While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is on the Budget conference committee, trying to prevent a “Grand Bargain” in which some Democrats propose to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to give the budget proposal a veneer of bipartisanship, some Democrats are trying to get some momentum behind their proposal to actually expand Social Security.

The Democratic senators’ pitch is to grow Social Security benefits by attaching it to a new formula, known as CPI-E (Consumer Price Index for the Elderly), which is based on the theory that seniors face higher-than-average price increases, such as on health care and housing, Sahil Kapur reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (11/5). It would be paid for by phasing out the cap on wages subject to the payroll tax, which is currently $113,700. Supporters say this would raise Social Security compensation for all beneficiaries by $70 per month. Legislation to this effect was introduced earlier this spring by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee. The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 has since been co-sponsored by Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Progressive activists are touting the bill, eager to shift the terms of the debate from how much to cut retirement benefits to ways to increase them. The AFL-CIO wants to expand Social Security. Liberal activist groups including MoveOn.org and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee have made it their new rallying cry.

Unfortunately, their proposal lacks support from the White House and party leaders. “The idea of expanding Social Security isn’t going anywhere in Congress, at least anytime soon,” Kapur wrote. “The White House and Democratic leaders have not backed it. And if they did, it would run into a brick wall of Republican opposition in budget negotiations. Instead, President Barack Obama has publicly endorsed a cut to future Social Security benefits by attaching them to a lower rate of inflation, known as Chained CPI. Republicans strongly support this change. (Under Chained CPI, benefits would grow more slowly, under the theory that rising prices lead to changes in behavior. For instance, if the price of chicken rises, seniors can maintain their standard of living by buying less chicken and more beef.) ‘There’s been talk of tying Social Security benefits to a “Chained CPI.” But really, that’s a fancy Washington way of saying “let’s cut into people’s benefits over time.”‘ Brown said upon signing a PCCC petition for the bill. ‘We need to expand Social Security, not cut benefits.’”

Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (11/5), “Washington ‘is consumed’ with trying to figure out how to make the lives of the elderly harder than they already are. What a bastardly place it is.”

CBS BOTCHES BENGHAZI REPORT. On 60 Minutes (10/27), CBS News presented an account from a British security contractor who claimed to be an eyewitness to the attack against US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. But the contractor’s own incident report revealed he was nowhere near the facilities and was instead at a beachside villa.

The 60 Minutes report largely hinged on revelations from “Morgan Jones,” who CBS News claimed “witnessed the attack.” In an interview with correspondent Lara Logan that sounded like the script for an action movie, “Jones” described scaling the wall at the burning compound, fighting off terrorists inside, and gaining access to the hospital to view the remains of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The CBS News report quickly fueled the ongoing right-wing politicization of the terror attack and provided renewed vigor to accusations of a “Benghazi cover-up.”

The problem? According to Cynthia Padera of Media Matters for America (mediamatters.org), “Jones,” whose real name is Dylan Davies, previously wrote that he “could not get anywhere near” the diplomatic compound that night. In the incident report submitted to his employer, Davies stated that, due to roadblocks, he spent most of the night of the attack at his Benghazi beachside villa, only learning of the Ambassador’s death from a Libyan colleague’s cellphone picture. Davies later claimed that he lied in the employer report, not the story he gave to the media. Either way, Madera noted, “the discrepancy is troubling.”

Veteran journalists agree that the new details raise questions about whether 60 Minutes properly reviewed Davies’ story before it aired.

What’s more, Matt Gertz noted that Fox News reported that they had previously been using the same man as a source, but broke contact after he asked the network for money. Two days after the CBS report aired, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon and Schuster that “specializes in conservative non-fiction,” published the supposed witness’ book, The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There. According to the Washington Post, the book “largely comports with the 60 Minutes account.”

“Together, these details paint a damning picture of the credibility of the supposed eyewitness — and that of the CBS report which promoted his story,” Gertz noted.

Update: After this went to press, CBS News retracted its report (11/8).

DEMS’ 3 BIG WINS. Taegan Goddard’s election scorecard, at TheWeek.com (11/6).

“1. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) narrow victory last night may prove to be the biggest and most important for Democrats. Having a well-connected fundraiser — and a loyalist to Bill and Hillary Clinton — in charge of an important swing state could be the key to helping Democrats tip a close presidential election their way in 2016.

“2. Bill de Blasio’s (D) 49-point landslide victory in the New York City mayoral race was a solid repudiation of two decades of Republican and business-friendly mayors. De Blasio’s broad-based win gives him a mandate to govern as an audacious liberal and change the feel of New York City.

“3. Although Chris Christie (R) won a convincing re-election race last night, it was not a victory for the Republican brand. It was a victory for the Chris Christie brand. Christie spent almost no time touting his Republican credentials, did not seek national Republican support, and instead embraced President Obama and top Democrats in his state.”

Wins for the Republicans, Goddard noted, included Christie’s script that he hopes Republicans will follow in 2016. “In a solidly blue state, Christie won a majority of the votes of women and Hispanics and also made impressive inroads with younger voters. It’s very clear Christie would be a competitive presidential candidate nationally. What’s much less clear is if he can make it through the GOP primary process.”

In the Virginia governor’s race, despite weeks of polls predicting a big win for Terry McAuliffe (D), Ken Cuccinelli (R) lost by just three points after he made his opposition to ObamaCare the focus of his campaign. “It’s an early indication that President Obama’s health care law could be just as energizing to Republicans as it was in the 2010 midterm elections.”

(Greg Sargent of WashingtonPost.com noted that exit polls showed only 27% of Virginia voters saw the health law as the top issue, and among them, only a bare plurality [49-45] supported Cuccinelli. Far more [45%] named the economy. He also noted that national polls also show that disapproval of Obamacare, while real, doesn’t translate into support for getting rid of the law entirely, and that majorities want to give it a chance.)

In Alabama, Goddard noted, Bradley Byrne (R) defeated tea-party-backed candidate Dean Young (R) in a special congressional runoff to fill the seat of former Rep. Jo Bonner (R). “Byrne’s win was a victory for the GOP’s moderate wing in the battle for control of the party.”

DEMS GAVE CHRISTIE A PASS. As Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) coasted to re-election (11/5), national Democrats stood by their decision to abandon their nominee, state Sen. Barbara Buono (D). Patricia Murphy noted at TheDailyBeast.com (11/5) that President Obama failed to endorse Buono, the DNC sent just one staffer to New Jersey to fortify local efforts and high-profile Dems such as Bill and Hillary Clinton stayed on the sidelines in the blue-state contest that party leaders deemed a loser from the start.

“National Democrats stand by the decision not to play seriously in New Jersey, according to several who spoke with The Daily Beast,” Murphy wrote. “The calculation was two-fold, they said. First, the money required just to land a punch on Christie in the pricey New York and Philadelphia media markets could fund an entire campaign somewhere or sometime else when a Democrat had a chance of winning. ‘When you have someone this powerful and this popular, you shrug it off and wait for the next one,’ a top Democratic donor said of Christie. ‘It’s not worth the financial investment to try to take him down or out.’ Second, Democrats firmly believe that no matter how strong Christie looks on Election Day 2013 in New Jersey, the Republican nominating gauntlet will eat his 2016 presidential candidacy alive before he ever gets a chance to face off against a Democrat in a general election. ‘When it comes to national elections, we’ve seen how efficient and effective Republicans are at destroying each other’s reputations, so I’ll leave it to them,’ said Robert Zimmerman, a national committeeman for the DNC. ‘Chris Christie is a very powerful national candidate, but the question is can a mainstream Republican be elected by the Republican Party today? No.’”

Charles Pierce commented at Esquire.com (11/5): “Wrong. ... Very wrong. Incredibly wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Also, stupid.

“First of all, according to the latest NBC News/WSJ Poll, Christie’s numbers are plummeting just like those of every other candidate. He’s at 33% favorable right now. This is not a ‘powerful national candidate.’ He’s weak and he’s insecure and you can make him pop his cork as predictably as Old Faithful. In fact, your job, Democratic panjandrums, was to make him a national candidate before he is ready to be one. It was to make him a national candidate on your timetable, not his. Define, define, define. Spend whatever it takes to do that. Second, as Steve M. relentlessly points out, the Tea Party folk don’t necessarily like the fact that Christie spent quality time with the Kenyan Usurper, but they love, love, love the way Big Chicken bullies the helpless and powerless. To hate like that gives their lives meaning, and Christie is a perfect vessel for that. They’ll settle for that more easily than they settled for Willard Romney, god knows. So depending on the Tea Party folk to bring him down is to gamble high on phantoms.

“This is the same ghastly strategy that aided and abetted the rise of C-Plus Augustus [George W. Bush] in Texas. It was their one opportunity to bloody him up, to wound him with ridicule until he (predictably) explodes, before the tingle rises up Chris Matthews’s leg. That was worth anything they could have spent. And what campaigns, precisely, elsewhere in the country, was the Democratic party spending its money on that were so important that they took precedence over blowing out at least one tire on the Christie bandwagon? If you can’t learn from the mistakes you made that helped elect George W. Bush, an intervention is clearly called for.”

Exit polls on election day contained some bad news for Christie: The same voters who handed him a landslide win said they would favor Hillary Clinton over him 48%-44% in a presidential matchup.

McAULIFFE WON VIRGINIA WITH PROGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN. While the conventional wisdom was that right-wing Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli lost the Virginia governor’s race because of his extreme views on women’s health, re-criminalizing sex practices and opposing “Obamacare,” Josh Israel noted at ThinkProgress.org (11/5) that Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D), who is best known as a former Democratic National chairman under President Clinton, ran on a progressive agenda that included embracing the Affordable Care Act, supporting women’s health care and criticizing Cuccinelli’s crusade against birth control, all forms of abortion and funding for women’s health clinics. McAuliffe also is a proponent of clean energy and environmental conservation who made Cuccinelli’s climate change denial, his harassment of a University of Virginia climate scientist and his ties with the fossil fuel industry liabilities. McAuliffe’s support of universal background checks for gun purchases and his full support for LGBT equality drew a clear line against Cuccineli.

“The fact that historically conservative Virginia backed a candidate who ran on a progressive platform is a repudiation of the conservative agenda and an indication that progressive ideas like marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, affordable healthcare, background checks, and climate change action are all now mainstream positions,” Israel noted.

Karl Frisch of Rock The Vote also noted that exit polls showe the youth vote’s share of the overall electorate in Virginia increased by 3% points compared to the 2009 gubernatorial election. Among voters 18-29 years of age, McAuliffe beat Cuccinelli 45% to 39%. In 2013, the Democratic share of the youth vote increased by 1 point while the Republican share decreased 15 points from 2009.

JFK ASSASSINATION AT 50: STILL UNSOLVED. The nation marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 11/22. David Talbot, the founder of Salon.com and author of Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years who is now working on a book about legendary CIA director Allen W. Dulles and the rise of the national security state, writes at Salon.com (11/6) that the CIA and the mainstream media are still covering up for the security state. The article is worth reading (see http://bit.ly/1bY7I1C) and it also contains the author’s list of essential JFK sources but at more than 3,700 words it was more than we could carry in this issue.

Howard Willens, a Warren Commission lawyer who also worked for Robert Kennedy at the Justice Department, wrote History Will Prove Us Right. Talbot wrote that Willens’ book is “a stubborn defense of the report he helped produce. But ironically, after grinding one’s way through Willens’ serviceably written but highly revealing story, a reader can only come to the same conclusion that [New York Times investigative reporter Philip] Shenon’s sexier exposé [A Cruel and Shocking Act] demands – namely, that the Warren Report was the result of massive political cunning and investigative fraud.”

The Texas Book Festival in Austin featured several authors of books on the JFK assassination (10/26). One of them, Hugh Aynesworth, a former reporter for the Dallas Morning News and author of Dallas 1963, has covered the JFK assassination from the start and “spent far too much time in the last 49 and a half years running down conspiracy theories.” His conclusion: “We don’t want to admit that two nobodies [Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby] changed the course of history, but they did.”

Willens, who was also at the festival, said he remained in contact with Kennedy and noted that RFK publicly said he believed the assassination was the work of a loner, but he added that he does not expect the matter to be settled. “In 50 years there will be another panel on the JFK Assassination,” he said, and while he doesn’t expect to be around for it, they’ll have his book.

KINKY CANDIDATE FOR TEXAS AG POST. Richard “Kinky” Friedman, the Austin-based country singer-songwriter, satirist and mystery writer, is planning to run for Texas agriculture commissioner as a “Blue Dog” Democrat, on the platform of legalizing marijuana, which he would regulate and “tax the hell out of it” to help pay for state priorities such as education. “The buck starts here,” he said at the Texas Book Festival (11/27). He noted that drug law enforcement cost Texas $215 mln in 2010 and produced 74,000 non-violent pot arrests. “I’ve talked to cops who say they’ve never seen a case where a guy smokes a few joints and beats up his wife,” Friedman said. “Maybe he forgets to beat up his wife.” He thinks legalizing marijuana is a win-win situation: “It will take the wind out of the Mexican cartels’ sails and it will make Willie Nelson very happy.”

Friedman ran for governor as an independent in 2006, coming in third with 12% of the vote. In 2010 he lost the Democratic primary for ag commissioner. No other Democrats have announced their intention to run for ag commissioner, but three Republicans are running.

FOOD STAMP CUTS BRING HARDSHIP FOR HOLIDAYS. The morning of 11/1, stores swapped out their Halloween displays for Christmas decorations and radio stations began playing round-the-clock carols. But it also saw an automatic reduction in benefits for 48 mln who receive food stamps. The cut, which comes from the expiration of a boost included in the 2009 stimulus bill, reduced benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by an average of 7%. That will mean a loss of about $9 per person per month or $36 a month for a family of four. Food stamps will now be, on average, less than $1.40 per person per meal.

The cut would hurt at any time of the year, Bryce Covert noted at ThinkProgress.org (11/5), but it will be especially painful because of the coincidence with the holiday season, already a struggle for many low-income families.

Patricia, a single mother of two children ages 10 and 12, who works in home health care for the elderly and relies on food stamps, told ThinkProgress that the reduction is going to make her holidays “extremely hard.” “There will be a strain,” she said, but added, “I will do my very best to make sure my family will still have a wonderful holiday season.” It’s just unclear what that will mean because she isn’t sure yet how much less she’ll see in food stamp benefits. It may include going to a food pantry for help.

A big part of the challenge is that both Thanksgiving and Christmas are at the end of each month, a time when SNAP benefits often run out. “If we aren’t able to stretch those dollars that far, well what do we do?” she asked. But she is hopeful it will work out. “It is my hope and my desire that I am able to manage, but at this point I can’t say,” she said.

Tony Simmons, a former Marine who has been homeless for two years after being injured on the job and spending some time in jail, said that usually on Thanksgiving he and friends don’t go home and instead have a feast together. But he relies on food stamps, and the SNAP cut has made his plans harder. “Now I don’t know what to tell these guys this year,” he said.

“Why do it at the holidays of all times?” he asked. “That’s the part that gets me.”

Bonnie Lane said that her benefits have been cut to $51 a month, which comes to less than $2 a day. That “makes it hard to cook Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “How does one eat off that?” Soup kitchens and food pantries are one way to fill the gap, but they are already stretched. “These resources are over-crowded and rarely provide anything healthy,” she said, adding that their short hours also make it difficult for someone who works like her.

The cut will continue to be felt long after New Years Day, however. Patricia uses the benefits to help her buy healthy meals for her kids. “My children are honor roll students, and part of that plan is that they eat well so they can succeed,” she said. But fewer dollars will mean fewer options at the grocery store. “That means that we now may have to select things that may not be as healthy,” she said. “You’re taking away part of the tools that we use to have healthy and vibrant families.”

INFRASTRUCTURE SPENDING COLLAPSE. The austerity fervor that’s seized Washington ever since the 2010 elections has led to a sudden, steep drop in spending on building things. Alan Pyke noted at ThinkProgress (11/1) that according to the investment research firm BCA Research, after hovering around $300 bln per year from the middle of President George W. Bush’s tenure through 2010, government spending on building things not related to defense fell by about $60 bln in just a few years. The drop is a result of Republicans blocking President Obama’s efforts to invest in infrastructure that the country needs.

As Financial Times’ Cardiff Garcia notes, the policy choices aren’t compatible with a responsible effort to cut the country’s debt. Indeed, they’ll make things worse: “It’s also likely that much of the investment that has been forgone in the name of fiscal consolidation will have to be made eventually anyways — only it will be made when rates are higher, exacerbating the long-term fiscal outlook rather than improving it,” Garcia writes. In order to bring America’s infrastructure up to a reasonable level by 2020, Congress needs to be spending about $450 bln per year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Infrastructure spending levels are tied fairly directly to economic performance. Continued underfunding in this arena over the coming years will cost businesses a trillion dollars in lost sales and cost the economy 3.5 mln jobs. Infrastructure spending enjoys overwhelming support from voters. Democrats want to create a national infrastructure bank, something that would require just a $10 bln up-front investment but would provide an ongoing, sustainable funding stream for infrastructure projects.

WENDY DAVIS HELPS RIVAL VOTE IN TEXAS. Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott (R) was among the most vocal proponents of the state’s new voter ID law, which requires all voters to present an approved photo ID at the polls. But when Abbott showed up to vote, there was a problem: Although he is registered to vote as Greg Abbott, his driver’s license identifies him as Gregory Wayne Abbott. Thus, under the law he staunchly defended, he would be unable to vote.

Luckily for Abbott and others in similar cases, he was still able to cast his ballot thanks for a provision added by state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), who Abbott may face in next year’s gubernatorial election, Nina Kate noted at OpposingViews.com (11/1). According to Davis’ amendment, voters whose names are similar on their voter registration and ID cards may still vote if they sign an affidavit confirming their identity.

Abbott fought against this provision when Davis introduced it; now, he needed it to vote. Davis herself was forced to sign an affidavit at her polling place because her name appears as Wendy Russell Davis on her driver’s license.

State District Judge Sandra Watts of Corpus Christi also had difficulty voting because she uses both her married and maiden names She went public, expressing fear that women would now be alienated from Texas elections. Said Watts, “I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem.”

Former House Speaker Jim Wright nearly lost the right to vote because his driver’s license had expired (he’s 90), so he was forced to get a certified copy of his birth certificate. But Wright told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the law almost surely would depress turnout, since not everyone will be able to meet those qualifications.

BRAZIL SPIES ON US, TOO. The Brazilian government admitted that its top intelligence agency spied on diplomatic targets from several countries including the US, the New York Times reported (11/4).

The admission came in response to a report published in Folha de Sao Paulo (11/4). The Brazilian newspaper revealed that the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, also known as Abin, followed the movements of Russian and Iranian diplomats and monitored a property leased by the US embassy in the country’s capital, according to the Times. 

Brazil’s Institutional Security Cabinet said in a statement translated by the Times that the intelligence operations it oversees involve basic surveillance of diplomats within Brazil and are in “absolute compliance” with the law. Intelligence officials also insisted that Abin’s surveillance was conducted in the interest of “national sovereignty,” as translated by the Times.

The revelation of Brazil’s spying on diplomatic targets comes after President Dilma Rousseff and President Barack Obama agreed to postpone a state visit to the White House, scheduled for October, over reports that the National Security Agency monitored Rousseff’s personal communications.

PORTLANDERS ARRESTED FOR PROTESTING P.O. PRIVATIZATION. Seven activists who were protesting privatization of postal jobs were arrested at the main post office in downtown Portland, Ore., while trying to negotiate a meeting with the District Manager Erica Brix. Jamie Partridge reported for LaborNotes.org (10/31) that 15 “postal protectors” gathered in the post office lobby and were waiting to meet with Brix when several of the petitioners were grabbed, kicked and thrown to the floor by a postal inspector. Police were called and ended up arresting seven (including Partridge, a retired letter carrier and organizer with Communities and Postal Workers United), for trespassing.

Postal mail handlers and processing clerks in nearby Salem, Ore., have lost their jobs as their work is subcontracted to low-wage, non-union Matheson Flight Extender Inc. in Portland.

At the same time, Portland postal truckers are put on standby while the Dill Star Route/LAPO trucking company takes their work shuttling mail between the three Portland processing plants. Postal truckers in California and elsewhere have won arbitrations against subcontracting, based on a challenge to the alleged cost savings, but recently national USPS management announced its intention to contract out 162 trucking hubs, nearly every one in the country.

“The security, safety, and timely delivery of the mail are all at risk,” said Rev. John Schwiebert, one of the arrestees. “Rural communities, seniors and the disabled, small businesses, and low-income communities are hit the hardest.

“Postal management needs to reverse these closures, cuts, and subcontracts which are sending our beloved postal service into a death spiral.”

Portland Communities and Postal Workers United (PCPWU), organizers of the action, have been fighting postal cuts and closures for the past year. PCPWU is part of the national Communities and Postal Workers United group that agitates around the same issues.

USPS senior plant manager Lisa Shear says subcontracting is necessary to save labor costs in USPS’s “financial emergency,” which Postal Service defenders say is phony.

Since 2006 the USPS has been forced by Congress to spend nearly 10% of its budget pre-funding retiree health benefits 75 years in advance. No other US agency or private business faces such a crushing financial burden. Not only would the Postal Service have been profitable without the mandate, but USPS has also overpaid tens of billions of dollars into two pension funds.

In the past year, Partridge noted, the Postmaster General has closed 45% of mail processing plants, reduced hours by 25% to 75% in a third of the post offices, put 10% of post offices up for sale, subcontracted trucking and mail handling, eliminated tens of thousands of family-wage jobs, and delayed mail delivery.

USPS’s own studies (revealed at the 3/22/12 meeting of the Postal Regulatory Commission) show that big mailers leave the system as a result of such delays, costing more in lost revenue than is saved by lowering labor costs, not to mention the dramatic increase in trucking costs as mail is transported hundreds of extra miles to be sorted in the nearest still-open processing plants.

Postal workers have seen their wages cut by 25% for new hires. Bottom-tier postal support employees (truckers and clerks) and mail handler assistants now make less in wages and benefits than the non-union subcontract workers.

USPS is a $65 bln annual business, with a surplus of over $100 bln in its pension and retiree health funds, more than 30,000 post offices, and 200,000 vehicles. Postal activists claim that the aim of the Postmaster General and his allies in Congress is to transfer that public wealth to for-profit corporations.

BACKROOM BUDGET DEAL VS. SMALL-TOWN AMERICA. Important legislation, such as renewing a five-year farm bill, has been left languishing while Congress focused on the government shutdown and the debt ceiling debate. Traci Bruckner, assistant director of policy for the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb., wrote in a column for the Des Moines Register (10/11) that farm bill provisions that help create vibrant small towns and rural Main Streets risk being left out in the cold when attached to large, must-pass budget legislation in the 11th hour.

“The most recent example was New Year’s Day when Congress passed budget legislation to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff,” Bruckner wrote. “They also quickly attached a shortsighted, nine-month extension of the farm bill. Let’s not forget who struck that deal, too. It was not the leaders or members of the agriculture committees. It was the leaders of the House and Senate, along with Vice President Joe Biden.

“That extension failed to include critical funding for many innovative rural programs — programs that provide loans and technical assistance to rural small businesses, grants to help agricultural entrepreneurs launch value-added ventures, loan guarantees and grants to help farmers and small businesses save energy and implement renewable energy projects, and assistance for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“In addition, it also failed to provide any meaningful reform to federal farm program payment limitations, despite the fact there is bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House for such reform. Interestingly, the Government Accountability Office just conducted an analysis that highlights the abuse the reform measure promoted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, and included in both the current Senate and House versions of the farm bill, would remedy.

“In contrast, the extension simply continued direct payments, as well as unlimited federal crop insurance premium subsidies with no conservation requirements attached.

“All of this — the innovative rural programs and the hope of achieving real reform on farm program payments and federal crop insurance premium subsidies — is again at risk should we see farm bill legislation wrapped up and pushed into omnibus legislation.”

Bruckner wrote that a final farm bill must include effective limitations on farm programs payments, conservation compliance and a national “Sodsaver“ provision attached to federal crop insurance to protect native prairies from being converted to cropland. It must include funding for new and innovative programs that promote small-town startup businesses, value-added agriculture and beginning farmers.

BLOOD CANCER DOWNWIND OF ALBERTA’S TAR SANDS OPERATIONS. Air pollution downwind of the largest tar sands, oil and gas producing region in Canada rival levels found in the world’s most polluted cities, a new study has found. And that pollution isn’t just dirtying the air — it also could be tied increased incidence of blood cancers in men that live in the area.

Katie Valentine noted at ThinkProgress (10/28) that the study, published in October by researchers from University of California Irvine and the University of Michigan, found levels of carcinogenic air pollutants 1,3-butadiene and benzene spiked in the Fort Saskatchewan area, which is downwind of the oil and tar sands-rich “Industrial Heartland” of Alberta. Airborne levels of 1,3-butadiene were 322 times greater downwind of the Industrial Heartland — which houses more than 40 major chemical, petrochemical and oil and gas facilities — than upwind, while downwind levels of benzene were 51 times greater. Levels of some volatile organic compounds — which, depending on the compound, have been linked to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage as well as cancer — were 6,000 times higher than normal. The area saw concentrations of some chemicals that were higher than levels in Mexico City during the 1990s, when it was the most polluted city on the planet.

“These levels, found over a broad area, are clearly associated with industrial emissions,” said Stuart Batterman,” one of the study’s co-authors. “They also are evidence of major regulatory gaps in monitoring and controlling such emissions and in public health surveillance.”

The high levels of dangerous pollutants may be harming the health of residents downwind of the industrial center. The study, which examined ten years of health records, found incidence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in men was higher in communities closest to the sources of pollution than in the surrounding counties. Though the study could not definitively link the uptick in cancer incidence to the increased pollution, the researchers said it was enough to call for reductions in the emissions from the industrial center.

“We’re seeing elevated levels of carcinogens and other gases in the same area where we’re seeing excess cancers known to be caused by these chemicals,” said lead author Isobel Simpson. “Our main point is that it would be good to proactively lower these emissions of known carcinogens. You can study it and study it, but at some point you just have to say, ‘Let’s reduce it.’ ”

LIMBAUGH’S LIE METER. Conservatives have pounced on Obama’s misstatement that “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health care plan” with typical hyperbole. Rush Limbaugh said it “may be the biggest presidential lie in my lifetime.”

Was Limbaugh not yet born in the 1970s, when Richard Nixon memorably said, “I am not a crook”? Wasn’t he on the air in November 1986, when President Ronald Reagan said, “We did not — repeat — did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages — nor will we”? In fact, former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, now 79 and living in France, says Reagan’s campaign negotiated with Iran’s mullahs to hold onto 52 US embassy hostages until after the 1980 election, when Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter. Reagan later sent US-made missiles and weapons parts to Iran through an Israeli-operated supply line, the Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 6, 1986.

We’re sure Limbaugh was “on the air” in early 2003, when President George W. Bush said, in making the case for a US invasion of Iraq, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Yet, as Washington Monthly noted, the CIA had itself previously warned top White House officials and British intelligence that the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from African countries were almost certainly untrue, and no nuclear program nor weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq. And in May 2003, President Bush stated, “We found the weapons of mass destruction.” US forces never found chemical, nuclear or biological weapons in Iraq.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2013


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