Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief who was granted asylum earlier on August 16, delivered a speech from the balcony of the Ecuador embassy in London, where he has been holed up for two months. The speech was an opportunity for Assange to show[...]
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There?s more! You?ll find a collection of previously published Who Am I teaser images in our Who Am I Gallery. How many can you identify? Occasional Planet?s ?Who Am I? features people who have made important contributions to liberal thought, progressive politics, human rights, enlightened education, and ?small-d? democratic principles?both in the US and internationally. [...]Related posts:
(T)he greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.Orson WellesBuster Keaton- The General (1926) (1:44) [...]
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Long ago, after a particularly nasty legislative maneuver, I asked a political boss, ?Does your mother know what you do for a living?? He tapped my elbow and smiled. ?Politics, kid,? he explained.
Paul Ryan?s mother not only knows but helps him do it. At her Florida retirement village, she is his prop as the VP wannabe who wants to gut the program tells a crowd, ??Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my mom while she needs that now, and we need to keep that guaranteed.?
His whopper comes in the face of a New York Times editorial charging that Romney and Ryan have ?twisted themselves into knots to distance themselves from previous positions, so that voters can no longer believe anything they say. Last week, both insisted that they would save Medicare by pumping a huge amount of money into the program, a bizarre turnaround for supposed fiscal conservatives out to rein in federal spending.
?The likelihood that they would stand by that irresponsible pledge after the election is close to zero.?
Romney and Ryan would give retirees vouchers to buy a private plan or current Medicare. Sounds good, but then Medicare would be left with the sickest patients, driving up premiums and making it unaffordable?-a version of the old saw about freedom of housing, that the poor have a choice of hotel rooms or sleeping under bridges.
The Times editorial generously concludes that ?the choice is between a Democratic approach that wants to retain Medicare as a guaranteed set of benefits with the government paying its share of the costs even if costs rise, and a Republican approach that wants to limit the government?s spending to a defined level, relying on untested market forces to drive down insurance costs.?
Perhaps, but old people would be well-advised to get out blankets and prepare to sleep under bridges. Needless to say, Paul Ryan?s mother won?t be one of them.
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From this Saturday's The Chris Matthews Show, it seem the Villagers believe the Obama campaign is going to quit going after Mitt Romney on the issue of his taxes once the Republican convention rolls around. I'm not sure why they would do that but that was the consensus here.
After discussing how poor old Mittens was somehow ?baited? into discussing his tax returns last week during his little whiteboard fiasco and the fact that the Obama campaign has been happy to keep the discussion on Romney's taxes going, Chuck Todd weighed in with this statement on how long that discussion might go on:
TODD: But it seems to me like we're getting to an expiration date.
COOPER: I think so. Don't you? (crosstalk)
GARRETT: Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Swiss bank accounts. That's one year of tax returns. The Democrats look at five or ten years and say, whoa... (crosstalk).
TODD: Kelly, don't (inaudible) thinks, if I get to the convention...
O'DONNELL: That they'll move on.
TODD: They'll move on.
Quite a far cry from Todd's colleague Rachel Maddow and her reporting last week: Maddow: Romney?s history shows he?s willing to lie about his taxes:
Friday night on ?The Rachel Maddow Show,? host Rachel Maddow said that presumptive Republican nominee Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) has, if precedent is any guide, given us no reason to take his word on the subject of his refusal to disclose his tax returns. In fact, he has given voters rather the opposite. [...]
Romney said that when he looked back over his tax returns from the last ten years, he found that he had never paid less than 13 percent of his earnings and that we?re just going to have to trust him on that. However, Maddow said, in 2002 when Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, it was demanded of him that he release tax returns to demonstrate a residency in that state of at least seven years. Romney refused and insisted that the public take his word for it.
Eventually it came out that Romney had lied. He was forced to pay Massachusetts taxes retroactively, because when he said that the public would have to take his word that he had paid taxes for seven years as a Massachusetts resident, it simply wasn?t true.
Now he wants us to take his word that he has paid at least 13 percent of his massive income over the last 10 years in taxes. Why should we take him at face value? He has demonstrated a willingness to prevaricate on this very subject in his career as a public figure.
So why would the Obama campaign drop this issue? I'm not sure when they taped this show and if it was before or after his interview with NPR, but as of this Friday, Major Garrett claimed he'd never even heard about the issue with the tax returns from 1999-2001 and the issue in Massachusetts. You can read more details about that here: Ex-Fox's Major Garrett: Never Knew Romney Caught Lying On 1999-2001 Tax Returns.
My guess on Todd's hackery here is this is what we're going to hear out of him once the convention rolls through. This is an old issue and it's time to move on. And he'll have plenty of help as well. Here's to hoping the Obama campaign ignores him and so far this election season, I'm happy to say they've been doing a lot of that and ignoring the cries by the beltway Villagers.
by Erin Gustafson, via the Sierra Club
Bike shares are one of the fastest-growing modes of transportation in the country. Since the first U.S. bike-share system launched in 2008, the systems have spread like wildfire. Bike sharing allows users to rent bicycles from kiosks placed throughout a city and return them to any other location, creating a hassle-free way to get around. In just four years, 30 U.S. cities have launched bike shares, and many others have plans in the works. This year alone, 8 new cities have created bike shares and with more set to launch before the end of the year, 2012 may prove to be the biggest year for bike shares yet. Look for your nearest bike share on this map.
Americans are looking for cleaner and more affordable transportation choices. As city centers are choked by automobile traffic, bike shares become an increasingly attractive option for getting around. In Capital Bikeshare?s 2011 Member Survey, more than 41 percent of users reported reducing their number of car trips after joining bike share. These users reported driving an average of 523 miles less per year after becoming a bike share member, which translates into avoiding releasing 487.7 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per bike share user1. In Capital Bikeshare?s first year alone, the system?s members saved more than 1,632 tons of carbon dioxide just by replacing car trips with bike trips. By reducing our dependency on driving and oil, bike shares can have a significant environmental benefit.
Biking also helps save money by reducing the amount you need to spend on car payments, insurance, and oil. Most bike share systems offer year-long, monthly, and short-term memberships with no additional fees for trips under 30 minutes. With year-long memberships usually priced around $75, the cost of bike share is still very low compared to other means of transportation. In a 2011 Member Survey, Capital Bikeshare users reported saving an average of $819 per year. Most of these savings came from avoiding costs related to driving like gas, parking, and vehicle maintenance. Others reported saving money by replacing taxi trips with bike-share rides.
Another benefit of bike shares is that they not only add another mode of transportation to the existing city fabric but also do so faster and more cheaply than many other transportation projects. Bike shares in cities like Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., took between 12 and 18 months to get up and running after being announced. That seems like the blink of an eye compared to the years and even decades that highway and public transit expansions often take. Though costs vary based on the size and location of the system, Minneapolis-St. Paul was able to implement the first 700-bike phase of their system, Nice Ride Minnesota, for $3.2 million. The cost of creating a single mile of urban highway averages $60 million, making bike sharing a relatively inexpensive way to relieve urban congestion.
Bike shares can also help boost the local economy.
Some local bike shop owners in Washington, D.C., were concerned that people might buy fewer bikes if bike sharing were an option. However, Capital Bikeshare proved to be the “gateway drug” for many new bicyclists, who have flocked to bike shops to buy their own set of wheels. Bike shop owners have seen an increase in bike sales in the two years since Capital Bikeshare began operating, and many new customers have said that they were inspired to purchase their own bike after using bike share.
Bike sharing has been around for decades but didn’t catch on until technological improvements in the past few years made modern third-generation bike-sharing systems possible. Previous free and coin-operated systems suffered from rampant theft and never caught on, but membership requirements and improvements in bike tracking technology have reduced theft and damage to practically zero. Sophisticated systems that allow bikes to be easily checked-out have also made the systems increasingly popular with users. European cities began using these advanced bike-sharing technologies for city-wide systems in 2007. After seeing that success and recognizing the increased demand for transportation choices, many U.S. cities quickly followed.
Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., is one of the oldest and best-known bike-sharing systems in the United States. Launched in 2010 with 1,100 bikes at 114 stations throughout Arlington and the District of Columbia, the system now boasts over 1,670 bikes at 175 stations, making it the largest in the country. The program is considered a wild success, with 18,000 members in its first year alone. Large metropolises like Denver and Boston, and even smaller cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Spartanburg, South Carolina, have adopted bike shares. Many other cities have plans in the works, including New York City?s CitiBike system, which will become the nation’s largest bike share when it opens later this year, and cities like Los Angeles and Fort Worth, which plan to launch their systems in 2013.
Erin Gustafson is with the Sierra Club’s transportation program. This piece was originally published at the Sierra Club’s Compass blog and was reprinted with permission.
Though Mitt Romney has previously promised that he would balance the federal budget by 2020 — which would be the final year of his theoretical second term — his campaign has struggled to explain how his budget could do that and when it would really happen. Sunday, Romney senior campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom appeared to backtrack from the 2020 timetable promising only a $500 billion deficit reduction by the year 2016.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Fehrnstrom was asked about the recent problems Paul Ryan and senior campaign adviser Ed Gillespie had with questions about how long it would take Romney to balance the budget:
JIM ACOSTA: So you’re not committing to balancing this budget by the end of the second term, because Governor Romney has said out on the campaign trail, that he hopes to have it balanced by the end of the second term. You’re not saying that, that’s not in the cards this morning?
FEHRNSTROM: I think that’s an achievable objective by the end of the the second term. What he has published is a deficit reduction plan that will cut the deficit by $500 billion by the year 2016.
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The reason Fehrnstrom cannot make the eight-years-to-a-balanced-budget claim is that Romney’s budget will not balance the budget and would likely make the deficit even larger. The decision by the Romney campaign to reject his own running mate’s $716 billion Medicare savings means that balancing the budget by 2020 — already a pipe dream under his original plan — is now so unrealistic that even his campaign won’t call it anything more than a potentially achievable objective.
Earlier this week, Mitt Romney pledged to restore Obamacare’s savings in the Medicare program — a move that would move up the insolvency date of the program’s trust fund from 2024 to 2016.
On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie how the campaign would extend the life of the program if the Romney-Ryan reforms won’t kick in until 2023, long after Medicare reached insolvency. Gillespie replied by insisting that a Romney administration would raise the age eligibility to 67:
WALLACE: But the problem is, those reforms don’t kick in until 2023. It doesn’t affect any seniors or anybody close to being a senior. But that doesn’t solve the Medicare part A problem which kicks in in 2016. What are you going to do to keep solvent between 2016, after you have repealed Obamacare, and 2023?
GILLESPIE: Governor Romney supports increasing over time bringing Medicare eligibility in line with the Social Security retirement age … The Congressional Budget Office says assumptions about the Medicare trust fund being solvent through 2024 under the Obamacare proposal is unrealistic.
Numerous studies have shown that booting 65- and 66-year-olds from Medicare would in fact have only modest savings, while raising health care costs across the board for seniors. Though Medicare spending itself would be reduced by 5 percent, the seniors taken out of the system would then have to turn to employers, other government programs and the states, increasing costs. As a result many of the people who would otherwise have enrolled in Medicare would face higher premiums for health insurance, higher out-of-pocket costs for health care, or both.
The Center On Budget and Policy Priorities estimates costs could “total $11.4 billion ? twice the net savings to the federal government” in 2014 alone. Medicare’s market power would inevitably suffer as well:
Raising the Medicare age would shift costs to most of the 65- and 66-year olds who would lose Medicare coverage, to remaining Medicare beneficiaries, to employers that provide coverage for their retirees, and to states. These cost increases would, in total, more than offset the savings to the federal government. Moreover, by further shrinking Medicare?s share of the health insurance market, raising Medicare?s eligibility age would reduce its market power and weaken its ability to serve as a leader in controlling health care costs in the future.
Beginning in 2023, Ryan’s FY 2013 budget would “raise the eligibility age for Medicare ? now 65 ? by two months per year until it reaches age 67 in 2034.” But if Romney hopes to extend the life of the trust fund by booting younger seniors off of the program, he would have to institute the policy sooner and faster than Ryan has proposed.
GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan spent much of the last week trying to explain why he signed multiple letters seeking $20 million in stimulus funds for an energy company in his district. Ryan is a staunch opponent of President Obama’s stimulus program, which those funds came from, claiming that stimulus is a “wasteful spending spree.”
As it turns out, Ryan’s stimulus hypocrisy extends back at least an entire decade. In 2002, Republican President George W. Bush proposed a similar — if less ambitious — stimulus plan to the one President Obama signed in 2009. Like Obama, Bush sought to goose the economy through an influx of public sector cash. His stimulus plan included an extension of unemployment benefits and a plan to mail checks directly to millions of Americans. Ryan took to the House floor to defend this plan, accurately noting that additional government spending would help move the economy out of a recession:
We have a lot of laid off workers, and more layoffs are occurring. And we know, as a historical fact, that even if our economy begins to slowly recover, unemployment is going to linger on and on well after that recovery takes place. What we have been trying to do starting in October and into December and now is to try and get people back to work. The things we’re trying to pass in this bill are the time-tested, proven, bipartisan solutions to get businesses to stop laying off people, to hire people back, and to help those people who have lost their jobs. . . .
We’ve got to get the engine of economic growth growing again because we now know, because of recession, we don’t have the revenues that we wanted to, we don’t have the revenues we need, to fix Medicare, to fix Social Security, to fix these issues. We’ve got to get Americans back to work. Then the surpluses come back, then the jobs come back. That is the constructive answer we’re trying to accomplish here on, yes, a bipartisan basis.
In a 2002 interview with the Journal Times, Ryan even more explicitly adopted the economic theory behind President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan: “You have to spend a little to grow a little. What we’re trying to do is stimulate that part of the economy that’s on its back.”
Of course, Ryan abandoned this understanding of basic Keynesian economics the minute a Democrat moved into the White House, and this is hardly the only example of Ryan suddenly changing his views once Barack Obama became president. Under President Bush, Ryan voted to add $6.8 trillion to the federal deficit, mostly from increased defense spending and tax cuts for the rich. Under Obama, however, Ryan suddenly became very, very concerned about the deficit, claiming that America needs to phase out Medicare, slash education spending, raise taxes on the middle class, and take a giant bite out of Medicaid in order to prevent a coming debtpocalypse.
There is one thing Ryan has been consistent on, however. Come boom time or recession, budget surpluses or budget deficits, Ryan always supports tax cuts for the very wealthy.
In the week since Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, both Democrats and Republicans have claimed theirs is the party which will save and protect Medicare, the federal health insurance program for nearly 50 million seniors. But Americans have good reason to believe one side is lying to them. After all, the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama adds 8 years to the Medicare trust fund, realizing $716 billion in savings over 10 years from private insurers, hospitals and waste while expanding today's benefits to include free preventive care and closing the prescription "donut" hole. In stark contrast, in 2011 and 2012 98 percent of Republicans in Congress voted for Paul Ryan's budget plan, which not only repeals the ACA but would transform Medicare into an under-funded voucher scheme the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed would dramatically shift health care costs onto future elderly. Just as damning, the Ryan plan takes the same $716 billion in savings to partially offset the cost of its budget-busting tax cut windfall for the wealthy.
Of course, there's nothing new in this latest GOP effort to roll back the popular and successful old-age insurance program. The same Republican Party that tried to kill Medicare in the 1960s and gut it in the 1990s now wants to smother it again. The only question now for Mitt Romney and his number two Paul Ryan is how fast.
Republican demagoguery of Medicare began well before President Johnson signed it into law in 1965. "I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare," Bob Dole later boasted, "Because we knew it wouldn't work in 1965." In 1964, George H.W. Bush was among the first to call it "socialized medicine." And three years earlier, Ronald Reagan voiced his opposition:
"One of these days, you and I, are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America, when men were free."But they were wrong. Medicare did work and Americans in their sunset years were more free, not less. Before Medicare, half of seniors had no health insurance at all, a crisis which has been virtually eliminated. And the poverty rate for Americans 65 and older was cut in half in under 10 years. Far and away the poorest age group in 1959, the elderly saw their poverty rates plummet from 35 to 9 percent by 2010 (see chart below the fold). It's no wonder a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Medicare was the single most important health care issue for voters, with 73 percent rating it "extremely" or "very" important.
Of course, for Republicans yesterday defeats are tomorrow's battles. Their long war on Medicare was no different.
Throughout the 1990s, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell and their Republican colleagues renewed the GOP assault. (In 2010, McConnell would falsely charge that Democrats were "sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare.") Hoping to slowly but surely undermine the program by shifting its beneficiaries to managed care and private insurance, in 1995 McConnell was among the Republican revolutionaries backing Gingrich's call to slash Medicare spending by $270 billion (or 14 percent) over seven years. As Gingrich put it then:
"We don't want to get rid of it in round one because we don't think it's politically smart," he said. "But we believe that it's going to wither on the vine because we think [seniors] are going to leave it voluntarily."When President Clinton and his Democratic allies in Congress rushed to defend Medicare from the Republican onslaught, Gingrich launched a blistering assault:
"Think about a party whose last stand is to frighten 85-year-olds, and you'll understand how totally morally bankrupt the modern Democratic Party is."But as the debate over health care reform heated up in 2009 and 2010, the leading lights of the Republican Party out their brand of political morality on display. Within a span of a few days, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) echoed Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) insisted "what we have to do is wean everybody" off Medicare and Social Security. (Blackburn is now one the leaders of the committee drafting the 2012 Republican platform.) In 2009, Missouri's Roy Blunt argued that "government should have never gotten into the health care business." That same month, Georgia Rep. Tom Price, a one-time orthopedic surgeon and then chairman of the Republican Study Group, proclaimed:
"Going down the path of more government will only compound the problem. While the stated goal remains noble, as a physician, I can attest that nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare."When asked at a 2009 rally, Rep. Price refused to defend Medicare after stating "we will not rest until we make certain that government-run health care is ended."
All the while, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was listening and working hard to make it happen.
(Continue reading below the fold.)