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Archive for May 18th, 2011

Krauthammer on Newt: ‘He’s Done’

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:47 am by HL

Krauthammer on Newt: ‘He’s Done’
On Fox News yesterday, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer said that the presidential aspirations of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have been dashed by his criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan (R). “He’s done,” Krauthammer said. “He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning but now it’s over.”



Who needs friends, with enemies like these?

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:46 am by HL

Who needs friends, with enemies like these?
Republicans lose a few nuts in the Presidential race, but may gain a one-man assortment.

pic via monkey_bob99x at flickr.com

As those of you who read this blog know, Firedoglake is not exactly loaded up with Barakophiles like certain creamsicle-hued blogs.  We’re progressives, which means the Obama White House is often a huge disappointment. That, I guess, beats tragedy, if not farce.

But whether we’re disappointed or not, there’s not a lot of incentive for the Obama Administration to change if the opposition pushes candidates that are cartoons.

In the last week, Trump ended his quadrennial ratings grab of a mock campaign after becoming a laughing stock, serving as the perfect foil to bury birthers. Mike Huckabee, most liked of a cast of universally repellant characters also bowed out. Now Gingrich is imploding as spectacularly as his past marriages.   The latter doing so, while forcing Republicans to defend the otherwise despised Paul Ryan medicare elimination plan.  Rick Santorum is not only “loathsome for the course”, but possibly the dumbest human being on Earth and that other habitable planet we might have discovered.

Obama may unilaterally negotiate to a maddening degree, but the GOP is suddenly self-triangulating to the point of suffocation in way a fundamentalist in a two-ply wetsuit could appreciate in his auto-erotic last moments.

And it only gets better as who is riding to the rescue but this guy!

John Bolton has his first New Hampshire trip as a potential presidential candidate on the calendar.

Late Late Night FDL: Milk Shakin’ Mama
Dan Hicks and his Hot LicksMilk Shakin’ Mama featuring Lickettes Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg, on The Flip Wilson Show, September 27, 1972.

Dan Hicks and his Hot LicksMilk Shakin’ Mama featuring Lickettes Maryann Price and Naomi Eisenberg, on The Flip Wilson Show, September 27, 1972.

What’s on your mind?


One Lawman With the Guts to Go After Wall Street

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:45 am by HL

One Lawman With the Guts to Go After Wall Street
The fix was in to let Wall Street off the hook once and for all for its role in the Great Recession … until last week when the attorney general of New York refused to go along.

By Robert Scheer

The fix was in to let Wall Street off the hook once and for all for its role in the Great Recession … until last week when the attorney general of New York refused to go along.


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HuffPost TV: WATCH: Howard Fineman Discusses Newt Gingrich On ‘Hardball’

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:44 am by HL

HuffPost TV: WATCH: Howard Fineman Discusses Newt Gingrich On ‘Hardball’
HuffPost’s Howard Fineman appeared Tuesday on MSNBC’s ‘Hardball with Chris Matthews’ to discuss Newt Gingrich. Matthews brought up Gingrich’s recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s…

Richard (RJ) Eskow: The Social Security/Medicare “Crisis” Is Really a Choice – Between the Middle Class and the Wealthy
We’re being told that there’s a “crisis” and we can no longer afford the middle-class American dream. The truth is the opposite: Our worst long-term problems aren’t caused by the middle class, but by politicians who sacrifice the middle class for wealthy interests.

Steve Lombardo: LCG Election Monitor — May 17, 2011: A Good Three Weeks for Obama, But Economic Pessimism Continues
Forget all the political commentary over the last three weeks: the fact is, the killing of bin Laden helped Obama. Not as much as the White House would like, nor as little as Republicans would like to think.

Boehner Makes Inroads With Silicon Valley Powerhouses
With local heroines including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Silicon Valley has long been perceived to be a stronghold of the…


Fox Launches Misleading Attack On Postal Service

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:42 am by HL

Fox Launches Misleading Attack On Postal Service

On Fox & Friends, Fox Business host Stuart Varney attacked the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for seeking a “bailout” because if it “were run like a business,” the USPS would be “cutting costs” and wouldn’t need federal assistance. In fact, the USPS has been cutting costs for years, and like the USPS, hundreds of private businesses have recently received federal assistance

Postal Service Facing Insolvency, Seeking Congressional Action

National Journal: “The U.S. Postal Service Has Lost $2.6 Billion So Far This Year And Will Require Significant Help From Congress To Get Back On Track.” From the National Journal:

The U.S. Postal Service has lost $2.6 billion so far this year and will require significant help from Congress to get back on track, officials said on Tuesday. During a board meeting, Postal Service leaders reported large losses through the second quarter of 2011. USPS lost $1.9 billion in that same period in fiscal 2010. The agency continues to face long-term financial challenges and despite significant cost reductions will reach its statutory borrowing limit by the end of the fiscal year and default on a number of obligations to the federal government, officials said.

[…]

Chief Financial Officer Joseph Corbett said the Postal Service does not expect to meet its cash obligations this year, including a $5.5 billion prepayment to its retiree health benefits fund, due Sept. 30. A $2.8 billion prefunding requirement for these benefits, along with a $700 million workers’ compensation liability, contributed to the $2.6 billion fiscal 2011 loss. [National Journal, 5/10/11]

Varney Falsely Claims USPS Looking “For A Bailout,” Instead Of Cutting Costs “Like A Business”

Varney Falsely Claims Postal Service Is Not “Cutting Costs” And Is Giving Union Workers “A Pay Increase.” On the May 17 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, the co-hosts brought on Fox Business host Stuart Varney to discuss the announcement that the US Postal Service has been continuing to lose money and is now seeking federal assistance. From the broadcast:

CARLSON: The [United States Postal Service is] now asking Congress to cover health care obligations for their retired workers.

KILMEADE: … Reports are that the costs could be anywhere from $50 to $75 billion. Stuart Varney says it’s the same old government story. But this is huge numbers at a very, at an unprecedented time.

VARNEY: In 1970, the law was changed. It became from the post office to the United States Postal Service. It’s supposed to be run like a business. It’s not happening. The postal service is going to lose $42 billion in the next four years. They are flat broke. They cannot afford to pay into their pension fund. They’ve gone to — the union, actually, has gone to Congress, which is sponsoring a $50 to $75 billion bailout for the postal service. Extraordinary stuff.

CARLSON: And this is for the pensions of the workers?

VARNEY: Yes, it’s for pensions — because they can’t afford to pay the pensions of retired postal workers. OK? They haven’t got the money to put into that fund. It’s running out. It’s going broke.

CARLSON: I seem to recall a couple of years ago where we were talking about the immense salary of the gentleman who ran the post office.

VARNEY: Well — the postal workers, the union, 205,000 of them, they’ve just gotten a pay increase. Three and a half percent spread over four years. They’ve got a no layoff clause built into that. And they’re getting cost of living allowances. So they’re getting a pay raise. As the postal service loses more and more money — now, if it really was run like a business, they’d be cutting costs left, right and center. But it’s not run like a business. So they’ve gone to the government for a bailout. And they’re likely to get it.

CARLSON: They are?

KILMEADE: Stuart, I am surprised —

VARNEY: Yes. Because they’ve got political support.

KILMEADE: But I am surprised along with that doesn’t come some strings to reorganize and have more payments into — just like what we’re seeing Governor Cuomo, who gave a big speech on Long Island — tell all the state workers, you’ve got a new deal that’s coming your way. And you’re paying more.

VARNEY: Fair point. But you cannot change the postal service. You can’t close a post office, you can’t reduce service without Congress’ approval. So you’ve got to get that. That’s why it is a politicized organization, not like private enterprise. They’re totally different.

CARLSON: But can’t Congress say to them, here are the parameters in which we will give you additional money?

VARNEY: Yes. Yes. But this is another bailout, on top of General Motors, Fannie and Freddie, the banks — you name it. They all got bailouts. Here’s another one. You can see it coming down the pike right at you.

KILMEADE: So the only losers are the taxpayers unlike the auto bailout where there were losers.

VARNEY: That’s correct. We’re losing a lot of money on the postal service because of electronic mail. How do you compete with that? You can’t shrink the postal service — you bail it out. We lose. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/17/11]

But USPS Has Cut Costs And Seeks Additional Cost-Cutting Measures

In 2009, USPS Closed Six District Offices, Cut 50 Million Workhours, Halted Construction Of New Post Offices, And Froze Salaries Of Postal Service Officers And Executives. The USPS has been cutting costs for the past several years, as mail volume has declined. From a March 2009 press release from the USPS: 

With no signs of economic recovery in sight, the U.S. Postal Service is taking bold actions in response to its ongoing financial crisis. Today the Postal Service announced it would be closing six of its 80 district offices, eliminating positions across the country and offering another early retirement opportunity. These actions are expected to save the Postal Service more than $100 million annually.

[…]

In the past year the Postal Service has taken very aggressive cost-cutting actions, including:

  • Cutting 50 million workhours;
  • Halting construction of new postal facilities;
  • Negotiating an agreement with the National Association of Letter Carriers that adjusts letter carrier routes to reflect diminished volume;
  • Freezing salaries of all Postal Service officers and executives;
  • Instituting a nationwide hiring freeze;
  • Reducing authorized staffing levels at postal headquarters and area offices by at least 15 percent;
  • Selling unused and under-utilized postal facilities;
  • Adjusting Post Office hours to better reflect customer use; and,
  • Consolidating mail processing operations. [USPS.com, 3/20/09]

 

Reuters: “U.S. Post Office Looks To Cut Costs As Mail Drops.” From a March 2010 Reuters article:

The U.S. Postal Service, faced with a dwindling number of customers and growing shortfalls, plans to raise prices, cut costs and ask for rule changes to make the struggling service more flexible, Postmaster General John Potter said on Tuesday.

Because of email and private delivery companies, mail volume is expected to be down about 10 billion pieces in 2010 with first class mail expected to drop 37 percent by 2020, leaving the service with a cumulative shortfall that could hit $238 billion by 2020, USPS said in a press release.

[…]

USPS, which delivers nearly half of the world’s mail, has posted net losses since 2007. It faces stiff competition from email as well as FedEx (FDX.N) and United Parcel Service (UPS.N).

Potter outlined a series of efforts to save money, including restructuring retiree health benefits, changing delivery schedules, and expanding efforts to sell stamps and provide other services online and at grocery stores and other retailers.

“If given the flexibility to respond to an evolving marketplace, the postal service will continue to be an integral part of the fabric of American life,” Potter said in the release.

In February, USPS posted a loss of $297 million for the first quarter of its fiscal year, blaming the recession and the use of electronic mail.

The loss marked a slight improvement over the prior-year period due to cost cutting, but USPS warned the trend was worrisome.

[Reuters, 3/2/10]

 

Wash. Post: “Despite The Losses, USPS … Cut About 9.6 Million Work Hours … [And] Plans To Cut About 7500 Administrative And Postmaster Positions By Next Spring.” From a recent post on the Washington Post blog Post Politics:

The U.S. Postal Service reported $2.2 billion in losses during its second quarter, continuing several quarters of historic losses amid declining mail volume and financial obligations to prefund worker retirement benefits.

[…]

Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe renewed his hope that Congress will act soon to give him more flexibility to set delivery routes and repeal a law requiring USPS to pay about $5.4 billion to prefund future retiree benefits.

“The Postal Service may return to financial stability only through significant changes to the laws that limit flexibility and impose undue financial burdens,” Donahoe said Tuesday in a statement.

Postal officials have long argued that without that law, its losses would be much less significant.

Despite the losses, USPS also cut about 9.6 million work hours; the total postal workforce numbered 571,566 in March, a drop of about 6,700 from the previous year, officials said.

The Postal Service plans to cut about 7,500 administrative and postmaster positions by next spring. So far, about 2,000 staffers have taken buyouts. [Washington Post, Post Politics, 5/10/11]

 

National Journal: Postal Service Seeks Reform Of Workers’ Comp Program For Additional Savings. From the National Journal:

The Postal Service could save $37.8 million annually through reform of its workers’ comp program, however, according to recent findings from the USPS inspector general. Under the 1916 Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, which provides basic compensation and medical, rehabilitation and death benefits for government workers injured on the job, base payouts amount to two-thirds of salary for disabled employees with no dependents and 75 percent for those with one or more dependents. The Postal Service paid $1 billion in workers compensation in 2010, along with $61 million in administrative fees.

Under a Labor Department proposal, basic compensation for total disability would be 70 percent of salary. Benefits would drop to 50 percent, however, when the employee reaches retirement, defined as between ages 65 and 67, or one year after payments begin, whichever is later. According to the OIG report, nearly 2,800 postal employees over the age of 65 receive workers’ comp, including 705 who are older than 80.

According to Corbett, the Postal Service is seeking support in Congress to make changes to the workers’ comp program. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in February introduced a bill that would reduce federal workforce costs by converting employees on workers’ compensation to the appropriate retirement system when they reach retirement age. [National Journal, 5/10/11]

New USPS Union Contract Would Cut Total Wages, Not Increase Them

Proposed USPS Union Contract Would “Freeze Wages For The First Two Years Of The 4 ½ Year Contact.” Contrary to Varney’s claim that postal service workers have “just gotten a pay increase,” Bloomberg reported in April that the USPS’s proposed contract agreement with the American Postal Workers Union would freeze worker wages for “the first two years of the 4 ½ year contract.” [Bloomberg, 4/5/11]

Donahoe: Contract “Leads To Wage Savings Of $1.8 Billion Over The Term Of The Agreement.” From a transcript of the testimony of Postmaster General Patrick Donahue at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Hearing on April 5, which was called, “Are Postal Workforce Costs Sustainable?”: 

Since 2008, we have reduced 110,000 employees, and $11 billion in costs. We recently announced the reduction of an additional 7,500 managerial positions.

Our total full-time career complement today is 572,000 employees. We will continue to reduce the number of full-time career employees, thereby reducing our legacy costs. By 2020, the Postal Service workforce will be less than 400,000.

[…]

This tentative agreement [with the American Postal Workers Union] also provides immediate cost relief by freezing wages for the first two years, and leads to wage savings of $1.8 billion over the term of the agreement. We negotiated structural changes that resulted in a two-tier career pay schedule for new employees that is 10.2 percent below the existing schedule.

We will also be able to increase the use of non-career employees from the 5.9 percent today with restrictions, to roughly 20 percent totally unrestricted. These changes provide a $1.9 billion benefit. [From the testimony of John Donahue, Congressional Documents and Publications, 4/5/11, accessed via Nexis]

Moreover, Hundreds Of Private Businesses Have Received Federal Assistance In The Past Few Years

ProPublica: 928 “Bailout Recipients” As Of May 6, Most Of Which Were Private Companies. ProPublica currently lists 928 organizations that have received “taxpayer money … in the ongoing bailout of the financial system.” The database includes “government-sponsored enterprise[s]” like Fannie Fae as well as private companies like banks, auto companies, insurance companies, and mortgage services. The site’s “scorecard” of the database indicates that the list was last updated on May 6. [ProPublica, accessed 5/17/11]


Ethanol Producer Wants To Make It Easier For Corn Farmers To Fund PAC

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:41 am by HL

Ethanol Producer Wants To Make It Easier For Corn Farmers To Fund PAC
The world’s largest ethanol producer wants to put a check box on their contracts with corn farmers to make it easier for them to donate to their political action committee.

Presented By:

TN GOPers Host Anti-Muslim Dutch Pol Who Once Called Islam ‘The Ideology Of A Retarded Culture’
If you like free barbecue and Islamophobia and you weren’t hanging with Tennessee Republicans on Thursday, you seriously missed out.


Obituary for planet earth?

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:39 am by HL

Obituary for planet earth?
It was a dismal cold day in May and the clocks had just sounded 0800 hours. The view from the Victory Mansions nestled high in the hills above Berkeley provided a reinforcement of the previous evening’s weather guess with a tableau of pewter skies and soggy ground. Uncle Rushbo was scheduled to read […]


Senate Budget Negotiations Collapse

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:38 am by HL

Senate Budget Negotiations Collapse
The Hill reports that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has pulled out of the “Gang of Six” senators working on a budget deal for fiscal year 2012. The breakdown was attributed to an impasse over reform of entitlements.

Said Coburn: “We can’t bridge the gulf of where we need to go on mandatory spending… There’s no reason to sit and talk about the same things over and over and not get any movement.”

First Read: “A Democratic source familiar with the talks says that Coburn brought new issues to the table at the last minute that prevented the group from coming to a deal and gave the members the indication he was not negotiating in good faith.”

Republican Advances to CA-36 Runoff
In a seemingly major upset, Craig Huey (R) appears to have captured one of the spots in a July 12 runoff in the race to replace former Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the Los Angeles Times reports. He will face Janice Hahn (D).

“Huey, a conservative businessman who pumped $500,000 of his own money into the race, faces long odds in the runoff, given the district’s strong Democratic tilt.”


Photo the Muslim World Needs to See

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:37 am by HL

Photo the Muslim World Needs to See
Over the last couple of days, I have talked to many senior level correspondents and executives at major Arabic news networks including but not limited to Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. I asked them what they thought their viewing audience…


Back to the Future: A Short True Tale of Unregulated Competition Policy
The great historian Maitland famously said, what is now in the past was once in the future. I do not know if the era of unregulated competition in wireless communications is yet in the past – that is for others…

Why Washington Should Pay Attention to the Economy Here and Now
After a week of non-stop Osama Bin Laden, Washington is now returning to the battle of the budget deficit and debt ceiling. All over Capitol Hill Republicans and Democrats are debating spending caps and automatic triggers, and whether to begin…


While Slashing Schools Funding, Christie Bails Out ?American Dream? Mall Boondoggle With $400 Million

Posted in Main Blog (All Posts) on May 18th, 2011 4:36 am by HL

While Slashing Schools Funding, Christie Bails Out ?American Dream? Mall Boondoggle With $400 Million

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has made a name for himself as a “strict fiscal conservative,” by slashing spending. The governor has championed budget cuts that eliminated hundreds of millons of dollars in education funding and is now taking aim at public workers, wanting to instate cutbacks that could almost quadruple health care costs for public workers.

Yet there appears to be one project that Christie does not mind subsidizing to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. For years, a group of developers have been building the Xanadu Meadowlands complex, a massive retail and entertainment complex — complete with indoor water park, skating rink, and 600-foot ski slope — that has been under construction for the past three governors. Yet despite $1.9 billion being spent on the project with little progress, Christie recently struck a deal with the company that built the Mall of America to rescue the project, at huge taxpayer expense.

Late last month, the deal was announced and Xanadu was renamed the American Dream @ Meadowlands. As a part of the deal, Christie will have the state up to $200 million in financing and will also forfeit a similar amount of sales tax revenue:

Though the Christie administration has criticized Xanadu, once calling it a “failed business model,” and the governor said he was uncomfortable getting the state involved in private development, the state would provide $180 million to $200 million in low-interest financing and forfeit a similar amount in future sales-tax revenue. The administration has argued that the project is too big and too far along to let it lie fallow.

“At a time when the governor has taken money from renewable energy and schools, he’s bailing out an ugly mall,” said the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, who is critical of the deal. Christie has defended the investment, saying the mall will “become what it was envisioned to be: an extraordinary destination. It’s getting a makeover, a new name, a new image…and we’ll make sure the sales tax revenue comes back to make this a successful project, get our investment back with responsible partners that we can trust.”

Yet even if Christie does think the boondoggle project — which has been in endlessly in construction since 2003 — will actually pay off in the end, one has to wonder why he feels like the mall is a valuable investment for the state’s taxpayers, but not schools, hard-working middle class public employees, or women’s health or the Hudson Tunnel.