So I guess we're all doomed

In all the celebration last night, I forgot that one of the major features of the transition between 2012 and 2013 was the resolution -- or not -- of the issue of the Fiscal Cliff.  Fortunately, John Green reminded me in his Vlogbrothers video today.  The video was, tellingly, titled, Why Does Congress Suck?

I've been trying, for the last half hour or so, to figure out what's going on with our government right now.  It appears, according to an article on Politico updated at 7:08pm today, that the House of Representatives has failed to vote in the deal that the Senate passed last night, 89-8, meaning that -- right now -- we've gone over the fiscal cliff.

Er, update (not that I posted this before getting here) -- as of 7:37, according to businessinsider.com, the House Republicans have proposed an amendment, but they don't think they have the votes to get it through, and "Republican members are now saying that it looks like the ... bill will pass on an up-down vote."

I'll be keeping this window open tonight, because it's a live-blog, so I will hopefully get better information here than I'm getting frantically googling.  I'm going to post this now, but will continue updating.

UPDATE 7:53 in a super-exciting turn of events, Businessinsider quotes a GOP House aide arguing that the Senate bill will be passed:  "Members seem tired and ready to go home."  I know this isn't serious commentary, but I'm annoyed and feel like being pissy:  does it bother anyone else that the (at least short-term) fate of this country is hinging on a bunch of old people feeling tired?  I think the federal government should be required to stay up late sometimes if it's necessary to stop America from collapsing into a new depression.

UPDATE 8:03 I have a tweet!  This means I get to try out embedding a tweet!  It's via Dana Bash, who is a CNN reporter.  So it's pretty credible, I guess.

https://twitter.com/DanaBashCNN/status/286275958120529920

UPDATE 8:13 Loads of people are complaining about the fact that Hollywood gets tax incentives on Twitter.  I am frustrated by this.  Not that the government doesn't have a problematic relationship with Hollywood, but governments subsidize industries.  They do that.  All the time.  Subsidizing American entertainment means we get to sell our entertainment overseas, we get to influence the worldwide narrative, we get to pump ourselves up as a destination for tourism and economics.  Like most other industries, a healthy entertainment industry is good for America, so it makes sense to stabilize it against the clumsiness of the free market.

UPDATE 8:27 I've seen this link about 20 times on Twitter in the last half hour, so I'm going to talk about it.

STUNNING GRAPHIC SHOWS POSSIBLE REASON THE HOUSE GOP IS BALKING AT THE SENATE'S FISCAL CLIFF BILL

Did you look?  Pictured is a comically oversized graph showing the massive difference between the tax increases that the current bill suggests and the 2011 budget deficit.

a. The 2011 budget deficit isn't on the table.  It will never be on the table.  There is no way to negotiate out the current deal in such a way as will change how much money we spent in 2011.  Maybe it had something to do with the amount it went down this past year.  Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that there are spending cuts in the deal, too, meaning the deficit will be going down again.

b. I've mentioned this before, I think, but it's okay for a government to have a deficit.  It's practically required during a recession, because we need money to stimulate our economy, and (by definition) we don't have a lot of money.  Borrowing money is how you solve those problems.  Furthermore, most of our deficit is money borrowed from the American people, or other parts of the US government -- it's not the kind of debt you tend to think 'debt' means.  Finally, having loads of debt is, in my opinion, a good thing -- especially since other countries also owe us loads of money.  Being financially entangled puts us in the fantastic position of making it really inconvenient to go to war.  The more our economies are intertwined around the world, the more we have to get along with each other.  If you think that's bad, I think you are centuries out of date, politically.

UPDATE 5:34 businessinsider -- the vote is expected for around 9:30.

The people choking American democracy

If that title seems dramatic, remember that the Citizens United court ruling created the circumstances that allows multibillionaires to flood the airwaves with propaganda for whoever they want through Super PACs. On Tuesday, though, Senator Bernie Sanders named names.

In his new report, America For Sale: A Report on Billionaires Buying the 2012 Election, Sen. Bernie Sanders named names and called out the billionaires who using Citizens United to buy our democracy.

In front of a Senate panel today, Sen. Bernie Sanders outed the 26 billionaires who are members of 23 billionaire families that are using Citizens United to buy elections.Sen. Sanders estimated that these 26 billionaires are the tip of the iceberg. “My guess is that number is really much greater because many of these contributions are made in secret. In other words, not content to own our economy, the 1 percent want to own our government as well.”

The top five are:

  1. Sheldon Adelson, 
  2. The Kochs (David, Charles, and William), 
  3. Jim Walton,
  4. Harold Simmons, and 
  5. Peter Thiel 
Check out the list, spread it around.  These kinds of financial imbalances will break our government.

SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith taking another shot at the internet

(via Boing Boing) Unlike SOPA, though, this one's a cheap shot.  Part of SOPA's functionality was to appoint "IP attaches," government officers whose job would be to pressure other countries into adopting SOPA-like regulations.  Smith's new bill, called The Intellectual Property Attache Act, seeks to replicate that function on its own.  At Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow points out that this method has been used before, in a long-game of changing US regulations:

The new bill, [...] will create a class of political officers who will see to it that all US trade negotiations and discussions advance SOPA-like provisions in foreign law. And as we've seen with other trade deals, one way to get unpopular measures into US law is to impose them on other countries, then agree to "harmonize" at home. (Emphasis mine)

 TechDirt.com points out,

The specifics of the bill appear to go further than the version in SOPA. It is clear that the bill itself is framed from the maximalist perspective. There is nothing about the rights of the public, or ofother countries to design their own IP regimes. It notes that the role of the attaches is:

to advance the intellectual property rights of United States persons and their licensees;

It looks very much like Doctorow and Clay Shirky were right, that SOPA, PIPA and ACTA, beyond not being the first, will certainly not be the last attacks on intellectual freedom on the internet.

An example of the level of discourse in our legislature

ThinkProgress reports on a DEA agent -- the chief administrator of the DEA -- straight-up refusing to discuss the comparative properties of marijuana and other drugs (like crack and heroin) in order to avoid conceding that marijuana might not be as bad as those drugs.

POLIS: Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?

LEONHART: I believe all the illegal drug –

POLIS: Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?

LEONHART: I don’t think any illegal drug –

POLIS: Is heroin worse for someones health than marijuana?

LEONHART: Again, all the drugs –

POLIS: I mean, either yes, no, or I don’t know. I mean, if you don’t know, you can look this up you should know this as the chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. I’m asking you a very straightforward question. Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?

LEONHART: All the illegal drugs are bad.

[...]

POLIS:  Is methamphetamine more highly addictive than marijuana?

LEONHART:  I think some people become addicted to marijuana and some people become addicted to methamphetamine --

The whole thing is kind of disturbing to watch.  What we're looking at here is a congressional hearing, at which an officer of the law is actively resisting aiding congress in making decisions.  She's trying to manipulate congress's ability to act by withholding information.

This is the sort of behavior we've apparently come to allow from our law enforcement.  It gives the impression she's less interested in sensible legislation than she is in making sure there are enough laws to keep justifying her paycheck.