Saturday, July 9, 2016

Last Call For The Age Of Austerity

If you've taken a flight anywhere this summer, you've been tied up in long TSA security check lines for hours, maybe even missing your flight as a result.  Guess what? As long as Republicans remain in charge of the House of Representatives and in state legislatures across the country, austerity cuts will only get worse.

This year, discretionary spending — which encompasses airport security, infrastructure, education, research and development and much more — will be lower than it was in 2005. (All spending figures are adjusted for inflation.)

For some, the reductions are dramatic. Since 2003, the National Institutes of Health, which supports critical research into diseases ranging from cancer to AIDS, have seen their funding fall by 23 percent, forcing an 8 percent reduction in grants to researchers even as applications were rising by 50 percent.

In the last decade, inflation-adjusted spending on all education has fallen by 11 percent, including more significant cuts in grants for K-12 programs and to school districts serving low-income students.

Since 2010, the Internal Revenue Service’s budget has been slashed by about 18 percent, even as the I.R.S. was given new duties in connection with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The result: The enforcement staff has shrunk by 23 percent, leading to a similar reduction in the number of audits.

And fewer audits have meant additional uncollected taxes, estimated at $14 billion over the past two years. Furthermore, almost a million pieces of correspondence from taxpayers await replies.

Then there’s the Environmental Protection Agency, whose budget has been cut by an enormous 27 percent — about $3 billion since 2010. As a result, over the same period the agency had to eliminate more than 2,000 workers, bringing its staffing to the lowest level since 1989. More problems like the poisoned water in Flint, Mich., are easy to imagine. 

And keep in mind, Republicans in Congress don't give a damn about the deficit, all they care about are tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, and for starving out as many executive agencies as they can.

Beginning last fall, sensible members of both parties on Capitol Hill recognized that these important areas needed bolstering, so $80 billion in new discretionary spending was authorized for the next two years.

But even with that increase and a similar one in December 2013, total spending on these programs will rise by barely the inflation rate between 2014 and 2017. (Happily, the N.I.H. and the I.R.S. will see modestly larger increases.)

Then, by sliding extra money to the military and Medicare, Congress nearly doubled the cost of the $80 billion deal to $154 billion while choosing to counterbalance only about half the tab with legitimate savings.

According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the remainder either wasn’t paid for at all ($56 billion) or was offset with phony cuts ($20 billion), like changing pension accounting to front-load corporate taxes.

A few months later, Congress went one step further and retroactively extended a raft of expired tax provisions — many of them egregious giveaways like accelerated depreciation for companies — without even a pretense of paying for them. As a result of the fiddling and fudging, the projected 2017 deficit rose to $561 billion, from the $416 billion that was estimated just six months earlier.

That's right: the cost of restoring some funding to the EPA and the IRS?  Extending corporate tax cuts that only made the deficit larger.

And that's how the government has worked for the last six years, and most likely another six at the minimum.

The Neighbors Are Worried About Us

Europe certainly has enough problems to deal with right now with the EU disintegrating, a stagnant economic picture at best, and the rise of violent ultra-nationalism. Needless to say, the problems we have here in the US aren't helping them one bit, and our friends across the pond are spooked, particularly in Paris where the wounds of terrorism are still fresh.

French President Francois Hollande told a NATO conference on Saturday that the U.S. presidential election should not put into question transatlantic relations.

Hollande said a European defense separate from NATO would not make any sense.

Of course, Donald Trump calls NATO obsolete and as president, says he would consider pulling out of the organization completely, so guess what, Francois? The US presidential election will definitely affect transatlantic relations.

Savage asked, “What would your first priority be as president?”

Trump’s answer was that, “Number one would be knock out some of the executive orders from Obama.” He said he would “start Keystone right away” because “we need jobs,” regardless of the fact that Keystone XL won’t create any jobs, as has been well-documented. Talking points know no facts, however.

That’s when Trump launched into his plan to turn the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into a pay-for-protection racket:

“I’d contact countries and I’d say, ‘folks, we love protecting you, we want to continue to protect you,’ but they’re not living up to their bargain. You know, you’re talking about billions and billions of dollars, Michael, numbers that you wouldn’t even believe. But they’re not living up to their bargain and you know we cannot continue to be the policeman for the world. Now, I don’t mind, but they have to pay, they have to pay. If you look at the NATO countries – 28 countries – they’re not living up to what they’re supposed to be living up to. They’re not paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which is very little by the way. So what are we supposed to get into World War III over a country that doesn’t respect us enough to even pay what they’re supposed to be paying?”

This alienating our allies, Trump assured Savage, will make “America a very strong country again.”

That’s right: Trump’s “What’s in it for me?” approach to life directed at foreign policy. At our allies. Nations with which we share a long mutual interest in security and a stable global economy. Republicans have long said the country should be run like a corporation, and Donald Trump intends to do just that.

Yeah, if I were France, I'd be pretty goddamn nervous too.

The Dangerous Days After Dallas

Needless to say, with five dead officers in Dallas, police across the nation aren't exactly in a tolerant mood of Black Lives Matter protests anymore, and a peaceful protest in Phoenix, Arizona last night turned brutal as cops in riot gear unloaded pepper spray and beanbags to end the demonstration nearly as quickly as it started. 

The protest following the police officer-involved shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile had been scheduled earlier in the week, with city authorities asking organizers to hold off after the tragic shooting deaths of police officers in Dallas the previous evening.

Undeterred, marchers showed up late Friday night and attempted to shut down the I-10 freeway when they were met by a phalanx of police in riot gear who blocked them and demanded that they disperse.

As the crowd chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot,” police unleashed wave after wave of pepper spray as the protestors fled, with police following some and making arrests.

According to police, three men were taken into custody for throwing rocks at officers, while six people were treated for injuries from the pepper spray or from falling as they ran.

The message is clear: we're all living in Ferguson, Missouri now.  Protest of police will no longer be tolerated in America.
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