavorable ratings.

A graph by the New York Times' Nate Silver shows that the tea party has been growing steadily less popular over the past year, while its favorability ratings have stayed steady in the low 30s.

There's no simple explanation for the uptick in unfavorability.

CNN polling director Keating Holland pointed out that the rise in tea party unfavorability in his poll came primarily among people making less than $50,000 a year.

"It's possible the drop among lower income Americans is a reaction to the tea party's push for large cuts in government programs that help lower-income Americans, although there are certainly other factors at work," Holland explained.

It also could be that as the tea party has become better known and better defined, some people who initially said they liked the movement even though they knew little about it have grown disenchanted as they have learned more.

The growing unpopularity of the tea party with the public puts Republicans in a tough political spot.

On the one hand, the tea party retains considerable power within the GOP — one needs only look at the results from the 2010 Senate primaries for proof of that. On the other, aligning too closely with the tea party creates the possibility of running afoul of some significant chunk of people outside of the Republican base.

That choice is playing out in real time right now on Capitol Hill as House Republican leaders have begun to court moderate Democrats for a budget compromise bill under the theory that anything short of the $61 billion package of cuts passed by the House will not pass muster with tea party-aligned members.

Should such a deal be cut, it's a near-certainty that many tea party leaders will balk, arguing that the party is abandoning (again) its core principles. "Unless the Tea Party stays active, we will wilt," Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a leader within the movement, said Tuesday.

With the tea party coming to Washington for a major rally on Thursday, Republicans leaders will come face to face with the tough decision before them. Side with the tea party and risk tying yourself to a group that is not broadly popular with the public. Go against them and risk alienating the most active and passionate members of the party's base, the men and women most responsible for helping deliver the GOP across-the-board gains in 2010.

The clock is ticking, literally, as the government will shut down April 9 without some sort of budget deal.

House Republicans Plan Strategy To Overturn DC Marriage Equality Law #p2 #tcot

A leading House Republican is pledging to follow-through on his promise to force a referendum on the District of Columbia's 2010 marriage equality law. In January, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Religious Right activists demanded that the rights of gays and lesbians to marry in D.C. be put to a popular vote after the Supreme Court rebuffed an attempt by Harry Jackson to compel a referendum. Jordan is head of the Republican Study Committee, the principal caucus for House conservatives, and wants to take advantage of Congress's disproportionate power over District affairs in order to push his opposition to marriage equality. CQ reports (subscription only):

Jim Jordan, chairman of the 176-member Republican Study Committee, is leading an effort by conservatives to press House leaders for floor votes in opposition to gay marriage.

Jordan's first project is a draft proposal that would set up a referendum to overturn a year-old District of Columbia law recognizing marriages of gay and lesbian couples. The move comes as conservatives express a desire to move beyond a focus on spending cuts and expand the House majority's legislative agenda to include social issues.

The Supreme Court declined in January to take up a case aimed at clearing the way for a referendum to ban gay marriage in the nation's capital. City officials have blocked the referendum on the grounds that it would violate a city human rights law.

Jordan said he expects the draft measure to draw strong support from House Republicans. He and other conservatives say they are weighing how best to promote the vote as an example of Republicans fulfilling a campaign promise. The GOP's 2010 Pledge to America vowed that a Republican majority would "honor families, traditional marriage, life and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values."

Jordan says he will press for a floor vote to allow fellow conservatives to make clear their opposition to gay marriage. "We want to advance marriage. That's the pledge. Our party should be all about defending marriage as it has always been defined," he said.

Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri have also been calling for floor action to demonstrate opposition to gay marriage. Hartzler has gathered 98 cosponsors for a resolution condemning the Obama administration's decision to stop defending restrictions on gay marriage.

KS GOP Rep. Slams Anti-Abortion Bill: I’m ‘Embarrased To Be A State That Bases Its Laws On Untruths’ #p2 #tcot

The nationwide war on a woman's right to choose secured significant victories this week. Yesterday, Arizona became the first state in the nation to criminalize abortions based on a problem that doesn't exist. Virginia will now force 80 percent of its clinics to close. Not to be outdone, the Kansas legislature swiftly approved not one, but two anti-abortion bills yesterday. HB 2218, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, strictly limits abortions after 22 weeks "based on disputed research that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development." Though only 1.5 percent of abortions are performed after this period, the bill marks a significant victory for anti-choice activists who "have turned fetal pain into a new front in their battle to restrict or ban abortion."

But not all Republicans bought the Republican argument that "this is a significant advancement" and "a more appropriate benchmark for late-term abortions." "It's based on false research," said GOP Rep. Barbara Bollier who joined 8 other Republicans who voted against the bill:

"No one really knows and it's based on false research," said Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills. "It's not universally held and I would be embarrassed to be a state that bases its laws on untruths."

Bollier's skepticism is shared by many in the medical profession. Though debate exists, a thorough review of the medical evidence in the Journal of the American Medical Association determined that "pain perception probably does not function before the third trimester." Before then, "the fetus's higher pain pathways are not yet fully developed and functional."

But why worry about "untruths" when right-wing lawmakers can use "false research" to challenge Roe v. Wade? This bill, a twin of Nebraska's "first in the nation" fetal pain law, challenges the ruling's key viability standard — "the point at which the fetus can live outside the womb" — as the point when states can ban abortions. These laws could submit fetal pain as "a new dividing line at which abortions could be banned." Nebraska's law, enacted last year, has already had drastic consequences — just ask Danielle Deaver.

Kansas's second anti-abortion bill, HB 2035, would require parental consent for anyone under 18 to have an abortion. Current law requires that one parent be notified, but neither parent can veto a daughter's abortion. Unsatisfied with tightening parental control, the GOP included provisions that allow family members to sue doctors and force women to agree that they're terminating a human being:

* Allow a woman's close family members to sue if they believe an illegal abortion was performed.

* Require providers of abortions to provide patients with a newly revised informed consent statement including wording that abortion "terminates the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."

Both bills go directly to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R). Brownback, "who is pro-life, has promised to sign" the fetal pain measure into law. Florida, Arkansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, and Kentucky are mulling similar "fetal pain" bills.

tool: Rick Santorum: ‘Abortion is killing Social Security’

You gotta hand it to him, Rick Santorum, that wacky wingnut Republican no-hoper presidential candidate, a man with even less of a chance of gaining the GOP nomination than, say, Newt Gingrich (or any of the rest of them for that matter), just won't give up. Despite the fact that NO ONE, I mean NO ONE thinks he's got a snowball's chance in hot hot Hades of gaining traction with, you know, actual voters, Rick's out there, fighting the good fight… or something. It's hard to say what he's really doing or what he thinks he's accomplishing.

Could there be a less-inspiring, less-intelligent, less-attractive candidate than Rick Santorum? Of course there could be, never count out the GOP when it comes to scraping the bottom of the loony bin, but the odds are against a lesser contender turning up in this election cycle. Even Ron or Rand Paul have better chances of moving into the White House than Santorum—effectively none, of course—and yet like a buffoonish Energerizer Bunny, he just keeps on going. BUT WHY? WHO is urging him to run? What kind of people shows up at his campaign events? What's his motivation to run for President in spite of overwhelming indifference?

Who the fuck knows? Michele Bachmann probably even thinks Santorum is a pinhead. What alternate conclusion could anyone, even a Republican, come to when faced with a statement like this one:

"The social security system in my opinion is a flawed design, period. But, having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends. … The reason social security is in big trouble is we don't have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion, because one in three pregnancies end in abortion."

Mull that one over. Nope, Social Security's problems have nothing to do with the fact that after $106,800 the wealthy don't have to pay anything else into the fund. Repeal Roe v. Wade and America's financial woes will magically right themselves…

I can't even get a hard on to make fun of Rick Santorum anymore. Why let perfectly good mockery go to waste on a guy like him?

Via Wonkette

Obama makes fun of his Nobel Prize #p2

Obama’s popularity sinks with his ‘do nothing’ strategy #p2 #tcot

Joe Barton claims that “Texas air quality is excellent” while leading the nation in carbon pollution #p2 #tcot

A recent study found "air quality in Houston is still among the worst in the nation."  Yet, as this Wonk Room cross-post makes clear, "Smokey" Joe Barton apparently lives in a different Texas.

Visiting the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in Fort Worth, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) — who infamously apologized to BP CEO Tony Hayward for having to pay Gulf residents for damage caused by his company's oil spill — stated that the air in Texas is "excellent":

Texas' environmental regulators are "the best in the country," and "Texas air quality is excellent," U.S. Rep. Joe Barton said Friday during an event that highlighted the state's ongoing scrap with federal authorities over air quality.

"The federal government sets the standard, but then the states implement it," Barton said. "I think Texas has done an excellent job of not only implementing the standards but of proving they're in compliance."

Not only is Texas the biggest polluter in the country but it isn't complying with federal air quality standards. Texas leads the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, and in 2008, Houston was ranked the fourth worst city for ozone — a far cry from "excellent" air quality.

Texas has not been in compliance with federal air quality standards since 1994, when the state submitted a system of issuing flexible air pollution limits to the EPA — which allowed for a portion of a refinery or chemical plant to emit more pollutants than federal standards authorize as long as the total emissions did not infringe on federal air quality standards. Both the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush missed deadlines to make a decision on the Texas permitting program, but the Bush administration repeatedly sent notices insisting that they comply with federal requirements. Finally, in June 2010, the EPA published its "disapproval" of Texas' air quality standards, stating, the Texas program "does not meet several national Clean Air Act requirements that help to assure the protection of health and the environment."

Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has pushed back against the EPA's decision, saying, "[u]ltimately, in this process, it is the consumer, American families, that will be picking up the tab for" stronger air quality enforcement.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA's top air official, responded to the agency's critics, saying that "enforcement of the Clean Air Act has saved lives and allowed the economy to grow." In fact, the EPA just released a study which concluded that the Clean Air Act will "prevent 230,000 premature deaths and result in $2 trillion in economic benefits in 2020."

Paul Breer

GOP defends government shutdown as being a walk in the park #p2 #tcot

Rep. Paul Broun, Republican of Georgia, giving voice earlier this morning to the newest GOP argument about a federal shutdown: that shutting down the government wouldn't be a big deal at all.

Broun's argument is that if Congress fails to fund government past April 8, it wouldn't completely shut down—essential functions would remain operational. "Shutting the government down," he said, "is not going to stop the essential services of the federal government."

But while it's true that the Obama administration would almost certainly find a way to make sure Social Security checks go out, if you needed to change your address or bank account information, or sign up for payments, you'd be a out of luck. A wide range of important services—everything from issuing passports to conducting energy research to operating national parks to operating the veterans administration—would be shuttered.

The strange thing about the GOP's new argument is that at the same time that they are arguing that a government shutdown wouldn't be a big deal, they are also arguing that Democrats are trying to engineer a government shutdown to gain a political advantage. For example, just before saying a shutdown would be no big deal, Broun said of Democrats that "their diabolical plan is to shut the government down, blame Republicans, and try to get re-elected." But if Republicans really believe a government shutdown is as good an idea as they say it would be, then why are they accusing Democrats of trying to force once? If that's really what they believed, wouldn't they be trying to take credit instead?