This Day in History–Teachers Edition: On this day in 1887, Anne Sullivan begins teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months.
Maybe you can’t send much money. Maybe you already sent a pizza, voted against the cretins in power, canceled your trip to Abu Dubai. Maybe you aren’t exactly prepared to zip on over to Yemen, grab a burning Molotov and march. Hell, maybe you don’t really care about the fat sheiks in Bahrain because what the hell do those billionaire misogynists have to do with the price of a decent dental plan for your kids?
Nevertheless, you know the cause is just. Do not miss this ride. Do not let the opportunity swirl by untapped. Harness this moment like it’s a goddamn wild horse and make changes in your own world, push back against boundaries and regimes, oppressive dogma and deception. Why not? Hold up a sign. Support a local organization. Seek release. Live authentically, love intently, push back again the injustices immediately around you. Sound simple? Sound obvious? Sure it is. I dare you.
After all, each and every one of these stunning global protests is nothing but another verse in the universal struggle for more liberation, more empowerment (or in the case of Wisconsin, less disempowerment), more self-determination, the human animal ever hungry to choose its own fate without so many nefarious bindings and chains, jackals and billionaire trolls eating away the core.
As it is for you, so it is for the collective whole, the universal body. Micro to macro, intimate to communal and right back again. Viva la revolucion, baby. What’s your offering?
Don’t Surrender on Budget Priorities
From Senator Bernie Sanders:
Congress is in the midst of a fierce debate on the budget. In a Senate floor speech today, Bernie said it is absurd to provide tax breaks for millionaires while balancing the budget on the backs of working families. He attacked a House Republican proposal to cut more than $60 billion for the rest of this year. The bill would:
- Cut $1.1 billion from Head Start depriving services for 218,000 children.
- Cut $1.3 billion from Social Security delaying benefits for 500,000 Americans.
- Slash $1.3 billion from community health centers taking primary health care from 11 million patients.
- Reduce or eliminate Pell Grants for 9.4 million low-income college students.
- Cut $405 million from Community Services Block Grants affecting 20 million seniors, families with children and the disabled.
- End job training and other employment services for 8 million Americans.
Watch Wednesday’s floor speech »
A Boost for Better Health Care
President Obama now agrees with Bernie that states should be allowed to experiment with ways to deliver better health care at less cost beginning in 2014. A Bernie bill would let Vermont become a national model of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. “I am very pleased the president now agrees,” Bernie said.
Read the Burlington Free Press »
Join the Social Security Caucus
Social Security is the most successful social program in American history. It shouldn’t be privatized; its benefits shouldn’t be cut; and the retirement age shouldn’t be raised. Confronted by threats from congressional Republicans and a White House fiscal commission, Bernie is organizing a group of senators to fight back. Now you can join the Defend Social Security Caucus.
Sign up as a citizen member of the Defend Social Security Caucus »
While proposed cuts to education have overwhelmed the nation, the organization called the day of demonstrations primarily in response to a recent vote by the House of Representatives to cut 16 percent of the total funding from the Department of Education.
Part of this resolution includes a 15 percent slash to Pell Grant funding, which provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduates, by more than $800 for the neediest students. Over 9 million lower-income students currently receive the Pell Grant; those students come from families whose total annual income is around $20,000 and many of them can hardly sustain another blow without being forced to drop out of school.
In the poll, Americans across all age groups and ideologies said by large margins that it was “unacceptable” to make significant cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal deficit. Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security “unacceptable.”
At the same time, a majority supported two specific measures that lawmakers might employ to shore up the shaky finances of the main entitlement programs.
More than 60% of poll respondents supported reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to wealthier Americans. And more than half favored bumping the retirement age to 69 by 2075. The age to receive full benefits is 66 now and is scheduled to rise to 67 in 2027.
Depending on how they are structured, those two changes could eliminate as much as 60% of Social Security’s underfunding, according to experts. Support for the two ideas in the poll is “impressive,” said Chuck Blahous, one of the program’s public trustees and a former Bush administration official. “I wonder if [public] receptivity is increasing.”
The poll comes as Republican lawmakers, many elected on promises to slash federal spending, have focused mostly so far on cuts to non-defense, discretionary programs. But many political leaders say meaningful deficit reduction cannot be accomplished without making changes to entitlement programs.
A small group of senators in both parties has begun discussions that include changes to entitlement programs, as well as to the tax code. House Republicans say they will address entitlements in their next budget. And several likely 2012 GOP candidates have vowed to to shore up the finances of Social Security and Medicare as part of their campaigns.
But Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Peter Hart, the pollsters who conducted the survey, said the poll raises warning signs for anyone proposing cuts to the three main entitlement programs, including Medicaid, that provide health and retirement benefits to seniors and the poor. The programs, which already make up 41% of federal spending, are expected to balloon in coming years.
Overall, the new poll found deepening pessimism about the future of the economy and the country’s direction. Only 29% thought the economy would get better over the next year, a dip of 11 points since last month and the lowest since August. “This is a country that refuses to feel better,” said Mr. McInturff.
Mr. Obama’s own job approval dipped to 48%, from 53% last month, but was still higher than at any time since last May. Some 46% disapproved of his job performance. Mr. Hart, the Democratic pollster, said that until the unemployment rate dips significantly, “it is always going to be a struggle for the president to get majority support.”
As a snapshot of public opinion, the poll highlights some of the perils ahead for Republicans as their core voters and tea party supporters demand big reductions in federal spending to tame the deficit.
More than seven in 10 tea party backers feared GOP lawmakers would not go far enough in cutting spending. But at the same time, more than half of all Americans feared Republicans would go too far.
A new NBC/WSJ poll tells us that Democrats, if they could manage to agree on a halfway coherent message, most likely hold all the cards in a budget showdown:
The survey [...] listed 26 different ways to reduce the federal budget deficit. The most popular: placing a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per year (81 percent said that was acceptable), eliminating spending on earmarks (78 percent), eliminating funding for weapons systems the Defense Department says aren’t necessary (76 percent) and eliminating tax credits for the oil and gas industries (74 percent).
The least popular: cutting funding for Medicaid, the federal government health-care program for the poor (32 percent said that was acceptable); cutting funding for Medicare, the federal government health-care program for seniors (23 percent); cutting funding for K-12 education (22 percent); and cutting funding for Social Security (22 percent).
Those numbers, GOP pollster McInturff says, “serve as a huge flashing yellow sign to Republicans … if they are going to start to talk about changes to Medicare and Social Security.”
Roger that. The tea party might have different priorities, but the tea party is still a pretty small part of America no matter how loudly they yell or how much attention the media pays to them. Out in real America, people want to tax the rich, cut stupid weapons programs, and stop subsidizing prosperous oil companies. They don’t want to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or education.
Agricultural subsidies have helped bring us high-fructose corn syrup, factory farming, fast food, a two-soda-a-day habit and its accompanying obesity, the near-demise of family farms, monoculture and a host of other ills.
Yet — like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat — like apples and carrots — while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.
Obama has invited Congressional leaders of both parties to sit down with Veep Joe Biden and hammer out a long-term budget agreement, an effort to exert a more hands-on role (which he’s been criticized for not doing) and to act as uniter of squabbling factions.
Ideological divisions remain so deep — with Republicans in effect trying to restrain Obama from basic governing functions — that it’s hard to see how the differences will be bridged.The question now is how forcefully the President will back the core liberal priorities Congressional Dems want to protect and how hard a line he’ll draw in opposition to the steep spending cuts sought by the GOP.
Congressional Democrats are prodding the White House to take a more active stance against Republicans in high-stakes budget negotiations, concerned that President Barack Obama is ceding ground on spending cuts.
As Obama yesterday signed a stopgap measure Congress approved to fund the government through March 18 and avert a shutdown, some Democrats said the president has so far taken too passive an approach in the larger debate on spending, allowing Republicans to set the agenda for slashing federal expenditures and position themselves to gain credit for such moves.
Signs have emerged that the White House is stepping up its involvement. Obama phoned House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio on March 1 and the two spoke for about 10 minutes on budget matters, though the discussion came too late to alter the $4 billion in cuts Republicans put in the stopgap spending measure. White House chief of staff William Daley also phoned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to discuss funding the government through Sept. 30, Cantor told Bloomberg Television yesterday.
Obama said yesterday that he was dispatching Vice President Joe Biden, Daley and White House budget chief Jack Lew to work with congressional leaders on a longer-term deal. Lew, Daley, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other aides met with House Democratic leaders last night to plot strategy.
A future funding agreement “should cut spending and reduce deficits without damaging economic growth or gutting investments in education, research and development that will create jobs and secure our future,” Obama said yesterday in a statement. It “should be bipartisan, it should be free of any party’s social or political agenda, and it should be reached without delay.”
Democratic lawmakers said they expected Obama to address the issue in public in the coming days. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Obama “is going to get involved in this.”
Republicans have yet to accept Obama’s invitation for such talks, saying Democrats need to offer alternative budget-cutting proposals.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asked yesterday about projections showing 700,000 job losses resulting from his caucus’ spending plan. The Republican dismissed the projections and said what really matters is the judgment of the Fed chairman.
“[L]ook, we had the chairman of the Federal Reserve yesterday indicate that the cuts that we were proposing, $61 billion off of the oh-10 levels, were not going to in any way significantly reduce the prospects for growth.”
If Cantor is inclined to take Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s perspective seriously, I’m delighted. Indeed, the House Majority Leader made it sound as if Bernanke’s judgment is the only one that matters.
What’s more, Bernanke went on to say that plans to cut education and job-training spending — the exactly agenda Cantor’s caucus is pursuing — will undermine America’s competitiveness.
In other words, the one official Cantor is willing to rely on as a credible source for economic projections believe Cantor’s own plan would hurt the economy, cost jobs, and make the nation less competitive.
Remind me, how’d this guy get to be House Majority Leader?
The Government Accountability Office has released a more than 300-page report tallying up 34 areas in which the government has duplicative, fragmented or overlapping programs, and an additional 47 areas where better management or spending decisions could save us money or raise revenue without any obvious loss to program effectiveness. Don’t let the length of the report scare you off from giving it a look: The first set of recommendations is summarized on pages 5-7, and the second set on pages 155-158.
Here is the full report:
How the rich soaked the rest of us: The astonishing story of the last few decades is a massive redistribution of wealth, as the rich have shifted the tax burden.
Over the last half-century, the richest Americans have shifted the burden of the federal individual income tax off themselves and onto everybody else. The three convenient and accurate Wikipedia graphs below show the details. The first graph compares the official tax rates paid by the top and bottom income earners. Note especially that from the end of the Second World War into the early 1960s, the highest income earners paid a tax rate over 90 percent for many years. Today, the top earners pay a rate of only 35 percent. Note, also, how the gap between the rates paid by the richest and the poorest has narrowed. If we take into account the many loopholes the rich can and do use far more than the poor, the gap narrows even more.
One conclusion is clear and obvious: the richest Americans have dramatically lowered their income tax burden since 1945, both absolutely and relative to the tax burdens of the middle income groups and the poor.
“We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.
It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more “broke” than a family with a mortgage or a college loan. And states have to balance their budgets. Though it may disappoint many conservatives, there will be no federal or state bankruptcies.
On Wednesday, to cite just the latest example, House Republicans successfully pressured the Senate to approve a bill cutting $4 billion in spending just to keep the federal government from shutting down for the next two weeks. In a matter of days, the Senate will be forced to take up the House bill to make more than $61 billion in ruinous cuts over the next seven months, all under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility.” (At least the White House says it will be involved in the next round.) Many Republican governors are employing the same tactic.
But now voters are starting to notice the effects of these cuts and to get angry at the ideological overreach. A New York Times/CBS News poll published on Tuesday showed that Americans oppose ending bargaining rights for public unions by a majority of nearly two to one. And the poll sharply refutes the post-Reagan Republican mantra that the public invariably abhors all tax increases. Nearly twice as many people said they would prefer a tax increase to cutting benefits of public employees or to cutting spending on roads.
A Gallup poll last week showed that 61 percent of respondents nationwide reject Mr. Walker’s attempt to revoke collective-bargaining rights for public unions, including 41 percent of the Republicans polled. Like the Times/CBS poll, Gallup found a mixed result about the overall popularity of unions, suggesting that labor is on firm ground in defending its basic rights but still needs to negotiate with the public good in mind.
Perhaps because of the economic downturn, voting among union households was sharply down last November, which may help explain some of the Republican gains. Mr. Walker and his fellow Republicans, may wind up turning that around next year.
If they want to be relevant again they have to connect the dots: The explosion of income and wealth among America’s super-rich, the dramatic drop in their tax rates, the consequential devastating budget squeezes in Washington and in state capitals, and the slashing of public services for the middle class and the poor.
It is not a complicated story. Begin with what’s happened to the typical American, whose wages have been stagnant for thirty years. Today’s typical 30-year-old male (if he has a job) is earning the same as a 30-year-old male earned three decades ago, adjusted for for inflation. (Although women are doing better than they did 30 years ago, their wages still trail men’s.)
The bottom 90 percent of Americans now earn, on average, only about $280 more per year than they did thirty years ago. That’s less than a 1 percent gain over more than a third of a century. Families are doing somewhat better but that’s only because so many families now have to rely on two incomes.
But wait. The American economy is more than twice as large now as it was thirty years ago. So where did the money go? To the top. The richest 1 percent’s share of national has doubled – from around 9 percent in 1977 to over 20 percent now. The richest one-tenth of 1 percent’s share has tripled. The 150,000 households that comprise the top one-tenth of one percent now earn as much as the bottom 120 million put together.
Here’s what Democrats should be saying:
Hike taxes on the super-rich. Reform the tax code to create more brackets at the top with higher rates for millionaires and billionaires. Absurdly, the top bracket is now set at $375,000 with a tax rate of 35 percent; the second-highest bracket, at 33 percent, starts at $172,000 for individuals. But the big money is way higher.
The source of income shouldn’t matter – salary, wages, capital gains, other unearned income – all should be treated the same. There’s no reason to reward speculators. (Don’t penalize true entrepreneurs, though. If they’re owners who have held their assets for at least twenty years, keep their capital gains low.)
And while you’re at it, raise the ceiling on income subject to Social Security taxes. And bring back the estate tax.
Do this and we can afford to do what we need to do as a nation. Do this and you prevent Republicans from setting the working middle class against itself. Do this and you restore some balance to a distribution of income and wealth that’s now dangerously out of whack.
U.S. securities regulator is seeking information from an unknown number of regional and community banks that have restructured troubled loans in order to make them appear healthier than they really are, the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the situation.
American International Group Inc sold $9.6 billion worth of MetLife Inc shares on Wednesday, producing gross proceeds of about $6.3 billion to accelerate its payback of U.S. Treasury bailout funds.
US securities regulators issued a proposal on Wednesday to curb bonuses at brokerage and investment advisory firms over the objections of Republicans on the panel and even some doubts expressed by Chairman Mary Schapiro .
The Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 to issue for comment a plan substantially similar to one proposed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp last month.
The measure, required by last year’s Dodd-Frank financial law, is aimed at reducing incentives for executives and other top employees to take excessive risks.
Complaints about bogus employment scams have been on the rise, according to the FTC and state prosecutors, who on Wednesday announced a string of indictments and civil enforcement actions against such operators.
The businesses are part of a cottage industry known as “last dollar frauds,” which target the meager savings held by economically-distressed people. Many of these scams have built websites that look like legitimate businesses.
“They’re targeting people who are vulnerable financially because they’re out of work, or they don’t have enough work,” said David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “They’re deeply in debt, and what these scams do is aim to take the last dollar out of their wallets.”
In total, the FTC announced more than 90 civil enforcement actions that enjoined companies from continuing to operate. And the Justice Department has brought 48 criminal cases against owners of such businesses. (Check the FTC’s full list of scams here.)
The program, known as HAMP (short for the Home Affordable Modification Program), has led to permanent loan modifications for about 540,000 mortgages so far, Treasury officials said in a monthly update Wednesday. As Paul Solman reported last year, that’s far below the 3 to 4 million foreclosures that were supposed to be prevented when the program was announced in February 2009.
Given that it remains on track to provide fewer than 30,000 permanent modifications each month, no one expects HAMP to help nearly as many people as initially intended.
Those lower numbers were front and center at a hearing Wednesday afternoon before the House Financial Services Committee hearing on HAMP and other government foreclosure efforts. Some House Republicans want to kill the program and rescind its funding with a new law (the bill is HR 430).
This morning citizens from around the state took the first steps by filing recall papers against key Republican Senators who have stood with Scott Walker and pushed his partisan power grab that will strip thousands of middle class teachers, nurses, librarians and other workers of their right to collective bargaining. And we learned just last night that their disastrous budget that will cut millions from our schools and universities. . . .
Make no mistake, these Republican Senators are vulnerable to recall for their radical partisan overreach. Senator Randy Hopper won his last election by just 184 votes. And Alberta Darling won her last race by only 1,007. By recalling just three of the eight Senators [Democrats] are targeting, [Democrats] can regain control of the Senate.
Under Wisconsin law, supporters of this recall effort now have 60 days to collect an amount of signatures “equal to at least 25% of the vote cast for the office of governor at the last election within the same district or territory as that of the officeholder being recalled.” The amount of signatures necessary to trigger a recall will vary from district to district, but will range from about 15,000 to 21,000 signatures per recalled senator.
If the supporters succeed in collecting enough signatures, the result is an effective “do over” election. The incumbent will automatically be a candidate in the election unless they resign from office, and Democrats and members of other political parties will be allowed to nominate opponents. The winner of a recall election is seated as soon as the election result is certified.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who was inaugurated last January, will be eligible for a recall in January of 2012.
Louisiana’s biggest corporate players, many with long agendas before the state government, are restricted in making campaign contributions to Gov. Bobby Jindal. But they can give whatever they like to the foundation set up by his wife months after he took office.
AT&T, which needed Mr. Jindal, a Republican, to sign off on legislation allowing the company to sell cable television services without having to negotiate with individual parishes, has pledged at least $250,000 to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children.
Mr. Jindal has made tightening Louisiana’s ethics rules a centerpiece of his administration and has promised to crack down on the influence of special interests. But Anne Rolfes, founding director of an environmental group called the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said the donations to Mrs. Jindal’s charity compromise the governor’s pledge.
“It may be a good cause, but it creates the appearance he is being bribed,” Ms. Rolfes said. “And if you are truly committed to ethical behavior, you just need to stay away from it all together.”
Mrs. Jindal has won praise — and frequent positive newspaper coverage — as she travels Louisiana passing out free equipment to schools, many in lower-income areas. Her foundation spends almost all of the money it takes in to buy high-tech whiteboards installed so far in 50 schools.
Dow Chemical, which has pledged $100,000 to the foundation, is the largest petrochemical company in Louisiana and has had numerous interactions with state officials during the Jindal administration, including an investigation into a July 2009 spill at its St. Charles Parish plant that forced the evacuation of area homes. The state in December 2009 proposed fining the company and its Union Carbide subsidiary for allowing the release of a toxic pollutant and failing to quickly notify state authorities of the leak, but so far no fine has been assessed.
Several of the charity’s major donors are large state contractors, like Acadian Ambulance, or D&J Construction, which alone has received $67.6 million in contracts since 2009, mostly for highways, said a separate report on the foundation being issued this week by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Both companies have pledged at least $10,000 to the foundation.
Ethics watchdog groups say the contributions are no accident.
In recent years, foundations linked to more than a dozen members of Congress have routinely accepted donations from businesses seeking to influence them. In some instances, the lawmakers have intervened with federal agencies or taken up legislation on donors’ behalf.
Once again America is faced with the problem of ”Taxation without Representation” by unelected corporate leaders controlling our government. The Citizens United Supreme Court Case has provided an opportunity for corporate rulers to buy every election and has erased the democratic ideals of our founding fathers of “one person one vote” from American Democracy. How many Americans can pay millions to run a candidate for office or buy the votes of legislators? In 1773 the King of England was taxing the colony to pay for his war against France. Today transnational corporate executives are buying politicians and legislation that is transferring our tax dollars into their off shore bank accounts. Taxation with out representation that could threaten our democracy if we don’t take action today.
The Tea Party has been manipulated by billionaires who inherited their wealth from families that exploited the American people to build their fortunes and extracted the nations resources at our expense. The platform created by these billionaires without your input will harm the rank in file of the Tea Party, transferring your taxes to these unelected secret rulers. Increases in military spending are directing your Social Security and Medicaid towards corrupt contractors unaccountable to the public. Unaccountable to the honest Tea Party supporters like yourself.
America is fast becoming a failed state and if the unelected leaders of your Tea Party succeed, the United States will be looted and doomed to a future where only the wealthiest survive behind their gated walls or off shore in one of their too many to count mansions (as John McCain admitted during the Palin/McCain run for our highest office).
Do you really believe that privatizing social security will guarantee the retirement of Americans? If you have a 401 K plan or know of anyone who does you can see that for yourself that you will be doomed to work until the day you die if Social Security is eliminated. The people that control the Tea Party eliminated the jobs of millions of Americans by seeking the lowest wages in places like Asia and Latin America. They drove up the cost of medical care to the highest level on earth forcing Americans to often trade their homes for healthcare. Taxpayers bailed out the leaders of the Tea Party when they looted the stock market and drove credit card rates and bank overdrafts to rates forcing families into poverty. Over 40 million families depend on food stamps because of the policies implemented by the Tea Party leaders and their friends. Mortgages are underwater and over three million families face foreclosure on their homes each year. The economy is in a wreck and if the Tea Party is able to achieve all its goals America will be a failed state.
A country of homeless, unemployed, uneducated and unhealthy cannot survive long. Share this letter with your Tea Party friends and organize a campaign to remove the billionaires like the Koch brothers from your leadership. They speak for us yet provide no funding for our local efforts. We see that the leadership is relying on dishonesty and threats of violence to continue their campaign to seize the commonwealth of our nation. We can’t stand with people that are so ruthless.
Asked If Bank Of America Paying Nothing In Corporate Taxes Is Fair, Pawlenty Responds: Taxes Are ‘Too High’
FANG: Governor, today liberals are demonstrating all over the country in what CBS has called a liberal version of the Tea Party. Their main complaint is that a lot of corporations aren’t paying their fair share. For example, Bank of America, in 2009 paid nothing in corporate income taxes, same with ExxonMobil, GE, and a lot of other big corporations. Do you think corporations like Bank of America should pay their fair share? What are your thoughts on that?
PAWLENTY: Well actually the corporate tax rate in Minnesota and around the country is too high. And I think one thing we could and should do is–
FANG: You think zero is too high with Bank of America paying nothing?
PAWLENTY: We have the highest corporate tax rate, or one of them, in the world–
FANG: But they use loopholes and offshore bank accounts to pay nothing.
PAWLENTY: The things I’ve called for is reducing tax rates and looking at exemptions or special deals within the tax code that give certain companies privileges or benefits. I can’t speak individually to any country, company would get in that regard, but I think one goal or direction is to simplify and reduce tax rates and clean out as many of the special deals as possible.
FANG: To be clear, do you think Bank of America pays too much in taxes already?
PAWLENTY: I don’t know what Bank of America pays in taxes. I’ll just say, setting aside Bank of America, the corporate tax rate in America is too high compared to our competitor nations.
If you want to get national attention as a governor these days, don’t try to be innovative about solving the problems you were elected to deal with – in education, transportation and health care. No, if you want ink and television time, just cut and cut and cut some more.
Almost no one in the national media is noticing governors who say the reasonable thing: that state budget deficits, caused largely by drops in revenue in the economic downturn, can’t be solved by cuts or tax increases alone.
There is nothing courageous about an ideological governor hacking away at programs that partisans of his philosophy, including campaign contributors, want eliminated. That’s staying in your comfort zone.
The brave ones are governors such as Jerry Brown in California, Dan Malloy in Connecticut, Pat Quinn in Illinois, Mark Dayton in Minnesota andNeil Abercrombie in Hawaii. They are declaring that you have to cut programs, even when your own side likes them, and raise taxes, which nobody likes much at all. Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee has warned of possible tax increases too.
What states are doing to ease their fiscal agonies will only slow down our fragile economic recovery, and may stop it altogether. The last thing we need right now are state and local governments draining jobs and money from the economy, yet that is what they are being forced to do.
As the last three monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed, an economy that created a net 317,000 private-sector jobs lost 70,000 state and local government jobs. Cutbacks are dead weight on the recovery.
In a more rational political climate, President Obama would have resurrected the lovely old Republican idea of federal revenue sharing. Washington should have continued replenishing state budgets for two more years, until we were certain the economic storms had passed. Instead, anything that might be called “stimulus” – “S” is now a scarlet letter in politics – was rejected out of hand.
Are you seeing the same pattern I am? It’s the one where right-wing partisans, desperate to portray union supporters as thugs, loudly denounce acts of alleged violence. But then days later when it turns out the acts of violence weren’t really so violent, the same partisans are suddenly completely uninterested in the stories they promoted.
Today I already documented the case of the Andrew Breitbart blogger who flagged a weekend “assault” in which a Tea Party activist claimed he was hit with a bullhorn and choked by a union thug. But oops, video of the incident shows that did not happen. Now, the story is no longer of interest inside Breitbart World. (Move along people.)
Simultaneously, we have the case of Fox News and Mike Tobin. In recent days, members of the the Fox News team were beside themselves as they detailed the physical abuse Tobin had to endure while reporting on the protests in Madison, Wisconsin. Megyn Kelly in particular seemed broken up about Tobin’s plight, referring to the “assault” he had endured. (Tobin didn’t agree with that characterization.) Kelly even wondered on-air why the Obama White House hadn’t weighed in on the Tobin matter; why hadn’t the president stood up for the press?
Just 48 hours ago Fox News was sure its reporter had been assaulted by thugs in Wisconsin and very much wanted to talk up the story. Today? Not so much. Just like Breitbart’s team is now trying to to distance itself from the bogus claim of a union assault.
Here’s a tip for both of them: When you stick to the truth, you don’t have to backpedal.
Fox News’ Huckabee Says On Fox News That “Of Course” He’s Thinking About Running For President(video)
Canada’s Radio Act requires that “a licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news.” The provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom. As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high quality news coverage, including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before Ronald Reagan abolished the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987. Political dialogue in Canada is marked by civility, modesty, honesty, collegiality, and idealism that have pretty much disappeared on the US airwaves. When Stephen Harper moved to abolish the anti-lying provision of the Radio Act, Canadians rose up to oppose him fearing that their tradition of honest non-partisan news would be replaced by the toxic, overtly partisan, biased and dishonest news coverage familiar to American citizens who listen to Fox News and talk radio. Harper’s proposal was timed to facilitate the launch of a new right-wing network, “Sun TV News” which Canadians call “Fox News North.”
Murphy (CT-5) and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-9) were at the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to introduce a bill highlighting Supreme Court ethics and targeting possible conflicts of interest with an eye toward the fate of health care reform.
Murphy drafted the bill in response to the alleged conflict of interest centering on Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas reportedly attending a political event sponsored by the Koch brothers, a pair of billionaires who have used their wealth to support conservative causes and attack the Obama administration. The Citizens United court decision, on which the two justices ruled, allowed unrestricted corporate spending in political campaigns.
According to Murphy, the bill would:
- apply the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct, which applies to all other federal judges, to Supreme Court justices. This would allow the public to access more timely and detailed information when an outside group wants to have a justice participate in a conference, such as the funders of the conference;
- require the justices to publicly disclose their reasoning behind a recusal when they withdraw from a case;
- require the Court to develop a process for parties to a case before the Court to request a decision from the Court, or a panel of the Court, regarding the potential conflict of interest of a particular Justice.
HEATH CARE REFORM
The vote counts won’t keep them from trying. The legislative and legal action isn’t aimed only at stopping health care reform in its tracks, although that is what many conservatives desire. It’s also about keeping health care controversial and high-profile, part of the battle for hearts, minds and votes between now and the 2012 elections.
Democrats may hope the health wars will fade, that attention will turn to other topics, possibly an improving economy. But “Republican voters really care about doing away with ‘Obamacare,’” said Robert Blendon, an expert on health care politics and public opinion at the Harvard School of Public Health.
“The Republicans believe this issue will help turn out people on their side in 2012,” he added. That means compromise, in the foreseeable future, is less likely than ongoing attacks. In fact, when President Obama offered some flexibility this week to the states, influential Republicans rejected it.
Defunding is another action item, and it’s already begun. A bill to slash federal spending, approved by the House on Feb. 19, included nine, somewhat duplicative, amendments that would eliminate funding for health care reform, or prevent anyone in the government from being paid to work on putting it in place or enforcing provisions, like the mandate. As one lawmaker said, bureaucrats couldn’t even move a paper clip if it affected health care reform.
But what a lot of people don’t understand is that even though the law is expensive, it’s also paid for — and then some. Higher Medicare taxes on the wealthy, excise taxes on particularly expensive “Cadillac” insurance policies, fees for insurers, drug companies and medical device makers, and some money-saving changes to programs like Medicare and Medicaid more than make up for the new expenses. In its most recent estimate, the CBO estimated that health reform will actually reduce the deficit’s growth by $210 billion from 2012-2021 — and more in the future.
The problem is, conservatives can’t do any better — at least not under these rules. This is an important point, so it’s worth dwelling on for a second: I have yet to see one Republican emerge with a plan, or even a promise to create a plan, that will cover as many people, at as affordable a cost, with as comprehensive insurance, without increasing the deficit, as the Affordable Care Act. They see this, essentially, as a trojan horse. As Ben Domenech writes, “The only policies that could meet this waiver requirement are single-payer constructs.”
Some say that universal health care should not be the goal. I disagree with that, and so too, I think, do most Americans. [ WHAT??? (But good to know who Ezra is.)]
As Stuart Butler wrote, Wyden-Brown “locks the states into guaranteeing a generous and costly level of benefits.”
You hear this a lot, so it’s worth looking at it more concretely. The ACA subsidizes low-income folks so they can get health insurance that doesn’t include much cost sharing, as the problem with not having much money is that it’s hard to pay large medical bills. But for the rest of us, our plans only have to hit a 60 percent actuarial value. That means that they only have to cover 60 percent of our expected medical bills over the course of a year — a level of generosity that’s far below what most employer plans offer. For a typical family of four, the minimum plan would include up to $12,500 of annual out-of-pocket spending. Some of that would be in premiums, some of it in deductible, some of it in co-pays. But put all that together and it’s not a very lavish plan. It’s much stingier, in fact, than what most Americans currently have.
Which doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be stingier yet. Perhaps the $12,500 is too low. But how much higher? And why?
Republicans railing against Medicaid would be well served by reading this brief from the Urban Institute. John Holahan, Lisa Clemans-Cope, Emily Lawton, and David Rousseau argue that the program — which saw an increase in beneficiaries since the Great Recession — has done a better job of containing health care spending than private insurers:
On a per enrollee basis, however, growth in Medicaid spending (the national average, not necessarily specific states) is slower than both growth in national health expenditures per capita and increases in private health insurance premiums (Figure 1). Moreover, although Medicaid spending per enrollee has risen 1.6 percentage points faster than growth in GDP per capita (3.0 percent) over the last decade (2000-2009), its per capita growth has been far below the rise in overall per capita health spending in America, which has risen 2.9 percentage points per year faster than GDP per capita over this same period.
The Affordable Care Act does temporarily increase the reimbursement rates to Medicaid providers (and policy wonks agree that more needs to be done in this regard), but this report undermines the argument that Medicaid costs are out of control and that states would be better capping or even opting out of the program. The fact is that Medicaid cost growth per beneficiary “has essentially tracked growth in health-care costs systemwide” and the program actually “provides more comprehensive benefits than private insurance and charges beneficiaries significantly lower out-of-pocket costs.”
Washington – U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and a group of Democratic senators this morning embraced a slate of education reforms that move away from rigid testing and toward flexibility for local school districts.
The recommendations come as Congress prepares to reconsider the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESEA, which offers a slate of regulations and funding for K-12 education.
Part of the push is to re-vamp No Child Left Behind, the landmark Bush-era legislation that focused on closing the achievement gap for minority children, but also has been lambasted by parents and educators as too narrowly focused on testing.
Now, testing focuses primarily on whether children are at or below grade level.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has been evaluating the Huntsville, AL school system’s racial integration, and earlier this month released a report that “wasn’t promising.” The DOJ listed “several outstanding desegregation issues that the school district must address,” including “that predominantly black schools have too few advanced courses” and “that black children at predominantly white schools are punished and suspended at alarming rates.”
But Hugh McInnish, a member of the Madison County Republican Executive Committee who also sits on the state Republican Executive Committee, set out to school the DOJ on the real reason racial disparities exist in Hunstville: “Life is unfair.”
“U.S. economic output varies by up to $485 billion a year of 2008 gross domestic product — about 3.4 percent — owing to weather variability.” They explain:
Weather directly and indirectly affects production and consumption decision making in every economic sector of the United States at all temporal and spatial scales. From very local short-term decisions about whether or not to pour concrete on a construction project to broader decisions of when to plant or harvest a field, to the costs of rerouting an airplane around severe weather, to peak demand electricity generation in response to extreme heat, to early season snow for a bumper ski season in Colorado, drought in the Midwest, or wind-fueled wildfires in California, weather can have positive or negative effects on economic activity.
A primary finding of this study is that every sector is statistically significantly sensitive to at least one measure of weather variability, and two sectors — FIRE and wholesale trade — show sensitivity to all four measures of weather variability.
This observed sensitivity of the U.S. economy to past weather variability should raise alarms for policy makers as we enter an era not just of changeable weather, but a changing climate that will worsen the weather itself. The Congressional Budget Office has taken the absurd position that the largest potential impact of extreme climate change on the U.S. economy could not be more than three percent. One hopes they will recognize that the science does not agree.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Blawgers discuss Clark Kent’s citizenship, Wolverine’s health insurance, and why Bruce Wayne needs a good lawyer.
Mother Jones: Superman became president at one point, and his immigration status was an issue. The Supreme Court decided that he was an American citizen. Did you agree with that decision?
James Daily: It occurred in an alternate universe, and under the facts as presented there, I think it made a lot sense. If he was in a birthing matrix—an artificial womb—while in transit, and did not actually leave the womb until the rocket ship opened in the Kansas cornfield, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to say that the point at which they’re born is the point at which they exit that womb, by analogy to the natural birth process.
Ryan Davidson: The argument there is that either he wasn’t born at all or he was born in Kansas.
JD: And clearly he was born, of course. It’s worth noting that’s not the current canonical Superman origin story. They went back to the notion that he was already a child, was placed in the spaceship, and sent in sort of suspended animation, in which case I don’t think you could really argue that he’s a natural born citizen.
MJ: What if he were born in a parallel United States—would he retain citizenship?
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”