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Posts Tagged ‘Congress

Congressional free subscriptions to HUSTLER continues

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Flynt often makes million-dollar offers for proof of gay or straight sex with members of Congress

The publisher of Hustler says they will continue to send the monthly porn magazine to every member of Congress.

“Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves, and I just wanted to free all the neurotics,” said publisher Larry Flynt.

Flynt has been sending the monthly issue of the magazine to every member of Congress for 30 years. Several members have tried to stop the mailings but have failed. Now their offices just learn how to deal with it.

Some members warn interns and tell them to throw it out, and some staffers use it as a monthly joke on unsuspecting coworkers.

Flynt says the mailing falls under his right to free speech and they will be sent every month like always in an attempt to loosen up the nation’s lawmakers.

Aside from his “unique” sense of humor and decorum, Flynt has spent more than a few buck$ defending free speech. Not that everyone in Congress will acknowledge that.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 18, 2014 at 2:00 am

Global trade to gain speed in 2014 and 2015

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containers offloading in Qingdao, Shandong province
Trucks carry containers unloaded from ship in Qingdao, China’s Shandong province

The growth of global commerce will pick up speed this year and next, says the World Trade Organization…Trade will grow by a “modest” 4.7% this year and by 5.3% in 2015, says the WTO.

Next year’s figure, if correct, would be in line with the average growth rate in world trade over the last 20 years…These forecasts are consistent with other figures that show the world economy is gradually recovering from the financial crisis…

The overall impact is that global trade is above its pre-crisis level, but well below where it would have been, had it grown in line with the earlier pre-crisis trend…In fact, that gap is still getting wider and by next year will, on the new forecasts, be 19%.

So the analysis by the WTO does suggest progress…But if world trade and its growth before 2008 was in some sense normal, we are still not back there…

“In addition to creating a permanent shift downward in the level of trade,” said the WTO in a press release…”The global recession of 2008-09 may have reduced its average growth rate as well.”

The agency’s director general, Roberto Azevedo, said that just waiting for an automatic increase in trade was not enough…He called for new trade liberalisation agreements, in particular the negotiations known as the Doha Round…”Concluding the Doha Round would provide a strong foundation for trade in the future, and a powerful stimulus in today’s slow growth environment.”

The new WTO figures confirm that China is now the biggest goods trader in the world…Adding together exports and imports, China leads the United States, which is itself still the biggest trader in commercial services…However, the picture is different if the European Union is treated as a single unit, counting the trade of EU member states with outside nations and excluding commerce within the Union.

On that basis, the EU is the world’s biggest trader.

A significant portion of the whole equation is foreign direct investment, one of those economically rich processes that typically provides jobs and trade at both ends of such agreements. As long as Congressional Republicans control regulations governing FDI, the United States doesn’t stand a chance of improving trade.

Tea Party Confederates and the rest of the Republican Party have done everything they can to sabotage foreign direct investment from China in the United States. Between their Cold War mentality and fear-based ideology leftover from the Bush-Cheney years, FDI from China last year was less than 1% of the total.

Logic makes it clear to the Chinese their investment plans are better served within the European Union and in bilateral agreements with developing nations. That is where they are going to send their money. Americans who want jobs had better start asking questions of the isolationist patriots in Congress who believe their only mandate is to protect the likes of General Electric and the Koch Brothers.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Louisiana republican sets new speed record for getting caught in sleazy behavior

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McAllister and some of the folks who worked to get him elected

The married U.S. congressman embroiled in controversy over kissing a woman on his Louisiana office staff may request a federal investigation into the leak of the security camera video showing the incident, his spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Republican Representative Vance McAllister, who took office last November in a special election that he won partly by promoting his Christian values, apologized on Monday after a Louisiana newspaper posted a surveillance video showing him in a passionate embrace with office scheduler Melissa Peacock, who is also married. The scandal erupted when the security video from his Monroe, Louisiana, district office was posted on the website of a local weekly newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen.

Peacock resigned from McAllister’s office on Monday, the congressman’s communications director, Jennifer Dunagin, said.

If you believe.

But McAllister considers the leak to be a serious breach in office security and may send a letter to House Speaker requesting an official investigation into the matter by the FBI, Dunagin said…

The Ouachita Citizen, which boasts a paid weekly circulation of just 5,200 copies, said it had obtained the video from an “anonymous source.” The grainy low-light footage was captured by a handheld camera pointed at a computer monitor showing multiple security camera images throughout the small office building…

The Monroe, Louisiana News-Star…quoted McAllister’s chief of staff, Adam Terry, as saying that a staffer had denied providing the video to the newspaper…

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he was glad McAllister had apologized for the incident, but declined to say whether McAllister should resign when asked by reporters…

Peacock and her husband, Heath Peacock, have longstanding ties to McAllister, each contributing $5,200 to his election campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission disclosure forms. Heath Peacock and McAllister had previously worked together at Mustang Engineering, an oil and gas pipeline and services company.

CNN quoted Heath Peacock on Tuesday as saying that he was “devastated” by the incident and blamed McAllister for ruining his marriage.

“He has wrecked my life,” Peacock told CNN. “We’re headed for divorce.”

Eric Cantor burbled a few remarks about the high standards in our Congress. I’m not certain if he’s talking about public record-keeping or what. He certainly can’t be talking about ethics or dedication to service for Americans.

Regular readers recall my dicho about “Republicans would have invented hypocrisy if Christians hadn’t beaten them to it”. Congressman McAllister gets an extra pat on the behind for catching both sides of the ethic.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 10, 2014 at 2:00 am

The IMF is interesting to US policymakers for the wrong reason

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The International Monetary Fund is an immensely useful organization, able to deliver substantial amounts of financial and technical assistance at short notice to almost any place in the world. It also has the great advantage of almost always being perceived as incredibly boring…

In the realm of international economics, being perceived as boring confers power to the extent that it allows major decisions to be made without a great deal of external scrutiny. From 1918 to 1939, international economic cooperation was hard to come by – in large part because all of the attempted deals were put together at high-profile international conferences. Following the creation of the IMF in 1944, many of the same decisions became routine, a lot less interesting, and much easier to implement…

The US does not dictate what happens at the IMF, but it does have a disproportionate influence. Given the Fund’s origins in helping to rebuild Europe after World War II, European countries are also very well represented on its executive board and in terms of ownership shares (and thus voting weight on important decisions).

One major goal in recent decades has been to shift representation at the IMF somewhat away from Europe and toward the world’s emerging markets. These countries’ global economic and financial significance has grown rapidly, yet they have relatively little representation at the Fund.

A package of reforms has been agreed. Like most products of international negotiations, the agreement is not perfect; but it does move the ball forward…These reforms need to be agreed, in legislative form, by the US Congress before they can take effect. For whatever reason, President Barack Obama’s administration did not push this item hard in 2013 and early 2014 – and the agenda of encouraging further IMF reform has therefore languished.

The Obama administration proposed to tie IMF reform to the presumably imminent approval by Congress of funding for Ukraine. This is sensible legislative tactics but not appealing as an economic strategy. In effect, the administration tried to make the IMF more interesting, particularly to encourage Republicans in the House of Representatives to support the reforms.

The latest indications are that the Republicans will not be so enticed. But the bigger problem is that Ukraine does not really need a massive loan from the IMF. What Ukraine needs is a sharp reduction in corruption, as well as real legitimacy (through the ballot box) for people who want to rein in the influence of oligarchs – a group that has sapped the economy through plunder and incompetence over the past two decades.

Mostly, what looks like happening is typical of Congress and Congressional Republicans. Money for war is always available – so, the White House and the Pentagon will make Ukraine aid sound like war is imminent.

The need to reform the IMF and why – will probably be swept under the rug.

The need to reform Ukraine will simply be ignored. Most of Congress has no interest in anything concerned with real reform vs. the phoney sort they talk about all the time. The kind that means screwing working people even more.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 31, 2014 at 2:00 am

Public smoking bans linked with rapid public health benefits

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The analysis of 11 studies done in North America and Europe, involving more than 2.5 million births, and nearly 250,000 asthma exacerbations, showed that rates of both preterm births and hospital attendance for asthma were reduced by 10% within a year of smoke-free laws coming into effect.

Currently only 16% of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws, and 40% of children worldwide are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. To date, most studies have looked at the impact of smoking bans on adult outcomes, but children account for more than a quarter of all deaths and over half of all healthy years of life lost due to exposure to second-hand smoke…

Dr Jasper Been, lead author, says…”Together with the known health benefits in adults, our study provides clear evidence that smoking bans have considerable public health benefits for perinatal and child health, and provides strong support for WHO recommendations to create smoke-free public environments on a national level.”*

“This research has demonstrated the very considerable potential that smoke-free legislation offers to reduce preterm births and childhood asthma attacks,” says study co-author Professor Aziz Sheikh, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, USA, and the University of Edinburgh, UK. “The many countries that are yet to enforce smoke-free legislation should in the light of these findings reconsider their positions on this important health policy question.”

…Sara Kalkhoran and Stanton Glantz from the University of California San Francisco…point out that, “Medical expenses for asthma exceeded US$50 billion in the USA in 2007, and US$20 billion in Europe in 2006. If asthma emergency department visits and admissions to hospital decreased by even 10%, the savings in the USA and Europe together would be US$7 billion annually.”

They conclude, “The cigarette companies, their allies, and the groups they sponsor have long used claims of economic harm, particularly to restaurants, bars, and casinos, to oppose smoke-free laws despite consistent evidence to the contrary. By contrast, the rapid economic benefits that smoke-free laws and other tobacco control policies bring in terms of reduced medical costs are real. Rarely can such a simple intervention improve health and reduce medical costs so swiftly and substantially.”

Folks who understand the realities of scientific study have no difficulty comprehending works like this one. Frankly, I doubt if even our Congress-critters would have a problem getting it. The problem there – as is the case with most political bodies – is the dollars tossed into the winds of election campaigns by tobacco companies, growers and the rest of the sleazy denizens of the smoking industry.

Perish the thought our politicians actually work at serving the citizens of their various electorates. Not when the core values determining political priority and primacy have to include dollar signs.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 30, 2014 at 2:00 am

“An epidemic we can’t allow to continue”

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The National Mall between the Capitol and the White House was decorated with over 1,800 miniature flags Thursday, the lawn a sea of little old glories in the cold morning light, snow still on the ground, each flag waving in the spring air a veteran lost to suicide this year alone.

According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an average of 22 veterans take their own life each day…The IAVA is in Washington for its yearly action campaign to petition the government on veteran’s issues.

This year, they’re working together with Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., to introduce the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, a bill aimed at reducing the veteran suicide rate by extending eligibility for Veterans Administration health care and mandating a review of mental health care programs the VA offers…

Walsh, who, commanded a Montana National Guard battalion in Iraq, said, “When we returned home, one of my young sergeants died by suicide, so this is very personal to me.”…The Senator called suicide, “an epidemic we cannot allow to continue.”

Walsh and the IAVA are calling on Congress to pass the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act by Memorial Day.

Considering that it’s taken three months for the “humane” Senate to pass a bill restoring unemployment insurance extended benefits to the longterm unemployed. With nothing in sight from the Congress-cruds in the House of Representatives. I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath waiting for timely action from Congress over veterans committing suicide.

Even easy-peasy vote-getting issues face difficulty confronting the Party of NO and Know-Nothings in our national legislature.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 27, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Why do you think QE didn’t work?

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“Aren’t there any Republicans left who can ask a useful question?

Maybe you have heard a line that goes something like this: The weak recovery is proof that the Federal Reserve’s program of asset purchases, otherwise known as quantitative easement, doesn’t work…If you were the one saying those words, you don’t understand the counterfactual.

That is the only conclusion I can draw from this common criticism of the Fed’s policies of zero interest rates and QE.

This flawed analytical paradigm has many manifestations, and not just in the investing world. They all rely on the same equation: If you do X, and there is no measurable change, X is therefore ineffective.

The problem with this “non-result result” is what would have occurred otherwise. Might “no change” be an improvement from what otherwise would have happened? No change, last time I checked, is better than a free-fall.

If you are testing a new medication to reduce tumors, you want to see what happened to the group that didn’t get the test therapy. Maybe this control group experienced rapid tumor growth. Hence, a result where there is no increase in tumor mass in the group receiving the therapy would be considered a very positive outcome…

We run into the same issue with QE. In the absence of a functional Congress or an adequate post-recession stimulus program, the Fed is the only game in town. Neither you nor I truly know what the impact of QE has been. Without that control group, we simply don’t know. I have my suspicions, you have yours. But neither of us truly knows…

The counterfactual seems to get loss in most discussions of QE. Those engaged in the debate — either ignorantly or disingenuously — make claims such as “Look how few jobs have been created, and look how high unemployment is.”

But because there is no control group, the right question to ask is “How many fewer jobs would have been created? How much higher would unemployment be?”

RTFA to examine the question in more detail. Lots of folks don’t know much about modern economics. Times I feel the number who have no appreciation of logic in the world of material reality is even larger.

Barry Ritholtz is one of my favorite financial analysts. He has a habit counter to American pop culture of relying on historic fact. Sometimes, even [gasp] mathematics.

He describes himself as a Recovering Republican.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

ICD-10 Follies — Injured in an Opera House?

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brunhilde

It is 208 days before the move to ICD-10 becomes a must-do. Lest the deadline slip your mind, MedPage Today is spotlighting some of those thousands of new codes that might just be getting a bit too granular.

Today’s code:

Y92.253: Opera house as the place of occurrence of the external cause (This is one gem from a laundry list of odd places where one can be hurt, including an art gallery.)

Other “Follies”

X52: Prolonged stay in weightless environment

V98.2XXA: Accident to, on, or involving ice yacht, initial encounter

W30.3XXA: Contact with grain storage elevator, initial encounter

W21.04: Struck by golf ball

W56.21xD: Bitten by orca, subsequent encounter

Z62.891: Sibling rivalry

V97.33XD: Sucked into jet engine, subsequent encounter

W61.92: Struck by other birds

Z63.1: Problems in relationship with in-laws

W45.8XXA: Other foreign body or object entering through skin, initial encounter

V52.2XXA: Person on outside of pick-up truck or van injured in collision with two- or three-wheeled motor vehicle in nontraffic accident, initial encounter

V00.32: Snow-ski accident

X92.0: Assault by drowning and submersion while in bathtub

W00.1: Fall from stairs and steps due to ice and snow

Sit back, my friends and reflect upon how much of America’s modern legislative system exists only to provide full employment for lawyers. Not the best ones, either.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 13, 2014 at 2:00 am

Pentagon’s “Deep Cuts” are phony – Press swallows every drop

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85

The Pentagon said on Monday it would shrink the U.S. Army to pre-World War Two levels, eliminate the popular A-10 aircraft and reduce military benefits in order to meet 2015 spending caps, setting up an election-year fight with the Congress over national defense priorities.

The pre-War Army was less than 270,000. The Sequester brings current levels down to about 450,000. Hegel actually wants more than that.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, previewing the Pentagon’s ideas on how to adapt to government belt-tightening, said the defense budget due out next week would be the first to look beyond 13 years of conflict, shifting away from long-term ground wars like Iraq and Afghanistan.

He cautioned, however, that the country needed to be clear-eyed about the risks posed by lower budget levels, which would challenge the Pentagon to field a smaller yet well-trained force that could cope with any adversary, but might not be able to respond simultaneously to multiple conflicts…

Defense analysts said the budget priorities sketched out by Hagel would begin to move the Pentagon in the right direction on issues like military compensation reform and eliminating waste but could have difficulty winning support from lawmakers facing mid-term elections to Congress…

The proposed cuts ran into resistance from senior lawmakers in both houses of Congress.

Representative Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said it would be “foolish” to change military benefits before a report on the issue next year, while Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Pentagon would have “heavy challenge” convincing lawmakers to retire the A-10 fleet.

Hagel said the Pentagon plans to reduce the size of the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers. The Army is currently about 520,000 soldiers and had been planning to draw down to about 490,000 in the coming year.

A reduction to 450,000 would be the Army’s smallest size since 1940, before the United States entered World War Two, when it counted a troop strength of 267,767, according to Army figures. The Army’s previous post-World War Two low was 479,426 in 1999…

Despite a congressional rebuff of Pentagon efforts to reform personnel costs in recent years, the defense chief announced a series of new steps to try to curb military and civilian personnel spending, which now makes up about half its budget.

Hagel said the department would seek a 1 percent raise in pay for military personnel but would slow the growth of tax-free housing allowances, reduce the annual subsidy for military commissaries and reform the TRICARE health insurance program for military family members and retirees.

Let the farce be with you! Political hacks representing everyone you can think of who profits from military expenditures will be howling like monkeys in heat. Either road, Hagel is actually asking for an increase of $151 billion over sequester limits over the next five years. Just cuts in the proportion spent on some Air Force hardware.

In a bullshit ploy worthy of Ronald Reagan, Obama and Hagel put forth a budget calling for increases above sequester levels – and call it “Deep Cuts”. Mass media from newspapers to local TV stations quote this crap as if it was something more than a PR release. Over the past 50 years, the actual drawdown in military size after one of our imperial wars has been negligible.

Here’s another easy way to cut expenses, folks. Bring our troops home. We have over 750 bases in more than 150 countries doing exactly nothing except making it clear to them furriners we are the cops of the world. A soldier inside the United States costs taxpayers half of what it costs to support one on the other side of the world.

Of course, that means having a Department of defense actually concerned with defense – instead of being enforcers for American foreign policy.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

Majority of Americans in favor of normalizing relations with Cuba

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A strong majority of Americans – and an even greater percentage of Floridians – support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a poll released on Tuesday by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

In an apparent boost to efforts to end the half-century-old economic embargo against Cuba, the poll found that 56 percent of respondents nationally favored changing U.S. Cuba policy, a number that rose to 63 percent when just counting Florida residents.

Supporters of the embargo said the poll was…blah, blah, blah…and said it was unlikely to have any impact in Washington. They got the last part right.

The poll comes on the back of a series of surprise political announcements in recent days that could challenge longstanding U.S. policy towards the communist-run island.

On Friday, Florida’s former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the office again in November – this time as a Democrat – said in a TV interview that he supports lifting the embargo.

Also last week, Alfonso Fanjul, a wealthy Cuban American sugar baron in Florida and a major political donor, spoke publicly for the first time about trips he has made to the island in an interview with the Washington Post, and his interest one day in investing there.

The poll, conducted by a Republican and a Democratic pollster, found that only 35 percent of Americans, and 30 percent of Floridians, opposed improving ties with Cuba.

I hope folks don’t presume there’s anything about US foreign policy based on enlightened self-interest. Self-interest, perhaps, for Exxon-Mobil, reactionary politicians stroking their money base, and, of course, participants in the corporate welfare division of the military-industrial complex.

Meanwhile, Europeans, Asians, Latin-Americans spend their own tourist gold in Cuba.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm

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