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“Endless Crusades”: Tea Party Delays Spending, Beats Dead Horse

It will only cover three days, but once again next week Congress will have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open. The current resolution expires on Wednesday, and even though a budget agreement was reached last month, appropriators in both chambers still haven’t nailed down a plan to tell various agencies what they can spend.

There are many reasons for that delay — the appropriations committees only had a few weeks after the budget deal to cobble together a massive $1 trillion bill, known as an omnibus. But one of the biggest is that House Republicans from the Tea Party wing have demanded that the bill reflect their ideological goals.

They have insisted, for example, that no money be spent to implement the health care reform law, or that various aspects of the law be cut back so sharply that it would not be workable. They don’t want money spent to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. They want sharp reductions in the National Labor Relations Board.

More than 130 of these so-called riders have been filed by lawmakers, many of whom wouldn’t vote for the omnibus even if their provisions were adopted. Some are particularly ridiculous, including:

* Forbidding the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing its rule on the safe removal of lead paint.

* Prohibiting the Fish and Wildlife Service from including the sage grouse on the endangered species list.

* Prohibiting subsidies for any health care plan that includes abortion. (Many states already forbid this, but this rider would make the ban nationwide.)

* Banning the government from requiring federal contractors to disclose their political contributions — one of the Obama administration’s better transparency proposals, which it eventually dropped in the face of business opposition.

Many of these riders have been dropped by the negotiators, but some, including those involving the health care law, have yet to be resolved. (Appropriators think the omnibus bill will be ready by next week.) Republican leaders can’t afford another government shutdown, but apparently they haven’t yet convinced their most radical members to stop their endless crusades.


By: David Firestone, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, January 10, 2014

January 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Playing Games”: House Votes To Undermine ACA, Again

The House of Representatives held its first meaningful floor vote of 2014 this morning, sending a clear signal about the Republican majority’s priorities. Did they vote on unemployment benefits? The farm bill? One of the many other unfinished bills from 2013?

No, the GOP majority is still playing games with health care.

A significant number of Democrats broke party lines to vote on the House’s first anti-Obamacare vote of 2014 on Friday, a blow to party unity and leadership’s advice that rank-and-file members stand strong against GOP “gotcha” bills.

The legislation, which would require victims of security breaches through insurance exchanges to be notified within two days, passed 291-122. Sixty-seven Democrats sided with all voting Republicans to hoist the bill over the finish line.

The fact that so many Democratic lawmakers broke ranks wasn’t a huge surprise – it’s now an election year and they seem reluctant to create attack-ad fodder by opposing pointless “messaging” bills.

As we discussed last week, the proposal comes by way of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has a lengthy record of preferring partisan games to actual governing. It also dovetails with a coordinated messaging campaign championed by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

Indeed, today’s vote was unusually vapid. As has been reported many times, there have been no security breaches; literally zero Americans’ personal information has been compromised; administrative security testing for is constant; and when rare vulnerabilities have popped up, the problems have been identified and resolved quickly and safely.

What’s more, while the bill approved by the House today would require HHS to notify consumers if their personal information is accessed improperly, it’s worth noting (a) HHS is already required to make these notifications, making the legislation unnecessary; and (b) since consumers’ personal information is not actually stored on, the underlying concern really doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So what’s the point of pushing a pointless bill and making it the first proposal voted on in 2014? I found remarks from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, quite compelling.

“Despite all these positive results, Republicans are still obsessed with killing this law. Since they cannot do so legislatively, they have shifted to a different tactic: scaring people away from the website.

“So my second point is this: there have been no successful security breaches of Nobody’s personal information has been maliciously hacked. […]

“These are important facts for the American people to know. But the Republicans disregard them and omit them because they undermine their claims. Many of us would support efforts to strengthen requirements for the entire federal government and private sector to notify consumers of breaches. But today’s bill does not do that. Today’s bill is the latest attempt to attack the Affordable Care Act and deprive millions of Americans of the healthcare they deserve.”

As for actual security threats, Jennifer Bendery makes a point that can’t be emphasized enough: “[T]he most credible threat to the website’s security may be the loudest critic of the website’s security: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 10, 2014

January 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pull Harder On Your Bootstraps!”: Excuses, Excuses, For Not Extending Unemployment Insurance

The president on Tuesday called on Congress to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, saying the insurance program keeps Americans from “falling off a cliff.” But the Republican leadership — convinced that Americans can pull themselves up and out of the ravine by their bootstraps — finds the extension unnecessary.

“Pull harder!” sounds kind of callous, though, especially since the unemployment rate hovers above 7 percent and there are more people looking for work than positions available. So Republicans are finding nicer ways of explaining their objections, and ginning up excuses.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Republican leadership sent a “what we talk about when we talk about cutting benefits”-type memo to the rank-and-file, which emphasizes the need for compassion. “For every American out of work, it’s a personal crisis for them and their family,” the memo states. “That’s why House Republicans remain focused on creating jobs and growing the economy.”

Is job creation incompatible with extending unemployment insurance? The memo suggests it is: “Even the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found that extending the program will lead to some workers reducing the intensity of their job search and staying unemployed longer.”

By the way, the C.B.O. also estimated in December that “extending unemployment benefits would raise gross domestic product (GDP) and employment in 2014 relative to what would occur under current law.” No mention of that in the memo.

Republicans are also trying to make themselves look better by insisting they’d agree to an extension if the cost were “offset” with cuts to the federal budget. Raising revenue by closing tax loopholes is, naturally, off the table. And what’s on the table, at least so far, is definitely not kosher for Democrats.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, suggested paying for the cost of an extension by “lifting the burden of Obamacare’s individual mandate for one year.” It’s true that would save money — according to the C.B.O. — but only because fewer uninsured people would seek and receive Medicaid coverage.


By: Juliet Lapidos, Editor’s Blog, The New York Times, January 8, 2014

January 12, 2014 Posted by | Republicans, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s Poverty Scam”: Why Does It Suddenly “Care” About The Poor?

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio finally gave his much-anticipated speech on poverty, a hot trend among Republicans seeking the presidency. Rubio emerged from the dense thicket of conservative think tank writing on the subject with one actual proposal: wage subsidies. Which, you know, fine, let’s have wage subsidies! They seem like an OK idea. Sure, they might encourage employers to pay low-wage employees less money in order to receive more subsidies, but if the options are nothing versus wage subsidies, I am going with wage subsidies.

Will any other Republican, though? Unlike raising the minimum wage, any wage subsidy program will actually require the government to spend money, and Republicans are unified in their opposition to the government spending money on poor people. Rubio’s support may not do much to convince them to abandon this core principle; he’s not the potential party savior he once looked to be.

Still, points for actually advocating for an actual policy that would actually help people! That’s more than Paul Ryan, Rand Paul or Eric Cantor have done so far in this rhetorical war on poverty. Thus far, their efforts have run up against the brick wall that is the modern conservative movement’s utter inability to craft policy that hasn’t been completely discredited by the last 30+ years of American political and economic history. So, Cantor has come up with “school vouchers” and Paul has tried “economic freedom zones,” which seem to be like “enterprise zones” — already the most popular urban economic revitalization scheme extant, to mostly middling effect — only with even fewer worker protections or environmental regulations. Also a capital gains tax cut. Always a capital gains tax cut. America is just one more capital gains tax cut away from winning the war on poverty!

The recent spike in Republicans suddenly claiming they care about poor people is, honestly, a bit strange. Their voters, for the most part, do not care, and do not care if their politicians say they care. For those wishing to win elections as Republicans in recent years, it has tended to be more effective to loudly denounce the poor, or at least to denounce those who support making the poor less poor. After all, the poor are only poor because they want to be, or are morally deficient, or because of Democrats who keep them poor to maintain a large voting bloc of poor people.

When Republicans called Barack Obama the “food stamp president,” they claimed that they meant that it was a shame that Obama’s policies had devastated the economy so much that so many people now relied on food stamps. Their actual meaning (well, their actual meaning besides just wanting to blow a racist dog whistle) was that liberal policies had fostered a culture of dependency — that is, that living on the dole was so swell that unemployment was a better option than working for a living. This, again, is the blame-the-poor argument that the right has made forever and that the Republican Party has enthusiastically adopted since Reagan.

And it’s not a terribly ineffective political argument! Americans hate the poor, and deeply resent the idea of any of their money going to help them. That’s why Clinton killed welfare, and why food stamps are now at risk. There’s little political upside in promising to help the poor, and for years Democrats have only ever promised to help “all Americans” and “the middle class.”

But Republicans have decided that part of what hurt Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign was that time he called nearly half the nation moochers. This was, they are well aware, merely a slightly artless restatement of a core conservative belief, but it turns out that in a nation in the midst of an ongoing, seemingly never-ending employment crisis, this is maybe not a popular position among voters not already deeply committed to the conservative project. So saying “I care about poverty” is one way to help shake the correct impression voters have that Republicans are devoted solely to the further enrichment of the already wealthy.

Poverty is also a subject about which it’s incredibly easy to bamboozle most of the mainstream political press. You can get swell coverage merely for saying you care about the poor, as Paul Ryan recently has. Because political reporters are unable and unwilling to analyze policy, and curiously reluctant to speak to anyone who can, you can also claim any program at all will lessen poverty or help the unemployed. And for Ryan, “caring about the poor” is a good way to reestablish Seriousness: He becomes one of the Few Serious Republicans with plans to help the poor. Poverty is a better subject for this act than most other liberal issues — like, say, the environment — because Republicans are at least allowed to acknowledge that it is bad that some people are poor.

If Ryan talks about the poor to burnish his wonk cred (and remove the stink of his association with Mitt Romney), Paul’s new shtick is clearly “compassionate libertarianism” (not to be confused with bleeding-heart libertarianism). Like compassionate conservatism, it is the same as the non-compassionate version, except its proponent publicly expresses compassion for people who will not benefit from it.

The only risk these Republicans have to avoid is supporting any policy at all that will help poor people, because those policies will then be supported by Democrats. If Rubio’s idea shows any sign of being able to pass in Congress, Democrats will support it, and then it will become a Democratic policy, and Republicans will be forced to hate it forever. Just about the only prominent Republican elected official who has actually done anything that will actually benefit actual poor people, as Alec MacGillis notes, is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who accepted the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. That is, he helped Ohio’s impoverished by enacting a Democratic policy. (He may have done so in part because Ohio is just about 50.1 percent Democratic, according to the 2012 presidential election results, and Kasich is up for reelection this year.)

It’s the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and it’s nice to see various liberals defending it. For years after its dismantling, no one (well, no one taken seriously in the political elite) was allowed to say that big government programs were an effective means of eliminating poverty. Now, finally, old-fashioned economic progressivism has begun to become a position people are allowed to advocate for in public. (Though everyone is still encouraged to couch all such advocacy in conservative, “pro-market” tones, because that is what our deeply conservative elite is most comfortable with.) There’s very little reason to be optimistic that Republicans “discovering” poverty will lead to any serious national effort to eradicate poverty, but maybe (maybe!) it will make conventional liberals less terrified of actually embracing the eradication of poverty as a goal.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 9, 2014

January 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Company Is Secure”: Stop Asking Me For My Email Address

It’s hard out there for a paranoid cybersecurity reporter.

I’ve covered enough breaches, identity thefts, cybercrime and worse, to know it’s a terrible idea to hand over my personal data — even something as seemingly innocuous as my birthday or email address — to a store clerk, or a strange login page on the Internet.

But it’s getting hard to resist. I was in the middle of buying a swimsuit recently when the sweet lady behind the boutique counter asked me for my email address. I explained, as I have a hundred times before, that I’m a paranoid security reporter who makes it a general rule of thumb not to hand out information unnecessarily.

“We won’t spam you or anything,” she said, perplexed. “We just need it for our database.”

I knew then that the conversation was headed into a whole lot of awkward, as it had dozens of times before. The fact is, a boutique doesn’t need my email address so I can buy a swimsuit. The hotel I stayed in recently didn’t need my birth date, or my home address, or my driver’s license number, before I could check in. And Target doesn’t need to store your debit card PIN.

After news of Target’s breach first broke last month, a reader emailed complaining that after a recent purchase at a Target store in San Francisco, she was asked for her driver’s license after her credit card was authorized. “I gave it to her thinking she was only going to look at it, however she immediately scanned it through her register. I was a bit shocked and asked why she did that. She said it is always done but ‘Don’t worry, it is secure.’”

That, we now know, is absurd.

There is a temptation to think that major retailers like Target– and now Neiman Marcus– are more secure because they have more cash to spend on security. It’s the same assumption users made thinking Snapchat was secure because it magically makes selfies disappear, or that LinkedIn knew how to protect data because it likes to talk up big data, or that Adobe could protect our passwords.

Actually, I take that back: Compromised Adobe PDF files have been used in far too many cyberattacks to mention here.

The point is that no company is secure. None of them. Not when they are up against an increasingly sophisticated, elusive enemy. But the problem is not just retailers, or technology companies or hackers, it’s us.

We regularly hand over data simply because we’re politely asked. We don’t read privacy policies, or ask companies whether our email addresses and passwords will be “salted” or “hashed,” encrypted with long or short keys, or whether those keys will be stored on separate systems from the ones they can unscramble. We don’t challenge major credit card companies to hurry up and adopt smart-chip credit cards. And we don’t stop doing business with companies that don’t take data protection seriously.

So we’ll all feign shock that the Target breach did not just affect 40 million people as it previously reported, but well over one-third of America’s adult population. And then, in a few days, we will likely go back to politely handing over our email addresses and birth dates.

But for now, the sweet lady at the boutique just has this:


By: Nichole Perlroth, Digital Diary, The New York Times, January 10, 2014

January 12, 2014 Posted by | Privacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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