Posts Tagged ‘Congress’
It’s been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.
The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects.
With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.
By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say.
And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.
The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again.
Obama…said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States.
‘It’s extremely inefficient,’ said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, who has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay since 2005.
‘That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,’ Gude said…
Obama pledged to close the prison within a year after first taking office in January 2009 but his efforts ran aground, partly because of congressional opposition, from both Republicans and some in his own Democratic Party, to transferring prisoners to the United States.
Inmates started a hunger strike in February that has swelled to some 100 prisoners and has led to force-feeding of 23 of the prisoners.
With the camp back under a critical spotlight, Obama told a news conference on Tuesday he would renew efforts to shut it down. He has an array of options, some of which would be more achievable than others…
Above the annual operating cost, capital spending on the prison could rise again if the Pentagon receives the funding it says it needs to renovate the place.
General John Kelly, the head of Southern Command, which is responsible for Guantanamo, told a House of Representatives panel in March that he needed some $170 million to improve the facilities for troops stationed at the base as part of detention operations.
Kelly said the living conditions were ‘pretty questionable’ and told the panel, ‘We need to take care of our troops.’
Or we could act like we have functional brains – put the convicted into mainland supermax prisons, send the unconvictable, unindicted back to their home countries or a helpful surrogate country and go back to at least a pretense of being a law-abiding civilized nation. Close down Gitmo and give the land back to the Cubans.
Things have not been going well of late for the ideologues who also wax economic regarding inflation, interest rates, austerity, etc. They’ve been wrong at every turn. Luskin, Ferguson, Bowyer, Laffer, Kudlow, the WSJ editorialists, and so on…
…I continue to be amazed that folks who can be so devastatingly wrong, for so long, on such a broad array of topics, can continue to hold sway…Interestingly, these same folks were stunningly wrong about a decade ago about when they banged the drum for war against Iraq. Overthrowing Saddam, of course, was a high priority for the neocons, and they needed to drum up broad support to get folks on board. What better lever to pull than to claim that oil prices would drop through the floor once Saddam was out of the picture and Iraqi oil flowed freely?
Here was the conservative line on what would happen to oil prices after we ousted Saddam…
Rand Corp (by recollection): Under a free market [ed. note: The author's article was all about our liberation of Iraq], oil prices would probably fall to between $8 and $12 per barrel over the next 10 years — down dramatically from today’s price of about $25 per barrel…
Fortune: No one knows for sure which way things will go. But if you have to make a bet, the most likely scenario is that a year from now, with a new regime in Baghdad and long-dormant Iraqi wells finally pumping out crude, oil prices will be back in the mid-20s.
Heritage Foundation: An unencumbered flow of Iraqi oil would be likely to provide a more constant supply of oil to the global market, which would dampen price fluctuations, ensuring stable oil prices in the world market in a price range lower than the current $25 to $30 a barrel.
National Review: “…markets clearly expect lower prices. On the eve of hostilities, oil was selling for about $37 per barrel…But once it became clear that Iraq’s liberation was at hand, the price quickly dropped to about $28 per barrel, cutting our annual oil bill by $70 billion. With full Iraqi production, the price might drop to $20 per barrel or less, giving us the equivalent of an annual tax cut of about $120 billion per year…”
WSJ: Of course, the largest benefit–a more stable Mideast–is huge but unquantifiable. A second plus, lower oil prices, is somewhat more measurable…Postwar, with Iraqi production back in the pipeline and calmer markets, oil prices will fall even further. If they drop to an average in the low $20s, the U.S. economy will get a boost of $55 billion to $60 billion a year.
One more time, rightwing ideologues sent our troops halfway around the world to “bring freedom” – and deliver the profits from Iraq’s oil into the coffers of Wall Street.
They are wrong time after time. Not always as dramatically as in Bush’s invasion of Iraq. No matter. The professional liars in Congress will beat the war drums on command from the generals of finance every time they are called upon. Time for voters to shut them up.
Thanks, Barry Ritholtz
…The White House is launching its #WeTheGeeks initiative, a series of online video chats meant to “highlight the future of science, technology and innovation in the United States.” The first one happened Thursday at 2 pm ET on the White House’s Google+ page and included four leading thinkers in science and technology. We at CNN.com began to wonder what would happen if there really was a part of the dusty old U.S. Constitution devoted to geeks. So we, who are geeks ourselves, drafted one. Below, you will find Article I of the Geek Constitution.
THE GEEK CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES…
All exponential powers herein applied to numbers shall not be imaginary, or be powers of three, unless it is deemed applicable.
Each House shall respect curiosity and the search for knowledge.
Members are encouraged to make scientific discoveries, if they so desire, but they may indulge any other topic of their choosing.
Such proclaimed Geeks shall be able to disarm the Keeg, to be heretofore known as the inverse Geek.
Horses may be ridden, unless it is declared that more pony is required. In that case, rainbow-colored ponies shall suffice.
The House of Representatives shall be a weekly gathering, and leaders from each state shall be determined by rolling a d20.
No person shall be a Representative who shall not have memorized at least 50 digits of the mysterious number pi.
The Senate will gather in a laboratory. Some members will be responsible for conducting experiments, while others will take measurements. White laboratory coats may be worn, but are optional.
No Person shall be a Senator until they can recite the periodic table of elements in their sleep.
The time, place and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives can be calculated using complex equations. Such results shall be recorded in binary format.
The “Constitution” carries on from there. A lot!
President Obama has once again pledged to close the Guantánamo Bay prison. But can he back up his brave words with decisive action?
At present, legislation bars him from sending the Guantánamo detainees to the mainland United States to receive justice from the federal courts, leaving them to be tried by slow-moving military commissions that deny them many of the guarantees of civilian legal procedure. Nevertheless, the president has a way forward. He can, on his own authority, send federal judges to Guantánamo, where they could resolve the remaining cases in trials everyone can respect.
Previous presidents have established federal civilian courts on territory under American military control without going through Congress. The clearest precedent was set in postwar Germany…
Nothing prevents President Obama from establishing a similar court at Guantánamo, where 166 prisoners remain under indefinite detention and about 100 have gone on a hunger strike. Acting under his authority as commander in chief, the president should quickly direct a team of district judges to try the detainee cases in Guantánamo under civilian criminal procedures. Such an order should also create a panel of federal judges to hear appeals…
We have reached the point of no return. Since President George W. Bush revived military commissions in 2001, half a dozen prosecutors have resigned in protest and Congress has twice passed legislation in efforts to create a system that might win public confidence.
Now the escalating hunger strike has led to forced feedings and physical confrontations in which guards have used nonlethal bullets to quell unrest. It is only a matter of time before suicide attempts further intensify the cycle of resistance and repression…
Constitutional lawyers always prate about ordinary citizens failing to comprehend the value of Human Rights is that the most important time to defend those rights – is when you really hate to do so.
The point, of course, is that Congress and Presidents are equal cowards when they have to face the same question.
Helium Monument – Amarillo, Texas
We have not been paying nearly enough attention to helium legislation.
Seriously. We’ve been complaining about the way Congress fails at everything except scheduling vacations. So it seems only fair to salute the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. The way things are going, it could be the most significant piece of legislation to make it into law this year.
The issue is our helium stockpile, which is scheduled to go out of business. The House approved a bipartisan bill to save the program just before the members — yes! — left town for vacation. The Senate seems inclined to go along, unless, of course, Ted Cruz decides it’s a United Nations plot.
The House debate took two days, which some people felt was way more than enough time, given the fact that the final vote was 394 to 1. The lone “nay” came from Representative Linda Sanchez of California, who accidentally pressed the wrong button…
Actually, if you’d heard the entire debate you would have been so impressed with helium that you would be wondering whether it should be wasted on balloons at all. It’s used in M.R.I. machines, scientific research, fiber optics, aerospace technology. And it’s not all that easy to come by, being the product of slow radioactive decay deep in the earth…
The United States began stockpiling helium after World War I because Congress was worried about catching up with the Germans in the race to build a fleet of dirigibles. Miraculously, despite the Pentagon’s affection for continuing to build things that have no earthly use in modern warfare, the government eventually cut back on the blimp program. But it kept the stockpile going at a helium reserve near Amarillo, Texas…
…Former Representative Barney Frank…said in 1996 that if Congress could not manage to get rid of the helium reserve “then we cannot undo anything,” hasn’t changed his mind. “Everybody is against waste, but strongly defends this or that particular piece,” Frank said in a phone interview.
He’s right. I have fond memories of listening to protests after Congress managed, with great effort, to end a totally useless subsidy on mohair. Most of the howls came from lawmakers from Texas, land of many mohair goats. “I have a mohair sweater! It’s my favorite one!” cried Republican Lamar Smith. The subsidy came creeping back a few years later…
If the medical-industrial complex screams loud enough, surely all the Congress-flunkies on their payroll will introduce special legislation making the disappearance of profitable quantities of helium a national emergency. The NY TIMES will editorialize against buying helium from China. Rand Paul will filibuster the lack of individual freedom for helium atoms to disperse into the atmosphere.
All’s right with the world.
U.S. restrictions on same-sex marriage are making it harder for Wall Street to attract some foreign workers, said executives including R. Martin Chavez, who leads equities trading for Goldman Sachs…
Chavez, a 49-year-old U.S. citizen, cited his own story as an example of the potential hurdles those restrictions create, saying they almost forced him to leave the country. He married his partner last year, which proved to be problematic when they tried to replace his partner’s student visa.
“We got married in the state of New York,” Chavez said at the event, which was held at Goldman Sachs’s Manhattan headquarters. “You’d think this would be a wonderful thing, except we ended up in this crazed paradox where because we were married in the state of New York, that created the presumption of his attempt to immigrate, which meant he would not be eligible for a student F-1 visa.”
Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law that the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing, the marriage doesn’t give Chavez’s partner the right to immigrate or obtain a green card permitting him to live and work in the country.
After several months of interviews and paperwork, Chavez’s husband received a new visa. In the meantime, Chavez said he spoke to Goldman Sachs executives about moving his role to London if his husband wasn’t allowed back into the U.S. He also considered retiring from his job running the largest equity- trading business in the world and moving abroad…
While the issue affects only a limited number of employees, it can result in significant costs for companies that have to move workers out of the U.S. or in lost productivity from dealing with an employee’s or partner’s immigration status, Alisa Seminara, associate general counsel for Citigroup said at the event…
The immigration issues will probably be remedied if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union and prohibits gay spouses from claiming federal benefits, Rachel Tiven at Immigration Equality said. The court may rule on the case by the end of June. Activists are also pushing for inclusion of same-sex rights in an immigration bill being debated in Congress…
Overdue. But, then, that’s always been the lot of civil rights in America.
The most reactionary elements in our land seem to spend a significant portion of their waking life working to manipulate Congress – and state and local government – into denying full civil rights for ordinary citizens feared and hated by cowards and bigots.
Congress-louse Hal Rogers (R-KY) pretends he had no idea there would be airport delays
Remember the sequester? When seven weeks ago the deadline to find a federal budget compromise came and went, there was much handwringing in Washington. In the event that no agreement was found there were to be cuts to public spending so severe and painful that no one would dare fail to agree. To deter Republicans from holding out, half the immediate spending savings of $85.4 billion was to be found from the defense budget, and, to ensure Democrats would work to find a deal, half from annually funded federal programs. Despite these encouragements to fiscal discipline, the March 1 deadline came and went.
…This week the sequester broke surface when it began affecting air travel, causing long delays at airports, which is to be expected when you send 1,500 air traffic controllers home without pay. One in 10 controllers will stay at home on unpaid leave every day until October. With the vacation season looming, crowded airports full of frustrated passengers will become commonplace…
Postponing medical research sounds victimless, but it is not if you are among those helped when a new drug comes onstream. It is impossible to list those who will miss new treatments by a year or so but will continue suffering, or even die, as a consequence of the delay. More easy to picture are the thousands of cancer patients being turned away from hospitals because of the cuts. For a cancer center on Long Island, that means not administering the most expensive drugs and telling one-third of its 16,000 patients on Medicare it will no longer treat them…
So far, the sequester appears to have pleased no one, except perhaps those fiscal hawks who agree to anything so long as the federal government is shrunk. The cuts are blind, irrational, hastily arranged, uncaring, arbitrary and dangerous. They are to good economic management what chain-saw sculpture is to Michelangelo’s David…
Although the federal government is reluctant to put a GDP figure on the cost of Hurricane Sandy, it and anticipation of the sequester drove American growth in the final quarter of 2012 into the red for the first time in 14 months. Even with Sandy, growth dropped by just 0.1 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the sequester alone will cost 0.6 percent in GDP this year. The cuts are not merely the enemy of good economic management but an automatic depressant upon the nation’s economic health.
…weak lawmakers, true to form, are hoping to avoid having to make a decision by busily trying to exempt their pet projects and favorite causes from the sequester. The list of those lobbying to be taken off the hit list includes the homeland security department, drug and pharmaceutical companies, and medical equipment suppliers. But money saved on exemptions must be made up by cuts to other federal programs, only increasing the agony.
It is a mark of how dysfunctional Congress has become that even the failed bipartisan negotiations over gun control count as an optimistic sign that other matters, such as defanging the sequester, could be fixed through negotiation and compromise. Until that happens, we must impotently watch as essential government services slow down and seize up, and as Americans, particularly those at the bottom of the heap, cry out in pain.
Wapshott finished the original piece with a snappy remark about air traffic delays. But, we cynics got what we expected – an emergency bill sorting the lack of air traffic controllers. Too many hacks in business class were delayed. Sufficient threat to politicos anticipating those donations from corporations-as-individuals.
And so it goes. A temporary solution designed to force intransigent Republicans and gutless Democrats into conflict resolution – once again – didn’t comprehend the capacity of Washington slime to gestate a new mutant strain of corruption.
A prominent economist said about the 2008 financial crisis: “At the root of the crisis we find the largest financial swindle in world history”, where “counterfeit” mortgages were “laundered” by the banks.
The Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems – MERS – was one of the main ways the swindle was done, and the main way in which counterfeit mortgages were laundered by the banks.
MERS is a shell company with no employees, owned by the giant banks.
MERS threw out centuries of well-established law about how real estate is transferred – and cheated governments out of many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars in recording fees…
MERS … is essentially an effort at systematically evading taxes … and hiding information from homeowners in ways that enabled the Countrywides of the world to defraud investors and avoid legal consequences for same…
Outrageously, MERS actually marketed itself to its customers as a way to save money by avoiding the payment of legally-mandated registration fees. Check out this MERS brochure from 2007. It brags on the face page about its fee-avoiding qualities (“MINIMIZE RISK. SAVE MONEY. REDUCE PAPERWORK”) and inside the brochure, in addition to boasting about helping clients “Foreclose More Quickly,” it talks about how clients save money because MERS “eliminates the need to record assignments in the name of the Trustee.”
All of this adds up to a system that enabled the mortgage industry to avoid keeping any kind of proper paperwork on its frantic, coke-fueled selling and re-selling of mortgage-backed securities during the bubble, and to help the both the Countrywide-style subprime merchants and the big banks like Goldman and Chase pull off the mass sales of crappy loans as AAA-rated securities.
Here’s a detailed and thorough indictment of Big Bank corruption and thievery. Read it and weep – and then holler at your elected representatives in that sewer called Congress. Tell ‘em to get off their rusty dusty and try working for voters instead of lobbyists and other corporate flunkies.
As Christopher Peterson at the University of Utah puts it – “There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures — It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it.”
NOTE: Didn’t notice the original source for this was Washington’s Blog when I read it at The Big Picture. Here’s the appropriate link.