Student loan legislation going, how you imagine it would.

So I wrote back on May 11th about Sen. Warren’s no-brainer proposal to head off oncoming increases in federal student loan interest rates by allowing students to borrow money at the same rates as banks.  As of July 1st, without some intervention the rates will double from 3.4% to 6.8%.

So what do the Republicans in the House do?  Propose a law that potentially actually jacks up the rates.  John Kline (R-MN) introduced a bill that links the rates to the rate of U.S. borrowing, or a “market-based” approach. (Head smack) Yeah, markets. Great.

Kline’s bill would replace the current fixed interest rate system with rates based on the yield of the 10-year Treasury Note, which was 1.97 percent as of Monday. Kline’s bill would tack on:

  • 2.5 percent for subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford Loans, with a cap at 8.5 percent (current rates are 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent respectively);
  • And 4.5 percent for graduate and Parent PLUS loans, capped at 10.5 percent (the current rate is 7.9 percent).

The rate borrowers pay would vary year to year, but students would have the option of consolidating their loans and locking in a fixed rate after graduation.

Are they kidding?  No, they never are.

Taibbi on Wall Street – Congress may not watch them but he does

It’s always so cute when Republicans will talk about how complicated a bill is, and brandish a stack of paper as if to say “if it’s this thick and complicated it got to be crap.”  Sometimes that’s just silly, of course, but often they’re right – it is a crap sandwich.  A crap sandwich that they put together in their nightmarish kitchen.  Like the tax code.  It wouldn’t be infinity pages if it hadn’t been bent and twisted into a legal pretzel so that the 1% and corporations and their tax attorneys and accountants can mine nuggets of gold out of all those pages of shit.  Nuggets placed there in secret by the lawmakers dragging those tomes around as props.

Shit is way more complex than it has to be and it’s always that way because the lobbyists (who pay the lawmakers off for access) get their greedy sticky fingers into it and lard it up with their wants and needs and/or poison pills.

It’s a strategy that the GOP and their lobbyist minions do to have it both ways: (1) their big business cronies get the fullest possible benefit from some piece of shit legislation while (2) the lawmakers complain to their base about what piece of shit legislation it is for fund raising purposes.

In regards to Dodd Frank, Taibbi lays out how.

It’s becoming an annual tradition: Spring rolls around, and while nobody is looking, Wall Street quietly lays siege to Washington and reaches a hand out to yank the last remaining teeth out of the government’s financial regulatory head…

But this is the key to understanding how financial lobbyists succeed in getting what it wants on the regulatory front: They never stop. It’s not a war of ideas, it’s a war of resources. You march up the Hill with some crazy idea about overturning a bill prohibiting bailouts of companies that engage in risky derivative trades, you get knocked down, and you march up again, then you march up again, and again . . .

With each successive attempt, you peel off a few more Committee members in the House, slowly but surely weakening resolve. And while you’re attacking on the legislative front, you also file a series of lawsuits that tie up the process by targeting reforms in court, and then you also send armies of lobbyists to sit in the laps of regulators during the rule-making process, so that key new laws (like the Volcker rule, designed to separate risky trading from federally-insured depository banking) are either written in reams of industry-friendly language, or delayed altogether.

No matter how bad your ideas are, and how unpopular they are (or, rather, would be, if anyone in the general public understood them and/or cared enough about them to complain to their congressional reps), you can still score huge wins just by continually attacking and chipping away…

Moreover, the Democrats have become the victims of their own pusillanimity on these issues. The main Wall Street argument against these new rules is that they’re excessive and onerously complicated. But they’re only complicated because the Democrats didn’t have the stones in the original Dodd-Frank debate to insist on simple concepts like putting all trades on open exchanges.

As usual, read the entire article to understand how deeply we’re being screwed. Oy!

Tone Policing Only Goes One Way – Amanda Marcotte

I like this piece a lot.  Amanda articulates a few issues that I find frustrating:

1. that false equivalence that lumps liberals rhetoric criticizing conservatives in with conservative rhetoric demonizing liberals. It’s not the same. There are different levels of tone here. The difference between saying “you’re a sexist” and “you’re a cunt” are not equivalent.

The thing about tone policing that is so galling to liberals particularly is it only goes one way. Even while the tone police cluck their tongues and accuse “both sides” of lowering the level of discourse, the only examples they ever give a crap about are the ones—often straw examples, of course–coming from the left. We saw this in Ron Lindsay’s speech at CFI, where he devoted time to the apparently world-shaking phenonemon of college-age anonymous blog commenters abusing the concept of privilege in arguments with trolls, but gave nary a nod to denouncing the bad faith arguments, stalking, and harassment that characterize the anti-feminists in the “debate”.

2. The constant conservative whine that criticism of their ideas is denying them free speech. But then even more galling is that some liberals will give them cover in the effort to be more fair than necessary.  In this context it was Michael Kinsley’s criticism of “the pro-gay police” for forcing homobigot Ben Carson to withdraw from speaking to Johns Hopkins.

It is worth noting that Carson routinely criticizes pro-gay people in ways that would probably make them feel uncomfortable speaking, say, in front of his church’s congregation. But only one kind of criticism of ideas is an assault on “free speech”: Liberals criticizing conservative ideas. Conservative ideas are so delicate that to criticize them is the same thing as banning them from being uttered allowed, and the fact that Carson seems to be able to go on TV routinely and share his point of view shouldn’t distract us from the fact that it’s a big meanie-head meanie thing to do to point out that the wrong people are wrong.

3. “Political correctness,” a term I hate because it is was created by the right to make light of and ridicule the people calling them out as racist, sexist and just plain RUDE, is always invoked by the right against the left, never the other way around. 

Indeed, the entire term “political correctness” relies on this unarticulated understanding that the only person who can ever be rude rendering judgment of the opinions of the other side is progressives. Conservatives bitch about liberals constantly, usually in much nastier fashions, but are pretty much never accused of trying to enforce their political correctness on liberals. Refraining from having an opinion about the other side’s opinions is strictly a moral obligation of the left in mainstream discourse.

Good Times were fueled by government taxing and spending supporting a vibrant private sector

We all know when the good times were, we agree on that – Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street we all know that the post World War II years the 50s, the 60s, through the 70s, despite disco even, those were the “good times.”

Our parents could buy a house, a car, put the kids through college, go on vacation, all on one paycheck, Mom could even stay home and pack the school lunch in the Davy Crockett lunch box and they could do all that and still retire to Florida at 65.

But what most people don’t realize with all the talk about how taxes in this country just can’t be raised, no matter what, (they turned a three letter word into a four letter word) and everyone’s convinced they’re paying too much taxes is that from 1946 through the early 60s the top marginal tax rate varied from 82.1% to 91% (from 1951-64)!

91% people!  

They raised the top rates to pay for WWII, and after the war the to allay the debt.  But a funny thing happened.  The people who made over $400,000 (the top tax bracket in 1946 just like today which seems ridiculous in the age of billionaires, no?) millionaires said, we don’t mind paying, so they kept it.  They kept the top rate at 91% so the Rockefellers and DuPonts paid higher taxes, and corporations paid higher taxes too (top rate 25%, but fewer dodges available), at the same time that unions were at their peak and a full one third of the labor force of the country belonged to a union, driving up wages for everybody… and guess what we did during that period?

  • Rebuilt Japan
  • Rebuilt Europe
  • Put a man on the moon
  • Built the interstate highway system
  • Built massive infrastructure projects like airports, bridges, tunnels, mass transit systems
  • Fought the cold war
  • Fought the Vietnam war (oops)
  • Built an educational system including a system of state colleges and universities that was the envy of the world
  • Fed the world
  • Cured diseases (polio, small pox)
  • Achieved more equality and class mobility than any society in the history of history

I mean we did all that and more and were the economic colossus of the world that grew and expanded and exploded with innovation and entrepreneurship and stuff that everyone around the world wanted.  And nobody, nobody said “I’m not going to invent something and get rich because the government is just going to take my money at 91%.” 

Nobody ever turned down being rich because of taxes.

The real answers are:

  1. Change the mindset that taxes are punitive, government is the bad guy and that small government is a worthy goal or rational possibility in a country of 310,000,000 people – the most intricately sophisticated society ever created.  
  2. Create more tax brackets that more fairly reflect the vast diversity of incomes. We have only 7 brackets today.  In the 20s and 30s there were dozens of brackets and as late as 1980 there were 16.  The flatter, less progressive taxes that the right argues for are not only less fair, they’re less sustainable.  The Progressive Caucus Budget included this model adding to the existing 7 brackets taking it up to a still historically low 12:
    • $1 – 10 million: 45%
    • $10 – 20 million: 46%
    • $20 – 100 million: 47%,
    • $100 million – $1billion: 48%
    • $1 billion and over: 49%

3. Unions to lift the middle class.

___________________

Find the data.org has a great chart to find the top income tax and capital gains tax rates for each year since 1913.

This Business Insider article The History of Tax Rates is very cool, lots of charts.

Forget the IRS and AP, our government has been spying on liberal groups FOREVER

1. Everyone with a central nervous system and an understanding of the facts regarding the overwhelmed civil servants in the IRS devising a short hand system to attempt to determine which of the bogus political action social welfare groups should get tax exemption knows that this “scandal” is less important than a 1st quarter NBA score.

2. Benghazi is just bullshit from every angle and anyone who buys into the GOP nonsense on that probably has trouble dressing themselves.

3. The AP story is complicated by claims of national security, which are probably just BS, but nevertheless when national security sneaks its snout under the tent everything goes kerflooey. My guess is it was handled all wrong, and the administration’s handling of whistleblowers in general has been as disappointing as their drug policy, but it’s not a “chilling” attack on free speech in a “Nixonian” manner that’s worse than Watergate – that I know!

NOTE: That nothing you ever hear about the GOP has anything to do with pushing actual policies that would make people’s lives better. The closest they come to a plan is their obsession with overturning Obamacare, which is their version of autistic head banging behavior (good news: covered by Obamacare!).  They are bereft of a rational and proven governing philosophy.  All they are left with is slogans to tickle the lizard brains of the country to get elected.  Their game plan is 0% to provide leadership and ideas, 100% to make the other guys unelectable.  That is all.

4. Actual armed to the teeth nutjobs in militia movements that threaten police and federal agents were given a pass by the GOP when the government issued an alarming report about these potentially violent anti-government activities and the GOP squelched it (sotto voce: because the wackos are their base, shhhh!); and

5. Not that anybody gives a shit about liberals, progressives and other dirty fucking hippies like OWS, but everything that Peggy Noonan imagines is happening to conservatives is actually happening to liberals:

  • How U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded “fusion center” personnel have spent endless hours gleefully monitoring their fellow Americans though Facebook and other social media, and how fusion centers nationwide have expended countless hours and tax dollars in the monitoring of Occupy Wall Street, bank activists and civil libertarians concerned about national security powers.

  • How some of these “counter terrorism” government employees applied facial recognition technology, drawing from a state database of driver’s license photos, to photographs found on Facebook in the effort to profile citizens believed to be associated with activist groups.

  • How corporations have become part of the “information sharing environment” with law enforcement/intelligence agencies through various public-private intelligence sharing partnerships—and how, through these partnerships, the homeland security apparatus has been focused on citizens protesting these corporations.

  • How private groups and individuals, such as Charles Koch, Chase Koch (Charles’ son and a Koch Industries executive), Koch Industries, and the Koch-fundedAmerican Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have hired off-duty cops—sometimes still armed and in police uniforms—to perform the private security functions of keeping undesirable people (reporters and activists) away from them. As was the case in an incident involving protests of ALEC, off-duty officers working on behalf of ALEC and the resort in which an ALEC conference was being held, led riot-gear-clad officers in the pepper spraying and arrests of several peaceful, law abiding protestors.

  • How law enforcement agencies in Phoenix, Arizona dispatched an undercover officer to infiltrate activist groups organizing both ALEC demonstrations and the launch of Occupy Phoenix—and how the work of this undercover infiltrator officer benefited ALEC and the private corporations that were the subjects of these activist demonstrations.

  • How “counter terrorism” personnel monitored the protest activities of citizens opposed to the “indefinite detention” language contained in National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (which CMD has filed an amicus brief against).

  • How the FBI applied “Operation Tripwire,” an initiative originally intended to apprehend domestic terrorists through the use of private sector informants, in their monitoring of Occupy Wall Street groups.

The history of FBI harassment of lefty activists and peace protesters including organizations like the NAACP and individuals like Martin Luther King, Jr. is very well documented. 9/11 brought back the rationalizations and the infrastructure to engage in spying like the CO-INTELPRO programs of the Nixon era dispatched against the Black Panthers and the anti-war movement.

With the post-9/11 shift from enforcing the law to “intelligence gathering,” numerous public rules as well as secret guidelines were altered to maximize the gathering of information about Americans without requiring any criminal predicate.

This report from the Center for Media and Democracy is a very interesting compendium of a modern abuses of individual rights that Peggy Noonan would find “chilling” if it was being done to conservatives, but since it’s “protecting” her from dirty fucking hippies, she’d probably find it comforting. 

First Commercial Hemp Crop Planted in 50 Years (Crossed Fingers, Knock Wood)

A farmer in Colorado, where hemp was legalized, along with recreational marijuana, last November, has planted 60 acres of industrial hemp in hopes that the federal government will actually allow him to grow and harvest it. Which makes him one of the most optimistic people in the country. 

Because that dank shit sustainable fiber is still straight-up Schedule I illegal, hemp farmers don’t qualify for federal crop insurance and other government benefits afforded to farmers of legal crops. And fear of reprisal is keeping many farmers and researchers away, even in states that say it’s OK.

Unfortunately, one of the baffling failures of the Obama administration has been its  determination to keep the massive and stupid drug war going and especially it’s inexplicable persecution of marijuana growers and sellers even for medical purposes, even in states that have chosen to decriminalize it. It’s always been a head-scratcher that the first President to admit smoking, inhaling and enjoying pot culture has been just as bad on this issue as his white, fatally unhip, Mad Men-era cocktail swilling law and order loving predecessors.  

Don’t really know if all the legends about the stuff are real or hyperbole. I’ve heard all my life about the amazing utility of hemp including the use of the fiber for paper and clothing, its biofuel potential, and more recently about the health benefits of eating the seeds, which are said to have a perfect balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids and other benefits.  Supposedly the stuff is amazingly sustainable and possibly even carbon neural. 

Of course without passage of a federal law similar to what Colorado and other states are considering, it’s just a (THC fueled?) dream.  The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 is going nowhere in Congress to date.  Although this time it was co-sponsored by 30 Congressman including Republicans from farming communities and not just Nutty Old Ron Paul. Like decriminalization itself, there’s a ground swell around allowing small farmers to explore this crop and that seems smart

Fuck Convenience

Convenience is killing us. 

I say that in regard, mostly, to how “convenience” food is anything but for ones health and well being, but what got me thinking about this was bank fraud.

I had to write a check on the joint account I have with my father to pay for his long term care facility so I went online to check the account. There’s virtually no activity in that account: his pension and SS come in and I write checks to the facility. So it was pretty noticeable when there were two checks written against the account for $1100 that should not be there. Two checks by a dude named “Richard Jones” in PA written to Kay Jewelers and, laughably, a bar (a bar that takes checks, apparently). The account numbers were the only legitimate part of the checks so “Richard Jones” in Bridgeport, PA gets to write checks on my father’s NJ account to buy cheap tequila and expensive earrings for his ladylove.  

The fact that a check written by “Richard Jones” in PA would be cashed against an account in NJ for someone whose name is not anywhere close to “Richard Jones” evidences that nobody is reading anything. They had the right account number so they go through. No cross check for name against account info. The computer was satisfied, the system worked, millions of transactions, the money flows in and out of accounts all over the world and even NJ.  The price paid for the lightning speed of finance is that it’s remarkably easy for “Richard Jones” to buy drinks and baubles with my father’s money. Convenience for him. Sudden inconvenience for me.

So long as people don’t take advantage of the system, it’s all good. But shit happens because there are shitty people who take advantage, and then what? Hours wasted trying to fix the situation. All in all even at the height of frustration dealing with the bank’s fraud department or the local cops (who demurred from even making a report because the crime took place in PA, so they’re relying on the bank’s fraud dept. to figure it out.), I guess I’ll take ATMs, online purchasing, instant credit and all the conveniences so long as the inconveniences are minimized. 

This led me back to food.  The key word that the food giants use in developing food products is “convenience”.  All the processed food in the middle aisles of the supermarket are there for your convenience so you don’t actually have to consider raw materials and spend time cooking them. Mac and cheese, frozen pizza, chips, cookies, pastas, etc. all created, developed and formulated to be irresistibly easy to buy and eat. And in the eating hit that “bliss point” so the fat, sugar and salt take your brain to paradise so you buy and eat more… like narcotics.

Numbers of people have been revolting from this convenience system for years now, eschewing the foods modified by the words “fast” and “processed”. Another word for the slow food movement could be “inconvenience food.” You have to shop daily for freshness, you have to travel to farmer’s markets, and you have to cook it yourself, taking time, effort, thought. Thought. You have to think about things that some people, apparently, just don’t want to think about. They just want delicious to happen.  They’re either taking it on faith that nutrition and health will follow, or, aware that it won’t, accept that it’s not a priority.

Every direction you turn your eyes in public you will see people who are conveniencing themselves to death. So the question is how convenient is it to be 55 years old, 70 pounds overweight, diabetic and missing part of your foot due to ever present “complications”?

The bank will put the money back in my dad’s account eventually, but your health is not as easy to “put back.” We need to be inconvenienced more.