Govt Shutdown Averted As Can Gets Kicked 6 Months Down The Road

The budgeting process for our Federal Government is a convoluted process that doesn’t come close to matching any budgeting process in the private sector.  Since Congress hasn’t actually agreed upon spending and taxing policies, which they can use to create a budget, some means to fund government operations and services must be used.  That’s where a continuing resolution comes in.

A continuing resolution is a type of appropriations legislation used by Congress (providing they can agree on the continuing resolution) to fund government agencies if a budget (appropriations) bill hasn’t passed both Houses and been signed into law by the end of a Congressional fiscal year (October 1st – September 30 each year).

Two budget bills were voted on this week in Congress … both along partisan lines.  The Republican bill in the House was passed with only Republican votes and is pretty much DOA in the Senate.  The Democratic bill in the Senate passed with votes from Democrats and Independents, but no Republicans. Similarly, the Senate bill is pretty much DOA in the House.  Each bill takes different approaches in building a budget to fund governmental functions and services.

Rep. Paul Ryan’s Budget (HCONRES25)  seeks $4.6 trillion in savings over the next 10 years without raising new taxes. It aims to reach a small surplus by 2023 through deep cuts to health care and social programs that aid the poor. It passed the House on a purely partisan vote with NO Democratic support and 10 Republican defections:

3/15/2013 Introduced in House
3/15/2013 The House Committee on The Budget reported an original measure, H. Rept. 113-17, by Mr. Ryan (WI).
3/21/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On agreeing to the resolution Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 221 – 207 (Roll no. 88). Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in against passage.
3/22/2013 Received in the Senate. Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 33.
HOUSE VOTE #88 YEAS NAYS PRES NV
REPUBLICAN 221 10 0 1
DEMOCRATIC 0 197 0 3
INDEPENDENT 0 0 0 0
TOTALS 221 207 4

Senator Patty Murray’s budget (SCONRES8) in the Senate aims to reduce deficits by $1.85 trillion over 10 years through an equal mix of tax increases and spending cuts.  Again, this budget was also passed along partisan lines with four Democratic defections: Baucus (MT), Begich (AK), Hagan (NC) and Pryor (AR). Upon passage in the Senate, Sen. Murray (Senate Budget Cmtee Chair) stated, “While it is clear that the policies, values, and priorities of the Senate budget are very different than those articulated in the House budget, I know the American people are expecting us to work together to end the gridlock and find common ground, and I plan to continue doing exactly that.”

3/15/2013 Introduced in Senate
3/15/2013 Committee on the Budget. Original measure reported to Senate by Senator Murray under authority of the order of the Senate of 03/14/2013. Without written report.
3/23/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Resolution agreed to in Senate with amendments by Yea-Nay Vote. 50 – 49. Record Vote Number: 92.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage
SENATE #92 TOTALS     DEMOCRAT     REPUBLICAN     INDEPENDENT
  YEA 50 48 0 2
  NAY 49 4 45 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0

Given that Rep. Ryan’s Path to Poverty Version 3.0 budget bill went down in flames as soon as it hit the Senate door, and the Senate’s bill didn’t fair any better in the House, another continuing resolution  to authorize modified levels of spending for the next six months was needed — or as they like to refer to it in Washington — kicking the can down the road for yet another six months.  The Continuing Resolution bill is HR933, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.

HR933 was originally introduced as Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013.  Since the Senate can’t “originate” an appropriations bill, and since HR933 was an appropriations bill already passed by the House (the only chamber authorized to “originate” appropriations), the Senate commandeered that bill, replaced it’s contents with a continuing resolution, and sent it back to the House for concurrence.  If the Senate were to have created a bill on it’s own, approved it and sent it to the House, it would have been blue-slipped and automatically rejected upon Constitutional grounds.

3/4/2013 Introduced in House
3/6/2013 Passed/agreed to in House: On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: 267 – 151 (Roll no. 62).
3/20/2013 Passed/agreed to in Senate: Passed Senate with an amendment replacing its contents and an amendment to re-Title the bill by Yea-Nay Vote. 73 – 26. Record Vote Number: 44.  NOTE:  Reid voted Yea / Heller voted against passage (for shutdown)
3/21/2013 Resolving differences — House actions: On motion that the House agree to the Senate amendments Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 318 – 109 (Roll no. 89).  NOTE:  Rep. Amodei is listed as “not voting”: Heck, Horsford and Titus all voted in favor of passage.
SENATE VOTE #44 TOTALS     DEMOCRAT     REPUBLICAN     INDEPENDENT
  YEA 73 51 20 2
  NAY 26 1 25 0
NOT VOTING 1 1 0 0
HOUSE VOTE #89 TOTALS     REPUBLICAN     DEMOCRAT INDEPENDENT
  YEA 318 203 115 0
  NAY 109 27 82 0
NOT VOTING 4 1 3 0

It now goes to the President for signature and thus, another kick of the budgetary can.

Budgets are technically, a statement of priorities, as are continuing resolutions.  And, various tidbits and provisos of each party’s policy stances toward governance manage to slip in budgetary bills. Overall, 112 amendments were offered to the HR933. Transparency relative to all 112 amendments is sorely lacking, as most are listed on THOMAS as “Purpose will be available when the amendment is proposed for consideration. See Congressional Record for text.”  It’s clear we need to revisit the issue of “transparency” with our legislators.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that failed:

  • SA 30 introduced by Sen. Cruz (R-TX): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
  • SA 66 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To temporarily freeze the hiring of nonessential Federal employees.
  • SA 69 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit Urban Area Security Initiative grant recipients from funding projects that do not improve homeland security.
  • SA 93 introduced by Sen. Coburn R-OK): To transfer appropriations from the National Heritage Partnership Program to fund the resumption of public tours of the White House and visitor services and maintenance at national parks and monuments.
  • SA 115 introduced by Sen. Toomey (R-PA): To increase by $25,000,000 the amount appropriated for Operation and Maintenance for the Department of Defense for programs, projects, and activities in the continental United States, and to provide an offset.

Here are a few of the amendments I found that passed:

  • SA 72 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To require the continuation of tuition assistance programs for members of the Armed Forces for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
  • SA 29 introduced by Sen. Inhofe (R-OK): To prohibit the expenditure of Federal funds to enforce the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure rule of the Environmental Protection Agency against farmers.
  • SA 65 introduced by Sen. Coburn (R-OK): To prohibit the use of funds to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation, except for research projects that the Director of the National Science Foundation certifies as promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.

Here a a few other items that were slipped in to this bill that you might find a bit interesting.

Veteran’s Benefits

Given the GOP’s advertisement of their “autopsy” and their need to be a kinder, gentler, more inclusive party of something other than Greedy Old Patriarchs, plus, given their “support for the troops” and their “Jobs, Job, Jobs” mantra … section 8014 of the bill is a bit counter-intuitive.  Although—it does parallel their tiered benefits approach to Medicare (those older than 55 get the current program, those younger, well they’d get a declining value voucher). Under this proviso, it appears that if you re-enlisted before 10/1/1987 and have this in your enlistment contract, you get it … everyone else … so sad, too bad. The VA can buy your books and pay your tuition, but the government won’t pay you any wages or benefits … but hey … you’re still on the hook for your enlistment.  Good luck supporting yourself and oh, by the way, hope you don’t get sick while you’re at school learning something that you’ll later apply back on the job during the rest of your enlistment.

Sec. 8014. None of the funds appropriated by this Act shall be available for the basic pay and allowances of any member of the Army participating as a full-time student and receiving benefits paid by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from the Department of Defense Education Benefits Fund when time spent as a full-time student is credited toward completion of a service commitment: Provided, That this section shall not apply to those members who have reenlisted with this option prior to October 1, 1987: Provided further, That this section applies only to active components of the Army.

The Long Defunct ACORN organization

Sec. 510. None of the funds made available in this Act may be distributed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) or its subsidiaries or successors.

Good grief!  ACORN was a collection of community-based organizations that advocated for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. The Gang Of Predators (GOP) killed that organization using totally and bogusly false allegations!  It filed for Chapter 7 liquidation on November 2, 2010, effectively closing the organization. The GOP danced with glee … so if they’re trying to become a kinder, gentler, caring GOP, what’s with the paranoia … and the continued assault on any organization that helps the poor?

Restrictions Placed on the ATF — Gives away a KEY requirement for Control of Gun Violence to the NRA

One of the reasons we’ve not been able to get a handle on how to control gun violence is that we have not data from which we can effectively draw conclusions.  That’s because, gun vendors are not required to keep any records whatsoever of gun sales for use in analyzing patterns.  Similarly, police units are prohibited from keeping permanent records associated with background checks and trace data.  In passing the continuing resolution … proviso language included in the bill perpetuate the lack of analysis data.

(b) For fiscal year 2013 and thereafter, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives shall include in all such data releases, language similar to the following that would make clear that trace data cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime:

(1) Firearm traces are designed to assist law enforcement authorities in conducting investigations by tracking the sale and possession of specific firearms. Law enforcement agencies may request firearms traces for any reason, and those reasons are not necessarily reported to the Federal Government. Not all firearms used in crime are traced and not all firearms traced are used in crime.

(2) Firearms selected for tracing are not chosen for purposes of determining which types, makes, or models of firearms are used for illicit purposes. The firearms selected do not constitute a random sample and should not be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals, or any subset of that universe. Firearms are normally traced to the first retail seller, and sources reported for firearms traced do not necessarily represent the sources or methods by which firearms in general are acquired for use in crime.

Too Big to Jail

Ever wonder  why the Attorney General never seeks an indictment and doesn’t prosecute government contractors for the waste, fraud and abuse they regularly commit?  Could it be that if they took some of their egregiously fraudful government contractors to court and actually managed to convict them — well, they wouldn’t be able to let them continue to reap their fraudulent schemes and line all those congressional campaign coffers?

SEC. 540. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract, memorandum of understanding, or cooperative agreement with, make a grant to, or provide a loan or loan guarantee to, any corporation that was convicted of a felony criminal violation under any Federal law within the preceding 24 months, where the awarding agency is aware of the conviction, unless an agency has considered suspension or debarment of the corporation and has made a determination that this further action is not necessary to protect the interests of the Government.

Sec. 8126. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to enter into a contract with any person or other entity listed in the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS)/System for Award Management (SAM) as having been convicted of fraud against the Federal Government.

Those are just a few “policy” or “values”  items I noted as a read through bill, as passed.  You may find others if you take the time to read through the bill.  But, as I said earlier, budgets are a statement of “policy” and “values.”  Those activities and services deemed important by the powers that be (regardless of what ordinary Americans value) are funded, plain and simple.  Watch, read, learn over this next term, and in the 2014 primaries, cast your vote based on the VALUES you espouse for a candidate you believe will uphold them.

The Wreckless, Heavy Toll of the Iraq War

Mar 19, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

imageToday is one anniversary that is definitely not cause for celebration. Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush made the fateful decision to launch the unnecessary Iraq War.

The consequences of this decision have been overwhelming. A new report estimates that the Iraq War will end up costing American taxpayers at least $2.2 TRILLION, but perhaps as much as $4 TRILLION with interest since Bush put the war on the national credit card at the same he slashed taxes on the wealthy.

(Incidentally, $4 TRILLION is the total amount of deficit reduction that President Obama is seeking, including about $2 TRILLION in the current round of negotiations in order to replace the sequester and stabilize our long-term debt.)

The bill for the war may be large, but the human cost of the Iraq War is even more staggering. It’s estimated that 200,000 people, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed as a result of the war. A million other Iraqis were displaced by the conflict.

These topline figures are just the beginning. Our ThinkProgress colleagues outline five ways the U.S. is worse off because of the Iraq War:

1. The debt

At the start of the war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost around $50-60 billion in total. They were wrong by more than a factor of ten, sending the U.S.’ debt soaring, a condition that has yet to be rectified. According to a recent study, the war is set to have cost the U.S $2.2 trillion, though that number may reach up to $4 trillion thanks to interest payments on the loans taken out to finance the conflict. Of that staggering amount, at least $10 billion of it was completely wasted in rebuilding efforts.

2. The physical and psychological strain on U.S. troops.

The soldiers charged with fighting the war were stretched to their limits, put through multiple tours, with increasing length of time overseas as the war stretched on and shrinking downtime in between each. All-told, over 4,000 U.S. troops died during the country’s time in Iraq, with another 31,000 wounded in action. In the aftermath, the cost of providing medical care to veterans has doubled, adding to the difficulties faced by those who served. Up to 35 percent of Iraq War veterans will suffer from PTSD according to a 2009 study, while the suicide rate among veterans has jumped to 22 per day.

3. The forgotten war in Afghanistan.

Even worse, the war in Iraq caused the U.S. to take its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Rather than following through, the Bush administration allowed the country to stagnate, prompting a Taliban resurgence beginning in 2004. As the West focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Taliban fighters imported tactics seen in Iraq to great effect, keeping the Afghan government weak and U.S.-led NATO forces on their heels. The result: the United States is still attempting to tamp down on Taliban momentum today.

4. The opportunity costs.

Aside from missed opportunities in Afghanistan, the Iraq War-effort was all-consuming, pulling resources from all other areas of U.S. defense policy. Relationships with key allies were allowed to grow stale and U.S. prestige around the world plummeted. Fighting in Iraq was realized to be a diversion from combating al Qaeda, drawing funding that could have gone towards a litany of other efforts to effectively counter terrorism.

5. The strengthening of Iran and al Qaeda.

The power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the lack of adequate U.S. forces left room for U.S. adversaries to fill the void. Counter to what some still believe, Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to 2003. Instead, it was only in the post-Saddam climate that they gained a foothold in the form of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group continues to carry out attacks against civilians to this day, keeping the Iraqi government on edge.

In the end, it was not the United States that gained the most strategically from invading Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. In removing Saddam Hussein’s predominantly Sunni regime from power, the U.S. opened the door to a greater Iranian influence in the region. That influence has been seen playing out counter to U.S. interests in situations such as allowing Iranian planes bearing weapons for Syria to cross Iraqi airspace.

Given that we know now that the war was launched on false premises and have witnessed what has happened since, you’d think the architects of the war would at least admit they wrong or express some regret. You’d be wrong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter today to pat himself on back:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Richard Perle argued in an opinion piece earlier this week that it was still right to have removed Saddam Hussein, even though he had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Top war architect Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that things “spiraled out of control,” but blamed others and argued that things would’ve been different if the war had been prosecuted his way (it was, incidentally).

Astonishingly, the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka even went so far this week as to argue that the mess in Iraq is really President Obama’s fault. This view was echoed yesterday by Fouad Ajami, a conservative intellectual close to Wolfowitz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also criticized Obama for ending “an honorable war.”

It appears that the American people are smarter, or at least more honest, than the neocons who led us into perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Polls out this week show that a majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting.

Check out our complete timeline of the Iraq War. For more on the true costs of the Iraq War, please see our updated Iraq War Ledger.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Articles I’ve Been Reading: 2013-03-04

THE BOEHNER-QUESTER
Sequester: The Finger on the TriggerRichard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the “Sequester” takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and real-time analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this. Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon—a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act.

The Truth and Consequences of Sequestration

Terrance Heath, Op-Ed: What if someone told you that a disastrous event is just days away from happening; one that will play havoc with the economy and bring pain and hardship to millions? What if the same someone told you that our government set this disaster in motion, and could easily stop it, but appears unable or unwilling to do so? You’d call them crazy, right? Well, welcome to the insanity called “sequestration.” Here’s why and how it could trickle down into your life. Here’s the truth and consequences of sequestration.

Of Sequester, Squander, and How Congress Sold Out the People

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say: “There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”

Robert Reich | The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population. Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government. Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Obama on Sequester Impact: No Exaggeration to Struggling Families Facing a Pay Cut

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: “So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have – and there are lives behind that. And that’s real. And it’s not necessary – that’s the problem.”

ECONOMY

How Inequality Is Killing the Dinosaurs

dinosaurSalvatore Babones, Truthout: What killed the dinosaurs the first time around? Meteor? Global warming? Smoking? The culprit for the loss and destruction of what little is left of the dinosaurs today is economic inequality. Collectors argue that as long as they break no laws they should be free to collect what they want, be it art, coins, fossils. But let’s be serious: Who really wants a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus for the living room? Even if you’re allowed to buy one, who would?
According to CBS News legal correspondent John Miller, the buyers are “wealthy people who want something really interesting for their friends to talk about put under their key light in their basement for their 70 dinner guests.”

After the Sequester: Can We Create Better Jobs for Military Employees?

James Trimarco, Op-Ed: The sequester, a set of massive budget cuts required by the ongoing debt ceiling deal, will slash billions from Medicare, education, and other programs that benefit our society’s neediest if it goes through. That’s bad news if you care about those people. But there’s also something to like about it: the largest share of the cuts would come from the military. Many of us have been calling for such cuts for decades, and we should celebrate the possibility of finally getting what we’ve been asking for—even if it comes as the result of Republican demands for austerity. But we should also stand with those who will lose their jobs as a result of defense-budget cuts.

Debt” Campaign Exposed

Amy Goodman, Video Report: With the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday, The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first.

While Republicans Warn Against ‘Greece,’ That is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead U.S.

image

Joe Conason, Op-Ed: Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison — but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.

HEALTH
4 Common Dangers Lurking in Your ‘Health’ SupplementsAnthony Gucciardi, News Report: In a world where health consciousness is increasingly more popular each day, major corporations have entered the health supplements marketplace under new ‘health’ brands in an attempt to soak up some of the profits. In doing this, these corporations that truly do not have any concern for the actual quality of their products tend to cut costs by using dangerous fillers and additives that pose a serious risk to your health. A risk that is particularly concerning when considering that these supplements are supposed to enhance your health.

Native American Women Demand Rightful Access to Emergency Contraception

imageBy Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project & Charon Asetoyer, CEO, Native American Community Board at 2:31pm

Imagine being denied emergency contraception after a sexual assault; to not even be informed about the steps you can take to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; and to later find yourself pregnant as a result of the rape.

For thousands of Native American women this is reality.  Read the full article here

Price-gouging in ‘Free Market’ Medicine

Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here’s a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality. Medicare bringing down health care costs? “Ha, ha, ha,” says the program’s foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.

CULTURE WAR / HUMAN RIGHTS / VOTING RIGHTS

“A Racial Entitlement” – The Right to Vote

image

Written by  Benjamin Jealous; Joan Walsh | Portside

“It no longer surprises me when extremist state legislators try to restrict our voting rights. I don’t like it and we fight against it, but I’m no longer surprised by it.” “What surprises and outrages me is that yesterday a Supreme Court Justice said that the protection of the right to vote is a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.'” Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP

Report: Campaign Law Changes Hasten Power Imbalance Between Rich, Poor

Dave Levinthal, News Report: The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means—a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation’s campaign laws. That’s the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” The 39-page report, entitled “Stacked Deck,” paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.

Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Headed for President’s signature

Kristen Lombardi, News Report: The House of Representatives passed federal legislation aimed at combating campus sexual violence on Thursday, including it in a bipartisan renewal of the Violence Against Women Act following months of congressional gridlock. The Senate has already approved the measure, which means passage is virtually assured; President Barack Obama could sign it into law as early as next week. In a vote of 286 to 138, House members approved a reauthorization of VAWA that incorporates, as Section 304, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE.

AGRICULTURE

Monsanto’s Patents on Life

Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, News Analysis: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a seed patent infringement case that pits a small farmer from Indiana, 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech goliath Monsanto. Reporters from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee dissected the legal arguments. They speculated on the odds. They opined on the impact a Monsanto loss might have, not only on genetically modified crops, but on medical research and software.

Maine Quietly Mounting Massive Support for Historic GMO Labeling Bill

imageFrits Kreiss, News Report: For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecedented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law. This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.

ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE

Will ALEC Block EPA Coal Pollution Safeguards at Illinois’ Controversial Prairie State Energy Campus?

Connor Gibson, News Analysis: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Illinois-based Prairie State Energy Campus, a combined coal mine and power plant spearheaded by Peabody Energy, co-owned by eight public power companies based in the Midwest. Numerous cost overruns from construction delays and equipment problems at the Campus resulted in customers in several states having to pay for power well above market price. While Peabody defends Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) from SEC scrutiny, a corporate front group has developed copycat legislation that could exempt dirty projects like PSEC from national clean air and water laws.

U.S. Security Establishment Increasingly Worried about Climate Change

Joe Hitchon, News Report: More than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress and military leaders are warning of the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security, the latest in an indicator that U.S. intelligence and national security circles are increasingly worried about a warming planet. In a new bipartisan open letter, they stress the need for urgent action and call on both public and private support to address issues that included forced migration and the displacement of vulnerable communities, as well as the dangers related to food production during extreme weather events.


8 Ways Corporations are Poisoning Our Food, Water, the Earth
Mike Barrett, News Report: While we may be under the impression that our system of government is here to protect us, corporations—and the politicians getting paychecks from them—do a fair job of making that difficult. This manner of “legislative capture” is manifesting itself in a host of appalling ways far beyond those listed here. Here are 8 ways corporations are poisoning our food supply, humans, and mother earth.

ENERGY

Cape Wind Still Hopeful to Construct America’s First Wind Farm

imageAshley Curtin, News Report: Harnessing the power of wind off the coast of Cape Cod was the vision business owner Jim Gordon had in mind to provide renewable clean energy to the New England area. And in 2001, Gordon and his independent power company, Energy Management Inc., pursued the idea of converting solar energy into mechanical power and Cape Wind was born. The energy conservation project, which began development in 2001, will be America’s first offshore wind farm, but legal battles and potential federal budget cuts might stall the construction of the wind farm.

It’s Tar Sands, Not Just the Pipeline, that Threaten the Climate

William Boardman, News Analysis: The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast. TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report.

Millions of Acres of Land — Larger Than California and Florida Combined — Already Leased to Oil and Gas Industry

Amy Mall, News Report: According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, seventy of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the U.S. held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area greater than California and Florida combined. Given the sordid environmental history of oil and gas development that has already occurred across the U.S., NRDC is extremely concerned about the additional harmful environmental, health and safety impacts that oil and gas development of this magnitude will bring in the future.

NATIONAL SECURITY / DOD / WAR

‘Homeland Security’

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, Op-Ed: Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit. Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm. For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.

The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

imageCora Currier and Justin Elliott, News Analysis: Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.”

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

Cora Currier, News Report: Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren’t confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedlymay account for the majority of strikes.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Poland, in Crisis, Cuts Public Transport, Stranding Thousands

Pawel Wita, News Analysis: Poland was widely praised as the European state least touched by the financial crisis in 2008. Its economy grew even when all of its neighbors, including Germany, were in recession. With the wave of funds provided by the European Union in recent years, the country managed to connect its major cities by freeway and improve its infrastructure with shiny new sports fields. But these types of development are only one side of the coin. In Poland’s version of modernization, like in many other places, the biggest advantages have gone to cities while the countryside has become ever more marginalized.

(And if you look around the U.S., most of the infrastructure builds have taken place in urban instead of rural areas.  Is the GOP taking us the way Poland just chose to go?)

CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITY (AND INACTIVITY)

Under Obama, More Appointments Go Unfilled

Theodoric Meyer, News Analysis: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has had only a single member since January and can’t issue decisions. And the Election Assistance Commission hasn’t had any commissioners at all since 2011. All presidential administrations have vacancies. But an analysis of appointments data by ProPublica shows that President Obama hasn’t kept up with his predecessors in filling them. A greater share of presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation were sitting vacant at the end of Obama’s first term than at the end of Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s first terms.

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

imageNorman Solomon, Op-Ed: For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing. While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

THE NRA

NRA to African Americans: You’ll Need Guns to Protect Yourselves From the Government
Igor Volsky, News Report: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is increasing its outreach to African Americans with a new campaign that links the Civil Rights struggle and nonviolent resistance to gun ownership, arguing that blacks need firearms to protect themselves from the government. The video is part of an effort by the gun lobby to grow the organization’s appeal beyond a mostly white, middle-class membership and attribute high rates of gun violence in some African American communities to “culture” rather than the prevalence of guns.(Yeah … and then once you have those guns … they’ll turn around and vilify you as a criminal. Humor me — Just do a Google search for “guns NRA” … how many “black gun owners” do you NOT see?  Is that a subtle racist meme … if a white guy has a gun, he’s a protector, a hunter … but if a black guy has a gun … he’s a criminal and should be locked up.)

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States offers selected state-level briefs focused on the local impact of looming automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration and historically high levels of Pentagon spending.

On March 1, unless Congress acts, billions of dollars will be cut from domestic programs and the Pentagon. But while these cuts will have a devastating impact on many domestic programs, the Pentagon is better positioned to absorb them due to the significant growth in military spending over the past decade.

Highlights of the release focus on critical domestic programs that could see their funding cut if sequestration goes into effect, and the impact that modest reductions in Pentagon spending could have to safeguard these programs, such as:

  • A $50 billion cut in Pentagon spending could fund five years of Community Development Block Grants AND five years of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) AND four years of Homeless Assistance Grants.
  • Military spending has grown by 35 percent since 2002, 48 percent if you include war costs. Domestic discretionary spending grew by only 8 percent over that period.
  • Funding for FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program has been cut by 53 percent over the last three years. Sequestration would reduce the program’s $100 million FY2013 proposed budget by $5.1 million.
  • At the University of Virginia the Virginia share of total projected Pentagon spending for Fiscal Year 2013, $16 billion, would fund all in-state expenses of a four-year education for each incoming freshman class for the next 46.3 years.

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Read the full report published by the National Priorities Project