January 10, 2013
By LAWT News Service
Council President Herb Wesson has announced that the City Council’s annual exhibit commemorating African American Heritage Month will be “From Where We Come – The Art and Politics of Slavery,” featuring the extraordinary Bernard and Shirley Kinsey Collection, and also highlighting the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Kinsey’s will be contributing approximately 60 items from their award-winning collection of authentic and rare art, artifacts, documents and manuscripts spanning 400 years of African American history. The collection has been on national tour since 2007, and has been seen by over 3 million people.
“Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have made a major contribution to the cultural heritage of the United States,” said Wesson. “The city of Los Angeles is indeed privileged and grateful to be able to exhibit elements from their amazing collection.”
Signed during the Civil War by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation is one of the nation’s most revered documents.
It declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
This historic document captured the hearts of millions of Americans and transformed the character of the war.
The exhibit, “From Where We Come – The Art and Politics of Slavery,” will be displayed on the City Hall Over-Bridge Gallery beginning February 1, through the end of the month.
LAWT Contributing Writer
The dreaded “fiscal cliff” of government spending cuts and tax raises that was to take effect on January 1 has been averted for now, thanks to an agreement by the White House and Congress reached last week.
Congress and the Obama administration have only temporarily averted the “cliff” by about two months when they will return to the issue of sequestration – the automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts. For now, the agreement that was reached calls for ending a payroll tax “holiday” that reduced the tax by two percent; establishing permanent tax relief for low-income and middle-class families and extending federal unemployment benefits. Tax cuts will end for individuals with incomes of $400,000 or more ($450,000 for couples).
Although Social Security and Medicare were left pretty much intact, the entitlement programs may very well be on the table when Congress takes up the issue again.
These two key programs were the topic of much analysis – and some hand wringing – at last November’s annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America. The 65th Annual Meeting, held in San Diego, brought close to 4,000 people together – the country’s largest interdisciplinary conference on aging – to network, present and discuss new academic and medical research, and policy issues directly related to the fiscal crisis.
Carroll Estes, professor at the University of California, San Francisco Institute for Health and Aging, told conference attendees at a special briefing that the “third rail” still exists – “if you step on it you’ll get electrocuted.”
Social Security, created during the Great Depression, provides workers a basic level of income once they retire, in addition to disability pay and life insurance before they retire that provides income to the surviving spouse and their children. In fact, almost half of Social Security beneficiaries in African American and Latino families are covered by these disability and survivors benefits, compared with one-fourth of whites.
Cuts to the program have been touted by Republicans, in particular, to help trim the $16 trillion national debt. However, because workers automatically pay into the system and their contributions are matched by employers, the program does not add to the deficit. Medicare, which provides health coverage to persons age 65 and older and those under 65 with permanent disabilities, was established in 1965 as part of the Social Security Act.
According to Estes, immediate past-president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, what we’re seeing now is a “Social insurance hijack attack. It’s our money, we paid for and earned our benefits, we deserve and need them.”
The Committee, headquartered in Washington, D.C., opposes any effort to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security or Medicare. The Congressional Black Caucus, in a statement released in December, has also said they will oppose any plan that raises the eligibility for Medicare, as well as any plan that cuts benefits to Medicaid beneficiaries. The Caucus also states, “Social Security does not contribute to our deficit and should be completely off the negotiating table.”
Steven P. Wallace, a researcher with the University of California, Los Angeles CLA Center for Health Policy Research (UCLA) since 1980, was one of many speakers who put a human face on the issue of aging for the participants.
In 2010 elders numbered 40 million people in the United States; that number is expected to double by the year 2040. Currently, 20% of those elders are people of color, and that number is also expected to double by the year 2050.
While an increase in longevity has been seen in the U.S. and other parts of the world overall – life expectancy has increased in general from age 47 in 1900 to more than age 78 today according to the Centers for Disease Control.
According to Wallace’s research, wealth is not equally distributed and income has declined in the past year for African Americans and Asian Americans in the “Baby Boomer” age range (born from 1946 through 1964). This group also had the highest level of income decline.
Half of ethnic elders in the U.S. are in poverty or close to it, Wallace said, and they have the least amount of reserves to fall back on; they are the most impacted by economic uncertainties.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-CA-37, who represents much of South Los Angeles, expressed excitement about portions of last week’s fiscal deal that was reached with Congress, but she was also worried about its implications for many of her constituents.
“I remain very concerned about cuts to programs like Medicare and Social Security that are important to many seniors across my District,” Bass said. “Included were cuts to services for diabetes, end stage renal disease and other illnesses disproportionately impacting seniors and we need to look at ways to restore that funding.”
Thandisizwe Chimurenga wrote this article as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.
January 03, 2013
By ANDREW TAYLOR Associated Press
Onward to the next fiscal crisis. Actually, several of them, potentially. The New Year’s Day deal averting the “fiscal cliff” lays the groundwork for more combustible struggles in Washington over taxes, spending and debt in the next few months.
President Barack Obama’s victory on taxes this week was the second, grudging round of piecemeal successes in as many years in chipping away at the nation’s mountainous deficits. Despite the length and intensity of the debate, the deal to raise the top income tax rate on families earning over $450,000 a year — about 1 percent of households — and including only $12 billion in spending cuts turned out to be a relatively easy vote for many. This was particularly so because the alternative was to raise taxes on everyone.
But in banking $620 billion in higher taxes over the coming decade from wealthier earners, Obama and his Republican rivals have barely touched deficits still expected to be in the $650 billion range by the end of his second term. And those back-of-the-envelope calculations assume policymakers can find more than $1 trillion over 10 years to replace automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as a sequester.
“They didn’t do any of the tough stuff,” said Erskine Bowles, chairman of Obama’s 2010 deficit commission. “We’ve taken two steps now, but those two steps combined aren’t enough to put our fiscal house in order.”
In 2011, the government adopted tighter caps on day-to-day operating budgets of the Pentagon and other cabinet agencies to save $1.1 trillion over 10 years.
The measure passed January 1 prevents middle-class taxes from going up while raising rates on higher incomes. It also blocks severe across-the-board spending cuts for two months, extends unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless for a year, stops a 27 percent cut in Medicare fees paid to doctors and prevents a possible doubling of milk prices.
The alternative was going over the cliff, an economy-punching half-trillion-dollar combination of sweeping tax increases and spending cuts. Despite the deal, the government partially went over the brink anyway with the expiration of a two-year cut in Social Security payroll taxes of two percentage points.
Action inside a dysfunctional Washington now only comes with binding deadlines. So, naturally, this week's hard-fought bargain sets up another crisis in two months, when painful across-the-board spending cuts to the Pentagon and domestic programs are set to kick in and the government runs out of the ability to juggle its $16.4 trillion debt without having to borrow more money.
Unless Congress increases or allows Obama to increase that borrowing cap, the government risks a first-ever default on U.S. obligations. Republicans will use this as an opportunity to leverage more spending cuts from Obama, just like they did in the summer of 2011.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, vows that any increase in the debt limit — which needs to be enacted by Congress by the end of February or sometime in March — must be accompanied by an equal amount in cuts to federal spending. That puts him on yet another collision course with Obama, who has vowed anew that he won’t let haggling over spending cuts complicate the debate over the debt limit.
The cliff compromise represented the first time since 1990 that Republicans condoned a tax increase. That has whipped up a fury among tea party conservatives and increased the pressure on Boehner to adopt a hard line in coming confrontations over the borrowing cap and the spending cuts that won only a two-month reprieve in this weeks’ deal.
Put simply, House Republicans are demanding new spending cuts — possibly through changes in Social Security and Medicare benefit formulas — as a scalp, and they’re dead set against raising more revenues through anything less than an overhaul of the tax code now that Obama has won higher taxes on the wealthy.
“Now the focus turns to spending,” Boehner said after Tuesday’s vote, promising that future budget battles will center on “significant spending cuts and reforms to the entitlement programs that are driving our country deeper and deeper into debt.”
Obama is just as adamant on the other side, saying higher revenues have to be part of any formula for further diverting the automatic spending cuts.
While conservative activist Grover Norquist gave Republicans a pass on violating his anti-tax pledge with this week’s vote, he and other forces on the right won’t be so forgiving on any future effort to increase revenues.
The refusal of Republicans to consider additional new taxes is sure to stir up resistance among Democrats when they’re asked to consider politically painful cuts to so-called entitlement programs like Medicare. Democratic protests led Obama and Boehner to take a proposal to increase the Medicare eligibility age off the table in the recent round of talks.
The upshot? More scorched-earth politics on the budget will probably dominate the initial few months of Obama's second term, when the president would prefer to focus on legacy accomplishments like fixing the immigration problem and implementing his overhaul of health care.
The relationship between Boehner and Obama has never been especially close and seemed to have suffered a setback last month after the speaker withdrew from negotiations on a broader deficit deal. The two get along personally, but politically, a series of collapsed negotiations has bred mistrust. The White House has the view that Boehner cannot deliver while the speaker is frustrated that matters brought up in his talks with the president are not followed through by White House staff.
And on the debt limit, Boehner and Obama at this point are simply talking past each other.
“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed,” Obama said after the deal was approved.
Said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel: “The speaker’s position is clear. Any increase in the debt limit must be matched by spending cuts or reforms that exceed the increase.”
Council President Herb Wesson led a year-end review of issues that faced the Los Angeles City Council for KABC Channel 7 “Eyewitness Newsmakers,” hosted by Adrienne Alpert. Joining Wesson on the panel discussion were Councilmember Ed Reyes, the Council President Pro Tem, and Councilmember Tom LaBonge, Assistant Council President Pro Tem. The review focused on the Council’s work in facing up to the city’s budget challenges, and the importance of plans to increase revenue to maintain city services in the coming fiscal year.
December 20, 2012
By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
Will the Marlboro Man light up a joint soon?
The states of Washington and Colorado legalized possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana in the November elections, but it is unclear if any cigarette makers plan to supply either market.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. President Barack Obama indicated last week that going after individual users won’t be a priority, but there’s no firm indication yet what action the Justice Department might take against states or businesses that participate in the nascent pot market, which has the potential to be large.
For example, analysts have estimated that a legal pot market could bring Washington state hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new tax revenue for schools, health care and basic government functions.
Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, maker of Marlboro, based in Richmond, Va., was vague when asked about the future intentions of the nation’s largest tobacco company.
“We have a practice of not commenting or speculating on future business,” Phelps said, adding “tobacco companies are in the business of manufacturing and marketing tobacco products.”
Less mysterious was Bryan Hatchell, a spokesman for the second-largest cigarette maker, Reynolds American Inc., maker of Camel and Pall Mall, among many others.
“Reynolds American has no plans to produce or market marijuana products in either of those states,” Hatchell said. “It’s not part of our strategy.”
But if major tobacco companies are not going to supply the new markets, it appears there are some ready to step in.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board is receiving plenty of applications from people who want to be certified to be able to grow pot legally, even though the agency is not yet soliciting such applications. Agency spokesman Brian Smith said Tuesday that some applications so far have come from people who have long been growing marijuana when it was against state law.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from people that want to be producers,” Smith said. “Some say they have been growing it illegally until now.”
Indoor growing operations appear to be the most productive and secure for marijuana, Smith said.
“But we could have outdoor grows in eastern Washington,” he said.
Since no state had previously legalized marijuana possession, Washington must invent a production system from the ground up, Smith said. Colorado did have a licensed system for growing medical marijuana, but that was very tightly regulated and probably more stringent than Washington needs, Smith said.
“We don’t need to get to the level of oversight Colorado has in medical marijuana,” he said.
Washington’s new law decriminalizes possession of up to an ounce of pot for people over 21. But selling marijuana remains illegal for now. The initiative gave the state a year to come up with a system of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage.
In Colorado, a 24-member task force began work on pot regulations this week. The state’s Department of Revenue must adopt the regulations by July, with sales possible by year’s end.
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