Category Archives: Veterans

Sunrises and Tax Cuts: One Sure, the Other Not So Much

<Snark> I do hope you appreciate my efforts this morning. I got up nice and early — more a function of a miniature dachshund who had tangled himself in a sheet than an intention — and took my coffee to the deck and Bid The Sun To Rise! <snark>  OK, it wasn’t this sunrise, which is a stock graphic, and much better than this morning’s cloudy rendition.  Now to the point.   The Rolls-Royce Ticket (Romney/Ryan) has Promised an increase of 12,000,000 jobs!

Right there in the acceptance speech: “And unlike the president, I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs.” [Politicususa]  This would be lovely, except that it is roughly analogous to my claim of bidding the sun to rise; it’s probably going to happen anyway:

‘In its semi-annual long-term economic forecast released in April, Macroeconomic Advisers projected that the economy would add 11.8 million jobs from 2012 to 2016. That means Mr. Romney believes his newly announced policies would add an extra 200,000 jobs on top of what people already expected, or a jobs bonus of about 2 percent. The more jobs the better, of course, but that’s not really much to write home about.” [NYT]

And, actually the President HAS a plan to create jobs — the American Jobs Act. S. 1549 was introduced by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) on September 13, 2011.  That it has not moved since isn’t a function of “Presidential Leadership,” but of good old fashioned Republican intransigence.

The legislation includes tax cuts and regulatory reforms for small businesses and entrepreneurs.  But, the GOP doesn’t want to move on it.

The legislation includes provisions for preventing teacher layoffs, hiring more veterans, investments in infrastructure projects, public-private projects for rehabilitating local communities.  But the GOP doesn’t want to vote in favor of these elements.

The legislation promotes work based reforms to create innovative ways to retrain, rehire, and re-employ American workers.  But the GOP doesn’t want this to come to the Senate floor.

The legislation also encourages more re-financing of homes for stressed home-owners. But the GOP doesn’t want to talk about this either.  [AJAfactsheet]

The level of Republican intransigence can be measured by the number of tax cuts they passed up in order to block this legislation:

#1. The Republicans rejected a provision which would cut the payroll tax in half to 3.1% for employers on the first $5 million in wages, providing broad tax relief to all businesses but targeting it to the 98 percent of firms with wages below this level.

#2. The Republicans rejected a full holiday on the 6.2% payroll tax firms pay for any growth in their payroll up to $50 million above the prior year, whether driven by new hires, increased wages or both. This is the kind of job creation measure that CBO has called the most effective of all tax cuts in supporting employment.

#3. The Republicans rejected a proposal for 100 percent expensing, the largest temporary investment incentive in history, allowing all firms – large and small – to take an immediate deduction on investments in new plants and equipment.

#4. The Republicans rejected the Returning Heroes Tax Credit of up to $5,600 for hiring unemployed veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 for hiring unemployed workers with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months, while creating a new task force to maximize career readiness of service members.

#5. The Republicans rejected the AJA including the plan to expand the payroll tax cut passed last December by cutting workers payroll taxes in half next year. This provision will provide a tax cut of $1,500 to the typical family earning $50,000 a year. As with the payroll tax cut passed in December 2010, the American Jobs Act will specify that Social Security will still receive every dollar it would have gotten otherwise, through a transfer from the General Fund into the Social Security Trust Fund.

The Mornings After

Gee, and here we thought that the sun will rise in the east every morning, and Republicans will always favor tax cuts.  Yes, the President had, and still has, a specific plan to increase employment in the good old United States of America — but as of October 14, 2011 the plan ground to a halt in the face of Republican opposition in the Senate:

President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan foundered in the Senate on Tuesday night, as a unified Republican caucus and a pair of Democrats joined to deny the proposal the 60 votes needed to allow it to proceed to full consideration.  [WashMonthly]

Any claims of “bipartisan rejection” of the bill can be waived because the two “no votes,” from Senators Nelson of Nebraska and Tester of Montana, wouldn’t have broken the GOP filibuster of the American Jobs Act.  The cloture motion failed on a 50-49-1 vote. [roll call 160] It takes 60 to break a filibuster and the best the Democrats in the Senate could have mustered was 53.  *Senator Reid voted ‘no’ to be on the prevailing side so he could later offer a motion to reconsider under the rules.

Yes, the bill includes tax cuts, and YES it’s paid for, and yes, the Republicans, in a “unified Republican caucus” blocked it.  Now, we get the vague sound of whining as the sun rises.

The Republicans whine, “but the President hasn’t shown leadership on jobs creation,” an interesting wail since the President presented a piece of legislation all packaged nicely with tax cuts and infrastructure investments.   It really doesn’t do for me to park my pickup across your driveway and then criticize you for not driving your children to school.

The Republicans whine, “the bills are too big and complicated,” but when parts of the legislation are offered in the Senate those are filibustered as well.  This comes perilously close to refusing to eat at the restaurant because the menu’s too long, but when offered items a la carte refusing each one.

According to GOP candidate Governor Mitt Romney:  “The President doesn’t have a plan, hasn’t proposed any new ideas to get the economy going—just the same old ideas of the past that have failed.”  [Prospect]

The Republican complaint would have far more authenticity had they worked with the Democrats in the Senate to pass the infrastructure and rehabilitation portions of the American Jobs Act; indeed, the ONLY specific  jobs proposal on the table at the moment  is the aforementioned American Jobs Act.  Governor Romney’s complaint would have far more resonance if he would offer something besides the trickle down economics of Republicans Past.  Speaking of no new ideas… in the words of the Rev. Al Sharpton, “We got the trickle, but nothing came down.”

The sun will rise tomorrow morning whether I take my coffee on the deck or not, the economy will probably create about 11.8 million jobs even if we do nothing, and the Republicans will filibuster anything from the White House whether it has a package of tax cuts in it  or not — just because it came from the Democratic side of the spectrum.

Perhaps candidates in Nevada’s Senatorial race, and in the Nevada Congressional District races should be asked whether or not they support the American Jobs Act, or even portions of it?  Perhaps it’s time we got some answers that aren’t merely more predictable-as-the-sunrise rhetoric?

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Filed under 2012 election, Economy, Filibusters, Obama, Romney, Taxation, Veterans

Overnight Express: News and Views Roundup

Not quite together with Heller (R-NV): “Heller, through his statements and votes in Congress, has consistently supported limiting or eliminating the ability to conduct government business in any language other than English. Heller has sponsored legislation to limit election ballots to English-only, to mandate that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid only be filled out in English and to make English the official national language. Heller also supported a bill to end birthright citizenship.”  [LVSun]   There appears to be just one little problem with Senator Heller’s “outreach” to voters in the Latino/Hispanic community — his proposals don’t exactly match his record.

However, his “no new taxes” allegiance to Grover Norquist et. al. is pleasing to the ears of members of the business community who’ve not yet figured out that in order to support the Republican economic policies to which Governor Romney and Senator Heller adhere, you have to believe that giving the big tax cuts to the top 0.5% of income earners in the U.S. will magically trickle down to local economies.  Small business owners who rightly see themselves as “job creators” seem to have conflated their interests (increasing demand) with the “job cremators” in the ethereal upper reaches of the Wall Street casino who are essentially Financialists for whom actual job creation isn’t a priority.

Not quite a birther?  Republican hopeful Willard M. Romney will be in Las Vegas, NV for a fund raiser ($2500 per) at the Trump International Tower, with The Birther Donald Himself. [RGJ]  It seems Mr. Romney isn’t concerned by The Donald’s foray into the realms of irrationality. “The standard the Romney campaign seems to be advancing here is that it’s OK for the candidate to appear on the same stage as a loon, as long as that loon doesn’t say the thing that makes him loony in the candidate’s presence. And if he does, the candidate can merely disavow it later.” [Salon]  The disappointed birthers may now be busying themselves questioning the President’s college transcripts. [LAT]

Listen Up, and get connected: “None of that matters. Not one whit. The only thing that is going to matter is whether or not Republican astroturf organizations like TruetheVote, Republican governors like John Kasich, Rick Scott and Scott Walker, and Republican True Believers will team up to suppress the vote in enough states to guarantee a stolen election.”  [More at Crooks & Liars] Think this really isn’t happening: Try this egregious example from Ohio.  Governor Rick Scott (FL) has a plan to purge individuals from that state’s rolls. [Think Progress] There’s a lovely example of a inexplicably purged voter in that state as well.

We Didn’t Start the Fire: And why the GOP can’t extinguish its War on Women.   Good litany and explanation here.

Another Romney Theme Another Chart Debunking It:  The GOP is hauling out the old chestnut about Democrats “hollowing out the military” with decreased defense spending.   This canard has worked for them before, but won’t now if this little chart gets enough attention.  Note that the Iraq/Afghanistan warfare spending is shown in red, and that the other chart elements do not decrease.

Financialism can be the cruelest form of capitalism:  Watch what’s happening with American Airlines.   “The parent company of American, AMR Corp., is seeking to cut labor costs by tossing employee contracts where no agreement has been reached. Closing arguments in U.S. bankruptcy court wrapped up Friday; a judge said he expects to rule by June 22.” [MiamiHerald] American has been told to cut labor costs by 20%, meaning a loss of some 13,000 jobs [HuffPo] From last January: “Airline giant AMR, the parent company of American Airlines and American Eagle. AMR, which filed for bankruptcy in November, last week announced plans to retain the advice of Bain & Co., the consulting firm where Romney worked before co-founding private equity firm Bain Capital in 1985.”  [ITTimes] Oh, and did we mention that the pension fund, once an industry gold standard, has come to grief, “the U.S. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. slapped liens on $91 million in AMR property after the company paid only $6.5 million of a required $100 million contribution to the plans.”  [HuffPo]

Financialism is often painful — for the financialists:  “JPMorgan dips into cookie jar to offset London Whale losses.” Gains from the sales could provide about 16 cents a share of earnings, about one-fifth of the bank’s second-quarter profit, analysts said. But rather than creating new value for investors, the transactions merely shift gains in securities from one part of the company’s financial statements to another.” [Reuters]  (emphasis added)  As one SEC consultant remarks — dumb move #1 playing with derivatives the company didn’t fully understand, dumb move #2 selling off high value securities they can’t replace….  Do these people really want us to believe they need “de-regulation?”

And, then there’s Citigroup “the biggest U.S. bank to have regulators reject its capital plan this year, dismantled a board committee created during the credit crisis to police the disposal of toxic and unwanted assets. ” [Bloomberg]   This, while it still has queasy mortgages, and loans to Spain and Greece on its books?   Even some big funds are getting bitten, Dewey &LeBoeuf has filed for bankruptcy… with more strain on the Pension Guarantee System.

Recommended Reading:  “How black WWII vets helped lead the Civil Rights Movement,”  The Grio;  unfortunately there’s this article in the same source — “KKK invites North Carolina town to a Whites Only cross burning.”   A semi-sweet ending to the story of a slave cemetery in Georgia in the AJC.

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Filed under 2012 election, financial regulation, Heller, Romney, Veterans, Vote Suppression, Voting, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Coffee and the Papers

Breaking News: Yucca Mountain is still dead. [Las Vegas Sun] The Clark County, NV Republicans are still in disarray. [KTVN] [Las Vegas Sun] [WaPo] [KOLO] and [LVRJ]  The Ron Paul supporters are seeking “genuine conservatives.” [LVRJ]  And, do click over to NVProgressive for a description of what’s happening in NV-04.

Hearts and Flowers:  If you can read the President’s remarks at the graduation ceremony for Joplin High School graduates without tearing up just a bit, check your empathy chip and replace if necessary.

Breaking the News:  The typical CEO in the United States was paid $9.6 million in 2011, that’s up 6% from 2010.  Or, to put it another way, the CEO’s were paid what it would take the typical American worker 3,489 years to earn.  [RGJ]  Not to get all attacky on the capitalists or anything, but the worker’s earnings aren’t keeping up with worker’s productivity:

“Manufacturing sector productivity rose 5.9 percent in the first quarter of  2012, as output grew 10.8 percent and hours worked increased 4.6 percent.  The increases in productivity and output were the largest since the second  quarter of 2010. Over the last four quarters, manufacturing sector productivity increased 2.5 percent. Unit labor costs in manufacturing fell  4.2 percent in the first quarter of 2012 and decreased 1.3 percent from the same quarter a year ago.” [BLS]

Productivity is a nicer way to say “working harder and longer to make more stuff” and in this case for the same pay or less for doing so.  In this case “unit labor costs” (wages and benefits) declined while production numbers increased.  Declining “unit labor costs” usually mean declining spending power; declining spending power usually means decreasing demand.

Meanwhile in Xenophobia:  Noted citizen of Xenophobia, Representative Steve King (R-IA), drew criticism for equating immigrants to dogs during a recent town hall meeting. [Politico] This might help to explain why President Obama holds a 61% to 27% advantage with Hispanic/Latino heritage voters?  [The Hill]

The Romney Plan student loan plan “By The Bankers and For The Bankers:”  Here’s the former MA Governor: “Reverse President Obama’s nationalization of the student loan market and welcome private sector participation in providing information, financing, and the education itself.”  Here’s a critique.   And here’s a problem for the defenders of free market capitalism:

One of the nicer features of free market capitalism is the notion that he who takes the risk shall be he who gets the rewards.  That’s why some loans have higher interest rates than others.  The greater the risk taken the more interest should be earned to compensate for taking that risk.  However, the old Bush new Romney version stands that principle on its head.

Under the Bush/Romney plan the banks got a subsidy for making student loans, and then the federal government (using taxpayer funds) guaranteed the loans, so that the Banks earned the interest without actually taking any risk!  What the Obama Administration did was remove the Middlemen.  Since the taxpayers (government) were the ones taking the risks, the taxpayers (government) should be the ones earning the interest.  Interesting how the bankers are now bellowing about losing their “privatized earnings” on the “socialized risks?”  And by the way, there’s no “nationalizing” involved, private banks still make student loans and are perfectly free to do so — they just can’t expect taxpayers to subsidize them and guarantee their collection of interest earnings.

There’s more over at the Nevada Rural Democratic Caucus blog.

Dispatches from the War on Women:  “Five female Democratic senators pressed for legislation Wednesday aimed at closing the wage gap between men and women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would bring up to date the Equal Pay Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago.” [Politico] What you should know about the Paycheck Fairness Act here.   Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will bring the measure up for a cloture vote (Yes, the Republicans are filibustering it) during the week of June 4, 2012.

Dispatches on the Despicable:  One so-called charity on behalf of American veterans has already been revealed as fraudulent. [HuffPo] Worse still, almost half of the 39 veterans charities received failing grades from the American Institute of Philanthropy. [HuffPo] The AIP has a web site Charity Watch which will assist donors who want to make certain their contributions are not misused or squandered. The organization advises donors to beware of organizations which use as much as 80% of their donations for more fundraising. [CW] Charity Navigator also has a ratings guide for organizations.

About that Federal Spending Mythology: Two handy charts —

Bloggy Mountain Breakdown:   H/T to The Sin City Siren for the link to this nifty graphic of the War On Women.   Have you been checking in on The Nevada View lately.  (highly recommended)   If you missed this piece on small businesses and the battle with the Big Box stores at Blue Lyon, click over there now.

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Filed under Economy, education, Immigration, Nevada politics, Obama, Veterans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights, Yucca Mountain

Coffee and the Papers: From the Ridiculous to the Whatever

** Nevada politics is nothing if not highly entertaining.  Consider this pithy summation of the Nevada GOP’s leadership issue:

“The Republicans, pounded by Democrats in critical races the last two cycles, have a reasonable chance to win the state for Mitt Romney, hold onto John Ensign’s Senate seat and take over the Legislature’s upper house. And the glue holding that all together — the man charged with raising money, attacking Democrats and articulating GOP principles — is a Laughlin constable and former strip club lobbyist found guilty of ethics transgressions by two tribunals and whose odiferous city land deal has revolted everyone (except the folks at Roundheels Central on Stewart Avenue), including a conservative think tank on Tuesday.  Come on, folks. This must be a joke.”  [full story Las Vegas Sun]

Well, let’s see now, there seems to be a bit of history.

February 12, 2012:  “Early last fall, when Florida Republicans defied the national party and moved their presidential primary to January, Nevada Republican Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian issued a defiant statement.  “No matter what, we will not allow this disruption to interfere with our goal of creating a presidential caucus that will be the pride of the Western states,” Tarkanian said. “This situation gives Nevadans the opportunity to showcase our ability to adapt and establish our state as a major player in national politics.”  [Las Vegas Sun]

February 5, 2012: “Unable to control how its county parties count and report results, state Republicans were scrambling Sunday to explain why, almost 24 hours after most caucuses ended, the votes still have not been counted. [Politico]

January 5, 2012: “The head of the Nevada Republican Party, Amy Tarkanian has announced her resignation.  Thursday, Tarkanian sent a statement announcing her resignation since her husband is considering a run for Congressional District 4.” [News2]

April 24, 2010:  Sue Lowden proposes “chickens for checkups” health reform plan. [C&L]

November 16, 2009: “Dr. Chris Comfort replaces Sue Lowden, who resigned Sept. 30 to launch her campaign for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination and try to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in next year’s election.”  [NNV]

And so it goes.

**  The Political Animal notes the activities of ALEC, right wing legislators, and national Republican leaders to enact vote suppressing laws, but “…a less well-known phenomenon might be called “bankrupting the vote,” as states and localities (particular cities with heavily Democratic electorates) struggling with fiscal crises simply can’t afford to adequately staff and administer elections. ”  Read the full report here from Reuters.

** Heaven Forefend we’d actually pass a transportation bill wherein states and construction contractors would have a realistic expectation of long term infrastructure improvement projects.  “Also look for the House and Senate to start reconciling their differences over federal highway funding. Last week, the House passed an extension of highway programs through the end of the fiscal year, HR 4348. In March, the Senate approved a two-year extension, S 1813.”  [NRDC]

** There’s a report from the VA’s Inspector General that isn’t getting half as much publicity as it deserves.   “The Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental-health care system suffers from a culture where managers give more importance to meeting meaningless performance goals than helping veterans, according to testimony before a Senate committee Wednesday.”  [WaPo]

Contrary to VA claims that 95 percent of first-time patients seeking mental-health care in 2011 received an evaluation within the department’s goal of 14 days, just under half were seen in that time frame, the report found. A majority waited about 50 days on average for a full evaluation.”  [WaPo]

From the report summary:

“VHA does not have a reliable and accurate method of determining whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care services. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days past their desired date of care for their treatment appointment. As a result, performance measures used to report patient’s access to mental health care do not depict the true picture of a patient’s waiting time to see a mental health provider.”

The full report is available in PDF format here.

** It’s really very hard to get beyond House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) comment that a “good” way to finance the reduction in student loan interest rates would be to take the money from the Affordable Care Act’s provisions for cancer screenings for men and women, wellness education programs, and immunizations for children, which he said was a “Slush Fund.”   HHS Secretary Sebelius has more to say here.

**  Did we know that when Nevada Representatives Amodei  (R-NV2) and Heck (R-NV3) voted for the Ryan Budget that they voted in favor of locking in the doubled interest rate for student loans?  We do now.

** Thus much for “Listening to the Generals.”  The GOP controlled House of Representatives rejected the Pentagon proposal for the next round of BRAC (base realignment and closure) Commission recommendations. [The Hill]

**  One of the more interesting characterizations of the upcoming presidential race from the President’s interview with Rolling Stone:

“I think the general election will be as sharp a contrast between the two parties as we’ve seen in a generation. You have a Republican Party, and a presumptive Republican nominee, that believes in drastically rolling back environmental regulations, that believes in drastically rolling back collective-bargaining rights, that believes in an approach to deficit reduction in which taxes are cut further for the wealthiest Americans, and spending cuts are entirely borne by things like education or basic research or care for the vulnerable. All this will be presumably written into their platform and reflected in their convention. I don’t think that their nominee is going to be able to suddenly say, “Everything I’ve said for the last six months, I didn’t mean.” I’m assuming that he meant it. When you’re running for president, people are paying attention to what you’re saying.”

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Filed under 2012 election, Amodei, Boehner, Health Care, Heck, Infrastructure, Nevada politics, Obama, Republicans, Romney, Veterans, Vote Suppression, Voting

Not So Fun Facts I Rather Wish I Didn’t Know

Federal Food Safety Inspection Service: “FSIS’s workforce has contracted even more. FSIS employed about 190 workers per billion pounds of meat and poultry inspected and passed in FY 1981. In FY 2011, FSIS employed 88 workers per billion pounds, a 54 percent decrease.”  [OMBWatch]

 

Suicide rate among veterans and military personnel: “For every two American combatants killed by enemy action, one more dies by suicide. The Department of Defense reports that in the last 10 years 4,989 military personnel have been killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, while in the same period 2,293 active duty personnel have taken their own lives. American veterans of these and other wars account for 20% of U.S. suicides. ”  [PolicyMic]

School Bullying: “Over half, about 56 percent, of all students have witnessed a bullying crime take place while at school. A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school. There are about 71 percent of students that report bullying as an on-going problem.There are about 282,000 students that are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month. ” [BullyStats]

Teen Safety: “Of the 6,493 adolescent deaths in 2007 due to unintentional injuries, motor vehicle traffic was the leading cause death (70.7 percent), followed by poisoning (12.9 percent). However, of the 10,415 deaths due to both unintentional and intentional (or violence-related) injuries, motor vehicle traffic accounted for 44.1 percent of deaths, while homicide by firearm was the second leading cause of injury death, accounting for 18.2 percent of adolescent deaths of this nature. Firearms accounted for 85.3 percent of homicide deaths and 42.5 percent of suicide deaths among adolescents.”  [HRSA]

Shut Up And Drive: “Of those people killed in distracted-driving-related crashes, 995 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction (18% of fatalities in distraction-related crashes).  Of those injured in distracted-driving-related crashes, 24,000 involved reports of a cell phone as a distraction (5% of injured people in distraction-related crashes).” [NTSA pdf]

Love to Hate?  “Meanwhile, the SPLC counted 1,018 hate groups operating in the United States last year, up from 1,002 in 2010. That was the latest in a string of annual increases going all the way back to 2000, when there were 602 hate groups. The long-running rise seemed for most of that time to be a product of hate groups’ very successful exploitation of the issue of non-white immigration. Obama’s election and the crashing economy have played a key role in the last three years.”

 

 

 

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Filed under Food Safety, Veterans, violence

From The Needy To The Greedy: NV GOP Reps. Support Ryan Plan

On March 29, 2012 the House of Representatives voted 228 to 191 on H. Con. Res. 112 “Establishing the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2013 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2014 through 2022.”  That would be the Ryan Budget, and both Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Representative Joe Heck (R-NV3) voted with the Republican majority.  [roll call 151]

To the Greedy. Since the numbers don’t add up in the Ryan/Romney budget plan, the entire scheme depends upon the support of those who believe in Tax Cuts for the Rich, and austerity for the remaining 99%.   For those who would like an illustration of precisely what Amodei, Heck, Romney, and Ryan are proposing there’s a chart for that:

So, if you are a median income earner in Nevada ($53,082) under the Ryan/Amodei/Heck/Romney proposal you could reasonably expect a 1.9% after tax income gain.  This might be a good time to note that the annual inflation rate for 2011 was 3.2%.  [USinflat] However, if you are earning more than a cool million, then your after tax income gain should be about 12.5% under the GOP plan.

The Tax Policy Center (Urban Institute & Brookings Institution) ran the numbers and concluded that the Republican plan takes care of the Greedy very well, thank you very much.

The Christian Science Monitor concluded:

“TPC looked only at the tax reductions in Ryan’s plan, which also included offsetting–but unidentified–cuts in tax credits, exclusions, and deductions. TPC found that in 2015, relative to today’s tax system, those making $1 million or more would enjoy an average tax cut of $265,000 and see their after-tax income increase by 12.5 percent. By contrast, half of those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would get no tax cut at all. On average, people in that income group would get a tax reduction of $129. Ryan would raise their after-tax income by 0.5 percent.”

But, but, but… sputters the GOP talking point, “46% of the people don’t pay any income tax.”  Curious, the Republicans are publicizing the fact that a significant portion of American income earners aren’t making enough money every year to be considered liable for federal income taxation.   What the 99% do pay are payroll taxes — which they pay in higher proportions than the 1%’ers, and sales taxes — which are the most regressive form of taxation imaginable.  In short the GOP budget, which Representatives Heck and Amodei were pleased to support attends solely to the tax concerns of the economic elite.

From the Needy.  So, how do the Republicans intend to “reduce the deficit” by practicing austerity on the remaining 99% of the U.S. population?  Here’s part of the problem:

“Because Romney promises to protect current Social Security and Medicare recipients from cuts, he cannot get much savings from those programs by 2016. Combined, they are projected to make up about 44 percent of the budget that year. Interest costs, which cannot be touched, would make up an additional 9 percent of the budget, while Romney promises to add almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget that year, based on his pledge that military spending reach 4 percent of GDP.”  [full article Salon Taylor]

So, what remains on the chopping block?  Ans: Programs designed and implemented to assist low and moderate income Americans, those same median income earners who aren’t going to see after tax income gains that are likely to exceed the rate of inflation.

Medicaid:  As of 2009 there were a total of 62,458,000 Medicaid recipients in this country. 5,433,000 of the recipients were in general hospitals, another 115,000 were receiving care in mental hospitals.  101,000 were mentally disabled.  1,644,000 were in nursing homes.  [SSA stats]    The simplistic “Gee Whiz” formula for reducing expenditures relies on assuming a reduction in the number of recipients and/or reducing the funding available for the program.

This is where the ideology is at variance with the reality:

“The rate of increase in Medicaid expenditures also declined over the last decade. A major contributor to Medicaid expenditure growth has been increases in enrollment caused by the two economic recessions experienced in the past decade and continued growth, almost 3 percent per year, in the disabled population. Medicaid spending growth on a per enrollee basis in the past decade was below 3 percent per year. Part of this relatively low growth rate is due to the changing composition of Medicaid enrollees— the number of lower cost adults and children grew faster than the aged and disabled. But states have also been very aggressive in cost containment efforts because they face declining revenues and have many competing priorities.”  [UrbanInst. pdf]

After the Little Wizards of Wall Street (aka Financialists) lost approximately $10.2 trillion in our national wealth in the wake of their Housing Bubble and CDO Bonanza circa 2008, [BusInsider] we’d expect to see a rising number of individuals eligible for Medicaid.   And, while the states were struggling to cope with the consequent declining revenues they were also trying to assist a growing number of “low cost” adults and children.   Perhaps a little sparkly anti-deficit dust sprinkled over the spreadsheets would work a bit of magic? Like Block Grants?

What if Medicaid funding came in the form of block grants to states?  Then the states could be “creative and flexible.”  Yes, and they could also look forward to being creative and flexible with continually declining revenues.

Ask local officials who deal with HUD block grants how “creative and flexible” they are being as they look at 12% cuts, and a Congress which shaved about $390 million from their revenues?  [Governing] A local official in Connecticut summed up the situation:

“CDBGs, Rodriguez said, have been under constant threat of federal budget cuts. He said at one point former President George W. Bush ’68 called for an end to the entire program until he faced overwhelming resistance from cities.

“The Block Grants is one of those grants that we always worry about because the federal government is always cutting it,” Rodriguez said. “It may actually go away, depending on what happens to Congress [in the 2012 elections].” [YaleDN]

The simplest way to think of the GOP proposal for health care services for the poorest among us is to note that of all the formats for federal funding the block grant is the easiest  to cut.

From what other sources might the Romney and his Republican cohorts make budget cuts in order to finance the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts for the top 1% and other tax breaks?

Former Governor Romney has “promised” 5% cuts in non-defense budget categories, so what would that include?  “At issue are these programs, just to name a few: health research; NASA; transportation; homeland security; education; food inspection; housing and heating subsidies for the poor; food aid for pregnant women; the FBI; grants to local governments; national parks; and veterans’ health care.” [Salon]

Somehow the “Support the Troops” Republicans managed to draft a budget proposal for the consideration of the House of Representatives without using the word: Veteran.   So, when we have about 45,000 members of our military services coping with wounds and injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a Republican Party suggesting a cut of $11 billion from veterans care programs.  [VV] As Andrew Taylor opines in his Salon article, if the Romney campaign and other Republicans eschew cuts to VA programs, then the remaining federal functions would face deeper cuts.

Public Health and Safety.   Food – the amount of  regulated goods have increased by 200% in the last decade, but as of today we only inspect about 2% of food imports.  We import about 80% of our seafood from China and Thailand, countries with less stringent food safety laws that our own.   And now the GOP proposes to cut from 5% to 20% of the food inspection budget?  [News21] As one commenter put it, “You can’t fight bioterrorism with a tank.”  [The Hill]

Police and law enforcement – Senator Harkin was justifiably disappointed to note that the Republican version of a budget cut $118 million from federal funds to support local and state law enforcement. [Harkin] In FY 2011 the BJA processed 56 state and 1,348 law enforcement funding applications, and in FY 2012 made $295.58 million available to local and state officials for improvements in policing, and for other programs like the sex-offender registry and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. [BJA pdf]    However, in the interest of the 1% the GOP is willing to cut from 5% to 20% from the BJA programs which, “…. provides  states, tribes, and local governments with critical funding necessary to support a range of program areas including law enforcement, prosecution and court, prevention and education, corrections and community corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, and technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives.” [BJA pdf]

Perhaps the most cynical, and assuredly the most economically irrational, of the GOP cuts would be to programs like food stamps (SNAP) and WIC.   Chad Stone explains:

“The $8 billion in SNAP cuts over the next year would do more damage to economic growth and job creation than any stimulus that the $46 billion in tax cuts could generate, according to standard “multiplier” or “bang-for-the-buck” estimates like those from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Moody’s Analytics.

CBO ranks policies like SNAP and unemployment insurance (UI) as among the most effective ways to boost economic growth and job creation in a weak economy — and business tax cuts like those in the House bill as among the least effective.  That’s because SNAP and UI benefits go to low-income and struggling Americans who will spend virtually every additional dollar they get to pay bills and buy necessities, while the main problem businesses face is that too few customers are spending too little money — and that won’t be fixed by giving the businesses themselves a tax cut. “

Especially not effective if the tax cuts are designed to benefit those “small” businesses like hedge funds and lobby shops that are already doing well and yielding income to their owners and partners sufficient to put them in the +$1 million annual salary category.  Exactly how the House GOP explains a $46 billion reduction in the SNAP program as a “job creator” requires more imagination and intellectual gymnastics than a Cirque Du Soliel production.

But, never fear — protecting the tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires is, by Republican lights, ever so much more important that preserving Medicare as we know it, or preserving the health care services for the elderly, the children, or the disabled in poverty, or sustaining programs for Veterans, or enhancing public safety by supporting our local sheriffs, or making sure our food imports are inspected, or insuring our bridges are safe…

The Republican focus, as adopted by Rep. Ryan, and supported by Representatives Heck, Amodei, and by presidential candidate Romney is singularly narrow, and illustrates with astounding clarity how eager they are to sacrifice the needy for the noteworthy benefit of the greedy.

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Filed under 2012 election, Amodei, Berkley, Federal budget, Food Safety, Health Care, Heck, income tax, Medicaid, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Republicans, Romney, Veterans

Friday Roundup

** University of Nevada regent Dan Klaisch reviews the new “funding model” for higher education in the state, and for those who would like to move further into the weeds, there’s the MGT report (pdf) from May 2011, and the March 23rd “New Model for Funding” (pdf).

** Senate candidate Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV1) visited a veterans cemetery in Nye County and spoke of her commitment to veterans in terms of health care, jobs, and veterans’ services. [PVT] Berkley was a supporter of the New GI Bill, which provides education and housing benefits for veterans.  Berkley was one of the co-sponsors of H.R. 2131, the New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century, in the 109th Congress.   Former Congressman Dean Heller (R-NV2) was not a supporter of the bill, saying only that he was “constantly evaluating it,” in 2008.  [LVSun] Republicans argued that incentives for education might cause ‘recruiting problems,’ and that the cost was too high.

** What War on Women? Oh, do you mean the one in which the Tennessee Senate has just approved an abstinence bill that warns against “gateway sexual activity,” without actually defining what that might mean? [Tennessean] Or could we be discussing the revised anti-contraception bill that will re-emerge in the Arizona legislature which would allow employers to opt out of health care plan coverage of contraceptive services? [AZCentral]  And, I guess we’re not supposed to use the phrase “War on Women” because that denigrates the service of combat veterans (according to the RNC) but a “war on drugs” is OK? All right, let’s not call it a War, instead let’s call it a continuous, organized, and well funded assault on women, their health care needs, and their individual freedom to determine the course of their lives?  Is that better?

** Then there’s that War On Caterpillars — the real one the GOP has been waging while it tries to get the EPA to reduce restrictions on the use of pesticides.  [Atlantic]

** Infrastructure issues:  “Why does the U.S. build roads if it can’t fix them?” Bloomberg, and the partisan divide has Congress playing “infrastructure chicken?”  [KCStar]

** Does Rep. Paul Ryan actually know how the Pentagon budget is compiled? There seems to be some doubt.  [Slate]

** Bill Moyers warns us that Big Banks are shoveling money at members of Congress in order to roll back the reforms designed to rein in the Wall Street Casino and protect our savings. [Salon]  What are some of the more repugnant talking points from the Financialists?  See Salon/Alternet article.

** The national unemployment rate edged down to 8.2%. “Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 120,000 in March, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.2 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment rose in manufacturing, food services and drinking places, and health care, but was down in retail trade.” [DoL] Employment rising in manufacturing is indeed good news, the decline in retail jobs means consumers (workers) could use some more spending money?  As one think tank put it: “The economy surely could use some fuel injection from either monetary policy, fiscal policy, or both, but that’s not in the cards — and that’s a bad sign for job growth and for boosting people’s confidence that they can find a job.” Or, how about some INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING?

Chart of the Day: What would the Ryan Budget do for you? Ans: Not much unless you are in the top 1% of American Income Earners

 

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Filed under 2012 election, Berkley, Economy, education, financial regulation, GI Bill, Heller, Infrastructure, Taxation, Veterans, Women's Issues, Womens' Rights

Friday Roundup: The Best of the Week

Merely because an article has disturbing news doesn’t mean it doesn’t get consideration in the Best of the Week category — and J.P. Coolican’s article on suicide rates for Nevada veterans is such news.  “All told, of the 1,545 Nevada suicides between 2008-2010, veterans accounted for a stunning 373 of them, or nearly a quarter.”  Click on the link (Las Vegas Sun) for the entire article.  Highly Recommended.

Matt Taibbi’s enthusiastic rant in Rolling Stone deserves applause.  A taste:

“The finger-pointing game is a fun one to play, but it’s a little like drugs – you have to keep taking bigger and bigger doses in order to get the same high.  So it starts with a bunch of these people huddling together and saying to themselves, “We’re the real good Americans; our problems are caused by all those other people out there who don’t share our values.”

And when the Game described in Taibbi’s rant takes over politics the result is a failure of governance, which is insightfully analyzed by Andrew Cohen in his Atlantic magazine article “Symbolic Legislation to Nowhere.” Here’s a sample:

“America, sadly, has grown accustomed to “symbolic” legislation which is designed not to advance the public good, or even to become sustainable law, but rather to appease particular interest groups. The campaign promise becomes the pending measure; the donor’s crusade becomes the subject of public hearings. And what is squeezed out of the legislative process as a result of such pandering is the more moderate legislation, the more practical measures, which do stand a chance of passing constitutional muster and which do solve real problems in sensible ways. That’s no way to run a country — or even a state.”

Even the normally conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, noticed the drift away from reality in the Arizona GOP debate.

The best video clip of the week is from a show I actually don’t watch all that often, but this segment from MSNBC’s Hardball was memorable — Joan Walsh of Salon.Com pushing back on the Republican talking point that it’s the Democratic Party promoting the contraception argument for political gain. The 7+ minute video is posted at Crooks & Liars.

This article by Bloomberg’s writer Sarah Frier ought to have made more ripples, the title alone should have been an attention grabber,  “Cancer Scanning Curbed as Cascading U.S. Pay Cuts Take a Toll.”  This: “Every year we’ve fought one more battle against payment reduction,” Allen said. “We’ve been asked to make an apology for a very valuable tool in the health care enterprise.”

The Chart of the Week comes from the Reuters/Atlantic analysis of the national debt reduction plans coming from both sides of the political aisle, full article here.

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Filed under conservatism, Health Care, national debt, Nevada, Republicans, Veterans

The Numbers Game: Tax? Cut? Tax cut?

The arguments grind on over the extension of the payroll tax cuts, while the Senate Republicans continue to shoot down their own proposals.  Senator Harry Reid’s (D-NV) take on the situation:

“Republicans showed yet again that they are more interested in passing tax cuts for millionaires than tax cuts for the middle class. Senate Republicans rejected two proposals to give middle-class families a tax cut.  And House Republican leaders had to entice their members into supporting their proposal by weighing it down with a laundry list of policies whose sole purpose are scoring points against President Obama.

“House Republicans’ bill is a partisan joke that has no chance of passing the Senate, but middle-class families facing a thousand-dollar tax hike on January 1st are not laughing. Instead of playing political games, Congress should work to find common ground. In the days ahead, I intend to do exactly that.”

A motion to proceed to S. 1944, the Democratic version of the payroll tax extension failed to break the Republican filibuster on a 50-48 vote, December 8, 2011. [roll call 224] S. 1931, Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) “Grand Bargain” was put forth again — only to see the support ‘surge’ from 20 votes to 22. [roll call 225]

One way to interpret the numbers is that the entire Republican contingent in the U.S. Senate is opposed to the Democratic bill which would pay for the payroll tax cut by attaching a surtax on the income of millionaires and billionaires, while 22 members of the GOP Senate cohort are amenable to extending the payroll tax cut IF cuts are made to federal hiring, and federal employees’ salaries are frozen.  Additionally, the bill would amend “the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 to reduce levels of discretionary spending for FY2013-FY2021.

The Overpayment Argument

At first blush the difference between the Democratic and Republican versions of the payroll tax extension is the classic  Democratic “tax” solution and a Republican “cut” solution.  However, there is a bit more to the debate than stereotypical campaign themes.

For example, the Republican proposal assumes that federal employees are overpaid.  This assertion is in no small part supported by a Heritage Foundation study which unsurprisingly concluded that federal workers were over paid by 30% to 40% over their private sector counterparts.  The ‘over-payment’ percentages are all too often cited without referencing an important part of the Heritage study itself:

“What’s key in Sherk’s nuanced analysis is that he confronts several factors often cited by federal labor unions and supportive Democratic lawmakers when defending the pay and benefits of federal workers. For instance, the report notes that the federal workforce is older, thus more experienced, and, on average, better educated than the broader private sector. In many cases, the higher level of education is necessary in order to hold certain government positions, including scientists, doctors, lawyers and astronauts, to name a few, he says.” [WaPo]

Also, before jumping to conclusions which compare private sector and federal public employee compensation, we need to refer to Ed O’Keefe’s analysis which explains the federal educational job requirements.

“…recall that most of the federal workforce’s growth in the last decade has occurred at four departments — Defense, Justice, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security — four departments tied to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the country’s intensified response to terrorism. Republicans overwhelmingly backed the wars and pushed for more spending on national security. Those four departments also employ thousands of experienced, highly-specialized employees — intelligence analysts, medical surgeons, lawyers — and law enforcement officers, many of whom could have worked elsewhere but in some cases may have been drawn to federal work because of the pay and benefits.”

In other words, before leaping to the conclusion that federal workers are overpaid we need to address questions like “How does one pay a CIA intelligence analyst?”  Or, “How does an agency attract medical professionals into public service?”

The increase in employment at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is another matter which deserves more attention than merely a proscriptive directive to hire only one employee for every three who retire or leave.  (S. 1931)  There is a reason the VA requires more employees — after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq we will have more veterans in need of more services.  VA administrator Shinseki made the point in a March 2011 speech:

“In a speech to an American Legion conference in Washington, D.C., Shinseki said the number of vets receiving VA health care and benefits has grown by nearly 800,000 since 2009, to a record 8.4 million. The VA projects its caseload will increase 2.4 percent to 8.6 million by 2012. Increases are being driven by the ongoing U.S. commitment to two overseas conflicts.” [FedDaily]

While winding down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may reduce the needs of the Department of Defense, it will be the Veterans’ Affairs Department and VA who will then have to “pick up the ball.”  Across the board hiring freezes and staff cuts in this instance don’t synchronize with actual public needs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics came to a far different conclusion about the gap between private sector and public sector employee compensation:

“The federal government reported Friday that on average its employees are underpaid by 26.3 percent when compared with similar non-federal jobs, a “pay gap” that increased by about 2 percentage points over the last year while federal salary rates were frozen.” [WaPo]

Who Gets The Tax Cut?

If only 20 or 22 members of the Republican contingent in the Senate are voting in favor of any proposal to extend the payroll tax cuts, then what might be the nascence of their objections?   One possible answer is that the Senate awaits the House version of the payroll tax extension bill, which is loaded with “non-starters,” but which appears to have the imprimatur of Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

“The Middle-Class Relief & Job Creation Act is the kind of bipartisan compromise the American people are looking for. It extends temporary tax relief to millions of working Americans who continue to need it after three years of failed policies from the Obama administration, prevents further job loss by eliminating burdensome new regulations and red tape, and would help facilitate the creation of thousands of private-sector jobs through the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  Unlike the previous proposals from Senate Democrats, this bill was designed to pass by leaving out job-killing tax hikes that have consistently faced bipartisan opposition, while using bipartisan proposals to reduce spending.  It also protects Social Security and seniors’ access to health care while ensuring that not a penny is added to the national debt.  The President asked for an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and job creation. This House proposal is the only one that accomplishes all three.”

Well, not quite.  The House Republicans have cobbled together H.R. 3630, which is a veritable Death-Wish List of items almost certain to dislodge the President’s Veto Stamp from an Oval Office desk draw should the bill get that far.  H.R. 3630 includes permitting the Keystone Pipeline AND exceptions to the provisions of the Clean Air Act AND bonus depreciation for business assets, AND cuts in unemployment compensation, AND drug testing for unemployment compensation benefits, AND cutting the “prevention and public health” funding, AND cuts to TANF programs including tribal grants, census studies, child care entitlements, AND the suspension of mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements, AND the Broadband Spectrum Act, AND extended pay freezes for federal employees, AND the repeal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2011……

Any more ornaments on this Christmas tree and the seasonal foliage would be falling over.  Senator Reid’s characterization of H.R. 3630 as a “Laundry List” seems, in this context, almost too polite.

The contentious debate in the U.S. Senate will continue until a deadline approaches — the Senate seems to work better when Under The Gun — and some accommodation could be reached.  However, as Senator Reid put it in another context altogether, “It takes me forty-eight hours to get the Republicans to agree to flush the toilets around here.” *

——

* Aaron Ross Sorkin, Too Big To Fail, NY: Penguin Books, 2010.  See also: Eric Yoder, “Federal Employees make average 26% less..” Washington Post, November 4, 2011.    Luke Johnson, “Paul Ryan on payroll tax extension: Holidays Come Holidays Go,” Huffington Post, December 8, 2011. Miami Herald, “Components of GOP Tax Cut, December 9, 2011.  Rosalind Helderman, “Plans both blocked by Senate,” Washington Post, December 8, 2011.  Mark Miller, “Why Obama’s payroll tax cut extension is the best worst option, Reuters, December 8, 2011.   Chad Stone, “House Republican Unemployment Insurance Proposal Acts As If Economic Slump Is Over,” CBPP, December 9, 2011. Andrew Fieldhouse, “Paying for a jobs bill by cutting federal jobs?”  EPI,  December 2, 2011.

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Filed under Heller, public employees, Reid, Taxation, Veterans

Coffee and the Papers: Bears, Sharks, and Snark

** Nevada’s very own Sheldon Adelson, he of Freedom’s Watch and he who spent about $30 million during the 2008 campaign season, [SW] finds himself in trouble with a U.S. magistrate because he refused to answer questions in a deposition. [VegasInc] And speaking of things in court: The Righthaven rulings are making some people nervous. [LVSun full article]

** The Heller for the Senate campaign would like to make a bit of hay out of Rep. Shelley Berkley’s husband investing in foreclosed properties and re-selling them, the problem — of course — is this is exactly the practice Republicans are promoting as a way for “the housing market to right itself.” [LVSun]

** Another volunteer for the Austerity does not produce Prosperity cause. This time it’s the CFO of Morgan Stanley: “The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That’s a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t agree with that,” Porat said. “The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that’s inappropriate.””We cannot cut our way to greatness,” she added.” [HuffPo] Amen to that.  If memory serves, the GOP was supposed to have rolled out its version of the payroll tax cut extensions yesterday.  Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) may introduce a compromise measure on the subject.  Senate Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for payroll tax cuts offset by a 1.9% surcharge on the top 1%.  [Bloomberg]

** Shark Alert:  Big banks, like Well Fargo, are bankrolling Payday Lenders who earned approximately $3.5 billion in fees making loans to people, and churning them back into perpetual debtors, meaning “repeat borrowing by customers who paid off their loan, but because of the interest, require another loan before their next paycheck.”  [TP] Now, do we understand why the Banks and their GOP allies on Capitol Hill are opposed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?

** More sharks in the water:  The Gleaner has some succinct observations on the silence of the sharks, NVEnergy, who would like to maintain their very profitable grasp on Nevada ratepayers.

** It was The Lie of the Year in 2010, but presidential candidate Mitt Romney keeps telling it.  “The health care reform act was a 100% government takeover of health care.”  Perrspectives takes a long look at this Romney incantation, in a readable and recommended post.   However, Mitt The Flip has changed his position on the extension of payroll tax cuts,  before they were “temporary little Band-Aids,” now they are OK because middle class Americans are feeling the pinch. [TPM] In the “lawful, but awful” department: Romney’s governorship in Massachusetts ended with the expenditure of $100,000 to scrub records by having 11 members of his staff buy hard drives containing info on his administration. [TPMM]

** The ratings agencies are under scrutiny from the EU watchdogs: “Our inspectors are examining how the rating agencies conduct their business and arrive at ratings. If we were to find wrongdoing, ESMA has the power to fine agencies, suspend their ratings and we could even withdraw their license.” [Reuters] The oversight group has been investigating the ratings agencies since last month and will continue its scrutiny in December.  Could explain why Standard & Poor’s has been a little tetchy lately?

** Drill Baby Drill may be Spill Baby Spill?  BP workers found “cold pipes” weeks before the North Slope Spill. [McClatchy] Background info at Anchorage Daily News. (May 2011)

** The Department of Defense is looking at possible beneficial effects of hyperbaric oxygen treatment for members of the Armed Services suffering from traumatic brain injuries.  [Army Times] In 2009 Pentagon officials estimated that as many as 360,000 members of the services may be suffering with TBI. [USAT]

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Filed under Adelson, Berkley, ecology, Nevada politics, Taxation, Veterans