Monday, August 5, 2013

A Threat to Justice Everywhere

“A second year under sequestration will have a devastating, and long lasting, impact on the administration of justice in this country,” “slash operations to the bones” "profoundly compromise" “We do not have projects or programs to cut; we only have people. We must adjudicate all civil and criminal cases that are filed with the courts,” the judges wrote. “Our workload does not diminish because of budget shortfalls. … Another round of cuts would be devastating.”
http://news.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/Chief-Judges-Letter-to-Joseph-Biden.pdf

The Orlando Sentinel and the Tampa Tribune have done fantastic jobs of detailing how the sequester is threatening the U.S. justice system. The sequester is literally a threat to the justice of our justice system and also a threat to the just Catholic social doctrine of the "preferential option for the poor." This blog entry is the place for the who, what, where, when, and why of the sequester.

In August 2011, with the Tea-Party led Congress holding the United States' credit hostage, Congress and the President agreed to the "Budget Control Act." A majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the Sequester but in the Senate it was a majority of Democrats. Obama may have thought up the idea under duress, but it was 98% of what the Tea-Party influenced House wanted.

Journalist Bob Woodward basically said the idea for including the military in the sequester was Obama's idea. Now this is being used by Republicans, who got 98% of what they wanted, and can blame Obama for it. The Republican impetus for the sequester was threatening not to raise our nation's debt limit. As blogger Billmon put it, this tactic was akin to the guy in the movie Blazing Saddles who took himself hostage. In retrospect, it was a horrible move for President Obama to give in to these shenanigans. To make matters worse, the U.S. credit rating was dropped despite the sequester compromise.

Furthermore, in car accidents the driver who has the "last clear chance" to avoid an accident are supposed to take it or it is their fault. The Republican Congress has failed to stop the sequester, therefore it is their fault.

Sequester is for all practical purposes a misnomer. Sequester makes it sound as if Republicans could be in favor of cutting the budget while being against sequester. It makes it sound superficially plausible that President Obama wants to raise taxes instead of cutting the budget and still be the one to blame for the sequester. Calling it deep budget cuts instead would reduce this confusion.

(The "fiscal cliff" sounded much more alarming and many of us thought disaster was averted on January 1 of this year. In reality, only lessening tax hikes had been accomplished. That compromise was not so bad. I wish the parties could compromise on the sequester. There is no room for compromise due to gerry-mandered districts. Because of gerrymandered districts there is no fear of re-election and no room for compromise due to deeply red and deeply blue districts.)

Indeed, when you realize that if the Republicans in Congress didn't want they sequester all they'd have to do is vote to repeal it--as they've done to The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) 40 times. But in contrast to repealing Obamacare, repealing the sequester would be able to pass the Senate and be signed by the president. The only reason Republicans won't repeal the sequester is because they want it's deep cuts, or even deeper ones with the exception of military cuts.  So Politifact notwithstanding, Republicans should not only own the sequester, they love it!


Admittedly President Obama's idea of the Sequester as a supposed deterrent--a Mutually Assured Destruction, if you will, was flawed. MAD worked in the U.S.-Communist Cold War, but is outdated in defending against terrorists. For MAD to work, you have to have a rational opponent not hell-bent on destruction. Followers of sociopath Ayn Rand want "moochers" to suffer while followers of Grover Norquist want to shrink government and "drown it in a bathtub." Such right-wing nut-jobs hate the government. I just wish they wouldn't run for elected office and that no one would vote for them. These are not rational opponents.

Lastly, if air traffic controller furloughs had continued the sequester would be over by now. As Martin Luther King, Jr,, put it “When you impede the rich man's ability to make money, anything is negotiable." That leverage should never have been given up by the Democrats.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Marking 25 Years of Excrement In Broadcasting

Rush Limbaugh has now been syndicated for 25 years. It has been over 10 years since I have listened to him at all. I stopped listening after I complained to a co-worker after lunch about something I heard Limbaugh say.

My co-worker asked, "Why do you listen to him?"

I replied that I only listen critically.

He said, "but you give him ratings and that's what he cares about most."

I thought about it and he was right. So I stopped listening. But the following are some of my criticisms back when I listened to him first-hand. For more recent Limbaugh lies, Media Matters now tracks those for us. So without further ado...

Quick Quiz: What do G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, Rush Limbaugh, and Ted Nugent have in common?

Did you say convicted criminals? Wrong.
Only Liddy and North are actually criminals, and, besides, North's conviction was overturned on a technicality.

Let's see, Liddy worked for Nixon, North was in the military, Ted Nugent is a rock star, and Rush Limbaugh is a conservative talk show host. But wait, Liddy also has a talk show, so does North, but Ted Nugent? That's right, even Ted Nugent. All four are conservative talk show hosts.

Brief History of Talk Radio
Talk radio was first heard after 11 PM on top 40 radio stations. KABC became the first all-talk station in 1962. Gradually, many "impartial" hosts were replaced by opinionated ones. Now with no fairness doctrine in sight, conservatives proliferate the airwaves with their views.

Although not alone, Rush Limbaugh epitomizes this group, which I like to call "rechtsdreck‏ radio." Rechtsdreck is the German word for "garbage right." And no, I am not inferring that conservative radio has anything in common with some, limited aspects of 1930s fascism in Europe, I am implying it. You can infer it!

Focusing on Rush Limbaugh, now Senator Al Franken wrote a book called Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations. A lot of people had big problems with this title. Even I have a small problem with it, namely, there should be a comma between the adjectives "big" and "fat." I gleaned this Rush-Limbaugh timeline from that book:

  • Rush Limbaugh was born in 1951. At age 16 he got his first job in radio--at his father's radio station. In 1969 he enrolled in college. In 1970 he dropped out, but still avoided service in the Vietnam War.
  • From 1974-1978 he was hired by 4 radio stations
  • In 1977 he married for the first time
  • In the early 80s he divorced and remarried. He got back into radio after working for the Kansas City Royals. In 1984 he began work in Sacramento where his syndication began.
  • After revelations in  a newspaper column that he had never done so, in 1986 Limbaugh first registered to vote.
  • In 1989 he divorced for the second time
  • In 1992 his best-selling book railed against "uglo-Americans," "environmentalist wackos," and "feminazis." Its 1994 sequel denounced negativity.
  • In the mid 90s he married for the third time. He also spreads rumors like the one about Vince Foster being murdered.
  • In 1994 the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1955. Instead of listening to professors of political science and policy wonks, Congressional newcomers are lectured by Rush Limbaugh.
It has been my experience that listeners of Rush Limbaugh tend to be ill-informed, yet confident about what they think they know at the same time. Psychologist might call this the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I call it a "Limbaughtomy." Multiplied multiplicities and multitudinous examples of Limbaugh-misinformation could be sighted, but here are three:
  1. Limbaugh has claimed, "There are more American Indians today than when Columbus arrived."
  2. "There are more acres of forestland today than when Columbus [arrived]."
  3. Even if polar ice caps melted by the greenhouse effect, the oceans' water level would not increase.
The facts are quite the opposite:
  1.  The Native American population has decreased in what is now the U.S. by at least 60%.
  2. America has at least 250 million less acres of forest than in Columbus's time.
  3. Ice melted off land, such as from on Antarctica and Greenland, would supply more water for oceans, increasing their levels. Hence, these are not just like ice cubes floating in water. There is water flowing from land into the oceans.
Rechtsdreck Radio, a phrase I have coined on my blog, is replete with Rush Limbaugh and Rush Limbaugh wannabees who claim to be bastions of truth in opposition to the "liberal" media (by which they don't mean just MSNBC, the former radio "Air America," or soon-to-be-former Current TV, but NPR and The New York Times).

Except for the egregious highlights (or should I write "lowlights?") I see on Media Matters, I no longer listen to Rechtsdreck Radio (or the video version, Fox News [sic], for that matter). I simply don't waste the time getting pulled into parallel universes where Hillary Clinton rubbed out Vince Foster, Styrofoam is biodegradable, and cigarettes don't cause cancer. That is the way Rush Limbaugh wants it to be, but not the way it is.





Sunday, July 21, 2013

The New York Times Editorial Board: Justice Sequestered

The New York Times


July 20, 2013

Justice Sequestered

The madness of Washington’s across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration is causing real damage to the American justice system — undermining the sound functioning of the courts and particularly imperiling the delivery of effective legal representation to poor people accused of federal crimes.
The $350 million reduction in the federal judiciary’s budget for fiscal 2013 has resulted in a roughly 8 percent cut to the network of high-quality federal defender offices across the country. It has forced the layoffs of many experienced lawyers who have devoted their professional careers to the underappreciated and underpaid work of representing indigent federal defendants. And it has inflicted a pay cut on the defenders who remain on staff in the form of up to 20 unpaid furlough days.
These hits to the core legal staff have been accompanied by other blows, including reductions in lawyer training, research, investigation of cases and expert help, including interpreters. The cuts have also meant crippling reductions to federal probation and pretrial services, including mental health treatment, drug treatment and testing, and court supervision — all with disquieting implications for people’s rights and public safety.
In April, a major terrorism trial in New York City being handled by Federal Defenders of New York was postponed until January after lawyers in that office told the judge that budget cuts had left them short of resources and staff. The defendant’s family has since hired a lawyer on its own. Many courts no longer conduct trials on some or all Fridays to accommodate the furloughs of federal defenders and strains in other areas, like courthouse security and the availability of federal marshals.
Judges in certain jurisdictions have warned that they may have to suspend civil jury trials if financing is not restored. All this comes on top of the budget-driven problems plaguing state courts, where representation of impoverished defendants is also grossly underfinanced.
The cuts for federal defenders may actually end up costing taxpayers more. Because indigent defendants still have a right to counsel, new cases that would ordinarily be handled by a federal defender will inevitably be taken up by court-appointed private lawyers. That will lead to worse results at a higher cost, according to academic studies.
That things have reached this point is a deep embarrassment for a nation grounded on the rule of law. Yet it appears that the situation is about to get much worse. Federal defender offices have been told to prepare for another round of cuts of roughly 14 percent for the 2014 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets policy for the federal judiciary, should seek ways to minimize the damage. For instance, it might reallocate funds from less critical administrative areas, spreading the pain of new furloughs across the judiciary staff (except judges). Or it could budget for a delay in fees to court-appointed private lawyers, thus lessening the need for immediate deductions.
But there are really no good alternatives here, given the continuing partisan standoff in Congress as well as lawmakers’ unwillingness to provide the emergency supplementary financing the courts have asked for. Reducing the hourly rates private lawyers are paid, as some have proposed, would simply compound the existing problem of finding capable private lawyers who will fully defend indigent clients.
One thing that might help is a louder and more forceful declaration from Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. about the damage the sequester is doing to America’s courts — the subject of a much-needed Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing scheduled for Tuesday by Senator Christopher Coons, a Delaware Democrat. If nothing else, drawing attention to the plight of federal defenders should make it harder for anyone to claim that the sequester’s impact is no big deal.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Yes, the Sequester Is Affecting the Job Market

July 5, 2013, 1:01 pm 
[To see full article with graphs, click title link:

Yes, the Sequester Is Affecting the Job Market

The across-the-board automatic federal budget cuts that began in March do not seem to be derailing the recovery so far, given that the job market over all has continued to grow. And certainly some of the scariest predictions about the sequester didn’t come true (partly because Congress stepped in to prevent their occurrence). But if you look closely at the data, the sequester still does seem to be affecting certain industries pretty badly.
As my colleague Floyd Norris wrote, government payrolls have been shrinking for several years. Those declines were mostly driven by state and local layoffs at first; lately, the layoffs have gotten worse at the federal level. In the last four months, the federal government has laid off 40,000 workers. And that number doesn’t indicate the full extent to which the sequester has affected employment, as many government agencies have resorted to furloughs rather than full-blown layoffs.
Below is a chart showing the numbers of federal workers who have been working “part time for economic reasons,” a term meaning they want to be working full time, but can’t get their employer to give them full-time hours. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted, so I’ve charted the trends for 2011, 2012 and 2013 to compare the level in a given month with its level exactly one year and two years earlier.
As you can see, there was a huge jump in the number of reluctant federal part-timers in June compared with the same month in 2011 and 2012. In June 2013, 148,000 federal workers were working part-time hours (defined as fewer than 35 hours a week) but wished they were working full time, compared with 58,000 in June 2012 and 55,000 in June 2011.
In fact, in every month starting in February, when agencies perhaps started preparing for the sequester, the number of reluctant federal part-timers has been higher than its level in 2012. In each of those months in 2013, the level has also been higher than in 2011, with the exception of April, when there were an equal number of federal part-timers for economic reasons in 2011 and 2013 (64,000).
And of course, these figures show only what’s happening with federal workers. There are plenty of private-sector workers whose jobs and hours depend on federal money, too, as I wrote in an article last week.
In that article, I calculated which industries were most reliant on federal defense money, based on Labor Department data showing where the Defense Department spends its money, and how money spent in any one sector affects employment in all the others (for example, employment of metal workers might rise when the government orders a new jet). The top five defense-sensitive industries are ship and boat building, facilities support services, aerospace product and parts manufacturing, scientific research and development services and electronic instruments manufacturing (which includes companies that make navigational instruments, for example).
Here’s a look at the monthly change in employment in these defense-sensitive industries, shown at an annualized percentage growth rate, versus all other industries:
As you can see, in the last few months, the defense-sensitive industries have been shedding jobs, while the rest of the country’s employers have been adding jobs over all. The trends for the previous months are noisy, but if you smooth them out, it looks as if the defense-sensitive industries and the other industries were both doing about equally well, with the exception of a huge downward spike in employment in the defense-sensitive industries around the time of the summer 2011 debt ceiling crisis.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Miltary Sequester Cuts 7.16.13

Stars and Stripes reports on how Marines are reacting to mental health furloughs (via The Libertarian Web site antiwar.com). Already overbooked civilian mental health providers are now seeing Marines even less frequently than before the severe budget cuts know as the sequester. Combat casualties with traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorders, major depressive disorders, and memory problems that need routine are not receiving the treatment they need and deserve. Double the wait between appointments and shorter session times are some of the norms.

Airport Sequester Cuts 7.16.13

Sequester affects Foley Municipal Airport project (gulfcoastnewstoday.com) reports an airport in Foley, Alabama, has had to delay renovating its runway. The runway is currently not up to FAA standards. The Congress has allowed the FAA to avoid furloughs; it does so by diverting funds from projects such as this one.