It’s news: Toomey

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Can you whittle with a hatchet? Billions of dollars of indiscriminate federal budget cuts are scheduled to take effect Friday, but Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe will offer a Republican alternative bill to modify the March 1 sequester. According to Robert J. Vickers of the Patriot-News:

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey will introduce legislation as soon as Wednesday to soften the harsh, congressionally mandated spending cuts slated to be applied at the end of the week.

The bill would give President Barack Obama the authority to determine how the cuts will be applied in each department, rather than the mandated across-the-board approach dictated in the so-called “sequester,” Toomey told a handful of Pennsylvania reporters in a conference call late Tuesday afternoon.

“We need to preserve the magnitude of the cuts, but almost everybody agrees we’d be better off if they were done differently,” he said. “The problem with [across-the-board cuts] is it gives no discretion to the managers or the administration to determine which of the programs has greater urgency than another.”

The proposal would also retain Congress’s ability to reject the president’s prioritization of the cuts, he added.

Since Toomey’s in the news, I decided to look at his list of top donors on OpenSecrets.org. His biggest donor by far was the conservative anti-tax 501(c)4 organization the Club for Growth, which has given its former president $860,000 since 1998, almost as much as the other nineteen of his top twenty donors combined. Toomey accepted leadership of the group following his narrow 2004 Republican primary loss to former Senator Alan Specter, which the club had backed financially. Other conservative issue groups backing him included Senator Jim DeMint’s political action committee theSenate Conservatives Fund (fifth), giving $61,500, and the billionaires at Crow Holdings (16th) and Koch Industries (20th), each giving over $30,000.

“Too big to fail” banks and hedge funds invest heavily in Toomey. Elliott Management, a “vulture fund” firm that works primarily with distressed debt investments, ranked second on the Senator’s list with $115,000, while hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors (sixth) gave $46,000. Two of the Big Four banksJPMorgan Chase (seventh) Bank of America (eighth) — deposited over $40,000 in his accounts, as did professional trade group the American Bankers Association (ninth). Pittsburgh-based hedge fund Federated Investors (15th) and financial services corporation Morgan Stanley (19th) each pitched in over $30,000.

Professional trade associations look favorably on Toomey as well. He’s received significant donations from anti-union construction group the Associated Builders and Contractors (tenth), the National Restaurant Association (12th), the National Federation of Independent Business (17th), and accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers (18th).

Other big contributors to the Pennsylvania Senator are Allentown businesses Air Products & Chemicals (third) and electric utility PPL (fourth); Mechanicsburg health care company Select Medical (11th); Philadelphia ammunition manufacturers Day & Zimmermann (13th); and Exelon (14th), an energy company with several nuclear and fossil fuel plants in Pennsylvania and other states.

Boxer briefing

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Will Mother Earth become Martyr Earth? On Valentine’s Day, to avert that prospect, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced legislation to combat global climate change through the tax code. As Raju Chebium of USA Today reported:

Under the proposal, companies would pay $20 per ton of carbon or methane they emit. The tax would increase by 5.6% for each of the next 10 years. Burning coal, oil and gasoline releases carbon. Methane is the byproduct of natural gas, which is cleaner than the other fossil fuels and is coming in wide use across the USA.

Sixty percent of the revenue would go to pay monthly rebates for citizens and legal U.S. residents who are bound to face higher electric bills as utilities pass on the tax to consumers.

The rest would go toward “weatherizing” 1 million homes each year to make them more energy-efficient, increasing renewable-energy supply by setting up new wind- and solar-power projects, and creating a fund to attract private investment for clean-energy development.

Coal, oil, and natural gas producers as well as electrical utilities predictably oppose the measure. And despite his speeches about the dangers of global warming, President Obama looks unlikely to support Boxer’s proposal either. Ben Geman of The Hill reported yesterday:

Jack Lew, the White House nominee for Treasury secretary, says President Obama’s second-term vow to confront climate change will not lead to proposals to tax carbon dioxide emissions.

“The administration has not proposed a carbon tax, nor is it planning to do so,” Lew said in written responses to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which will vote on Lew’s nomination Tuesday.

Carbon taxes or fees are generating new interest among climate advocates and some liberal lawmakers, especially amid debates about how to curb the deficit and overhaul the tax code.

Lew’s answer is the latest of several Obama administration pledges not to propose a carbon tax.

“We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in mid-November.

Given industry opposition, it’s hardly surprising that energy corporations aren’t at the head of the line to donate to Boxer’s campaigns. Instead, as OpenSecrets.org shows, she receives significant donations from liberal issue donors, tech and media corporations, and lawyers and lobbyists.

Boxer’s top donor, giving over a million dollars since 1989, was EMILY’s List, the political action committee for pro-choice Democratic women. Other prominent, issue-oriented contributors are pro-environmental group the League of Conservation Voters (fourth) and arms control advocates the Council for a Livable World (tenth). The University of California (second) has bestowed over a quarter million on the California Senator; the State of California (seventh) and Stanford University (16th) also made generous donations.

The world’s four largest media corporations appear on Boxer’s list: Time Warner (third) gave over $200,000; Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (sixth) pitched in $122,000; Walt Disney Co. (eighth) gave $95,000; and Viacom (14th) gave $74,000.

Boxer receives more money from lawyers and law firms than any other industry, and several individual firms appear on her top twenty list, most based in her home state. These include class action kings Girardi & Keese (fifth), Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy (ninth), and Milberg LLP (11th); corporate lawyers Latham & Watkins (13th); personal injury lawyers Greene Broillet & Wheeler (15th); and general practice firm O’Melveny & Myers (18th).

Other significant donors to the California Senator are high tech businesses such as San Jose network equipment manufacturers Cisco Systems (12th), San Diego semiconductor makers Qualcomm (17th), and Japanese electronics megafirm Sony (19th). Oakland health care consortium Kaiser Permanente (20th) also made her list.

Money to Coburn

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The budgetary axe falls on the first of March, and the headsmen sound regretful. Writes David Kerley of ABC News’s “The Note”:

Believe it or not, there is some bipartisan agreement in Washington, D.C. The problem is Republicans and Democrats agree those automatic spending cuts known as the “sequester” will probably start on Friday, the deadline for a budget agreement.

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The cuts set to be triggered on Friday will range from 5 percent to 7 percent for most government departments. They will be phased in over the next six months. Workers, who may be furloughed for up to three weeks, will get 30 days warning before they must stay home.

The battle now isn’t how to avoid the sequester, once considered so drastic that lawmakers would be forced to negotiate an alternative; it’s how and where to apportion the blame. Some Senators, such as Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) have already hit the talk shows to begin the spin. Lindsey Boerma of CBS News reported Sunday:

“The crisis is made up – it’s been created,” Coburn continued. “We see all these claims about what a tragedy it’s going to be. The great example is, is if the secretary of transportation can assure us all the planes are going to be safe, then the Department of Homeland Security can assure us that we can get through the airports on time. They have plenty of flexibility in terms of discretion on how they spend money.”

Though he said he didn’t support the cuts, scheduled during the debt ceiling debate in 2011, because “that’s a stupid way to cut spending,” Coburn said sequestration may be “the only way Washington, Republicans and Democrats are ever going to get out of both parties some spending cuts.” The president’s idea to replace the sequester with a package that balances spending cuts and revenue through tax hikes, he said, is a “straw man” setup.

Coburn, the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, oversees the budgets of the DHS and the federal civil service as a whole. As he’s likely to be in the news more in the coming weeks, I thought it time to look at who he receives his campaign funds from.

Coburn’s top donor is conservative anti-tax 501(c) group the Club for Growth, which has given him over $65,000 since 1994. He’s also received significant funds from other conservative issue donors such as energy billionaires Koch Industries (sixth) and Senator Saxby Chambliss’s political action committee the Republican Majority Fund (ninth).

An obstetrician who once worked for his father, a prominent optician, Senator Coburn has accepted numerous donations from medical practitioners. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (fourth) and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (fifth) each gave him nearly $40,000. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (seventh), the American Medical Association (eighth), Oklahoma City’s Neuroscience Specialists (11th), and the American Dental Association (15th) all injected funds into the Senator’s campaigns.

Various trade associations figure prominently on Coburn’s list. The National Auto Dealers Association (tenth), the anti-union Associated Builders and Contractors (12th), the National Beer Wholesalers Association (13th), the National Federation of Independent Business (16th), the largest trade group of them all, the National Association of Realtors (18th), and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (20th) have backed the highly conservative Oklahoman.

Other prominent contributors to Coburn include Cummins-American Corp. (third), an Illinois firm specializing in money-sorting equipment for banks, automatic vendors and the like; humungous telecom multinational AT&T (second); Swiss investment bank UBS (14th); and Texas-based oil and gas companies ConocoPhilips (17th) and Andarko Petroleum (19th).

OpenMikulski

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The coming sequester is personal. No doubt it will feel that way to many more of you very soon, but to those who work in scientific research (or worked, as I did, and hope to again) it has hit already. Grant funding was cut sharply last year in anticipation of the sequester, and it been dwindling steadily long before that. As Jocelyn Kaiser of Science Insider reported:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a key supporter in Congress yesterday warned about the damage to biomedical research if $85 billion in automatic cuts to all federal agencies go into effect on 1 March. NIH Director Francis Collins and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the so-called sequestration would slow scientific progress, delay clinical trials, and put a generation of young researchers at risk if NIH’s $31 billion budget for this year is trimmed by $1.5 billion.

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If the sequester kicks in, NIH’s success rate could drop from the current rate of about 17% to 18%—half what it was in the 1980s—to as low as 15%, squeezing biomedical labs further and forcing them to hire even fewer young scientists, [Johns Hopkins Professor and Nobelist Carol] Greider noted. “This group is in jeopardy today,” she said. Collins echoed her concern: “If we lose the talents of this up-and-coming generation … they’re not coming back,” he said.

As chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski possesses a great deal of influence in determining where discretionary funds get spent — except when, as will occur with the March 1 sequester, the law requires proportional cuts to all budget items without discretion. As Congress will soon deal with the impact of the sequester, with the looming debt ceiling conflict, and with the overall 2014 budget battle, I decided to look at which campaign contributors might have the Senator’s ear.

Mikulski’s number one donor, giving an eighth of a million dollars to the Senator since 1989, was EMILY’s List, the political action committee dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office. Unions, another reliable source of funds for Democrats, gave significant amounts to her as well. The American Postal Workers Union (15th), government workers’ union AFSCME (17th), and the Sheet Metal Workers’ Union (18th) all appeared on Mikulski’s list.

Military contractors contribute copiously to the Senator from Maryland, who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Northrop Grumman, her second largest donor, has put over $90,000 in her war chest. Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin ranked sixth with nearly $65,000. Missile specialists Raytheon (11th), bomb builders Honeywell (12th) and satellite launchers Orbital Sciences Corporation (13th) each gave her around $42,000. Aircraft providers Boeing (20th) dropped in nearly $40,000 as well.

Many of Mikulski’s major donors come from her home state of Maryland. Baltimore research university Johns Hopkins ranked third on her list, while power plant operators Constellation Energy, which runs Baltimore Gas & Electric, came in ninth. But it is the legal industry which gives the most to Mikulski, and Maryland lawyers figure prominently on her list. DC lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates (fourth); Baltimore-based class action litigators at the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos (fifth); the largest law firm in the world, DLA Piper (seventh); Venable LLP (eighth), the biggest law firm in Baltimore; and trial lawyers’ lobbying group the American Association for Justice (16th).

Rounding out Mikulski’s list: Detroit automaker General Motors (tenth); Cleveland real estate developers Forest City Enterprises (14th); and the largest trade association in the country, the Realtors (19th).

Brown’s gold

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“You can bank on it.” Once that meant reliable, trustworthy. After the financial crisis and near collapse of 2008, who knows? There are efforts afoot in Congress to restore oversight to a criminally risky financial sector, though whether they have the Obama Administration’s blessing remains questionable. One of the foremost proponents of re-regulation is Senator Sherrod Brown. As Bloomberg‘s Craig Torres and Cheyenne Hopkins recently reported:

“‘[T]oo big to fail’ banks are also too big to manage and too big to regulate,” Brown, an Ohio Democrat, said in a Jan. 22 e-mail. “The question is no longer about whether these megabanks should be restructured, but how we should do it.”

Brown and fellow Banking Committee member David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, are considering legislation that would impose capital levels on the largest banks higher than those agreed to by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board, which set global standards. Brown also plans to reintroduce a bill he failed to get included in Dodd-Frank or passed in the last Congress that would cap bank size and limit non-deposit liabilities.

Given his seats on the Banking and the Finance Committees, it’s worthwhile to look at who Brown’s most prominent contributors are. Interestingly, none of the investment banks who feature prominently on many other Senators’ lists make his top twenty (though he has received $2.7 million from the combined areas of finance, insurance and real estate.)

Several of Brown’s biggest donors come from his home state of Ohio. Cleveland-based real estate developers Forest City Enterprises topped Brown’s list, contributing nearly an eighth of a million dollars since 1992; and both Ohio State University (fifth) in Columbus and Akron electric utility FirstEnergy (20th) made significant contributions to Brown’s campaigns.

Brown also rakes in a lot of donations from Ohio lawyers; the legal industry gives more to the Senator — over three million bucks so far — than any other group. Along with trial lawyers’ lobbying organization the American Association for Justice (fourth), Brown received significant donations from Sandusky, Ohio, personal injury lawyers Murray & Murray (seventh); Cleveland business law firms Kohrman Jackson & Krantz (ninth) and Squire Sanders (12th); and Columbus lobbyists Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease (17th).

Nationally, labor unions work hard to fill Brown’s campaign war chest. The Senator has rung up nearly an eighth of a million from his second largest donor, the Communication Workers of America, which represents telephone company employees. He’s also received copious contributions from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (sixth); the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (eighth); public employees’ union AFSCME (tenth); and the United Auto Workers (13th).

Health professionals provided more money to Brown than any industry save lawyers. He’s received a helping hand from manufacturers of wheelchairs and walkers Invacare (third); the American Academy of Ophthalmology (14th); world-famous hospital the Cleveland Clinic (15th); professional organization the American Hospital Association (16th); and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (18th).

Completing Brown’s top twenty list are accounting heavyweights Deloitte (11th) and arms control advocates the Council for a Livable World (19th).

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Caricature of Sherrod Brown by DonkeyHotey.

Skinnydipping (1997)

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February 20, 2013

Is this a good idea? My sensible self says no. But the larger part of me — the alcoholic, the addict? — eggs me on. Life is too important to take seriously. Or, as Randall Munroe put it so well, Fuck. That. Shit.

So I’ll begin this naked diary. Is it performance art or simply exhibitionism? More likely the latter. Such a strong desire to get noticed, and my poetry at best is mediocre — too derivative, not integral enough; my short stories go nowhere; my science is second-rate. (Though I have my moments in each.) But I do know how to expose myself, both physically and emotionally. Or at least I’m learning.

Some of the best moments of my life I spent bare-ass. Some of the more interesting ones, at least. Sadly, up until now, most of them were chemically assisted, and I’m wary of sharing them, of romanticizing my use — euphoric recall and all that. But then, it’s part of my past, therefore part of my present. And it should get hits: the internet is for porn, after all, and drugs.

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The story I want to tell today, and someday will assemble more artistically, is about skinnydipping at the Coralville Reservoir. I was 28 and dating an 18-year-old guy — he said he was, at least, and I rationalized that he acted five years more mature than his age, and I five years less, which is why we clicked. This was 17 years ago (do the math) and what truly bothers me is that I’ve forgotten his name, much as I still adore him and regret breaking up with him. I’ve ransacked my brain for years, and I should look through my closet for the sometime diary I used to keep, though I don’t think I wrote in it while I dated him, so it would be of little use anyway. Perhaps someday the name will pop back into my memory. For now, I’ll call him Nick.

Nick because that’s a short name, and he was a short guy. Skinny but solid. Shaved his head. Not quite Hispanic — Indian? Mayan? mixed with Northern European, I think — Iowa-raised like me. And mischievous as Old Nick, at least willing to be when I was around. I have a Polaroid of him somewhere. We each took one of each other, sitting butt-naked on my futon sofa, face to face, legs around one another’s chests, making faces at the camera, stoned of course, licking each other’s feet. I wonder if he still has his of me? Or has he long outgrown it?

My memory — imperfect of course, as I’ve noted already — is that this started at the 620, the gay bar in Iowa City long long ago. (It was a converted warehouse, painted black inside, loud with ’90s club music at night. Drinks were expensive, management chilly, but where else in town could we congregate?) Must have been a slow night, Nick and I bored. A previous boyfriend (call him Wallace; my age, but more respectable, sardonic, reserved) was hanging around. I had a car (my old gray Accord, rest its soul) and Wallace was sober. I’d like to think I was the one suggested we drive out to the Res.

We parked along the road a good distance from the campsite, so that we could sneak in to the lake without waking the campers. Summer night, but not muggy, cool. Giggling and whispering between me and Nick, quiet comments from Wallace.

Clothes off on the beach, except Wallace kept his underwear on, of course. We waded into the murky muddy water; squishy underfoot, gritty. Silent swimming. I knelt underwater, gripped Nick’s ass, gave him a blow job while his hands rubbed my short hair. Wallace a few yards off to my right, keeping watch.

Don’t know who saw the flashlight first. A ranger, coming down to check the campsite. We all ducked underwater, just the tops of our heads, our eyes, our mouth when need be, breaking the surface, our hands, our balls floating in the dark water. A thrill of maybe being discovered, the more dangerous in my case because of the bag of grass I’d brought along, stuffed in my pants pocket, far away on shore. An idiotic risk, but looking back, quaint, boyish. A few tense minutes we half-floated, frozen, scarcely breathing. Then the light moved away, vanished.

We waited a few more minutes, then slipped softly to the shore, hitched on our clothes, and made our way to the public restrooms to wash out our hair and rinse off our feet. Nick and I grinned, recounted our close escape. Then the three of us walked back to my Accord (called Nathan & Adelaide; I kept it engaged for fourteen years), and Wallace drove us back to my apartment, after which we went back to the 620 to tell the story to our little circle of jerks.

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Off to the Y now to work out, take off a few more pounds, put on a few more muscles, and parade around naked in the locker room, get a look at a cute guy or two if I’m lucky. Not everyone is as typical as I am, are they?

Green with Enzi

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Prepare for another heaping helping of austerity. With a little over a week left before massive cuts to the federal discretionary budget occur on March 1, prospects of a deal are looking dimmer. Democrats and Republicans in Washington, DC, seem nowhere close to agreement, and some Senators are confident none will be reached.

Dustin Bleizeffer of WyoFile reports:

While on his public “listening” tour in Wyoming Monday, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming) told a small audience in Casper, “Sequestration is going to happen. The plans that are being offered won’t pass,” echoing comments made by his U.S. Senate colleague John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) on CNN Sunday.

Enzi sits on the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes and entitlements, as well as the Budget Committee, which sets the broad goals for federal spending. Since his vote will be courted this week and during the battles in March and beyond, I decided to examine his top twenty donors, listed on OpenSecrets.org.

Holding a seat on the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight, Enzi receives plenty of money from accountants. His top contributor, donating nearly twice as much as any other source, is auditing firm Deloitte with $61,000. Ernst & Young (12th), another of the Big Four accounting firms, gave $26,000. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (fifth) threw in $30,000, while the American Bankers Association (third) deposited $30,500.

Health insurance supremo Blue Cross Blue Shield (second) has given $31,500 to the member of the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee member. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists gave him $25,500, and global pharmaceutical concern Abbott Laboratories (19th) injected $22,500.

As a member of the Finance Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources, and Infrastructure, Enzi has received numerous donations from the corporations he writes regulations for. These include fuel retailers who sell at the pump, the National Association of Convenience Stores (tenth); coal and other mineral providers the National Mining Association (11th); oil and gas behemoth Exxon Mobil (15th), the world’s largest company by revenue; and Arch Coal (16th) and Foundation Coal (18th), which operate mines in Wyoming and several other states.

Also pitching in heavily to Enzi are fuel-using transportation interests such as the Union Pacific Corporation (fourth), which runs the railroad of the same name; the National Automobile Dealers Association (sixth); and package shipping specialists United Parcel Service (seventh).

Others of Enzi’s top twenty donors include the largest trade association in the US, the National Association of Realtors (eighth); telecom multinational AT&T (ninth); union shop foes the Associated Builders and Contractors (14th); the National Restaurant Association (17th); and the National Beer Wholesalers Association (20th).