Whee

Alternet’s Josh Holland:

It’s simply a hostage exchange. The Republicans gave up the fiscal cliff, and will now take the debt limit, the federal budget and automatic across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending (the sequester), and have another standoff in 2-3 months time. The deal wouldn’t have gotten 85 GOP votes in the House without the leadership giving right-wingers ironclad guarantees that they’ll have another hostage soon.


What leverage will the White House have at that point? They’ve already rejected the “constitutional option” to avoid the debt ceiling — and won’t mint a big platinum coin. The Bush tax cuts on high earners will be off the table. That leaves cuts to defense — which Republicans hate — and public opinion, to which the GOP doesn’t seem terribly responsive when its base is screaming murder and threatening primaries (which is always). That’s pretty thin gruel given that the “austerity caucus” thinks it has a good shot at cutting Social Security and Medicare as part of a “grand bargain” with Obama.


Other than that, we’ll only have the Democrats’ legendary iron back-bone on which to rely. Nobody’s ever gotten rich betting on that.

Why did the train cross the border 24 times and never unload?

The Canadian border services and the EPA are investigating the possibility of fraud, although the companies claim that the practice was totally legal. But hey, as long as you’re making money, doing the wrong thing is easy to live with!

A cargo train filled with biofuels crossed the border between the US and Canada 24 times between the 15th of June and the 28th of June 2010; not once did it unload its cargo, yet it still earned millions of dollars. CBC News of Canada was the first to pick up on this story on the 3rd of December 2012, and began their own investigation into the possible explanations behind this odd behaviour.


CN Rail, the operator of the train, stated their innocence in the matter as they had only “received shipping directions from the customer, which, under law, it has an obligation to meet. CN discharged its obligations with respect to those movements in strict compliance with its obligations as a common carrier, and was compensated accordingly.” Even so, they still managed to earn C$2.6 million in shipping fees.


During their investigation CBC managed to obtain an internal email which stated that the cars of the train were all reconfigured between each trip but that the cargo was never actually unloaded, because “each move per car across the border is revenue generated”, the sale of the cargo itself was inconsequential.


The cargo of the train was owned by Bioversal Trading Inc., or its US partner Verdero, depending on what stage of the trip it was at. The companies “made several million dollars importing and exporting the fuel to exploit a loophole in a U.S. green energy program.” Each time the loaded train crossed the border the cargo earned its owner a certain amount of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which were awarded by the US EPA to “promote and track production and importation of renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.” The RINs were supposed to be retired each time the shipment passed the border, but due to a glitch not all of them were. This enabled Bioversal to accumulate over 12 million RINs from the 24 trips, worth between 50 cents and $1 each, which they can then sell on to oil companies that haven’t met the EPA’s renewable fuel requirements.

Al Jazeera buying Current TV

Good. I like Al Jazeera, they cover a lot more news than American channels:

Al Jazeera on Wednesday completed a deal to take over Current TV, the low-rated cable channel that was founded by Al Gore and his business partners seven years ago.


Current will provide the pan-Arab news giant with something it has sought for years: a pathway into American living rooms. Current is available in about 60 million of the 100 million homes in the United States with cable or satellite service.


Rather than simply use Current to distribute its English-language channel, called Al Jazeera English and based in Doha, Qatar, Al Jazeera will create a new channel, called Al Jazeera America, based in New York. Roughly 60 percent of the programming will be produced in the United States, while the remaining 40 percent will come from Al Jazeera English.


Al Jazeera may absorb some Current TV staff members, according to people with knowledge of the deal who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But Current’s schedule of shows will most likely be dissolved in the spring.

Rumor central

Boehner rumored to resign as speaker at 5pm, possible coup by Cantor. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: Boehner’s office releases a statement denying it.

Congratulations!

If you make a shitload of money — or you’re close to the poverty line:

Sure, the “fiscal cliff” deal hikes taxes on the wealthiest, but it also raises taxes on the middle-class and working poor, primarily because the payroll tax holiday goes away. As such, some very well-off Americans end up faring pretty well under the deal.


The Tax Policy Center has totalled up all the tax changes under the bill and finds that two groups of Americans will have the lowest tax increase: Taxpayers with income between $200,000 and $500,000 and those with income between $10,000 and $20,000, both of whom will see their tax rate increase by 1 percentage point—a smaller hike than any other income group. Even those earning less than $10,000 will see a bigger 1.3 percentage point rate hike.

Progressive senators split on deal

Sen. Harkin was one of the senators who voted against the fiscal cliff deal, and took to the floor to denounce it Monday night. Which is nice and all, but for once, I’d like to see one of these progressive senators pull the procedural emergency brake and, you know, actually stop these things. There are several of them who get all kinds of favorable press (mostly because we’re so starved for anything resembling a progressive hero), but they never actually stop the things we wish they would.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) railed against the last-minute fiscal cliff deal, defending middle-class families and slamming Congress for being “tied in knots.”


“I’m disappointed to say that in my opinion, this legislation that we’re about to vote on falls short,” Harkin said. “First, it doesn’t address the number-one priority: creating good middle-class jobs now. Unemployment remains way too high. This bill should include direct assistance on job creation measures.”


Harkin also criticized those who want to “redefine the middle class as those making $400,00 a year when, in fact, that represents the top one percent of income earners in America.””The idea that people earning $300,000 to $400,000 a year could not pay the taxes they paid in the 1990’s, when the economy was booming, is just plain absurd,” Harkin said. “But that’s what we’re being told, that people who make $300,000 or $400,000 a year simply cannot pay the same taxes that they would have been paying in the Clinton years.”Harkin was one of eight senators to vote against the deal. Others included Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery and Sabrina Siddiqui reported earlier on details of the deal:

Under the deal brokered by Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Congress would permanently extend the Bush income tax cuts at $400,000 and below, keep the estate tax threshold at $5 million and extend unemployment benefits for one year.It would also temporarily delay the sequester — i.e., billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts — for another two months. The cost of continuing current spending levels will be paid for through an even mix of tax revenue increases and later spending cuts. Half of those cuts will come from defense spending; half will come from nondefense spending.

This deal is being railroaded through, with a heaping helping of created crisis in a lame duck session (just as I predicted). If only the Tea Party had stopped the train!

I certainly understand the plight of the long-term unemployed, and why people wanted to vote for those extensions. But we’re going to get screwed in many other ways when this deal goes through that I’d rather we went over the cliff. It’s not an ideal situation (hell, it was designed that way!) and it played on difficult emotions. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who really is a good guy, voted for the deal, saying:

“My measuring stick for this fiscal cliff deal, like every bill I consider, is how it will impact working families throughout Oregon. And while I have deep misgivings about the next steps, I have concluded that this deal is worth supporting.


“Without this bill, every family in Oregon would have seen its tax bills go up and our economy would have gone back into a recession. Without this bill, 30,000 unemployed Oregonians would have been cut off at the knees, without money to pay for food or rent as they look for work. And importantly, this bill protects the Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits our seniors depend on.


“Although it does not do as much as I want, this bill does ensure that the wealthy will be contributing more as we work to bring our deficits under control. I far prefer that choice to further cuts to education, law enforcement, and investments in the infrastructure our economy depends on.

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