Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Bush Tax Cuts at the Root of America's Fiscal Problem

Republicans have argued incessantly that the 2001 Bush tax cuts are not the reason America is in the fiscal mess we find our nation struggling to overcome today. Now, a senior policy analyst on Ronald Reagan's and George H. W. Bush's administrations tells us otherwise.

Bruce Bartlett, in a July 26th op ed piece, tells us how a projected $6 trillion surplus under Bill Clinton, turned into a $6 trillion deficit as a result of the Republicans' ideologically driven fiscal mismanagement under George W. Bush. In the same piece, Bartlett points out that despite the facts, Republicans have continued to misrepresent the results of the Bush tax cuts, stating categorically that they did not reduce revenues, when in fact the did, and that they stimulated the economy, when we all know for a fact that they did not.

Republican ideologues want a smaller federal government. A government without a Department of Education. A government without an Environmental Protection Agency. A government with only the barest minimum role in protecting older Americans, children, and the disabled. A government that doesn't interfere in Wall Street's financial shenanigans, or in the manipulation of tax loopholes by corporations. If they have to bankrupt the country to get what they want -- so be it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Republican Zealots Threaten America's Security

Based on an article by Nicholas Kristof in the NYT, 7/23/2011

We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security this summer doesn’t come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.

House Republicans start from a legitimate concern about rising long-term debt. Politicians are usually focused only on short-term issues, so it would be commendable to see the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party seriously focused on containing long-term debt. But on this issue, many House Republicans aren’t serious, they’re just obsessive in a destructive way. The upshot is that in their effort to protect the American economy from debt, some of them are willing to drag it over the cliff of default.

Republican zealots yelling about America's debt and the Democrat's "tax and spend" policies are in fact, fanatics willing to ruin our economy in order to have their way. No tax hikes, no way, no how. No new revenue, not even from corporations that pay no taxes, like General Electric. Not even from corporations like Exxon-Mobile that are making billions in profits and still accepting taxpayer handouts in the form of government subsidies.

No, the Republican Tea Party members and sympathizers would rather cut programs that can serve to bolster America's long term economic recovery, keep America at the forefront of science and technology, educate our young people, and help the elderly and disabled. That's the Republican way. It's always been the Republican way (During the 1960s Ronald Reagan was the key participant in an American Medical Association (AMA) sponsored campaign to prevent the enactment of Medicare).

Republicans under George W. Bush drove the American economy into the toilet with unwarranted tax cuts for the wealthy, a prescription drug program that has cost over $549 billion and was not paid for, and two costly wars that were not only not paid for, but were underway when Republicans slashed taxes. It was no less than fiscal criminal negligence.

Now Republicans are feigning righteous indignation over the Nation's enormous national debt and preparing to stand firm on their demands for massive cuts to social programs and no new taxes. Well, to hell with them!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Richard Francis Burton and John Henning Speke

Early 1900s map of British East Africa
We saw the movie, Mountains of the Moon via Netflix this week. It was badly done (to say it was melodramatic would be an understatement) but the subject was very interesting -- the 1856-59 East African explorations of Sir Richard F. Burton and John Henning Speke. Both are fascinating men, especially Burton, who can be thought of as the proto-anthropologist/ethnographer/explorer. Speke is credited by most with discovering the source of the Nile (Lake Victoria, which he named), but Burton disputed his claim on the basis of insufficient scientific evidence. The dispute unfortunately, destroyed their friendship. Both men endured incredible dangers and daunting hardships in their explorations, both together and separately. Burton was knighted in 1886. Speke died in 1864 of a self-inflicted wound while hunting, which some claim was a suicide.

Sir Richard F. Burton
John Henning Speke

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Hell with Future Generations!

A House spending bill passed in February 2011 would stop the EPA from enforcing new limits on toxic emissions, such as mercury, from cement plants and from updating air pollution standards on dust and other coarse particulate matter that exacerbate asthma and lung ailments. It withdraws funding for the enforcement of dredge and fill regulations that the EPA recently used to halt a big mountaintop-removal coal project in West Virginia. And of course, it removes funding for climate change mitigation efforts.

Coal ash pond rupture near Kingston, TN, late 2008.

Using the Nation's budget crisis as their cudgel, Republicans are moving aggressively to rollback government policy, regulations, and programs that they have long held in contempt, including programs put in place (with bipartisan support) to protect the health and safety of Americans, and preserve America's incomparable natural beauty.

One of their key targets is the Environmental Protection Agency and its program to curb greenhouse gas emissions, and to boost climate-related research.

Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, will head the House Appropriations Committee. He will reign in dollars allocated to the "run amok" EPA and their efforts to deal with climate change; efforts Rogers claims will "devastate" Kentucky's coal industry.

The incoming Chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee (believe or not) is 87 year-old Ralph Hall, R-Texas, a major recipient of oil money, who is willing to spend time and money investigating climate scientists, but apparently not on climate research. At his age, he's probably thinking, "why worry?"

Hall's Vice Chair, Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, says climate scientists are frauds and fascists (does it take one to know one?). Paul Broun, R-Georgia, Chairman of the Investigations and Oversight Committee, supports his colleague's view, stating that climate change concerns are a hoax perpetrated by a scientific community bent on getting federal dollars (and no doubt by the perfidious Al Gore, trying to sell his books).

Perhaps my favorite climate change denier is Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois, who heads the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, He tells us that global warming isn't something to worry about because God said he wouldn't destroy the earth after Noah's flood.

But Republicans aren't satisfied with gutting climate research; they want to rollback regulations on clean air, clean water, and endangered species.

Nothing "endangered" about these species. Rep. Paul Broun, R-GA, has them preserved in his office.
Representative Broun seems to equate his ideological opponents with terrorists. In his invocation for a GOP-sponsored barbecue in Cobb County he prayed, "Father, there are many who want to destroy us from outside this nation. Folks like al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists. But there are folks that want to destroy us from inside, the progressives and the socialists..."

Broun and his Republican cohorts have devised a plan for countering the Progressives radical attack on America; they will defund clean air and clean water regulations. Apparently, Republicans plan to hunker down in cigar lounges drinking single malt scotch, so will be safe from air or water pollution. Who knows what these wingnuts are thinking?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Dynamic Between Aerosols and CO2

The Datong Coal-Fired Power Plant in China
Given the widely noted increase in the warming effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations, it has been unclear why global surface temperatures did not rise between 1998 and 2008. We find that this hiatus in warming coincides with a period of little increase in the sum of anthropogenic and natural forcings. Declining solar insolation as part of a normal eleven-year cycle, and a cyclical change from an El Nino to a La Nina dominate our measure of anthropogenic effects because rapid growth in short-lived sulfur emissions partially offsets rising greenhouse gas concentrations. As such, we find that recent global temperature records are consistent with the existing understanding of the relationship among global surface temperature, internal variability, and radiative forcing, which includes anthropogenic factors with well known warming and cooling effects.
Robert K. Kaufmann, et. al, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 2, 2011.

U.S. Climate: The New Normal

Pine Bark Beetle expanding its destructive rampage due to warming
Comparing average temperatures year round, every state experienced warmer temperatures in 1981–2010 compared to 1971–2000.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Consequences of Failure to Raise the Debt Ceiling

America's debt ceiling is currently set at $14.294 trillion. Our accrued debt hit that mark 6 weeks ago, on the morning of May 16. The US Treasury (you know, the place you sent your taxes April 15) suspended investments into Federal Retirement Funds (like the one that pays my military pension) in order to extend the US borrowing limit until August 2. After that, America defaults, we don't pay the bills for things we've already "bought."

Foreign holders on US bonds might dump a bunch and stop buying them in the future. That would drive up the cost of borrowing and the cost of everything else, as well. BTW, you know who pays the bill if it costs the Treasury more to borrow? Taxpayers like us. The politicking over this issue has already caused a loss of confidence in the dollar, which could, in the long term, lead to a downgrade in the US credit rating. Bad news for borrowing.

A default could lead to a run on money market funds and we could see financial firms going the way of Lehman Brothers. Next thing you know, banks and investment firms aren't lending. There goes any hope of economic recovery. It goes without saying that stock markets around the world will take a nose dive. What did your 401K lose in the 2008 crash, 30%, 40%? It will be worse this time.

The government might have a partial shutdown; federal pension payments might be suspended (there goes my military pension); social security payments might be suspended (Republicans would like to see them eliminated altogether -- they thought it was a bad idea in the first place); states might cease to receive Medicaid funding; and so on. Bad news all the way around.

Now here's the kicker. It's unconstitutional (under the 14th Amendment) for the US not to pay its debts, debt ceiling or no debt ceiling. Thus, the president can declare default unconstitutional and arrange to pay the nation’s debts unilaterally. Maybe that's what Republicans are hoping for. Then they can use President Obama's "authoritarian spendthrift ways" against him in the 2012 election. Nah, they wouldn't be that crass, would they?

A good Q & A on the debt ceiling and the potential consequences of default can be found here.