Republicans just killed a bill that would have allowed students to refinance their loans at lower interest rates because rich people would have to pay for part of it.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act didn’t even get past a procedural vote, failing 56-38. Warren said the bill was designed to ease the debts of 40 million Americans who collectively hold nearly $1.3 trillion in loans, at a stunning $30,000 per borrower.

Senate Republicans objected to the inclusion of the so-called Buffett Rule to pay for it, which would have raised income tax rates on rich people who obtain most of their income from investments. Raising taxes is a non-starter for the GOP in both the House and Senate. Just three Republicans signed on with the bill.

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Thank G-d there are people like Marco Rubio, who actually speak the truth with regard to the Israel/Palestine Conflict. 

The idea that Israel is responsible for war crimes has got to be a JOKE- especially coming from those who use their own innocent people as human shields in order to gain public attention around the world, and anyone else who supports their inhumane, loathsome and shameless war approach (not to mention their new PR tactic- using graphic images from Syria and Iraq to illustrate “suffering in Gaza by the hands of Israel”).

The Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a treaty modeled after the ADA, would help change that. It would establish a framework for creating legislation and policies in other countries. And it would protect the rights and dignity of all people with disabilities, giving them greater opportunity to work, travel, and lead full and productive lives.
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Opening Doors to People With Disabilities Worldwide

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations just approved the CRPD this morning by a vote of 12-6. Now it goes on to the full Senate for a vote, where it is expected to be voted down by Republicans. If you live in the US, tell your Senators to vote for it!

Specifically, the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014

  • Authorizes an increase of $200 million in the value of U.S. weapons held in Israel, to a total of $1.8 billion. This stockpile is intended for use by U.S. forces in the event of a crisis, but it can also be used by Israel in the event of an emergency with Israel reimbursing the U.S. for any weapons used.
  • Requires the Administration to take steps toward allowing Israel to be included in the top-tier category for license-free exports of certain U.S. technologies and products.
  • Authorizes the President to carry out cooperation between the U.S. and Israel on a range of policy areas including energy, water, homeland security, and alternative fuel technologies. And it requires the President to study the feasibility of expanding U.S.-Israel cooperation on cyber security.
  • Includes new language that encourages the Administration to work with Israel to help the country gain entry into the Visa Waiver Program, which would make it easier for Israeli citizens to travel to the United States without first having to obtain a visa.
  • Requires the Administration to provide more frequent and more detailed assessments on the status of Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.
  • Strengthens collaboration between the U.S. and Israel on energy development and encourages increased cooperation between the two countries’ academic, business and governmental sectors. 

This bill was introduced on Monday. It aims is to entrench Israel even further as an ally of the United States by providing it with more weapons, more privileges, and more cooperation. This is the reward Israel receives for massacring close to 1400 Palestinians so far. 

Of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, 78 of them have co-sponsored it, including 46 Democrats (out of 53) and 31 Republicans (out of 45). Among them are so-called progressive heroes Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken. There is a strong consensus in favor of settler-colonialism in the halls of American power.

Gender ratio in US state legislature (state senates and houses), by state, 2014

Data source: http://www.cawp.rutgers.edu/

Code source: https://github.com/morpionZ/US_gender_in_legislature

Disclaimer: I made these graphs for my own amusement and for learning new plotting methods. Do not consider them a reliable source of information. Refer directly to the data source for more information regarding the data collection method. 

GAO Went Undercover to Test Unregulated Tax Preparers

The U.S. Senate Committee on Finance held a hearing on “Protecting Taxpayers from Incompetent and Unethical Return Preparers” which had many interesting testimonies, including from IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and James McTigue Jr., director of Strategic Issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

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This hearing was a result of the IRS asking Congress to give it authority to regulate tax preparers, which in turn was a result of the courts deciding that the IRS does not have said authority under current law.

GAO’s McTigue testified about the findings of a new study conducted rather clandestinely by the GAO. It seems they went undercover in February to 19 randomly selected tax preparers.

The GAO study based on these site visits to the 19 paid but unregulated tax preparers found that only two of them were able to calculate the correct refund amount.

Refund errors on the part of the other 17 varied from giving the taxpayer $52 less to $3,718 more than the correct refund amount.

Two of the tax preparers even chose the wrong type of tax return. Common tax preparation errors the GAO found among the 17 who ended up with incorrect refund amounts include:-

-          Not reporting non-Form W-2 income such as cash tips (12 of 19 made this mistake);

-          Claiming EITC for an ineligible child (three of the 10 applicable cases);

Other common errors included tax preparers not asking required eligibility questions for the American Opportunity Tax Credit, and not providing the accurate PTIN (preparer tax identification number).

Oh, and the 19 error-prone tax preparers who were randomly picked to be scapegoats aren’t going to get away with just a mention in a report.

McTigue said in his testimony that “Because the returns we had prepared were not real returns and were not filed, penalties would not apply. However, we plan to refer the matters we encountered to IRS so that any appropriate follow-up actions can be taken.”

Additional testimony in support of legislation to regulate tax preparers was provided by National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson, who told the Committee that “Given the critical role that preparers play in tax compliance, I believe it is in the best interest of taxpayers and tax administration to establish minimum standards for the profession.”

Others providing testimony at the hearing included William Cobb, President & CEO, H&R Block; Janis Salisbury, Chair, Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners; Dr. John Barrick, Associate Professor, Brigham Young University; Ms. Chi Chi Wu, Staff Attorney, National Consumer Law Center; and Dan Alban, Attorney, Institute for Justice.         

Read the full GAO study based on their undercover site visits to tax preparers – Download (pdf)            

Photo credit – senate.gov

While the Senate filibustered, Hawaii took minimum wage into their own hands

The long-waited congressional vote on minimum wage will … require some more waiting. The Senate failed Wednesday to even open debate on the contentious issue, as Republicans began a filibuster that lasted through the session, with only one member siding with the Democrats.

But it wasn’t all bad news for minimum-wage advocates. The day before the filibuster, the Hawaii legislature decided to independently raise the state minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour — the same figure put forward by congressional Democrats. 

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New York Times congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman joins Fresh Air to talk about the “least productive Congress in history.” 

"If you turn on C-SPAN now, in the United States Senate, you’re more likely to see nothing—nothing is happening. They’re just running out the clock for the latest judge to be confirmed and it has completely turned the Senate into a joke. It’s a silent chamber."

Photo - JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images

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