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Capitalism and the Right to Rise

In freedom lies the risk of failure. But in statism lies the certainty of stagnation.

By JEB BUSH

Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: “The right to rise.”

Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn’t seem like something we should have to protect.

But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.

That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this. Freedom of speech, for example, means that we put up with a lot of verbal and visual garbage in order to make sure that individuals have the right to say what needs to be said, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular. We forgive the sacrifices of free speech because we value its blessings.

But when it comes to economic freedom, we are less forgiving of the cycles of growth and loss, of trial and error, and of failure and success that are part of the realities of the marketplace and life itself.

Increasingly, we have let our elected officials abridge our own economic freedoms through the annual passage of thousands of laws and their associated regulations. We see human tragedy and we demand a regulation to prevent it. We see a criminal fraud and we demand more laws. We see an industry dying and we demand it be saved. Each time, we demand “Do something . . . anything.”

As Florida’s governor for eight years, I was asked to “do something” almost every day. Many times I resisted through vetoes but many times I succumbed. And I wasn’t alone. Mayors, county chairs, governors and presidents never think their laws will harm the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Woe to the elected leader who fails to deliver a multipoint plan for economic success, driven by specific government action. “Trust in the dynamism of the market” is not a phrase in today’s political lexicon.

Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?

The right to rise does not require a libertarian utopia to exist. Rather, it requires fewer, simpler and more outcome-oriented rules. Rules for which an honest cost-benefit analysis is done before their imposition. Rules that sunset so they can be eliminated or adjusted as conditions change. Rules that have disputes resolved faster and less expensively through arbitration than litigation.

In Washington, D.C., rules are going in the opposite direction. They are exploding in reach and complexity. They are created under a cloud of uncertainty, and years after their passage nobody really knows how they will work.

We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy’s resources should be spent.

Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government’s role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.

In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.

Mr. Bush, a Republican, was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.

EPA rules will cost jobs, raise prices (This would affect Alabama)

By Dina Cappiello December 19, 2011 7:19 am

WASHINGTON (AP) – More than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states will be forced to shut down and an additional 36 might have to close because of new federal air pollution regulations, according to an Associated Press survey.

Together, those plants — some of the oldest and dirtiest in the country — produce enough electricity for more than 22 million households, the AP survey found. But their demise probably won’t cause homes to go dark.

The survey, based on interviews with 55 power plant operators and on the Environmental Protection Agency’s own prediction of power plant retirements, rebuts claims by critics of the regulations and some electric power producers.

They have predicted the EPA rules will kill coal as a power source and force blackouts, basing their argument on estimates from energy analysts, congressional offices, government regulators, unions and interest groups. Many of those studies inflate the number of plants retiring by counting those shutting down for reasons other than the two EPA rules.

The AP surveyed electricity-generating companies about what they plan to do and the effects on power supply and jobs. It was the first survey of its kind.

The estimate also was based in part on EPA computer models that predict which fossil-fuel generating units are likely to be retired early to comply with the rules, and which were likely to be retired anyway.

The agency has estimated that 14.7 gigawatts, enough power for more than 11 million households, will be retired from the power grid in the 2014-15 period when the two new rules take effect.

The first rule curbs air pollution in states downwind from dirty power plants. The second, expected to be announced Monday, would set the first standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plant smokestacks.

Combined, the rules could do away with more than 8 percent of the coal-fired generation nationwide, the AP found. The average age of the plants that could be sacrificed is 51 years.

These plants have been allowed to run for decades without modern pollution controls because it was thought that they were on the verge of being shuttered by the utilities that own them. But that didn’t happen.

Other rules in the works, dealing with cooling water intakes at power plants and coal ash disposal, could cause the retirement of additional generating plants. Those rules weren’t included in the AP survey.

While the new rule heralds an incremental shift away from coal as a power source, it’s unlikely to break coal’s grip as the dominant domestic electricity source. Most of the lost power generation will be replaced, and the coal-fired plants that remain will have to be cleaner.

“In the industry we retire units. That is part of our business,” said John Moura, manager of reliability assessment at the North American Electric Reliability Corp. NERC represents the nation’s electrical grid operators, whose job is to weigh the effect a proposed retirement will have on reliability.

With so many retirements expected, that process could get rushed. “We are getting a little hammered here, because we see multiple requests,” Moura said.

NERC, along with some power plant operators, is pressing the Obama administration to give companies more time to comply with the rules to avoid too many plants shutting down at once.

In addition to anticipated retirements, about 500 or more units will need to be idled temporarily in the next few years to install pollution controls. Some of those units are at critical junctions on the grid and are essential to restarting the electrical network in case of a blackout, or making sure voltage doesn’t drain completely from electrical lines, like a hose that’s lost its water pressure.

“We can’t say there isn’t going be an issue. We know there will be some challenges,” Moura said. “But we don’t think the lights are going to turn off because of this issue.”

That hasn’t stopped some critics from sounding alarms.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a letter to the White House this month that the EPA mercury rule could “unintentionally jeopardize the reliability of our electric grid.” At a speech in New Hampshire in November, GOP presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman predicted summer blackouts. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad said a single EPA regulation “could threaten America’s energy supply.”

Particularly at the older, less efficient plants most at risk, coal already was at a disadvantage because of low natural gas prices, demand from China and elsewhere that was driving up coal’s price, and weaker demand for electricity.

For many plant operators, the new regulations were the final blow. For others, the rules will speed retirements already planned to comply with state laws or to settle earlier enforcement cases with the EPA. In the AP’s survey, not a single plant operator said the EPA rules were solely to blame for a closure, although some said it left them with no other choice.

“The EPA regulation became a game changer and a deal changer for some of these units,” said Ryan Stensland, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which has three units in Iowa and one in Minnesota that will be retired, and four in Iowa that are at risk of shutting down, depending on how the final rules look. “Absent the EPA regulations, I don’t think we would be seeing the transition that we are seeing today. It became a situation where EPA broke the back of coal.”

Some believe the change is long overdue. The two rules will cut toxic mercury emissions from power plants by 90 percent, smog-forming nitrogen oxide pollution by half, and soot-forming sulfur dioxide by more than 70 percent.

“Many of them are super old. They’ve either got to be brought up to code, fixed with the best available technology, or close them down,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “You can’t keep on going.”

The impact is greatest in the Midwest and in the coal belt — Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia — where dozens of units probably will be retired.

Coal “is the fuel that is local to this area,” said Leonard Hopkins, the fuel and compliance manager for the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative, which serves rural electric customers in 25 counties in the state. “We are scrambling to find ways to comply.”

His options: switch to a lower sulfur coal, install additional pollution controls or retire the oldest boiler and buy cheaper power from elsewhere.

For many of the country’s oldest coal-fired plants, retirement is the cheapest option.

“It is more expensive to retrofit these plants than retire them and build new generation,” said Chris Whelan, spokeswoman for Kentucky Utilities, which announced in September that it was retiring three coal-fired power plants in the state. The plants, which came on line in 1947, 1962 and 1950, employ 204 people.

Whelan said the company is “going to do everything we can to reallocate the work” by shifting employees to a new gas-fired power plant.

In some places, a job at the power plant is the best thing going.

Thirty people work at the Central Electric Power Cooperative plant in Chamois, Mo., where EPA regulations have put the plant in danger of shutting down. Some employees are looking to see if there are other power plants where they could find work.

“We always knew there was a chance we could get shut down,” said Robert Skaggs, who has worked at the 50-year-old power plant for 10 years and is also an alderman in the town of 400. “It’s pretty obvious. Our plant is an old plant.”

Chamois Mayor Jim Wright saw the sewing factory leave and doesn’t understand why coal has to do the same.

“Coal’s coal. If you are going to dig and ship it to China, you might as well burn it here,” he said.

Electricity bills are also a concern.

Kentucky Utilities expects its customers to see as much as a 14 percent rate increase to make up for the $800 million it is spending to replace what will be retired, and the $1.1 billion it plans to spend on anti-pollution upgrades. Other power companies have applied to recoup the cost of retrofits or of building new gas-fired power plants. The EPA estimates that industry will spend $11 billion complying with the two rules by 2016.

For others, the biggest issue with plant retirements is the loss of property taxes. As plants wind down and close, their assessed value drops, reducing what they pay to local governments.

In Salem, Mass., Dominion plans to retire two units at the Salem Harbor Station later this year, a move that could halve the plant’s workforce in a town famous for its 17th century witch trials and where the major business is tourism.

The loss of its 50-year-old power plant poses two dilemmas: how to replace its biggest taxpayer and what to do with the 60 acres of waterfront property when the plant is gone.

“It’s not like losing a Dunkin’ Donuts,” said Mayor Kim Driscoll, noting that attractions such as Baltimore’s Inner Harbor took decades to redevelop from abandoned industrial property.

For the next five years, Salem will make up for Dominion’s dwindling $4.75 million tax bill with state money, but after that the future is unclear.

“It’s a big chunk of change when you’re looking at we still have the same number of kids in school, we still have the same number of calls for police and fire, we have the same number of parks and resources that need to be maintained and kept up,” Driscoll said. “That’s not to say there aren’t folks locally that are happy with the fact that a coal-based plant won’t be here forever. There are certainly folks here that see it as a way for Salem to flourish in other ways.”

House Republicans Push Toward Vote on $1 Trillion Spending Bill

By Brian Faler – Dec 15, 2011 2:45 AM CT

House Republicans unveiled a $1 trillion spending bill setting budgets for hundreds of government programs in a bid to force U.S. lawmakers to wrap up their work for the year.

Republicans aim to put the more than 1,200-page spending measure to a vote tomorrow, a move designed to give them an advantage in a separate battle with Democrats over extending an expiring payroll tax cut.

Passing the spending bill would let Republicans leave for their Christmas holiday, increasing pressure on the Democratic-controlled Senate to accept it as well as Republicans’ version of the payroll tax cut. Democrats have been holding up the legislation on concerns that approval would ensure the House recess, forcing them to accept both measures.

A short-term bill funding federal agencies expires tomorrow and without action by Congress, the government will partially shut down. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said his colleagues want to break the payroll-tax stalemate.

“Hopefully, the Senate will act,” he told reporters yesterday. “But you know how they are. We’re not going to sit around here and wait two weeks, twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the Senate.”

Short-Term Measure

President Barack Obama’s spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said last night in a statement that lawmakers instead ought to pass a short-term budget measure to allow more time for negotiations on the budget bill and the payroll-tax plan.

“Given the magnitude of the legislation — providing over $1 trillion dollars in funding — coupled with the unresolved payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance extension, Congress should pass a short-term continuing resolution,” Pfeiffer said.

Some Republicans expressed qualms about their party’s strategy. Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said lawmakers will be asked to vote on legislation they won’t have enough time to read. “It goes against a lot of what we’ve said we were going to do,” he said.

The party’s campaign “Pledge to America” last year said “we will end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation” and “instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”

Oil Pipeline

Democrats are balking at some provisions in the House- passed payroll-tax plan, including plans to expedite construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, raising Medicare premiums for wealthier retirees and paring unemployment benefits.

The spending measure wraps together nine overdue appropriations bills funding almost 40 percent of the government, including the Departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Homeland SecurityVeterans Affairs and others.

Some House Republicans said yesterday they are unsure how many of their colleagues will support the budget plan, which has been criticized for spending too much. More than 100 Republicans, 40 percent of the chamber’s caucus, opposed a spending bill last month, forcing party leaders to rely on Democratic votes for passage.

Representative Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said yesterday he was withholding judgment because he wasn’t sure what would be in the legislation, which was released early today.

‘See What’s In It’

“I’m not going to vote for something unless I have a pretty good idea of what’s in it and right now, we don’t,” Huelskamp said. “I’ve got to see what’s in it.”

The budget bill, combined with a related bill passed last month, would cap non-emergency discretionary spending at $1.043 trillion, according to the Republicans’ summary. That would be $7 billion less than last year and the second consecutive year appropriations have declined.

The cuts are larger when compared with inflation, currently 3.5 percent, and the increased demand for government services that comes with population growth.

More than half of the bill is comprised of the Defense Department’s budget, which would increase by $5 billion or about 1 percent to $518 billion. That doesn’t include an additional $115 billion in emergency war funding.

Foreign Aid

Some of the biggest cuts would come in foreign aid and international programs, one of the politically easiest areas to cut. Funding for the State Department, global health programs, economic assistance and other initiatives would fall by 13 percent, according to Republicans.

Pell grants, which help low-income families send children to college, would be cut by $11 billion over the next decade in part by tightening eligibility criteria.

The Environmental Protection Agency would see a 3 percent cut, which, when combined with reductions approved earlier this year, would mean an 18 percent cut from 2010, according to Republicans. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, would receive a 6 percent cut.

The bill also includes a number of policy “riders” including ones targeting the administration’s policies on travel and sending money to Cuba, energy-efficient light bulbs and public funding of abortions in Washington, D.C.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Faler in Washington at bfaler@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

Dem lawmaker blasts ‘Professor Obama’ as arrogant, alienating

By Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) – 12/13/11 06:05 AM ET

After observing President Obama for the last three years, it has become obvious to me that the president might prefer to be a university professor rather than do the job he holds today. While he might not realize that he feels this way, the evidence is very clear to those who work with or watch him closely.

Let me be clear — I’m not trying to disparage professors. But anyone who wonders why the president is not crushing the weak Republican field only needs to examine how President Obama has behaved more like Professor Obama:

‘IDEA DISEASE’


In the president’s first year in office, his administration suffered from what I call “idea disease.” Every week, and sometimes almost every day, the administration rolled out a new program for the country. There was no obvious prioritization and, after the rollout, very little effort to actually pass the latest idea/imperative/plan/edict. Instead, the new programs just kept coming, with the new proposals constantly stepping on the previous day’s message. This rampant “idea disease” squandered the tremendous goodwill generated by the Obama campaign’s message of “hope,” tainting the president’s personal appeal. As Democrats in Congress, we often felt like we were drinking water out of a fire hose, trying to simultaneously deal with past failures of the Bush administration and the avalanche of new initiatives from Obama. This lack of focus also made it easy for congressional Republicans to stall and foil many of President Obama’s best initiatives — which they did with relish!

Report: Democrats drop demand for new tax on millionaires in payroll tax standoff

POSTED AT 10:00 PM ON DECEMBER 14, 2011 BY ALLAHPUNDIT

 Not so much a big win for us as a big loss for them.

Democrats backed away from their demand for higher taxes on millionaires as part of legislation to extend Social Security tax cuts for most Americans on Wednesday as Congress struggled to clear critical year-end bills without triggering a partial government shutdown…

Republicans minimized the significance of the move. “They’re not giving up a whole lot. The tax they wanted to implement on business owners was something that couldn’t pass the House and couldn’t pass the Senate,” McConnell said in a CNBC interview.

Jettisoning the tax could also require Democrats to agree to politically painful savings elsewhere in the budget to replace the estimated $140 billion the tax would have raised over a decade.

In its most recent form, the surtax would have slapped a 1.9 percent tax on income in excess of $1 million, with the proceeds helping pay for the extension of tax cuts for 160 million workers. Senate Democrats have twice forced votes on the proposal in what officials have described as a political maneuver designed to force GOP lawmakers to choose between protecting the wealthy on the one hand and extending tax cuts for millions on the other.

CNN calls it a “major concession,” which is true insofar as this was part of The One’s big populist Elizabeth Warren-esque push against “the one percent” ahead of the election. His base will hate being forced to drop it given how well tax hikes on the rich poll, even though realistically there was no way Democrats were going to walk away from extending a payroll-tax cut for the middle class to try to get Republicans to bend on this. The quid pro quo, I take it, will be the GOP agreeing to drop the Keystone pipeline provision from whatever compromise bill ends up on the House floor. Which means less revenue and fewer jobs in exchange — hopefully — for new spending cuts, or just maybe another hundred billion or so in deficit spending. Doesn’t feel like a major victory, but at least the kabuki phase of these dull negotiations is over.

Obama’s ’60 Minutes’ Interview Gives Grading on a Curve New Meaning

By David Limbaugh December 13, 2011 7:30 am

The most disturbing aspect of President Obama’s “60 Minutes” interview is how sincere he sounded when misrepresenting his record. I’m not sure whether I would prefer that he be lying or self-deluded, but there’s plenty of each to go around.

Obama is a left-wing ideologue, a true believer, who is convinced that his agenda is mandated by a superior moral imperative (from who knows where) and that it must be advanced irrespective of the consequences, because no matter how bad they might be, they would have been worse without his agenda.

Indeed, such is his blind faith that his policy failures reinforce rather than shatter his belief system, and he becomes more delusional the more he fails and has to rationalize those failures.

The upshot of his message to his interviewer, Steve Kroft, was that he deserves the highest marks for all “things that don’t have to do with the economy and don’t have to do with Congress.”

So despite his muddled, ad hoc approach to foreign policy: his mistreatment of Israel, his pattern of insulting foreign leaders, his fair-weather support for some democratic movements and betrayal of others (Iran, Honduras), his manifest unpopularity in the Muslim world, and his gutting of our military defenses (F-22, our missile defenses and Europe’s, and our nuclear arsenal) while China, Russia, Iran and others augment theirs, he claims that we are now respected again around the world and that we are stronger.

How about the economy? Well, he thinks that the people will come to see he’s turned things around and saved us from a depression but that it’s going to take a long time for a complete recovery because it took so long to get “us into this mess.” So he believes he’s even performed well on the economy, except a) he would have done even better had it not been for congressional Republicans, b) the people don’t realize how well he’s done because too many are still hurting, c) even if things are bad, it’s Bush’s fault or, if you prefer, it’s because we’re going through an economic disruption that occurs every 75 years, and d) whatever economic problems remain could be solved by pouring yet more money into education, green technology and the infrastructure. (I realize “d” makes less sense than any of them, but that’s what his programmed mind always spits out, no matter the evidence.)

He insists he didn’t overpromise, never mind his promises to find “good jobs for the jobless,” to lower the oceans and keep unemployment at less than 8 percent. He takes credit for bending our health care cost curve down when it is now indisputable already — even before the bulk of it has been implemented — that Obamacare is greatly increasing health care costs.

He said he has offered a “very specific” and “very detailed” deficit reduction plan when everyone paying attention knows he offered generalities, with no real, concrete proposals for actually reducing spending, especially entitlement spending.

He said we could balance the budget by increasing taxes on the wealthy alone. Actually, his statement was more ludicrous than that. He said: “We ended up asking the wealthiest Americans to do a little bit more in terms of taxes. Going back to rates that would still be lower than they were under Ronald Reagan, our deficit problems would be solved.” What? How is it possible we ended up with a chief executive who can make such preposterous assertions? Apart from the Reagan comparison, letting the Bush cuts for the highest income bracket expire would generate only about $70 billion a year (assuming a static economy), which is less than 5 percent of the deficit.

Amazingly, Obama admitted that his party and his base opposed entitlement reforms but that in his magnanimity, he agreed to work on them anyway. Well, that’s big of him, but the truth is that he has steadfastly obstructed such reforms, which means he has steadfastly obstructed any possibility of balancing the budget and getting the national debt under control.

But there’s an explanation for that, which is even more alarming. He doesn’t think the deficit (or debt) is a major problem. He said, “The truth is that compared to other countries around the world, our deficit problems are completely manageable.” That’s why he wants another half-trillion-dollar stimulus.

Lest we think these anomalies are solely because of Obama’s being a true believer rather than a hyper-partisan purveyor of falsehoods, note that he also told Kroft that Republicans are for “rolling back clean air and clean water laws,” want to kill entitlements for seniors, and are focused on scoring political points rather than helping him solve problems; that only a handful of people are succeeding in this “you’re-on-your-own economy”; that he is for broadening the tax base; and that he fully intends to proceed with his agenda through executive and administrative orders in contravention of Congress and the Constitution.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

David Limbaugh is a writer, author and attorney. His latest book, “Crimes Against Liberty,” was No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction for its first two weeks. Follow him on Twitter @davidlimbaugh and his website at www.davidlimbaugh.com.

Atheist messages displace CA park nativity scenes

By AP Staff December 14, 2011 7:30 am

 SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) – Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the three wise men have been ousted by atheists.

Most of the Christmas nativity scenes that churches had placed in a Santa Monica coastal park for decades have been displaced by non-religious displays — and the churches are crying conspiracy.

The Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, a coalition of 13 churches, and the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, has traditionally claimed 14 of the 21 display spaces, which are vandal-proof, cage-like areas surrounded by chain-link fencing.

The coalition displays have featured life-size depictions of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.

But atheists got all but three of the spaces this year because of a new lottery system. The coalition got two spots, and one went to Isaac Levitansky of Chabad Channukah Menorah.

Adding to the loss, the atheists have used only three of the display areas to promote their message.

One reads: “Religions are all alike — founded upon fables and mythologies. — Thomas Jefferson.”

“Happy Solstice,” reads another.

And a display with photographs depicting King Neptune, Jesus Christ, Santa Claus and Satan reads, “Million Americans know MYTHS when they see them. What myths do you see? American Atheists. Since 1963. athiests.org.”

“Our belief is that these new applicants have been working together to displace and push out the nativity scenes from the park, rather than erecting a full display of their own,” said Hunter Jameson, a spokesman for a coalition of the city’s churches.

The Santa Monica Daily Press (http://bit.ly/tr8h1T ) reported that churches had little or no competition for the spaces during the past 57 years. This year, 13 people bid for spaces, prompting City Hall to use a random lottery system to allot the spots.

Two individuals got 18 spaces. One person can request a maximum of nine.

Damon Vix is behind the effort to allocate the spaces by lottery.

Last year, he put up a sign with the Thomas Jefferson quote and selections on U.S. Supreme Court decisions about the importance of separating church and state.

Vix now helps other atheists acquire the park spaces, including American Atheists Inc. and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Secularists feel a need to be more vocal and express their civil rights, he said.

“For 60 years, it’s almost exclusively been the point of view of Christians putting up nativity scenes for a whole city block,” Vix said.

Jameson pushed the city to give local preference in awarding the spaces. Vix doesn’t live in Santa Monica.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie wrote, however, that the Christmas displays cross the boundary into First Amendment free speech rights, which know no geographical boundaries.

“Everyone has equal rights to use the streets and parks for expressive activities, irrespective of residency,” Moutrie wrote.

House passes GOP payroll tax package amid White House veto threat

Posted at 06:53 PM ET, 12/13/2011

By 


(Joshua Roberts – BLOOMBERG)

The House on Tuesday passed a bill combining an extension of the payroll tax cut with several GOP-favored provisions, including language to speed a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, setting up a showdown with the White House, which has threatened to veto the measure.

The measure passed late Tuesday on a 234-to-193 vote. Ten Democrats joined 224 Republicans in backing the measure, while 14 Republicans and 179 Democrats voted “no.”

All eyes are now on the Senate, which has twice this month shot down competing payroll tax measures offered by Democrats and Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reiterated Tuesday afternoon that the House GOP plan is “not going to pass over here” and said that he is “hopeful” leaders will huddle together to craft a compromise on paying for the extension and other measures.

“The only way you’re going to get something done over there is get some Democratic votes,” Reid said. “The only way I can get anything done over here is get some Republican votes. That seems to scream for compromise, and I believe that’s what we need to do.”

The House Republican plan would extend for one year the reduction from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent in payroll taxes for employees; it also would renew the “doc fix,” which prevents cuts in reimbursements to doctors who see Medicare patients, and would extend unemployment insurance, while gradually reducing the maximum length of time for benefits from 99 to 59 weeks.

If Congress doesn’t act to extend them, the payroll tax cut, doc fix and unemployment insurance are set to expire at the end of the year.

Amid opposition from some Republican rank-and-file members, however, GOP leaders crafted a package that would pair those extensions with some measures favored by conservatives, including speeding up a decision on the Keystone pipeline, authorizing the government to conduct spectrum auctions and delaying regulations governing industrial boiler emissions.

The GOP package also would require individuals who have not completed high school to enroll in a GED program in order to receive jobless benefits, and would give states the authority to make drug testing a requirement for applicants.

Republicans argued during Tuesday’s floor debate that the pipeline project would lead to the “immediate” creation of tens of thousands of jobs. Democrats have argued that that claim is inflated, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said earlier Tuesday that the Keystone pipeline provision “does have Democratic support, but not in this bill.”

“This is a partisan bill sticking the finger in the eye of those who disagree with the non-germane policies that are included, included simply for the purposes of energizing a small political base in their party,” Hoyer said at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing. “As I’ve said, the Republican Party now represents, in my view, the narrowest base of any party in the 45 years that I’ve been active in politics.”

The White House said in its veto threat that the GOP measure was a political move that “breaks the bipartisan agreement on spending cuts that was reached just a few months ago.”

Reid told reporters Tuesday afternoon that Senate Democrats discussed “a number of alternatives” to a surtax on millionaires, Democrats’ preferred method of paying for the payroll tax cut extension. He added that Democrats still back some way of requiring “shared sacrifice” from the wealthy.

“One of the things we certainly believe, as does almost 80 percent of the American people, (is) that there should be a contribution, ever be it so slight, by the wealthiest of the wealthy,” Reid said.

The payroll tax debate comes as Congress faces an even higher-stakes argument over keeping the government funded through late next year. The measure currently keeping the government running expires on Friday, and leaders of both parties have begun accusing each other of using the funding bill as a bargaining chip in the negotiations over the payroll tax.

Poll: Democrats drive increasing fear of big government

POSTED AT 9:10 PM ON DECEMBER 12, 2011

BY TINA KORBEHotAir

No matter how hard I try to be optimistic when I watch the GOP debates, I almost always come away feeling nervous about November 2012. But, then, I come across an encouraging indicator about the general direction in which public opinion has moved since 2008. Low Obama approval. High Obamacare disapproval. Increased numbers of independents, in general — drawn more from Democratic ranks than Republican. And I feel hopeful again.

Today, this Gallup poll served that hope-reviving purpose. As it turns out, whatever the Occupy Wall Street protests seem to signify, a majority of Americans fear big government more than they fear big business. Specifically, 64 percent of Americans say they think big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future, while just 26 percent name big business as the biggest threat.

That’s not unprecedented or anything: Historically, Americans have always been more apt to be wary of government than business. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, an ever-so-slightly larger percentage of Americans — 65 compared with today’s 64 — said they see big government as a threat.

But what is notable about the recent rise in distrust of big government is that it has been driven by Democrats. Gallup reports:

Almost half of Democrats now say big government is the biggest threat to the nation, more than say so about big business, and far more than were concerned about big government in March 2009. The 32% of Democrats concerned about big government at that time — shortly after President Obama took office — was down significantly from a reading in 2006, when George W. Bush was president.

By contrast, 82% of Republicans and 64% of independents today view big government as the biggest threat, slightly higher percentages than Gallup found in 2009.

Lower percentages of Democrats, Republicans and independents are now concerned about big business than was the case in 2009.

If polls teach us anything, it’s that public opinion is perennially changing, but I still think this demonstrates in some small way the American people’s astute understanding — at a time of 8.6 percent unemployment — that jobs depend on expanding businesses, whereas increased government very often creates perverse incentives that undermine economic growth. And that should have electoral implications.

Obama sets 2012 campaign theme: Class warfare

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By Ben Feller and Ken Thomas December 7, 2011 7:28 am

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. (AP) – Declaring the American middle class in jeopardy, President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined a populist economic vision that will drive his re-election bid, insisting the United States must reclaim its standing as a country in which everyone can prosper if provided “a fair shot and a fair share.”

While never making an overt plea for a second term, Obama’s offered his most comprehensive lines of attack against the candidates seeking to take his job, only a month before Republican voters begin choosing a presidential nominee. He also sought to inject some of the long-overshadowed hope that energized his 2008 campaign, saying: “I believe America is on its way up.”

In small-town Osawatomie, in a high school gym where patriotic bunting lined the bleachers, Obama presented himself as the one fighting for shared sacrifice and success against those who would gut government and let people fend for themselves. He did so knowing the nation is riven over the question of whether economic opportunity for all is evaporating.

“Throughout the country, it’s sparked protests and political movements, from the tea party to the people who’ve been occupying the streets of New York and other cities,” Obama said.

“This is the defining issue of our time,” he said in echoing President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech here in 1910.

“This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class,” Obama said. “At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement.”

For Obama, saddled with a weak national economic recovery, the speech was a chance to break away from Washington’s incremental battles and his own small-scale executive actions. He offered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality and unleashed his own brand of prairie populism.

He spoke for nearly an hour to a supportive audience, reselling his ideas under the framework of “building a nation where we’re all better off.”

Billed as an important address that would put today’s economic debates in context, Obama’s speech seemed a bit like two packaged into one.

The first was that of the campaigner, full of loft and reclamation of American values. The second was the governing Obama, who recited his familiar jobs agenda, his feud with Congress over extending a Social Security tax cut, even his fight to get his consumer watchdog confirmed.

Obama tied himself to Roosevelt, the president and reformer who came to this town in eastern Kansas and called for a “square deal” for regular Americans. Roosevelt said then the fight for progress was a conflict “between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess.”

It is a theme Obama is embracing in a mounting fight for re-election against Republicans who, regardless of the nominee, will attack his stewardship of the economy.

One of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, ridiculed Obama for comparing himself to Roosevelt.

Obama “said that he is like Teddy Roosevelt,” Romney said at a campaign event in Paradise Valley, Ariz. “And I thought, ‘In what way is he like Teddy Roosevelt?’ Teddy Roosevelt of course founded the Bull Moose Party. One of those words applies.”

Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said, “Maybe instead of trying to be like other presidents, Obama should try being president.”

Obama took aim at the Republicans, saying they would only return the same structures that led to America’s economic downturn. “Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules,” Obama said. “I’m here to say they are wrong.”

The president conceded that the country is in the midst of a consuming re-examination on his watch, prompting national movements against both government spending and an economy that many feel disproportionately favors the elite. Obama went on the offensive about income equality, saying it distorts democracy and derails the American dream.

Responding to those who want to cut taxes and regulation in the belief success will trickle down, Obama said: “Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked.”

Obama noted that Theodore Roosevelt was called a “radical, a socialist, even a communist” for putting forth ideas in his last campaign such as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage for women, unemployment insurance and a progressive income tax.

Left unsaid: Roosevelt’s Bull Moose campaign in 1912 failed to return him to the White House.

Obama attempted to sum up the pain and peril for a society where the middle class is struggling. But he also called for individual responsibility.

“In the end,” he said, “rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other’s success.”

Obama also challenged he big banks that took bailouts from American taxpayers, pointing to “a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street.” He said banks that were bailed out had an obligation to work to close that trust deficit and should be doing more to help remedy past mortgage abuses and assist middle-class taxpayers.

___

Ben Feller contributed from Washington. AP writers Erica Werner and Kasie Hunt contributed to this report.

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