Thursday, October 31, 2013
"Bartiromo didn't follow up with the guest, so Michael Hiltzik did. He discovered that Deborah Cavallaro has a pretty awful health plan, which costs $293 a month in premiums, along with a deductible of $5,000 a year and a limit of two doctor visits a year, each of which come with a $40 copay. If she sees her physician more than twice, she's responsible for 100% of the costs.
Who banks a $174,000 annual salary and works less than a third of the year?
Members of the House of Representatives, apparently.
The 2014 calendar for the House was released Thursday by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and shows members will only work only 113 days. That's down from 2013, when House lawmakers were scheduled to meet for 126 days. Only 107 days were scheduled in 2012.
HuffPost reported in July that the 113th Congress was on pace to be the least productive in history. Many House members are running for reelection in the 2014 midterm elections and will spend part of their time campaigning.
IRS Warns of Pervasive Telephone Scam
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service today warned consumers about a sophisticated phone scam targeting taxpayers, including recent immigrants, throughout the country.
Victims are told they owe money to the IRS and it must be paid promptly through a pre-loaded debit card or wire transfer. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver's license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting.
"This scam has hit taxpayers in nearly every state in the country. We want to educate taxpayers so they can help protect themselves. Rest assured, we do not and will not ask for credit card numbers over the phone, nor request a pre-paid debit card or wire transfer," says IRS Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel. "If someone unexpectedly calls claiming to be from the IRS and threatens police arrest, deportation or license revocation if you don't pay immediately, that is a sign that it really isn't the IRS calling." Werfel noted that the first IRS contact with taxpayers on a tax issue is likely to occur via mail
Other characteristics of this scam include:
- Scammers use fake names and IRS badge numbers. They generally use common names and surnames to identify themselves.
- Scammers may be able to recite the last four digits of a victim's Social Security Number.
- Scammers spoof the IRS toll-free number on caller ID to make it appear that it's the IRS calling.
- Scammers sometimes send bogus IRS emails to some victims to support their bogus calls.
- Victims hear background noise of other calls being conducted to mimic a call site.
- After threatening victims with jail time or driver's license revocation, scammers hang up and others soon call back pretending to be from the local police or DMV, and the caller ID supports their claim.
If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS, here's what you should do:
- If you know you owe taxes or you think you might owe taxes, call the IRS at 800-829-1040. The IRS employees at that line can help you with a payment issue – if there really is such an issue.
- If you know you don't owe taxes or have no reason to think that you owe any taxes (for example, you've never received a bill or the caller made some bogus threats as described above), then call and report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration at 800-366-4484.
- If you've been targeted by this scam, you should also contact the Federal Trade Commission and use their "FTC Complaint Assistant" at FTC.gov. Please add "IRS Telephone Scam" to the comments of your complaint.
Taxpayers should be aware that there are other unrelated scams (such as a lottery sweepstakes) and solicitations (such as debt relief) that fraudulently claim to be from the IRS.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to be vigilant against phone and email scams that use the IRS as a lure. The IRS does not initiate contact with taxpayers by email to request personal or financial information. This includes any type of electronic communication, such as text messages and social media channels. The IRS also does not ask for PINs, passwords or similar confidential access information for credit card, bank or other financial accounts. Recipients should not open any attachments or click on any links contained in the message. Instead, forward the e-mail to email@example.com.
More information on how to report phishing scams involving the IRS is available on the genuine IRS website, IRS.gov.
You can reblog the IRS tax scam alert via Tumblr.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
"On the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy's catastrophic landfall on coastal New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the promises of assistance made by politicians have fallen far short of expectations. Many thousands of residents who saw their homes destroyed or heavily damaged have been effectively abandoned to their fate. While problems in the financial district and wealthy neighborhoods of lower Manhattan were quickly addressed, working class neighborhoods throughout the region have been left behind.
Many victims of the storm have faced interminable delays, bureaucratic red tape and indifference as they seek redress for their losses. Congress appropriated a total of $60.2 billion for hurricane relief and reconstruction, yet a large portion of this promised federal assistance has yet to be disbursed to local communities and families. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has allocated $5.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money for state and local governments, for example, but only $2 billion has been spent thus far.
In the aftermath of the storm, big business politicians scrambled to show their "concern" and schedule photo-ops and prominent television interviews. New Jersey Republican governor Chris Christie was perhaps the most blatant example. Christie, whose presidential ambitions have been talked about for several years, made a transparent attempt to portray himself as "America's governor," in a fashion similar to the "America's mayor" persona adopted by Rudolph Giuliani in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack in New York City.
A year later, many residents are enraged by Christie's broken promises and attempts to derive political benefit from Hurricane Sandy. The New York Times recently reported on a legislative meeting in Toms River, the large township known for its Republican political leanings that was severely affected by the storm. Several hundred angry constituents turned out for the hearing, with some shouting denunciations of Christie, who has not turned up recently in the area.
Victims of the storm are particularly disgusted over Christie's posturing as their savior. The New Jersey governor has made extravagant use of television appearances and paid advertising. An ad campaign christened "Stronger than the storm," supposedly aimed at bolstering tourism, used $4.7 million in federal money to highlight Christie, who is running for reelection. He first promised that boardwalks affected by the storm would be open by Memorial Day in May of this year, then by Labor Day in September. Now, he admits it will be 18 to 24 months before recovery.
At least 26,000 New Jersey residents remain displaced a year after the storm, and many thousands more are living in damaged homes with another winter approaching. Thousands of homes have been abandoned, with people living in trailers or other temporary shelter. In many cases, federal and private insurance payments, when they do arrive, are insufficient to cover reconstruction costs, leaving residents no option but to walk away from their homes.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that 261,884 people in New Jersey registered for federal disaster assistance following Sandy. More than 61,000 applications have been approved, but nearly 72,000 have been rejected and another 100,000 are still pending. In the face of public anger, FEMA recently extended the deadline to file claims through April 2014.
A New Jersey advocacy group, Fair Share Housing Center, reports that poorer residents of the state have not received their fair share of assistance. While 60 percent of grants to help people stay in this homes were earmarked for those with low and moderate incomes, only 37 percent of the grants have gone to those families.
Christie's role in the hurricane aftermath does not mean, of course, that only the Republicans are responsible for the virtual abandonment of tens of thousands of families. It was President Barack Obama who responded to the New Jersey governor's call after the storm and who made joint appearances with Christie that became national news. And Obama's Housing and Urban Development secretary, Shaun Donovan, in a statement that flies in the face of reality, bragged just days ago, "If you think about the fact that 650,000 homes were damaged, the vast majority of the work that's needed to get people back in their homes and get businesses back operating is behind us."
The hard-hit areas of New York and Connecticut are facing problems similar to those in New Jersey. Residents report immense frustration at interminable paperwork and conflicts between the requirements of various government programs. Many who began to rebuild with their own money now find that they are ineligible for government grants.
Expanded federal flood zone maps and new flood insurance regulations mean that large areas are now subject to substantially higher insurance rates or requirements to raise structures above flood levels, placing unbearable financial burdens on many in coastal areas. According to one report, some New York City property owners will face increases in annual flood insurance premiums of between $5,000 and $10,000, a jump that will be prohibitive for most. This is taking place at the same time as federal subsidies for flood insurance are being cut.
In New York City, the number of properties that will be required to purchase flood insurance will double by 2015, an increase of about 32,000. Currently, 35 percent of those required to carry insurance do not, but the higher premiums mean that this number will now increase drastically, setting the stage for even greater disaster when the next storm hits.
One of the hardest hit New York City neighborhoods was Breezy Point, located on the Rockaway Peninsula in the borough of Queens. This low-lying area was hit not only by a 13-foot-high storm surge, but by a massive fire that lasted for hours due to the inability of fire fighters to reach the area. Of the 2,800 homes in the neighborhood, 200 were destroyed and another 1,500 severely damaged. One year later, reconstruction has barely begun. It is estimated that only about half of the former residents have returned.
City officials recently stated that they are unsure whether they have enough money to cover all of the damage claims resulting from Hurricane Sandy. The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has allocated $648 million in its "Build It Back" program for housing reconstruction out of $1.6 billion it has so far received from the federal government, the remainder going to other programs. However, to date, 24,000 claims for housing have been made, amounting to $2.4 billion. Many of these claims have not yet been paid, and the city has not reported how many displaced persons have so far been returned to their homes. Future funding from the federal government is uncertain.
In an attempt to "close the books" on Sandy, the city recently terminated its program of subsidies to hotels for people displaced by the storm (see "New York City throws Hurricane Sandy victims out on the street").
New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman has revealed that the Red Cross and three other charitable organizations are still holding millions of dollars in donations they raised to assist Sandy victims.
The financial stress resulting from Sandy has made it impossible for many homeowners to keep up with their mortgage payments. The nonprofit Center for New York City Neighborhoods reports that, during the last year, more than a thousand families received foreclosure notices in neighborhoods hard hit by Sandy. In the city as a whole, foreclosures are up 33 percent from the previous year. The largest increase was in the borough of Queens, which was severely affected by the storm.
The disbursement of funds for repair and upgrade of infrastructure has also been slow and inadequate. For example, New York City's Health and Hospitals Corporation, which administers public hospitals in the city, has still not received money from FEMA to begin construction of flood-protection projects to prepare for future storms. A number of city hospitals, including Bellevue, were seriously hit by Sandy.
Forty-five public schools, nearly half of the 106 damaged by Sandy, are still undergoing repair. In seven schools, there is no functioning fire alarm system. Instead, there is a "human alarm system," consisting of monitors who are stationed at various locations in the buildings to look for smoke. This absurd and potentially catastrophic situation exists because FEMA has not yet approved a repair plan for the schools' overall electrical systems.
The painfully slow pace in restoration of basic services, such as medical care, is illustrated on the Rockaway Peninsula. Many medical facilities were closed due to storm damage, and only a few have so far reopened. The situation is so dire that a charitable organization, Doctors of the World USA, has opened a free clinic in the Rockaway Park section of Queens. Nearly a quarter of the population in the Rockaways have no medical insurance.
The aftermath of the historic hurricane that hit the Northeast US exactly a year ago illustrates what was seen at the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and on other occasions. Hurricane Sandy was a natural phenomenon, but its effects on millions of people were compounded by the slow, disorganized and inadequate response of the profit system and its political representatives. The disorganization is not simply an expression of incompetence, but of the fundamental contradictions of the system and the priorities that it upholds. A huge section of the population, living precariously even under "normal" circumstances, is pushed to the breaking point when disaster strikes."
Cutting food stamps while continuing to pump billions into “quantitative easing” wall street bailout
"Food assistance benefits for over 45 million Americans will be slashed starting this Friday, in the first-ever nationwide reduction in benefits under the US government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as food stamps.
The cuts total $11 billion over the next three years and amount on average to a month's worth of food assistance. They will mean yet more privation for millions of working people, including the poorest and most vulnerable members of society—children, elderly people, the unemployed, the disabled and new mothers.
That this brutal cut takes place under conditions of continuing mass unemployment and economic slump, with record numbers of people living in poverty and homelessness and hunger on the rise, testifies to the ruthlessness of the American ruling class. The callous indifference of the media and the entire political establishment, beginning with the Obama White House, to the suffering of broad layers of the population is reflected in their virtual silence on the imminent cutback in benefits.
As far as the corporate-controlled media is concerned, snatching food from the mouths of hungry children is not even worth reporting. As for the politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans are saying virtually nothing because there is a bipartisan agreement to impose the cuts.
Meanwhile, the government bailout of Wall Street and corporate America continues unabated. The Federal Reserve is expected this Wednesday to announce the extension of its $85 billion-a-month subsidy to the stock market and the banks in the form of its "quantitative easing" money-printing operation. Trillions of dollars have been pumped into the financial markets and interest rates have been kept at near-zero to drive up share values to record highs in the midst of the deepest crisis in the real economy since the Great Depression.
This channeling of social wealth into the coffers of the super-rich has produced the highest levels of social inequality in nearly a century. The American financial aristocracy is choking on its own wealth. Just last week, Forbes magazine reported that the ten highest-earning individuals in the US in 2012 each took in more than $100 million, with the top two making more than $1 billion apiece.
The universal claim that there is "no money" to fund social services comes as corporations, awash in cash and profits, systematically avoid taxation. According to a USA Today report published Monday, one in nine corporations in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index paid no taxes last year. Among them are Verizon, which recently imposed new concessions on its workers, and the Murdoch-owned News Corp., which publishes the Wall Street Journal. The average effective tax rate on corporations in the S&P 500 was 12.6 percent—barely a third of the nominal corporate tax rate.
The starkest indicator of the real state of the US economy in the sixth year of the crisis that erupted in 2008—and the clearest refutation of the official claims of a "recovery"—is the staggering growth in the number of people dependent on food stamps. Their ranks swelled by 70 percent between 2007 and 2012 and they continue to grow.
The food stamp cuts scheduled for this week are the result of the expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act's temporary increase in food stamp benefits. The increase was originally slated to last through 2015, when SNAP benefits are scheduled to rise, so as to ensure that there would be no reduction in benefits.
But in 2010, congressional Democrats used $14 billion that had been set aside for food stamps to fund other measures, vowing to return the money before the benefit hike expired. With the unspoken sanction of the White House and congressional Democrats, that never happened.
In current negotiations over a new farm bill, the Democratic-controlled Senate is proposing an additional $4 billion in cuts to the food stamp program over the next decade. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cut $40 billion from SNAP and force adults between 18 and 50 to either work or attend work training in order to reapply for benefits, as well as instituting drug-testing for recipients.
As always, the more draconian Republican proposal serves as the baseline for a "compromise" in which the Democrats, even as they posture as defenders of the poor, agree to increase the scale of cuts to a level that was likely agreed upon in advance by the White House and the two big business parties.
The slashing of food stamp benefits comes just weeks after a 16-day government shutdown that set the stage for a bipartisan deal to extend most of the social cuts included in the $1.3 trillion "sequestration" process that began last March. Those cuts are on top of another $1 trillion in cuts pushed through during the 2011 crisis over the US debt ceiling.
On January 1, the federal program that provides extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless is slated to expire, throwing millions more into poverty and outright destitution.
All of this is preparation for a bipartisan assault on the core social programs that date from the New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society of the 1960s—Social Security and Medicare.
What is involved here is a social counterrevolution, the aim of which is to uproot and destroy every social gain won by the working class over the past century—from pensions and health benefits to public education and child labor laws. The bankruptcy of Detroit, which is being used to gut city workers' pensions and strip them of their health coverage, along with the sell-off of public assets such as the art work at the world famous Detroit Institute of Arts, is a foretaste of what is coming nationally—and internationally.
This is what capitalism has to offer the working class—mass poverty, accompanied by ever more bloody wars and increasing political repression.
The working class can halt this attack and defend its basic social rights—to a job, a decent wage, nutrition, education, health care, pensions, access to culture—only by mobilizing its vast social power in a political struggle against both parties of Wall Street and the ruling class whose interests they slavishly defend.
The resources needed to provide a secure job and decent standard of living for every person exist in abundance, but they can be mobilized and expanded only by putting an end to the economic despotism of the corporate-financial elite. The corporations and banks must be taken out of private hands and transformed into public institutions under the democratic control of the working population. The ill-gotten wealth of the financial parasites must be expropriated and used to meet social needs.
The wealth produced by the working class must be used for the benefit of society as a whole, not the personal accumulation of wealth by a tiny elite. This is the program of social equality and socialism, fought for by the Socialist Equality Party.
Andre Damon and Barry Grey"
17,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from an eight-inch pipeline owned by Koch Pipeline Company on Tuesday, the Railroad Commission of Texas reported Wednesday.
The spill impacted a rural area and two livestock ponds near Smithville and was discovered on a routine aerial inspection, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Details are scarce regarding the cause of the spill and cleanup measures underway but, as UPI reported, "Koch Pipeline Co. said it notified the appropriate federal and state regulators but had no estimated time for repairs. Neither Koch nor the Texas Railroad Commission had a public statement about the incident."
According to its website, Koch Pipeline Company, L.P. is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, Inc., the company controlled by billionaire petrochemical giants Charles and David Koch. Koch Industries has also come under fire recently for dumping petroleum coke, a byproduct of tar sands refining, along riverfronts in both Detroit and Chicago.
The crude oil spill is the latest in a string of pipeline incidents that have occurred in multiple U.S. states as oil companies ramp up production and find themselves scrambling to ship their product to refineries. Earlier this month, a pipeline that spewed over 20,000 barrels of crude oil into a North Dakota wheat field and went unreported for 11 days until it was discovered by a farmer harvesting his wheat. A subsequent Associated Press investigation found nearly 300 oil spills and 750 "oil field incidents" have gone unreported in the state since January 2012 alone.
The unparalleled expansion of oil and gas pipelines throughout the country has exposed serious deficiencies in oversight and regulation of the industry, particularly since choosing the routes of new pipelines and overseeing safety and maintenance is predominantly left up to the individual companies. In September, Jeffrey Weise, head of the Office of Pipeline Safety at the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), asked conference attendees simply, "Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No."
Instead of addressing this lack of oversight and the threat it poses to communities across the U.S., Congress instead examined how to make the process easier for industry, holding a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday for a bipartisan bill that aims to speed up the permitting process for oil and natural gas pipelines that crosses country borders.
"The administration is defending this pledge with a rather slim reed — that there is nothing in the law that makes insurance companies force people out of plans they were enrolled in before the law passed. That explanation conveniently ignores the regulations written by the administration to implement the law. Moreover, it also ignores the fact that the purpose of the law was to bolster coverage and mandate a robust set of benefits, whether someone wanted to pay for it or not.
The president's statements were sweeping and unequivocal — and made both before and after the bill became law. The White House now cites technicalities to avoid admitting that he went too far in his repeated pledge, which, after all, is one of the most famous statements of his presidency.
The president's promise apparently came with a very large caveat: "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan — if we deem it to be adequate.""
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
One chart. Three forms of dishonesty. It must be Fox News.
First off, this chart, which claims to compare the number of people on government assistance with the number of people with full-time jobs, starts somewhere around the 100 million mark. The numbers given are 108.6 million and 101.7 million, but the scale of the graph means that the purported number of people on welfare looks several times as large as the number of people with full-time jobs. Anyone glancing at the screen quickly and not thinking about how far apart those numbers actually are will be seriously misled.
Second, Media Matters points out:
Fox's 108.6 million figure for the number of "people on welfare" comes from a Census Bureau's account (Table 2) of participation in means-tested programs, which include "anyone residing in a household in which one or more people received benefits" in the fourth quarter of 2011, thus including individuals who did not themselves receive government benefits. On the other hand, the "people with a full time job" figure Fox used included only individuals who worked, not individuals residing in a household where at least one person works.A side point that's obvious if you understand the comparison Fox is making here is that many in the 108.6 million receiving government assistance are children, disabled people, or senior citizens—groups that most of us, though perhaps not Fox, don't really expect to be working full time.
Finally, it's not like people working full time and people receiving government assistance are mutually exclusive groups. In fact, a lot of people work full time and also get food stamps or other nutrition assistance, rental assistance, or other forms of aid, thanks to low-wage employers like fast food chains and Walmart.
When you're Fox News and your only interest is in stigmatizing poor people and gutting the safety net, though, little distinctions like these don't matter.
This afternoon, the moderation team for the popular /r/politics subreddit announced a blacklist, banning such publications as Alternet, Drudgereport, Heritage Foundation, Huffington Post, Motherjones, National Review, Reason Magazine, Salon Magazine, Thinkprogress, Twitter, Vice.com, and many many more. Including, Dailykos.
With over three million members, the Reddit Politics forum has significant audience share. To block an entire domain and publisher from submission access will have major economic repercussions for any publication on that list. It will also diminish public recognition of any news published at those sites, now denied access. And thus, the free flow of information is diminished.
The big-daddy of link and content aggregation sites on the 'net, Reddit has tens of millions of users worldwide. The site bills itself as, "...a source for what's new and popular on the web. Users like you provide all of the content and decide, through voting, what's good and what's junk."
So it might interest many of these users to learn which sources the moderation team in Reddit's politics subreddit have sidelined by blacklist. And in so doing, to disenfranchise those users from their supposed vote. It might also surprise the community that what these moderators have blacklisted are some of the most well recognized publishers of political journalism on the web.
In a post published hours ago, moderators behind this policy shift stated:
We have identified one of three recurring problems with the newly disallowed domains:They offer details to these definitions. To summarize the first two, Blogspam refers to a blog or web site that quotes large amounts of text from another publication without offering significant content, analysis, or secondary sources. Sensationalism is as they interpret the word. But the third reason, low quality posts, offers significant insight into the purpose behind their blacklist policy.
- Low Quality Posts
The third major problem is pretty simple to understand, though it is easily the most subjective: the domain provides lots of bad journalism to the sub. Bad journalism most regularly happens when the verification of claims made by a particular article is almost impossible. Bad journalism, especially when not critically evaluated, leads to lots of circlejerking and low-quality content that we want to discourage. Domains with a history of producing a lot of bad journalism, then, are no longer allowed. [emphases added]All of which might seem reasonable until one digs into the details of which sites were banned. Most remarkably, Mother Jones is on that list. A publication that directly impacted the 2012 Presidential election by publishing hidden video of candidate Mitt Romney making disparaging statements about those '47% of the population' who he thought probably wouldn't vote for him anyway. As a result, their reporting shifted the electoral landscape and severely diminished Romney's chances of winning that election. The series won author David Corn and Motherjones a Polk Award for investigative journalism.
One editor for Mother Jones, when he discovered the unofficial ban five days ago, responded to a post about it on Reddit in the Journalism forum:
Hey folks. I'm an editor at Mother Jones and a long-time redditor. I'm disappointed, but not entirely surprised, by this decision. I like to believe that readers (especially redditors) are smart enough to read a bunch of different sources and make up their minds about what's true. News outlets should ultimately be judged by whether the stories they report turn out to be correct—i.e., whether they are accurate. A healthy r/politics community would be one that downvotes inaccurate or misleading stories and upvotes accurate ones, not a sub that bans entire domains (except for domains that focus entirely on making things up, like the Onion or whatever). A clarifying example here might be the Economist. Anyone who reads the Economist presumably understands that it has a libertarian point of view. But there's not a ton of wailing and gnashing of teeth about it because everyone assumes that the readers are smart enough to separate the facts from how the paper sees them. If r/politics community members are having trouble separating op-ed pieces from news reporting, that's too bad. But that doesn't mean essential work from great reporters (to pick someone on the other side of the ideological spectrum) such as National Review's Robert Costa should be banned from the sub. Just an unfortunate decision, and a slippery slope, too. All reporters make decisions that are affected by their personal biases—who to call, what to cover, whom to trust. Is the sub going to start taking seriously the complaints of conservatives who think the New York Times or the Guardian have too much of an agenda? What about liberal complaints about Fox News? Where does this end?Which prompted an interesting response by user townsley to that self-proclaimed MJ editor. He offered an interesting perspective for context:
Unfortunately, /r/politics has extremely weak moderation right now and one moderator in particular (/u/theredditpope) combined with some hardcore conservatives (and other complacent and inactive mods) to make sure that redditors won't see reporting like this on mass shootings in America.But it's not just Mother Jones that's been affected. When one respondent asked for examples of sensationalism in Salon Magazine that made the publication worth banning, a moderator replied:
This was a huge win for the hardcore right - good investigative fact based journalism has repeatedly been damaging to the right on reddit. It is really important for them - and now /u/theredditpope apparently - that they don't allow redditors access to a factual catalogue of shootings as a part of their political discussion.
In what world does this make sense in a sub called /r/politics? You got me.
Sure thing. As soon as we finish our closer look into the domain. If you ask this time next week I'll be much better positioned to answer that question with specific examples and with what we decided to do with the domain after our closer examination.I asked if that meant that the moderation team had banned the site without having completed a review of its content. To which another moderator replied simply, "No." There were no additional details provided.
A majority of comments from the community decried the decision, some some outliers supporting the ban. One comment indicative of popular opinion read:
You are trying to control the source and the free flow of information. Please stop it. Let us post the sources we see fit, then let the votes decide.Another wrote:
You guys are ruining /r/politics, quit trying to fix something that isn't broken. Also, the bannings are so arbitrary, RT is allowed but not MJ? Youtube takes of Alex Jones going crazy are just fine but actual journalism from Salon is not allowed.
Mother Jones broke the biggest story of the 2012 election and they are banned. Do you guys realize MJ has been around since 1976? Do you guys realize David Corn, who writes for Mother Jones, is an award winning journalist? It's like you guys made these bannings based on what 22 year olds think is cool. No historical knowledge at all.
I don't want to see anything banned, I'd like to put the blaze and the weekly standard up against MJ and Media Matters then see what happens.
Stop it mods, just stop it."
Do you feel you may have gone to far in an attempt to be 'fair and balanced'?A Moderator replied:
The sites you have labelled as 'right wing' sites that you have banned are largely conspiracy sites (infowars) or sites that falsified news (briebart) while fox and russian propaganda papers are allowed.
While on the 'left wing' side you have banned actual papers, and domains that have won awards and broke large stories.
I see this as forcing a false sense of equality between the content of mother jones/huffington and infowars.
Are you attempting to shape the direction of this subreddit in a more conservative/libertarian direction?
I and others have admitted that perhaps some of these bans are not necessary. We are engaged in an internal process to re-evaluate these domains (among which are salon, HuffPo, and several others that people have been mentioning).Which suggests the question: Why should a nonpartisan political forum ban any publication promoting serious public policy or journalism? Regardless of whether it comes from Heritage or Motherjones.
It should also be said that we banned the NationalReview and Heritage.org as well. So it isn't true that we targetted only the silliest of right-wing material.
There were some users less concerned about the decision. One community member responded in support:
These rule changes only affect what is allowed to be posted, not discussed. The main backlash against the banned domain list stems from people thinking their favorite biased news sites are banned from discussion, when they are not.Some might remember that three years ago on Digg, a then popular link aggregation site similar to Reddit, a conspiracy was revealed whereby a conservative group had colluded to censor content there.
The criteria the mods used for the banned domain list addresses the issue of biased posts, which start a discussion off with a heavy weight to one side or the other. Since a post title cannot be changed and it is the post's link that is the topic of discussion, any posts to a biased article or that have a sensationalist title can almost never lead to an equally weighted and completely open discussion.
The popular link-sharing website Digg is investigating claims that a group of the site's "influential conservative" members are systematically downgrading thousands of stories deemed to be "liberal".It might seem an issue unrelated to members of the Dailykos community - other than the fact that Dailykos has been censored - but with three million users the politics mod has a significant impact on public awareness of serious issues.
Online magazine AlterNet claimed to have uncovered a group of Digg members – dubbed "Digg Patriots" – who have "censored hundreds of users, dozens of websites, and thousands of stories" from the site. Alternet alleged that the Digg Patriots, thought to number nearly 100 members, are "able to bury over 90% of articles by certain users and websites submitted within 1-3 hours".
There's no proof yet that political censorship is the underlying motive behind these new policies in the Politics subreddit. But, given past history, that conservative activists might squelch serious journalism in an attempt to skew public opinion isn't just conspiracy theory. It's already happened before. Which means that fact based journalism could well be under threat in one of the most popular political forums on Reddit. A matter of significant concern for journalism and a free flow of information crucial to the general public.
One thing is clear, looking through the comments in their announcement a lot of very unhappy users have offered vociferous complaints. And further, that what questions posed to the mods that have not been responded to are more interesting than the ones they have answered.
UPDATE #1: dkos user olliegarkey posted a fascinating comment with an embedded graph showing that many of the most submission sites banned in this policy shift.
dkos User subterranian responded by arguing a partisan bent to the bans:
So they banned both right and left wing sites so it looks "balanced" in a simple list. But by actual traffic, it's entirely left wing sites that were banned.
Clever. And most disturbing.
UPDATE #2: Reddit user PoliticsMod appears to be is one of the mods involved in organizing this policy change. The user replied to a comment I wrote asking about the content of this image by saying:
Popular domains have been banned for two weeks now, and in that time traffic has only grown and our front page has become noticeably less sensational.I do not have the sense that this response answered my question.
NOTE 1: minor copyedits for clarity; removed error listing The Nation as a banned publication; fixed broken link; added graph in UPDATE; additional copyedits to cleanup bad prose.
NOTE 2: I'll be stepping away from the computer for several hours. I promise to respond to any PMs and will update this diary entry when I return with important new facts as events unfold. Thank you for reading!
JC Penney CEO Makes 1,795 Times More Than Workers - Largest Gap in U.S. - as Company Loses 73% Value
"JC Penney declined to comment, perhaps due to the sobering fact that, while Johnson makes an annual salary of $53.3 million, his workers earn a meager average salary of $28,688. Or maybe the company declined to comment since it cut 43,000 jobs last year. Or perhaps it's because, at a time in which it has created the largest CEO-to-worker pay gap in the country, it is also fighting a proposed SEC rule that would require corporations to consider workers' salaries when calculating that of a CEO.
Of course, most of corporate America is fighting this proposed law as well. Apparently, not because these executives deserve the money they are being paid based on performance.
No. They are fighting the proposed rule due to blind corporate greed. They are fighting the rule due to systematic attempts by executives to protect their own interests at the expense of those workers who allow their companies function. Those workers who cannot afford many of the basic necessities of life, including those products they work hard to sell."
rest at http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/10/27/1251041/-JC-Penney-CEO-Makes-1-795-More-Than-Workers-Largest-Gap-in-U-S-as-Company-Loses-73-Value?detail=email
"The decision to fight a two front war against both his primary challenger and his fall opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes is risky. If McConnell gets damaged in the primary, it could open the door for Grimes to take his seat in the fall.
The fallout from the government shutdown continues. The mainstream media is obsessed with the healthcare.gov website, but the same conflict within the Republican Party that almost caused the nation to default is raging on. These tea party challenges to incumbent Senate Republicans are great news for Democrats, and the great irony in all of this is that Mitch McConnell opposes all forms of campaign finance regulation. McConnell favors all forms of unlimited outside campaign money, just not when it is used against him."
rest at http://www.politicususa.com/2013/10/29/mitch-mcconnell-declares-war-ted-cruz-sarah-palin-tea-party-groups.html
Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) Blows Up At GOP During Obamacare Hearing: ‘Are You Really Serious?’
"Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) slammed Republicans for failing to support the Affordable Care Act once it became law, challenging them to go back to their districts and tell their constituents that they'll be taking away their coverage.
"What are you going to do about the approximately 17 million children with preexisting conditions who can no longer be denied health insurance coverage," Parscrell asked the GOP during a House hearing on Obamacare. Standing up and pointing his finger at the other side of the aisle, he continued, "We want to go back and want to say you are no longer covered any longer — are you going to tell the parents of those kids?"
Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) tried to answer that question, highlighting GOP proposals to cover individuals with pre-existing condition. The reply sparked even greater outrage from Parscrell:
GRIFFIN: You asked a question and I'm going to answer it. It's a false choice to say it's Obamacare or nothing. There are numerous proposals including one that I'm a co-sponsor of…
PASCRELL: Are you serious what you just said? Are you really serious? After what we've gone through and what we've gone through in the last three and a half years? Have you — you can sit there and say, that you had a legitimate alternative after these years? We've gone through 44 votes, 48 votes now, of you trying to dismantle the legislation. You call that cooperation? I don't!"
"The depth and breadth of the SNAP cuts that take effect in November are unprecedented," Rosenbaum and Keith-Jennings note. "Past cuts have affected specific states or groups, but they have not affected all participants nor been as large as these cuts."
Republican arguments against those on food stamps being "takers" dining on lobster at taxpayer expense often miss two crucial facts: 1. The maximum benefit is barely enough to survive and is getting smaller — dropping from $200 per month to $189 on November 1; 2. A recent study showed that the fastest growth of new SNAP beneficiaries is in areas that vote Republican.
The House GOP broke precedent in September and separated food stamps from the rest of the farm bill in order to pass $40 billion in additional cuts to benefits over the next 10 years. Notably, 13 of the 217 congressmembers who voted for those cuts receive federal farm subsidies from the farm bill that the GOP hasn't targeted for cuts — nearly all of these 13 Republicans are millionaires.rest of story here http://www.nationalmemo.com/food-stamp-cuts-coming-for-everyone-including-nearly-a-million-veterans/
"Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) found it "disgraceful" that some members of his party -- including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- were fundraising in New York on the Hurricane Sandy anniversary, having voted in January against recovery funding for the disaster.
But it was Coburn who was dishing out the real insults Monday evening, according to the New York Daily News.
Coburn was headlining a gala fundraiser for the New York Young Republican Club when he was reportedly asked about relations within the Senate.
While Coburn admitted "great relationships" with some Democratic senators, he said he felt differently about one member of the opposition in particular -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
"There's no comity with Harry Reid. I think he's an absolute a--hole," Coburn said, according to New York Daily News.
It's no secret that Coburn isn't Reid's biggest fan. Coburn had choice words for the Democratic leader last year, blaming him for congressional gridlock.
"If you want to ask why the Senate isn't working, there's one reason; it's called Harry Reid," Coburn said. "Incompetent and incapable of carrying on the leadership in the Senate."
Coburn issued an apology for those comments, but felt his anger was justified.
"I don't apologize for my frustration of this place, but occasionally my words are harsh and inaccurate," he said.
The bite doesn't just come from the right. In a recent interview with The Huffington Post, Reid took shots at several Republican lawmakers. He said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) "isn't playing with a full deck," called Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) "a laughing stock to everybody but him," and questioned House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) conscience through the shutdown talks.
UPDATE: Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson responded to the comment on Tuesday morning. "Nothing says 'comity' like childish playground name-calling, especially from a senator who has not sponsored a single piece of successful bipartisan legislation during his entire Senate career," he said in an email to HuffPost."
"After Republicans did a bang-up job at minority outreach last week, it was tempting to think the party couldn't possibly make matters worse. Think again.
A Nevada assemblyman came under fire Monday after a YouTube video surfaced in which he told a Republican gathering he would vote to allow slavery if that is what his constituents wanted him to do."If that's what they wanted, I'd have to hold my nose … they'd probably have to hold a gun to my head, but yeah," Assemblyman Jim Wheeler told members of the Storey County Republican Party at a meeting in August.
For his part, Wheeler published an explanation of sorts on his personal website, saying that his point was only that he's inclined to support literally any position embraced by his constituents. It's not that he endorses slavery, only that he would allow slavery if his constituents wanted him to.
Remember, this is supposed to be his defense.
this is what @gop is all about: @RepPaulRyan : Budget negotiations are for cutting federal pensions, not corporate tax loopholes
"If this conference is used as an excuse to raise taxes, then I fear we will not be successful," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said last week. "We'll take the spending cuts we have if that's all it's going to be."Because heaven forbid giant, hugely profitable corporations have to be spared the agony of paying as much in taxes as they pay their CEOs. Ryan does have one idea for who Congress could make pay, though:
As for the future, Ryan has proposed a 2014 budget that would require federal employees to pay more toward their retirement benefits while eliminating special supplemental payments to certain federal employees who retire before age 62. The savings under that plan would be an estimated $132 billion over 10 years.In recent years, federal workers have faced pay freezes, sequester furloughs and a government shutdown. All while many of them earn less than they would in the private sector. Now, Republicans are suggesting what amounts to a significant pay cut for these workers—just, heaven forbid, not a tax increase for those who can most easily afford it, be they billionaires or banks. And driving the most qualified people out of the government is a great way to make the government function worse, achieving another Republican goal by creating problems they can point to in their everlasting quest to break and dismantle government entirely.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Thousands of veterans in every state will be among the nearly 48 million people who now participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and who will experience a benefit cut as the 2009 Recovery Act's temporary benefit boost ends on November 1, according to a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.
The new analysis, which uses data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, finds thousands of veterans lived in SNAP households in every state between 2009 and 2011. For instance, more than 100,000 veterans lived in SNAP households in two states: Florida (109,500) and Texas (105,700). North Dakota had the fewest such veterans (2,200). (See Table 1.)
Nationwide, in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families in 2011, a previous analysis of Census data estimated.
The 2009 Recovery Act temporarily raised SNAP benefits as a form of effective economic stimulus and to reduce the hardship that low-income families faced during the recession. This benefit increase is set to expire on November 1. The coming benefit cut will reduce SNAP benefits, which are already modest, for all households by 7 percent on average, or about $10 per person per month. Without the Recovery Act's boost, SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014 will average less than $1.40 per person per meal. This is a serious cut, especially considering that over 80 percent of SNAP participants live in poverty. House and Senate members who are now beginning to negotiate a final Farm Bill should keep this benefit cut in mind as they consider, in reauthorizing the SNAP program, whether to make even deeper cuts.
| Table 1 |
State Table: Veterans in Households Receiving SNAP Benefits, 2009 to 2011
|State||Estimated Number of Veterans Receiving SNAP|
|District of Columbia||3,900|
|Notes: Estimates shown are for veterans living in households that received any SNAP income during the past 12 months. Monthly estimates of SNAP participation would be lower. |
Source: CBPP Analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2009 to 2011
For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families. Nationwide, SNAP is a powerful anti-hunger and anti-poverty tool: in 2011, it kept 4.7 million people above the poverty line, including 2.1 million children. SNAP has been shown to reduce hardship and to allow struggling households greater access to food.
Many veterans returning from service face challenges in finding work. While the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for recent veterans (serving in September 2001 to the present) remains high, at 10.1 percent in September 2013. About one-quarter of recent veterans reported service-connected disabilities in 2011, which can impact their ability to provide for their families: households with a veteran with a disability that prevents them from working are about twice as likely to lack access to adequate food than households without a disabled member.
Veterans who participate in SNAP tend to be young, but their ages range widely: 57 percent of the veterans in our analysis are under age 30, while 9 percent are aged 60 or older. They served during many conflicts, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, and in some cases, Korea and World War II, as well as in peacetime.
This benefit cut, which will reduce benefits to each of the veterans who rely on SNAP, takes effect the same week that the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin their conference committee negotiations on the Farm Bill, which includes a reauthorization of and additional proposed cuts to SNAP. The House version of the bill would cut SNAP by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years, denying benefits to about 3.8 million people in 2014 and an average of 3 million people each year over the coming decade.
Notes on Methods
The Center analyzed the American Community Survey (ACS) for this state-level analysis. The figures presented here represent our best estimate of the number of veterans who are likely at any time in the next 12 months to receive a lesser amount of SNAP benefits than they would have received. The number who will experience a cut in any given month is somewhat lower.
The analysis combines data for three years, 2009 through 2011, to improve the reliability of the state estimates. The figures, which total 1.5 million veterans nationwide, refer to veterans who live in households where anyone received SNAP benefits at any time in the past 12 months. An earlier CBPP analysis, based on a different Census survey (the Current Population Survey), estimated that 900,000 veterans lived in SNAP households in an average month. The figures differ for three reasons. First, the 1.5 million total here represents veterans in SNAP households at any point in the year, which is necessarily a larger group than a monthly average. Second, it comes from a different survey, the ACS; the earlier figure is from the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, which tends to undercount SNAP recipients more than the ACS does. Third, it covers a different period, 2009 through 2011; the earlier estimate was for 2011 alone. Both surveys likely badly undercount homeless veterans, though the ACS probably misses fewer.
 For more information on the temporary benefit boost, see Stacy Dean and Dorothy Rosenbaum, "SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Revised August 2, 2013, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3899.
 Dottie Rosenbaum, Stacy Dean, and Robert Greenstein, "Cuts in House Leadership SNAP Proposal Would Affect Millions of Low-Income Americans," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Revised September 17, 2013, http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4009.
 See, for example, James Mabli, Jim Ohls, Lisa Dragoset, Laura Castner, and Betsy Santos, "Measuring the Effect of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Participation on Food Security," prepared by Mathematica Policy Research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, August 2013, http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/Measuring2013.pdf.
 Alisha Coleman-Jensen, and Mark Nord, "Food Insecurity Among Households With Working-Age Adults With Disabilities," ERR-144, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, January 2013. About one-third (33.5 percent) of households with a working-age member who was out of the labor force due to disability were food insecure. While the food insecurity prevalence rate was slightly lower (30.5 percent) for households with a veteran who was out of the work force due to disability, this rate is still much higher than households with no working-age adults with disabilities (12 percent).
 The inclusion of the two earlier years is likely to make the ACS figure lower because SNAP caseloads were growing during this period in response to the still-weak economy.
"Look, Rep. Paul Broun, we've already decided that Texas Republican Louie Gohmert is America's Dumbest Congressman. You don't have to keep trying so hard.
"There was absolutely no reason, whatsoever, for this administration to block access to the World War Two Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial. It's never ever been done in a government shutdown prior to this administration doing so."There are at least two problems with this.
1. The Lincoln Memorial was indeed closed during a previous government shutdown in 1995. That one was also caused by Republicans trying to extract concessions from a Democratic president. Broun should remember it well, since he ran for Congress the following year. (He lost.)
2. The World War II Memorial was completed in 2004, and so did not exist during any previous shutdowns. While this renders Broun's statement technically true, it is true in the same way as saying "Abraham Lincoln never dined at Chipotle" is true. Neither statement makes a particularly intriguing point.
Paul Broun is running for the U.S. Senate this time around, possibly because Paul Broun has been running for things for over 20 years and is bored with being a mere congressman. He is also known for being the congressman who thinks evolution, embryology and the Big Bang Theory are lies from the pit of Hell. Observing that monuments were never closed during time periods in which they did not exist is precisely the level of insight Mr. Broun typically brings to conversations; observing things that are flatly and provably untrue is just the usual conservative model for pandering to the base."
Friday, October 25, 2013
Barack Obama Is Totally Torpedoing Deficit Levels
Any debate about debts and deficits becomes much more robust when the numbers are considered relative to the size of the economy.
"Under Obama, the deficit is falling from 10% of GDP to just 3%," tweeted MSNBC's Ari Melber. "But only 6% of America knows it.
There's often a misconception that a democratic President would be more likely to raise these ratios by promoting big government.
But the reality is quite the opposite.
As you can see from this chart from Deutsche Bank's David Bianco, Obama has been one of the most effective presidents in American history to reduce deficit levels.
On a related note, the latest jobs report showed that Obama continues to be a destroyer of government jobs.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
"Did Carl C. Icahn just change the rules of the activist game?
On Thursday, the septuagenarian activist investor, who has been stirring things up at Apple, ratcheted up the pressure by posting a letter to Timothy D. Cook, Apple's chief executive, on his new Web site. The letter, which Mr. Cook received on Wednesday, urged Apple to immediately begin an offer to buy back $150 billion in Apple shares at the current share price of $525 a share, "financed with debt or a mix of debt and cash on the balance sheet."
His letter goes on:
"While this would certainly be unprecedented because of its size, it is actually appropriate and manageable relative to the size and financial strength of your company. Apple generates more than enough cash flow to service this amount of debt and has $147 billion of cash in the bank."
He ends the letter by saying he does not plan to personally benefit from such a stock buyback. "To invalidate any possible criticism that I would not stand by this thesis in terms of its long term benefit to shareholders," he writes, "I hereby agree to withhold my shares from the proposed $150 billion tender offer. There is nothing short term about my intentions here."
Apple shares rose 0.4 percent, to $527.21 in late morning trading.
Mr. Icahn's view is sure to start a debate. The bond investor Bill Gross, who runs Pimco, sent out a tweet late Thursday morning disagreeing with him:
Gross: Icahn should leave #Apple alone & spend more time like Bill Gates. If #Icahn's so smart, use it to help people not yourself.
Mr. Icahn's move to the Web is unusual, though not entirely unprecedented. Activist investors like Mr. Icahn, who is known for taking a caustic approach with corporate executives, typically air their views through print and television media, and the letters they send to corporate executives find their way to the media through back channels.
But Mr. Icahn seems intent on shaking things up. He timed his letter to Mr. Cook to the introduction of his new Web site, the Shareholders' Square Table. It's an idea Mr. Icahn has had for some time. In an interview in 2005, he said that he was thinking of setting up a forum that would be "the shareholders' answer to the business roundtable."
A cartoon on the Web site's main page depicts shareholders trying to scale the walls of a castle. Corporate executives are perched on top of the castle, throwing down poison pills, while slipping stock options and a new jet to a chief executive on the side. One executive is holding a bag of gold that says, "Cheap stock."
Mr. Icahn has been publicly agitating since August for Apple to do something with its large cash reserves, using his personal account on Twitter as his platform to apply pressure. (He has 103,335 followers.)"