WORD OF THE DAY: schwarmerei
Meaning: noun: 1. Extravagant enthusiasm. 2. Excessive sentimentality.
K Street Lobbyists
Check out these facts:
-In the two years leading up to the catastrophic spill in the Gulf, BP hired twelve lobbying firms and paid them $32 million to press their agenda in Congress. [Source]
-Wall Street banks are spending $500 million a year to block the financial reform legislation. [Source]
-Since 1998, the financial sector, including the insurance and real estate industries, has spent more money on federal lobbying than any other sector. In 2009 alone, these companies spent a whopping $465 million. [Source]
-243 lobbyists for the six biggest banks used to work in the federal government – That’s about 40 revolving-door lobbyists per bank. [Source]
-The six big banks have spent close to $600 million on lobbying, trade association activity and political contributions since the first major federal bailout of Bear Stearns in March 2008. [Source]
-Citigroup employs 55 revolving-door lobbyists, more than any other big bank or financial industry trade association. [Source]
-At nearly $266.8 million, the pharmaceutical and health products industry’s federal lobbying expenditures not only outpaced all other business industries and special interest areas in 2009, but stand as the greatest amount ever spent on lobbying efforts by a single industry for one year. [Source]
-Insurers have played the inside game, spending about $40 million on an army of lobbyists and
lavishing campaign contributions on Democrats and Republicans to kill the public option. In all, the health industry spent $133 million in the second quarter of 2009 alone, more than a million bucks a day. [Source]
-The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading opponent of the Democrats’ plans for health care reform, Wall Street reform, climate change and unionization efforts, once again ranked as the top dog on K Street this quarter. The Chamber and its subsidiaries spent nearly $30.9 million on federal, state and grassroots lobbying activities. [Source]
-In all, special interests spent $3.47 billion lobbying congress last year. [Source]
-In 2010 alone, the oil and gas industry has spent over $38 million on lobbying. [Source]
-At least 150 former members of Congress were actively lobbying their former colleagues last year. [Source]
-62% of Americans believe Wall Street executives were dishonest with the public during the recent financial meltdown. [Source]
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that he’s determined to offer a budget this spring that curbs Social Security and Medicare, despite the political risks, and that Republicans will try to persuade voters that sacrifices are needed.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Boehner said House Republicans would offer a budget for the next fiscal year that sets goals for bringing the programs’ costs under control. But he acknowledged that Americans aren’t yet ready to embrace far-reaching changes to Social Security and Medicare because they aren’t aware of the magnitude of the financial problems.
“People in Washington assume that Americans understand how big the problem is, but most Americans don’t have a clue,” Mr. Boehner said, speaking in his Capitol office. “I think it’s incumbent on us, if we are serious about dealing with the big challenges, that we go out and help Americans understand how big the problem is that faces us.”
He added, “Once they understand how big the problem is, I think people will be more receptive to what the possible solutions may be.”
Mr. Boehner also spoke forcefully in favor of raising the government’s debt limit, a move strongly opposed by many conservative House Republicans. He reiterated that the action would have to be coupled with significant spending cuts.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this week showed less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to tackle the government’s financial woes. But a majority supported reducing benefits for wealthier retirees and raising the Social Security retirement age.
It would be easy to think that factory work is slowly disappearing in this country. But there have been steady job gains recently: Just last month, manufacturing created 33,000 jobs, according to the Labor Department.
Austan Goolsbee, President Obama’s top economic adviser, was with the president when he got news of this latest round of jobs numbers. “Well, you know, he was happy — I got a fist bump,” Goolsbee said.
Goolsbee has been watching the unemployment rate fall sharply this winter — from up near 10 percent to 8.9 percent.
“This three-month drop from 9.8 [percent] is the biggest three-month drop in 27 years, and that’s clearly the right way we want to be moving,” he says.
It doesn’t mean the unemployment problem is over. But companies are hiring at a pace that should continue to bring down unemployment slowly.
Behravesh says he only expects the rate to fall to around 8 percent by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, there are still 6 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months.
But to get to the most important trend you have to dig under the job numbers and look at what kind of new jobs are being created. That’s where the big problem lies.
The National Employment Law Project did just that. Its new data brief shows that most of the new jobs created since February 2010 (about 1.26 million) pay significantly lower wages than the jobs lost (8.4 million) between January 2008 and February 2010.
While the biggest losses were higher-wage jobs paying an average of $19.05 to $31.40 an hour, the biggest gains have been lower-wage jobs paying an average of $9.03 to $12.91 an hour.
In other words, the big news isn’t jobs. It’s wages.
For several years now, conservative economists have blamed high unemployment on the purported fact that many Americans have priced themselves out of the global/high-tech jobs market.
So if we want more jobs, they say, we’ll need to take pay and benefit cuts.
And that’s exactly what Americans have been doing.
Employers have demanded wage and benefit concessions from their unionized workers and often got them. Detroit is creating auto jobs again — but new hires are getting about half the pay that auto workers were getting before. Airline workers are taking home 30 to 50 percent less than they did years ago. And so on.
Conservatives say it’s not enough. That’s why unions have to be busted — and why some governors are seeking to abolish laws requiring workers to become dues-paying union members in order to get certain jobs. Hence, the fights brewing in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, millions of non-union workers have accepted cuts in pay and benefits just to keep their jobs. Health benefits have been slashed, pension contributions from employers dramatically cut, wages dropped or “frozen.”
Millions of private-sector workers have been fired and then re-hired as contract workers to do almost exactly what they were doing before, but without any benefits or job security.
The current attack on public-sector workers should be seen in this light. The charge is they now take home more generous pay and benefit packages than private-sector workers. It’s not true on the wage side if you control for level of education, but it wasn’t even true on the benefits side until private-sector benefits fell off a cliff. Meanwhile, across America, public-sector workers have been “furloughed,” which is a nice word for not collecting any pay for weeks at a time.
At this rate, the unemployment rate will continue to decline. But so will the pay and benefits of most Americans.
Conservative economists have it wrong. The underlying problem isn’t that so many Americans have priced themselves out of the global/high-tech labor market. It’s that they’re getting a smaller and smaller share of the pie.
After slamming Democrats for not focusing on “jobs, jobs, jobs,” Republicans have decided to ignore their own winning message in favor of “cuts, cuts, cuts.” This is bad economics — and bad politics.
If you don’t believe me, read a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, published Thursday, that has what should be sobering news for Republicans who keep telling us that their radical assault on the size and scope of government has the support of “the American people.”
It doesn’t, according to the survey — not even philosophically. When asked whether government, in general, is trying to do too much or not doing enough, 51 percent said government should do more. That’s not exactly a mandate for slashing federal, state and municipal programs and trying to turn public employees into a caste of untouchables.
For Republicans in Congress, especially the fired-up new majority in the House, there is plenty of cautionary news. The poll listed a number of issues facing the country and asked respondents to rank them in order of importance. Then the pollsters tallied how many respondents had ranked each issue either first or second in priority.
A pretty impressive 40 percent said that “the deficit and government spending” should be considered the federal government’s No. 1 or No. 2 task. But a far more impressive 56 percent said that “job creation and economic growth” should be given first or second priority.
According to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, three-quarters of Americans would oppose significant cuts in Medicare or Social Security. If Republicans were really serious about deficit reduction, they would be trying to explain why they believe such cuts are necessary. Democrats ought to be talking about entitlements too, by the way, along with reasonable budget cuts. But the debate should take account of the undeniable fact that people actually want government services — which, unfortunately, have to be paid for.
So both parties should be explaining why any reasonable deficit-reduction program will include tax increases. “Cuts, cuts, cuts” isn’t a plan. Right now, it’s just a bad slogan.
Among Giffords’ other visitors has been Stephanie Aaron, her rabbi and good friend. Aaron described Giffords’ progress to The Associated Press on Thursday after a visit to the hospital over the weekend.
She said Giffords sang Don McLean’s “American Pie” with husband Mark Kelly and his two daughters, and that she knew the words better than the three of them. Musical therapy is an important part of her recovery as doctors use song in attempt to improve her brain function, along with physical, occupational and speech rehabilitation.
Aaron said Giffords also chanted a Hebrew healing prayer with her, although the congresswoman didn’t know the words beforehand.
Aaron said she would tell Giffords the words, and the two would chant, with Giffords getting frustrated at times.
“I would just stop, hold her hand and say, `Gabby, it’s OK. Just breathe.’ And we would sit together and just breathe,” Aaron said. “And what very much uplifted me was when I was leaving … she got tears in her eyes and she hugged me. I said, `Gabby, what do you need to remember?’ And she said, `Breathe.'”
As Congress continues to debate the new health care law, health insurance costs are still rising, particularly for small businesses. Republicans are seizing on the trend as evidence that the new law includes expensive features that are driving up premiums. But the insurance industry says premiums are rising primarily because of the underlying cost of care and a growing demand for it.
Across the country, premiums have more than doubled in the last decade, with smaller companies particularly hard hit in recent years, federal officials say.
Some insurance industry lobbyists say the new federal health care law is driving up premiums. But Vincent Capozzi, senior vice president for sales and customer service at Harvard Pilgrim, said that only one percentage point of the increases here was attributable to the federal law, mainly its requirement for free coverage of preventive services.
Another percentage point results from new state laws requiring coverage of hearing aids and certain treatments for autism, Mr. Capozzi said. Most of the remainder, he said, reflects increases in the use and cost of medical care by small-group customers, with adjustments for demographic characteristics like age.
In many cases, insurance coverage is shrinking as deductibles are increasing and choices of hospitals are more limited.
Obama administration officials said several provisions of the new federal health law would help make insurance more affordable.
Insurers must publicly justify large rate increases, and they must spend at least 80 percent of premium revenue on health care. Starting in 2014, each state will have a central market where consumers and small businesses can pool their purchasing power and buy insurance. In theory, the exchange could bring more insurers into the market, increase competition and drive down prices.
In his budget address on Feb. 15, Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, said hospitals were part of the problem. Instead of using their “excess cash” to reduce health care costs, Mr. Lynch said, “hospitals spend it on advertising, trying to attract market share from each other, buying physician and laboratory practices across the state, and then increasing overhead charges to patients.”
Mr. Sevigny, the insurance commissioner, had been poised to award a $610,000 contract for work on a health insurance exchange. But he pulled back the contract, financed entirely with federal money, after Republicans raised questions.
“It would be frivolous to spend taxpayer dollars on implementing a law that could very well be thrown out” by the courts, said William L. O’Brien, speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
The House Republican leader, D. J. Bettencourt, said, “We don’t want to become addicted to federal money.”
Republicans are trying to block or slow the creation of insurance exchanges in several other states as well. Delays will make it more difficult for states to meet federal deadlines, and Mr. Sevigny said it was important for state officials to understand that the federal government would itself set up an exchange in any state that did not do so.
To some people hammered by rising premiums, the federal law offers a glimmer of hope.
“It’s imperative that we move forward with a plan that spreads the cost of insurance over a large population,” said Mr. La Tourette, the florist. “I’m just thrilled that President Obama was able to get health care passed in any form. We can improve it later. I’m terrified that it will be repealed.”
In dozens of states considering such crackdowns — including Nebraska, Indiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas — elected officials, law enforcers, business owners, religious leaders and regular citizens are providing the calm voices and cool judgment that are lacking in the shimmering heat of Phoenix.
They are reminding their representatives that replacing federal immigration policy with a crazy quilt of state-led enforcement schemes is only a recipe for more lawlessness and social disruption, for expensive lawsuits and busted budgets, lost jobs and boycotts. And all without fixing the problem.
This isn’t just an immigrants’ cause. Business owners in places like Kansas and Texas, the attorney general in Indiana, Catholic and Protestant bishops in Mississippi — these and hundreds of other community leaders have been sending a contrary message.
The businesses say bills to force employers to check workers’ legal status are redundant, costly and anticompetitive. The clergy members have denounced bills to criminalize acts of charity, like driving an undocumented immigrant to church or the doctor. Lawyers have said new layers of enforcement paperwork would heavily burden legitimate business and overwhelm state bureaucracies.
Police chiefs and sheriffs are leading the skeptical resistance to the bills, which frequently involve having local police checking the immigration status of people they stop. A report released on Thursday by a national police research group looked at cities where police officials had been drawn into heated immigration debates. Its conclusions: federal enforcement is no job for local officers, who should be forbidden to arrest or detain people solely because of their immigration status.
The reasons: it costs too much, prompts false-arrest lawsuits and frightens law-abiding immigrants. “I have a responsibility to provide service to the entire community — no matter how they got here,” said Chief Charlie Deane of the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia. “It is in the best interest of our community to trust the police.”
The chiefs of Nebraska’s two largest police departments — in Lincoln and Omaha — recently told the State Legislature basically the same thing.
A peculiar mix of nativism and immigration panic has pushed the immigration debate far out into the desert of extremism. It’s going to take a serious effort by saner voices to ensure that what happens in Arizona stays there.
Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused in the January shooting spree in Tucson, was indicted on additional federal murder charges by a grand jury yesterday for allegedly murdering “participants at a federally provided activity,” the Justice Department announced Friday.
The news out of the 49-count superseding indictment is that Loughner is now charged with the murder of non-federal employees who were participating in the event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) back in January.
From the beginning of the criminal case against Loughner, federal prosecutors have been grappling with which aspects of his alleged conduct constitute federal crimes. The latest version of the indictment shows that Justice Department prosecutors have found what they feel to be a proper legal basis for expanding the federal case against him.
Secretary of State Charlie White, the top election official in Indianapolis, is facing seven felony counts, including voter fraud, perjury and theft, all connected to what a prosecutor said was an attempt to hold on to his seat on the town council even though he was living outside of his designated district.
White was indicted by a grand jury in Hamilton County on three counts of voter fraud for allegedly lying about his address when he voted in last year’s Republican primary, the Courier-Journalreports. In addition he’s facing charges of perjury, fraud on a financial institution (for lying about his address) and theft for keeping the salary he received as a member of his town council after he moved out of his designated district.
When it comes to improving public understanding of tax policy, nothing has been more troubling than the deeply flawed coverage of the Wisconsin state employees’ fight over collective bargaining.
Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.
Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans.
Accepting Gov. Walker’ s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.
Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’ s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.
The question journalists should be asking is “who contributes” to the state of Wisconsin’ s pension and health care plans.
The fact is that all of the money going into these plans belongs to the workers because it is part of the compensation of the state workers. The fact is that the state workers negotiate their total compensation, which they then divvy up between cash wages, paid vacations, health insurance and, yes, pensions. Since the Wisconsin government workers collectively bargained for their compensation, all of the compensation they have bargained for is part of their pay and thus only the workers contribute to the pension plan. This is an indisputable fact.
Not every news report gets it wrong, but the narrative of the journalistic herd has now been set and is slowly hardening into a concrete falsehood that will distort public understanding of the issue for years to come unless journalists en masse correct their mistakes. From the Associated Press and The New York Times to Wisconsin’s biggest newspaper, and every broadcast report I have heard, reporters again and again and again have written as fact what is nonsense.
Isthmus, an alternative newsweekly in Madison, WI, announced on Friday that it has filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker under that state’s Open Records Law.
On February 17, Walker claimed to have received more than 8000 emails on his budget repair bill, with the majority urging him to “stay firm.” The next day, he upped the figure to 19,000. Isthmus presented Walker with a request to see those emails, first by hand-delivered letter and the next week by emails to Walker’s spokesperson and his legal counsel.
The Wisconsin Associated Press, which is also participating in the lawsuit, filed similar requests at about the same time. Its second email broadened the request to include “all emails the governor has received that mention the budget repair bill.”
To put it another way: Why would Obama go first, when he knows he just needs to wait for Republicans to go first?
Republicans have a whole caucus of freshmen elected with tea party support who will eventually push the issue to the forefront, and Democrats know this.
When they do, the proposals are likely to be very unpopular and force those Republicans into a tough position. For Democrats, saying ‘no’ to those proposals will be relatively easy; for Republicans, it will be a dance between pleasing the base and irritating lots of independents.
Unlike many other areas where voters are happy to see cuts, the entitlement programs are a political minefield just waiting for unsuspecting politicians to wander along.
And in a more neutral election year, that could cause all kinds of problems for Republicans — or at least, more than they did in 2010.
Staunch Tea Partiers seem to be guided by the worst kind of fundamentalist political extremism — immutable positions derived from a near-religious adherence to self-proclaimed inviolable principles. This could well be their undoing.
During the right’s season of anger, passion and convictions galvanized Tea Party supporters into an army of activism. But the vehicle is outliving its fuel. The movement is losing momentum. In fact, Tea Party-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin could be providing the rallying cry on the left to pick up the mantle of anger and send the momentum back the other way.
If Tea Party leaders continue to operate as if anger is still a major part of their arsenal and Republican politicians continue to feel pressured into untenable positions, Democrats could enjoy their very own Charlie Sheen-ism come 2012: “Winning!”
Conservative billionaire David Koch, co-owner of the $110 billion dollar Koch Industries chemical and petroleum conglomerate, provided a “lengthy” interview to Boston Globe reporter Stephen Smith yesterday.
According to Smith, Koch was both “amused and bemused” by the prank [phone call to Governor Walker], but said he has “no relationship with the governor and didn’t directly support him.” But through political action committees and right-wing front groups, Koch has actually provided much of the muscle for Walker’s election and his current anti-labor power grab:
– Koch Industry’s PAC provided $43,000 in funds to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, and funneled $1.5 million to the Republican Governor’s Association, which in turn spent $65,000 supporting Walker and $3.4 million in ads attacking Walker’s Democratic opponent.
– David Koch is the founder, financier, and chairman of Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing “grassroots” front group. Americans for Prosperity, according to the New York Times, pressured Walker before he was even sworn in to take on public sector unions. Americans for Prosperity bused in Tea Party activists to support Walker’s current power grab, organized a major rally to support Walker, and has purchased$342,200 in ads supporting Walker and attacking his liberal critics. Earlier this week, Americans for Prosperity announced a ten city bus tour of Wisconsin to hold rallies to bolster Walker. Neither Koch nor Americans for Prosperity has revealed how much they are spending on this bus tour or rallies.
– Koch’s other front groups have marshaled support for Walker. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a group financed with nearly $500,000 in Koch money and lead in part by a Koch executive, has pushed anti-public sector union legislation to Walker and the Wisconsin GOP. A wide range of Koch-tied groups, like the Reason Foundation and the Cato Institute, have also sung Walker’s praise in the media.
Despite Koch’s contention that he has not “directly” supported Walker, during the prank call between Murphy and Walker, Walker said he was coordinating with “your guy on the ground” — presumably referring to Tim Phillips, a top political deputy to David Koch and current president of Americans for Prosperity. Phillips, a former associate of Jack Abramoff, has a history of anti-Semitic smear campaigns and lobbying work on behalf of a forced-abortion sweatshop owner.
The Rasmussen poll is notable because, while PPP and GQR are Democratic pollsters, Rasmussen tends to tilt Republican, suggesting the results spell even more trouble for Walker.
Unionized workers filled the Senate Finance Committee hearing room and the third floor of the Miller Building on Wednesday afternoon to urge committee members to kill a bill that they said would deal a crushing blow to the state’s unions.
The bill, sponsored by Howard County Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman, would make Maryland a “right-to-work” state. This means that employers in the private sector could not require employees to join unions, discriminate against employees based on their union membership, or force employees who choose not to join unions to make any payments to the union. It would not have any impact on unions representing state or local government employees.
EXCLUSIVE: Ohio GOP Senator Yanked Off Committee Speaks Out, Was Informed 30 Minutes Before Anti-Union Vote
On Wednesday, just moments before a key committee in the Ohio State Senate was to vote on a GOP bill that would effectively dismantle public employees’ right to collectively bargain, the Senate’s Republican leader replaced a GOP committee member who opposed the bill with someone who supported it to ensure the measure passed.
sked about his abrupt removal from the committee, Seitz said it was “not unheard of, but not commonplace.” He couldn’t recall a time when something similar had occurred in the Senate. Moreover, he noted that his abrupt removal sends a bad signal to Ohio workers concerned about their own future:
SEITZ: [I told Niehaus] I’m not sure it looks real good, particularly in the context of a management rights bill, to have you exercise management rights over your own roommate, friend, and fellow party member. Because if that’s what can happen to a sitting state senator, what’s going to happen to you if you’re a nervous firefighter, teacher, or policeman — what’s going to happen to you if this bill passes?
Asked whether Niehaus’s move may have violated Senate rules because the president failed to officially declare the committee change before it went into effect, Seitz said that while he has “not independently researched it,” he was “of the opinion” that an official declaration was required. Seitz said he raised the concern with Niehaus, who “said that he had been advised by his legal counsel…that he had the legal authority to do it whenever he wanted to.” “I didn’t feel like arguing about it,” Seitz added.
Niehaus may have violated Senate rules by making the last-minute move:
Senate Rule 19 suggest the President of the Senate can change the makeup of a Committee, at will, but only by first issuing a Message (parliamentary term of art) that changes the membership. Yesterday, Niehaus issued no such message. He may issue one during the floor session, but that’s after the fact. There’s probably a parliamentary scramble to figure out if Niehaus’ replacement of Seitz for [state Sen. Cliff] Hite [R] complies with the Rules of the Senate.
UPDATE 2: Plunderbund notes that a GOP-controlled Ohio House committee will spend more time considering a radical anti-abortion law than the Senate Labor committee spent considering S.B. 5.
Last Saturday’s “Rally to Save the American Dream” was the culmination of two weeks of protests and a 24-7 sit-in inside the Capitol. Not for 30 or 40 years have unions and progressive groups come together in such an outpouring of support for workers’ rights. What makes the Madison protests even more incredible is how spontaneous they have been: There has been no master plan, no long-anticipated strategy to turn Madison into ground zero for a reenergized labor movement.
What follows is a behind-the-scenes account of how the massive Wisconsin rallies came together, based on interviews with a dozen people who were intimately involved in them. It is by no means an exhaustive or complete account. But it offers a window into how the unions and their allies responded, swiftly and effectively, to what they saw as an existential threat.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
1. Jimi Hendrix – ‘All Along The Watchtower’
2. Johnny Cash – ‘Hurt’
3. Jeff Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’
4. Joe Cocker – ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’
5. Nirvana – ‘The Man Who Sold The World’
6. The Beatles – ‘Twist and Shout’
7. The White Stripes – ‘Jolene’
8. Nirvana – ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’
9. Guns N’ Roses – ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
10. Muse – ‘Feeling Good’
[And my pick for the WORST. COVER. EVER!:]
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer.
Many people need desperately to receive this message:
I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them.
You are not alone.