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Chernynkaya On June - 8 - 2011

You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.

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BUDGET

 

Without The Bush Tax Cuts, The Debt Would Be At Sustainable Levels

Even with all the other economic catastrophes — including the wars and the financial crisis — the federal debt would be at a sustainable level today were it not for the Bush tax cuts, as CAP’s Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden note:

Ten years ago today, the first round of Bush tax cuts became law. But what if they hadn’t? What would our fiscal situation look like if history had been different in just one respect: if we’d never implemented President George W. Bush’s eponymous tax policies? The short answer is that the debate over federal debt levels would be entirely different. In that alternate world, total debt as a share of GDP would be under 50 percent this year — instead of pushing 70 percent — and it would be expected to stay under 60 percent for the rest of the decade. That’s well below the levels causing such great consternation in Washington.

The Bush tax cuts ushered in the weakest economic expansion of the post-war period, as “growth in investment, GDP, and employment all posted their worst performance.” ThinkProgress’ Zaid Jilani noted that,
for the cost of the Bush tax cuts, the U.S. could have, among other things, given 49.2 million people access to low-income healthcare every year, provided 43.1 million students with Pell Grants every year, or provided 31.5 million children with access to Head Start every year.

 

As Floods And Fires Mount, House Forbids FEMA, Coast Guard From Preparing For Climate Disasters

While officials throughout the U.S. Department of Homeland Security scramble to deal with a torrent of extreme climate disasters, the Tea Party-controlled House of Representatives has voted to cripple their response. In a nearly party-line vote of 242 to 180 on Thursday, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. John Carter (R-TX) to prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from participating in the Obama administration’s Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. Carter justified his amendment by saying DHS — which includes the U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — should focus on the Mexican border instead of “duplicating the work” of agencies that monitor climate change and greenhouse pollution:

“Why, at a time when our nation is running a public debt of over $14 trillion, should the Department of Homeland Security be spending money on a Climate Change Adaptation Task Force?” he said, adding that the money would be better spent securing the southern border with Mexico. “These are the priorities that the Secretary should be focusing on — not wasting time duplicating the work of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

Disaster planning is a form of climate change adaptation,” the Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation’s October 2010 progress report recognizes.The task force, mandated by President Barack Obama in executive order 13514 to develop a “U.S. strategy for adaptation to climate change,” has already produced a national action plan for managing freshwater resources in a changing climate. FEMA has the critical mission of revising the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the Coastal Construction Manual to reflect the impacts of global warming on sea level rise, storms, and floods.

The work of the climate adaptation task force, including the Department of Homeland Security, to mobilize our nation against climate disasters is desperately needed:

– The U.S. Coast Guard has closed a more than 180-mile stretch of the Missouri River due to flood levels that are expected to last the entire summer.

– FEMA is handling 37 presidential major disaster declarations, 7 emergency declarations, and 57 fire management assistance declarations for 2011 — before the hurricane season has begun. These disasters include May’s tornado outbreaks, the raging wildfires of Texas and Arizona, the killer snowstorms of February and March, and flooding from North Dakota to Mississippi.

The Republican Party is doing its utmost to cripple our nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to climate disasters. At Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s behest, House GOP slashed clean energy investments to pay for emergency disaster relief following the Joplin and Tuscaloosa tornadoes. They cut the DHS disaster preparedness budget, including firefighter funding, in half (after Democrats raised an outcry, some firefighter grants were restored). They have blocked funding for the NOAA Climate Service, and slashed money for critical weather satellites. In states throughout the nation, conservatives are gutting clean-energy programs and attacking climate science, while local emergency services budgets are stripped to the bone.

With the security of our homeland under the clear and present threat of global warming, conservatives are choosing to cripple our defenses, simply to serve the obscene profits of climate polluters.

 

House Republicans Look To Privatize Social Security

Republican leaders left Social Security untouched in their House budget this year, but a group of GOP lawmakers are looking to fill the gap themselves with legislation that would create a voluntary privatized version of the program.

Introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who also chairs the House’s campaign efforts at the NRCC, the “Savings Account For Every American Act” would allow people to immediately opt out of Social Security in favor of a private “S.A.F.E.” account. Eventually the program would expand to let employers send their matching contribution to workers’ Social Security to a “S.A.F.E.” account as well.

“Our nation’s Social Security Trust Fund is depleting at an alarming rate, and failure to implement immediate reforms endangers the ability of Americans to plan for their retirement with the options and certainty they deserve,” Sessions said of the plan, according to The Hill. “To simply maintain the status quo would weaken American competitiveness by adding more unsustainable debt and insolvent entitlements to our economy when we can least afford it.”

Republicans have been wary of wading back into Social Security privatization after a major push on the issue during President Bush’s second term failed to reach a vote in either the House or Senate despite there being a Republican Congress. One Freshman Representative who suggested the federal government could be rolled back to just four departments even listed protecting Social Security from privatization as one of his top causes on the 2010 trail. Among the GOP presidential candidates, Rick Santorum had tried to adopt the cause as part of his platform.

 

BUSINESS


Facebook, Microsoft And Venture Capitalists Support AT&T And T-Mobile Merger

Eight tech giants that include Facebook and Microsoft chimed in late Monday to urge the Federal Communications Commission to approve AT&T’s merger with T-Mobile, according to the New York Times.

The companies and their backers want more wireless bandwidth, and they see the merger as beneficial to their services. […]

The filings with the FCC are just the latest group of influential voices lined up in favor of the merger, which would make AT&T the U.S.’ largest cell phone service provider.

Their support is one development in a series of unusual alignments that have emerged both for and against the deal.

Sprint, the third-largest carrier behind Verizon Wireless and AT&T, opposes it, as does Public Knowledge, a group representing consumers, and the Rural Cellular Association.

The groups that oppose the deal say that it would be anti-competitive and would kill innovation. Among other things, Public Knowledge argues that AT&T has a history of not living up to the promises it makes when it acquires companies.

 

ECONOMY


The Myth Of The Jobless Recovery

Matt Yglesias:

It’s not the deepest economic insight of all time, but I was glad to read this line in Christina Romer’s May talk on the economy (PDF, via Ezra Klein) about the myth of the jobless recovery:

There is a lot of talk about whether this is a jobless recovery. The truth is, this has been a somewhat “growthless” recovery. Job growth is weak because GDP growth is weak. Aside from just a few quarters, GDP growth has been at or below its trend rate of growth of about 2½ percent. We just learned last week that GDP grew at only 1.8% in the first quarter of this year.

You only reduce unemployment with above-trend growth in output. So the question is this: If the Fed or Congress contrived to increase the demand for goods and services, would America start producing more goods and services or would prices just go up? I say producing more. When I went to Phoenix (MSA unemployment rate 8.1 percent), I got a drink at a bar at happy hour that had 70 percent of its seats empty and only one bartender working. I think that if people in Phoenix got a principal writedown on their mortgages, they’d have more disposable income and might go to the bar more. I think that if Ben Bernanke dropped money from a helicopter over the city of Phoenix, that people would have more cash in their pockets and might go to the bar more. Then I think more people would be employed as bartenders and busboys. We might need more people to drive trucks to deliver the beer. Breweries might need people to work more shifts. I don’t at all believe that Phoenix-area bars would throw their hands up and say, “Skill-mismatch! Can’t serve any additional customers, gotta raise prices.”

 

Obama: The Economic Recovery Has “Got To Accelerate”

After several lackluster economic reports and the announced departure of one of his top economic advisers, President Obama insisted that he isn’t worried about the nation falling into a double-dip recession but acknowledged that the recovery has “got to accelerate.”

“Obviously, we’re experiencing some headwinds,” Obama said at a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, although he cautioned that the most recent unemployment report only showed a short-term downtick in job growth.

Obama stressed the a myriad steps his administration has taken to bolster the economy, including controversial government bailouts of several major auto and financial companies, putting the country on the path for long-term economic health.

“We are on the path of a recovery but it’s got to accelerate,” he said, warning the country “not to panic, not to overreact.”

 

US News and World Report:

Double-Dip Still Not on the Horizon

Cold comfort, perhaps, but GDP growth of 1.8 percent is still, well, growth, and the economy has not shed jobs since September of last year. Furthermore, U.S. economic problems were not the sole cause of May’s dismal economic indicators; the massive Japanese earthquake in March harmed U.S. economic growth by disrupting supply chains. And the Japanese are once again picking up the pace; Japanese industrial production increased by 1 percent in April after dropping by 15.5 percent post-quake.

Taking a broader perspective of the recovery thus far, there may be little reason to expect speedy improvements in the country’s economic fortunes, says Jeff Werling, executive director of Inforum at the University of Maryland Department of Economics. “This is a big financial crisis, and financial crises and banking crises in particular always take a long time to unwind,” he says. To make his point, he proposes a counterfactual: “In 2008, we were, we had a little bit of a mini-recession, and we seemed to be coming out of it, and then the financial crisis hit. Suppose we had skated by [the financial crisis]. … Suppose we had recovery in 2009, 2010. If we were putting up the GDP and employment numbers that we are now, people would say that would be normal.” Such a recovery would have been shorter simply because the recession would not have been so deep.

Karen Dynan, vice president for economic studies at the Brookings Institution, seems to agree. “I don’t think we’re heading for a double-dip. During the entire recovery … we’ve seen periods where things have picked up a bit, and we’ve seen slower patches, and people start talking about double-dips.” The latest spate of discouraging indicators, she says, is simply an example of a slowdown in the midst of what is ultimately a larger recovery.

Manufacturing Is Looking Up

After a sharp and prolonged decline starting in 2001, manufacturing employment has started to pick up again in the last year and a half. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since hitting a low of just over 11.4 million jobs in December 2009, manufacturing employment has increased by 238,000 as of May 2011.

Werling points to companies like Boeing and Caterpillar as examples of manufacturing companies that have been faring well, even as the economy remains shaky. Emerging markets, like Brazil, Russia, India, and China, are bouncing back from the global economic crisis quickly, he says, and are helping to keep demand high for manufactured goods, like construction and mining equipment.

Manufacturing’s recent successes have not been lost on the Obama administration, which has lately been touting auto industry job gains in particular as evidence that the bailouts of Chrysler and GM were successful. Whether the bailouts deserve the credit remains a point of debate in Washington. But it is indisputable that the industry has posted improved jobs numbers: between June 2009 and May 2011, the auto industry added 113,200 jobs.

Gas Prices Easing

After climbing to nearly $4 per gallon in May, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline currently stands at $3.771, down 20 cents from a month ago. Wholesale and crude oil prices have also declined steadily since April, fueling hopes of further drops in the months to come. Though gas remains still well above where it was a year ago, any easing of prices will also ease the economic strain on average Americans.

Recovering From the Debt Hangover

One major American economic problem prior to the financial crisis, according to Dynan, was widespread consumer debt, with many households having taken on unsustainable debt burdens. Throughout the downturn, many Americans reduced their borrowing, and many others also defaulted on their loans. Though borrowing can help boost economic activity and defaulting is rarely advisable, these two phenomena have combined to create a new trend: U.S. household debt has shrunk significantly. As a result, many households now have more disposable income, even as wages stagnate, says Dynan. “The ratio of required debt payments to income has fallen from close to 14 percent to less than 12 percent. So that is like having 2 percent more of income every month.”

Accompanying that drop in debt is a glut of pent-up demand, as many consumers put off spending during the recession. This can be said for everyday items, says Dynan, but also for big-ticket purchases like housing, as people living with their parents or in group houses will purchase homes as soon as they get the means to do so. “When the economy does begin to pick up steam,” she says, “then we can see a lot of household formation.”

China’s Declining Competitiveness

Chinese workers are demanding drastic pay increases. In 2010, wages at the country’s small companies increased by 14.1 percent, and in the nonprivate sector, which includes government agencies and foreign-invested companies, wages grew by 13.5 percent. The increased labor costs ultimately help major foreign manufacturers, like the United States, says Werling. “We’re already gaining competitiveness vis-a-vis China, because their wages are rising quite quickly. The fact that their wages are rising fast means that they are getting less competitive,” he says. This new competitiveness comes at a time when many U.S. economists and policymakers are concerned about the value of the Chinese yuan, which the Chinese government has held artificially low, making for cheaper Chinese-made goods. Even if China refuses to significantly alter the yuan’s value, the wage increases help the United States by appreciating the “real exchange rate” of the yuan, says Werling. However, there is a flip side to this trend: Chinese goods will now be more expensive for U.S. consumers.

 

Tim Pawlenty’s economic plan is pure fantasy — and then some

I’ve been bullish on Tim Pawlenty’s chances of getting the presidential nomination for some time now. But I’m starting to have second thoughts, based on the third-rate straddle of an economic “plan” he’s announced in a media blitz today.

Ezra Klein is, of course, correct that as economics, Pawlenty’plan is mostly pure fantasy. But that’s a feature, not a bug, of economic plans from GOP presidential candidates. When you’re not allowed to use real economics and are pretty much limited to “tax cuts make everything shiny” plus vows to balance the budget (while cutting taxes and revenues rather than raising them), well, of course your economic plan is going to be fantasy. It’s inescapable.

The trick for GOP candidates proposing economic plans is to promise the right things while avoiding mention of anything that is either a deal-breaker in the primaries and caucuses or highly damaging in the general election. He starts off strongly: cut taxes, and — presto magico! — you’ll get 5% annual GDP growth as far as the eye can see. And he offers everyone’s favorite nostrum for the fantasy budget cutter, a Balanced Budget Amendment. Pawlenty even has a nice innovation, substituting enhanced presidential impoundment authority for the point in the argument where one might expect a call for a line-item veto. As policy, all of this is nonsense, but it’s acceptable conservative rhetoric. Even so, it’s also easily trumped: If Newt Gingrich promised even steeper tax cuts and claimed that it would guarantee 7% annual GDP growth, where would that leave Pawlenty?

And yet — even though much of his plan is pure fantasy, it also commits the fatal error of including unnecessary specifics that could actually complicate his chances with key voters.

For instance, Pawlenty included a specific that could imperil him among GOP primary voters: “Slowing the rate of growth in defense spending.” This is anathema for conservatives: Everyone knows there’s no connection whatsoever between defense spending and deficits! Everyone knows that you can cuts taxes and increase defense spending forever without affecting the deficit at all! There’s just no reason to annoy conservatives with any responsible talk about slowing defense spending.

He also risks alienating general election voters when he proposes “raising the Social Security retirement age for the next generation.” Awful. On entitlements, the correct way to appeal to conservatives while remaining viable with the general election electorate is less specific. Both deficit idealists and Tea Party budget-cutters fully approve of “taking on entitlements” or its weaker cousin, “getting serious about entitlements.” Actually admitting to support for Social Security cuts may please conservatives now but it’s a general-election no-no.

Bottom line: There are two key takeaways from Pawlenty’s proposals. One is that they’re mostly fantasy — which is essential for GOP presidential primary contenders. The second is that where Pawlenty does get specific, he needlessly risks alienating primary and general election voters. That he hasn’t yet found a way to navigate these waters is bad news for Pawlenty indeed.

 

Tim Pawlenty: My plan for recovery

“Cutting taxes and spending is only the beginning. The real slog of the next administration will be an unrelenting trench battle against overregulation. Obamacare, financial reform and Environmental Protection Agency overreach are all weighing down our economy; we should require sunsetting of all federal regulations, unless sustained by a vote of Congress. “

 

Report: 32% of federal workers are working outside their offices

Legislation signed by Obama last year requires federal agencies to develop policies allowing eligible employees to work remotely and to include telework options in emergency contingency plans. Several government positions — including law enforcement officers, park rangers, lab technicians and medical doctors and nurses — are exempt because of the nature of their positions.

The Obama administration and employee organizations pushed for the work-from-home option, citing potential cost savings and the environmental benefits of curtailing worker commutes. Unions note that the government saved about $30 million from employees who worked from home during last year’s historic Washington-area snowstorms.

 

Ben Bernanke criticises ‘self-defeating’ cuts

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke has weighed in on the fierce budget battle now gripping Washington, warning deep cuts could be “self-defeating” to the “still-fragile recovery”.

Speaking to a group of international bankers in Atlanta, Bernanke said the recovery in the US economy is “uneven” and “frustratingly slow” but should pick up in the second half of 2011.

Bernanke said US interest rates would remain low for some time to come but the government’s $600bn (£365bn) “quantitative easing” (QE2) stimulus plan would run out this month as planned.

Aggressive budget cuts “could be self-defeating if it were to undercut the still-fragile recovery,” he said.

“The solution to this dilemma, I believe, lies in recognising that our nation’s fiscal problems are inherently long-term in nature. Consequently, the appropriate response is to move quickly to enact a credible, long-term plan for fiscal consolidation,” said Bernanke.

The recovery was clearly being held back by the troubled jobs and housing markets but there were indications that petrol prices would fall and the impact of Japan’s nuclear disaster on manufacturing was on the wane, he said.

 

EDUCATION

 

Report says L.A. principals should have more authority in hiring teachers

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa strongly backs suggestions in the report, whose research was paid for largely with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

School principals should be able to hire any teacher of their choosing, and displaced tenured teachers who aren’t rehired elsewhere within the system should be permanently dismissed, according to a controversial new report on the Los Angeles Unified School District. The report will be presented Tuesday to the Board of Education.

The research, paid for largely by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, offers a roadmap for improving the quality of teaching in the nation’s second-largest school system, with recommendations strongly backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. […]

The teachers union denounced several recommendations as being emblematic of an ineffective corporate-style, market-driven approach to education.

The recommendations would revamp teacher hiring. One would do away with the guarantee of a job for a so-called must-place teacher. These instructors include those who lose positions because of poor teaching, conflict with an administrator, declining enrollment or budget cuts. The list also includes teachers returning from illness or parental leave.

Principals are under pressure to hire from this group, although district rules and state law do not always require that they do.

“Three-quarters of principals surveyed … said that teachers on the must-place list are rarely if ever a good fit for their school,” the report says.

“It is critical that we do away with the must-place list,” said Arielle Goren, a spokeswoman for Villaraigosa.

The report recommends that principals be able to hire any qualified applicant, including those from outside the school system, and that displaced teachers lose their right to district employment after a year.

Employees should not be punished for factors beyond their control, countered A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. He said about 150 teachers will be displaced because district officials elected to turn over campuses to independent, mostly nonunion charter schools, which frequently opt for less experienced, less expensive instructors.

“Many must-place teachers are fine teachers,” Duffy said.

Under the heading “food for thought,” the report says, “economists recommend that districts should routinely dismiss at least the bottom-performing 25% of teachers eligible for tenure in order to build a high-quality teaching corps.”

That might be overdoing it, said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who largely agrees with the report.

“What you shoot for is quality, not a percentage,” Deasy said, adding, “we need to be doing a whole heck of a lot better.”

The report also concluded that teacher evaluations must be stepped up: 40% of tenured teachers and 70% of non-tenured teachers are evaluated annually.

Duffy and Deasy agreed that such scarce supervision failed to help teachers improve.

Another of the report’s recommendations was that the earning of tenure be more demanding and take longer, but that those who get it receive a significant pay increase.

Sixty-six percent of surveyed principals admitted advising “an underperforming teacher to voluntarily transfer” to another school.

“Sending a problem to another school is the very last thing we should be doing,” Deasy said.

The report surveyed 247 principals (31% of the district total) and 1,317 teachers (4.5%) while also reviewing data and contracts in L.A. Unified and comparison districts. The recommendations include changes in state laws and in the teachers’ contract.

 

ENERGY

 

REPORT: How The Kochs Built An Oil Speculation Empire

Koch’s relaunch of Drill Baby Drill appears to be a crass attempt to distract Americans from a true driver of high prices: oil speculation, coming from companies like Koch. In fact, a new ThinkProgress investigation of Koch’s oil speculation business reveals that Koch is perhaps the most important player in distorting oil markets for private profit.

Our report highlights:

Koch’s role in inventing modern oil derivatives.

Koch’s alliance with Enron and the Gramm family in deregulating oil speculation, first in the early ’90s then again ten years later.

Koch’s participation in unregulated exchanges, and the ways in which it uses its political power to allow excessive oil speculation to continue.

Experts contacted by ThinkProgress pin the blame for sky-high prices and record volatility on excessive oil speculation, the oil market corrupted by unregulated Wall Street traders who buy and hold onto oil futures contracts with no interest in the actual delivery of oil. Koch Industries — generally known as an oil pipelines and refining company — is also on the forefront of speculating on oil for profit.

Even Goldman Sachs concedes that at least $27 of the price of crude this year has been a result of rampant speculation, not supply and demand. Other experts contacted by ThinkProgress have said the number is closer to fifty dollars. To read our report about Koch Industry’s long and sordid history in the oil speculation business, click here.

 

New York Solar Jobs Bill Under Attack From Electric Utility Con Ed

 

ENVIRONMENT 

Spectacular Lightning Show As Volcano Erupts In Chile

 

Question: Can i recycle this? Answer:


Blair Mountain: A new milestone in the climate justice movement?


In 1921, Blair Mountain, W. Va., was the site of a major milestone in the history of the labor movement when 15,000 union miners took a stand against the coal industry. This week, Blair Mountain may end up being a new milestone in the movement to abolish mountaintop-removal coal mining and perhaps the larger climate justice movement. Hundreds of activists are recreating the miners’ historic march from Marmet to Blair Mountain to try to protect the controversial historic site from being blown up for the thin seam of coal underneath.

This week’s March on Blair Mountain may be a turning point in its own right, by helping to dispel the mythical clash between jobs and the environment that exploitative corporations have been promoting for decades. The demands of the march include sustainable job creation in Appalachia and stronger labor rights. While the decision to reach out to rank and file union miners for this week’s march may have made some anti-MTR groups uncomfortable, it can help unify the focus on the real villains who have impoverished West Virginians for 150 years: the coal industry.

As the coal industry drastically cuts its workforce in the shift towards heavily mechanized mountaintop removal, it tries to lay the blame for those job cuts on the people fighting to protect their mountains. This is nothing new. When the mechanization of the timber industry in the Northwest allowed companies to lay off workers while increasing destruction of the forests, the blame fell squarely on those who wanted to protect the spotted owl. But the history of West Virginia demonstrates that exploiting the environment and exploiting workers usually goes hand in hand. After 150 years of making coal executives rich, West Virginia still ranks almost dead last in per capita income, education, and life expectancy.

Another valuable step the March on Blair Mountain brings to the movement is to focus our perspective on social movement history. We often spend a lot of time studying science and very little time studying history. The result is a movement that knows everything about the technical problems and nothing about how change happens in this country.

When people stand on the site of the historic Battle of Blair Mountain this Saturday, June 11, it should be a moment to remember the sacrifices made 90 years earlier. Nearly 100 people died there on their way to Mingo County to try to organize a union, and nearly 1,000 more were imprisoned. In this age of one-click-activism, it’s worth remembering that power yields nothing without a struggle. The climate movement has spent years begging at the feet of a power structure that has no reason to negotiate with us. We need a reminder that our role as a social movement is, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.

Perhaps the most important reason that this week’s action at Blair Mountain could be a milestone is that it’s not safe. This week’s march and demonstration are organized by the same folks who put together the Appalachia Rising event in D.C. last fall. The night before that day of action at the White House, organizer Andrew Munn told the crowd, “This is going to be a safe and positive action.” In recent months, when I’ve asked the same organizers about the March on Blair Mountain, their response usually began with a nervous and excited laugh before saying something like, “Well, nobody really knows what’s gonna happen.”

 

HEALTH


CDC: Food poisoning from salmonella up in US

(AP) — More Americans got food poisoning last year, with salmonella cases driving the increase, the government reported Tuesday.

Illness rates for the most common serious type of E. coli fell last year. There was a rise in cases caused by other strains of the bacteria, although that bump may just reflect more testing was done for them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

An unusually aggressive strain of E. coli is behind the current large outbreak of food poisoning in Europe, mostly in Germany. That strain has never caused an outbreak in the U.S.

The CDC estimates that 50 million Americans each year get sick from foodborne illnesses, including about 3,000 who die.

The report released Tuesday is based on foodborne infections in only 10 states, or about 15 percent of the American population. But it has information that other databases lack and is believed to be a good indicator of food poisoning trends.

More than 19,000 cases of food poisoning were reported in those states last year. That was up from 17,500 cases in 2009, and about 18,500 in 2008.

Last year, there were 4,200 hospitalizations and 68 deaths in those states.

Year-to-year numbers can be misleading, especially from just a sample of states. Health officials note that the number of food poisoning cases have decreased by about a quarter since tracking began 15 years ago. Rates for most of the illnesses have also been relatively flat.

Not for salmonella, however. The bug caused the most illnesses of the nine leading food-poisoning causes last year. Salmonella cases haven’t diminished in 15 years, and rose in the last few years by 10 percent.

“We’ve made virtually no progress against salmonella,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

One of the largest U.S. outbreaks last year involved salmonella tainted eggs that may have sickened as many as 56,000, according to a CDC estimate. That probably contributed to the increase seen in Tuesday’s report, said Dr. Christopher Braden, a CDC epidemiologist.

The Food and Drug Administration last summer put in place new rules that should significantly reduce illnesses caused by salmonella in eggs, the FDA’s Michael R. Taylor said.

Officials hope to put the same kind of dent in salmonella that they did with E. coli O157. The bacteria became infamous in a 1993 outbreak linked to Jack in the Box hamburgers.

More regulation and testing of meat helped cut those E. coli cases in half – from a rate of 2 per 100,000 people to less than 1 per 100,000 last year.

In the bad news department, health officials continue to see jumps in illness caused by a group of bacteria called vibrio, which are associated with shellfish. There were fewer than 200 vibrio cases reported in 2010, but that’s more than double the numbers seen in the 1990s.

Vibrio cases are preventable. Flash-freezing and pasteurization of oysters could reduce the risk to consumers, Braden said.

 

HEALTH CARE


Blue Shield Of California To Cap Net Income, Provide Rebates To Policyholders

Coming on the heels of an announcement by Aetna that it is reducing premiums in Connecticut to avoid paying out rebates under the new medical loss ratio regulations in the Affordable Care Act, Blue Shield of California is pledging to “cap our net income at 2 percent of revenue” and “give back $180 million” to policyholders, physicians, and hospitals.


Many employers to drop health benefits: McKinsey

Reuters:

At least 30 percent of employers are likely to stop offering health insurance once provisions of the U.S. health care reform law kick in 2014, according to a study by consultant McKinsey.

McKinsey, which based its projection on a survey of more than 1,300 employers of various sizes and industries and other proprietary research, found that 30 percent of employers will “definitely” or “probably” stop offering coverage in the years after 2014, when new medical insurance exchanges are supposed to be up and running.

“The shift away from employer-provided health insurance will be vastly greater than expected and will make sense for many companies and lower-income workers alike,” according to the study, published in McKinsey Quarterly.

“While the pace and timing are difficult to predict, McKinsey research points to a radical restructuring of employer-sponsored health benefits.”

Among employers with a high awareness of the health reform law, the number likely to drop health coverage for workers rises to more than 50 percent, the report predicted.

The numbers compare to a Congressional Budget Office estimate that only about 7 percent of employees currently covered by employer-sponsored plans will have to switch to subsidized-exchange policies in 2014, McKinsey said.

The consultant also found that at least 30 percent of employers would gain economically from dropping coverage even if they compensated employees for the change through other benefit offerings or higher salaries.

Losing employer-sponsored insurance would not prompt workers to leave their jobs, contrary to what many employers assume, McKinsey also predicted. The study found more than 85 percent of employees would remain at their jobs even if their employer stopped offering insurance, although about 60 percent would expect increased compensation.

 

If You’re Concerned About Employers Dropping Coverage, Advocate For The Employer Mandate

The White House is arguing that this survey is out of step with other projections by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) the RAND corporation. Those reports suggest that the numbers of employers dropping coverage are much smaller since “firms would need to compensate the workers from whom they remove a current benefit, particularly higher income workers, who would lose the valuable tax advantage of ESI.” Indeed, other business surveys have demonstrated that employers would be reluctant to drop coverage.

But if we’re really interested in preserving employer-based coverage — which I’m not sure makes a lot of sense — then we should be talking about repealing the free-rider requirement that Democrats included in the law to please Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and replacing it with an employer mandate that would require companies to continue offering health insurance coverage. Experiences in Massachusetts have demonstrated that such an approach would increase employer coverage rates without leading to job loss.

 

High out-of-pocket costs for cancer patients:

A new study finds that out-of-pocket, cancer-related costs averaged $712 a month. “Some 30% of respondents said their expenses were a ‘significant burden’ and 11% called them a ‘catastrophic problem.’” [WSJ]

 

How Obama is shoring up federal authority over Medicaid

In the face of such challenges, the Obama administration is quietly taking steps to reassert and strengthen the federal government’s authority over Medicaid. A few weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rolled out a proposal that could make it more difficult for states to cut rates for doctors, hospitals, and other providers in Medicaid—one of the many ways that cash-strapped statehouses are trying to save money.

The proposed rule requires states to implement new standards by 2013 “to review access to Medicaid annually, based on enrollee needs, the availability of health professionals and medical care, and the use of services,” reports American Medical News. The administration will also require state officials to make the results of these evaluations public, in hopes of holding states more accountable for changes they make to Medicaid and to dissuade them from squeezing large numbers of Medicaid beneficiaries out of the program. “The federal government is asserting its role as steward of the program,” says Peter Harbage, a health-care consultant and former Clinton administration official.

Some state officials are already bristling at the proposal, saying the new requirements are onerous and needlessly intrude on state authority. “It’s just an enormous amount of work,” Washington state’s Medicaid director told American Medical News, arguing that the rules would spur more lawsuits over provider rates. But the Obama administration isn’t just standing up to states in asserting its role in overseeing Medicaid — it’s also trying to prevent private individuals from challenging the program.

Last week, the Department of Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the Supreme Court that opposed the ability of private individuals to sue states for lowering Medicaid provider rates and choking off access to the program. Weighing in on the case, Douglas vs. Independent Living Center of Southern California, Obama’s solicitor general asserted that it was the responsibility of the Department of Health and Human Services, not individuals, to ensure that states are complying with Medicaid’s promise of equal access to care. Essentially, Obama officials are affirming that federal officials “are better equipped than judges to balance that goal [of equal access] with other policy objectives, like holding down costs,” explains the New York Times’ Robert Pear.

Some progressive thinkers are worried that the White House’s position could strip away protections from Medicaid providers and beneficiaries — removing their ability “to ensure that states and the federal government are complying with the requirements of Medicaid,” Edwin Park, vice president of health policy at the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, told me. But in the larger debate over Medicaid’s future, many of the same critics have strongly defended the federal government’s role in overseeing the program, fending off challenges from states’ rights advocates. Such positions could undercut their case for being able to intervene as private individuals in Medicaid oversight.

That being said, the Obama administration isn’t going so far as to push for federalizing Medicaid, as some policy analysts have proposed as a means of relieving state budgets and making the program more efficient. For the time being, Medicaid will remain a federal-state partnership. And while the White House has been publicly trying to emphasize the flexibility that states still retain in Medicaid, it’s also working behind the scenes to underscore the “federal” part of that equation.

 

JUSTICE


Judge again rules ban on corporate campaign donations unconstitutional

A federal judge has reaffirmed his earlier ruling that the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates violates the First Amendment.

However, in his revised decision Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Cacheris explicitly limited his ruling to the case before him, involving two Virginia businessmen accused of using corporate funds to make political donations to Hillary Clinton’s 2006 Senate campaign and 2008 presidential bid.

Lawyers said that for reasons of timing and court procedures it was unclear whether Cacheris’s decision would become a vehicle for the Supreme Court to take up the issue of whether the ban on corporate donations to candidates is still viable.

In his new order and opinion, Cacheris stood by his May 26 ruling that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year effectively gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

The majority opinion in Citizens United addressed only independent expenditure efforts but Cacheris said the logic of the case led to the “inescapable” conclusion that companies should be able to donate directly to candidates as well.

After his May decision, Cacheris took a pounding from newspaper editorial boards and backers of strict campaign finance rules for ignoring a 2003 Supreme Court decision, FEC v. Beaumont, which rejected a challenge a “nonprofit advocacy corporation” brought to the corporate contributions ban. Federal prosecutors have apologized to the court for initially failing to bring the case to Cacheris’s attention.

However, Cacheris said that result of the 2003 and 2010 decisions was that non-profits were still barred from donating to campaigns, for-profit companies could not be. “Beaumont informs but does not directly control this case,” Cacheris concluded.

“This opinion makes less sense than his first opinion where he obviously was not aware of the Beaumont decision. He is dead wrong in arguing that Citizens United overturned the Beaumont decision and he is dead wrong in believing that a district court judge can overturn a Supreme Court decision,” said one prominent advocate for campaign finance limits, Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21. “The court made very clear in Citizens United that it was only talking about independent expenditures and therefore did not overturn” the contribution ban, Wertheimer said.

“As opposed to unknowingly striking down Surpeme Court precedent, [Cacheris] appears now to have knowingly struck down Supreme Court precedent,” said Tara Malloy of the Campaign Legal Center, another group which defends campaign finance laws. “There’s no logical way of reading Beaumont as narrowly as Judge Cacheris does…..It’s hard to see this anything but a distortion of the case in order to reach the result the judge wanted to reach.”

Legal experts said prosecutors could appeal Cacheris’s decision, but would need the judge’s permission to do so since he did not knock out all counts pending against the defendants, William Danielczyk Jr. and Eugene Biagi. It’s possible, but not certain, that another legal fight over similar issues in Minnesota could be ready for Supreme Court consideration before the Virginia case.

A Justice Department spokesman said lawyers there were reviewing Cacheris’s decision.

Conservative attorneys who took up the case for Danielczyk and Biagi at the urging of federal defenders hailed the ruling from Cacheris, who was named to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

“Judge Cacheris reached the correct conclusion twice and we’re pleased with this decision,” said Lee Goodman, one of the laywers for the pair. “Citizens United was really a sea change in First Amendment jurisprudence and compels this result.”

One curious aspect to the current fight: advocates for tighter campaign finance limits who spoke about the Citizens United ruling in sweeping, arguably alarmist tones when it emerged last year, are now asking the courts to interpret that decision narrowly.

“The Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” President Barack Obama declared in his 2010 State of the Union address, prompting debate about whether he violated protocol by criticizing the Supreme Court justices sitting in the House chamber.

Now, the Justice Department and so-called campaign finance reformers are arguing that a century of law wasn’t really upended by the decision and that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision never disturbed the ban in place since 1907 on corporate contributions to candidates.

 

S.C. court blocks governor’s back-to-work order

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Monday night that a move by Republican Governor Nikki Haley to force legislators back to work was an “unconstitutional violation of separation of powers.”

 

MEDIA

 

The Confessions of Keith Olbermann

The Hollywood Reporter:

Now with a bigger paycheck but a smaller network, the stand-up-to-management bad boy unloads for the first time about MSNBC, Jeff Zucker, why he’s not talking to Rachel Maddow and his plan for Countdown 2.0 on Current TV.

But these recent playground skirmishes pale in comparison to his tenure at MSNBC. Olbermann’s departure was the culmination of years of simmering tensions. Indeed, he admits the split was so bad he still has not spoken to onetime mentee Rachel Maddow: “There were lots of people who were forced to choose sides. And particularly in Rachel’s case, I didn’t want to add to the pressure on her already. The last thing I need to do is be calling her up and saying, ‘How’s that Michael Steele working out for you?’ [He signed to NBC as a political analyst on May 23.] Which is exactly what I would do if I were in the office.”
MORE>>>


Couric calls Trump a “jackass”


Report: Climate Zombies Dominate Airwaves |

Driven largely by Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network, 76 percent of guests were opposed to EPA regulations, an analysis by Media Matters of guests who discussed the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions from December 2009 through April 2011 finds. Republicans were 86 percent of the elected officials. The only climate scientist in 17 months of coverage across nine news outlets was oil-funded climate zombie Patrick Michaels:



TMZ idol worship

digby:

Politico:

David Mark

When Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) admitted that he had indeed sent suggestive photos and tweets, he apologized to Andrew Breitbart, who first published the material. The blogger has in the past criticized major news organizations for ignoring news of consequence to conservatives, while journalists have long harbored suspicions about Breitbart’s motives and methods.

Have mainstream news organizations denied Breitbart his journalistic due because his targets have largely been on the political left? Will the Weiner episode – arguably Breitbart’s biggest political scalp yet – make journalists take his work more seriously.

(Go ahead and look at the responses if you have the stomach for it.) But merely by asking the question in this, Politico has framed the argument as a matter of partisanship not journalistic integrity.

This was a big, big win for Breitbart. And he will always be successful despite his record of hoaxes and lies not because even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but because the so called liberal media just loves the stuff he does.

This is the key, you know. It’s not about his ideology — it’s about his ability to provide them with the fetid, adolescent, lizard brain, tabloid dreck they crave. In their heart of hearts they all want to be TMZ.

 

MILITARY


Pentagon: Health Care Costs Are ‘Eating The U.S. Military Alive’

Pentagon is warning that if health care costs aren’t brought under control, the Department of Defense will become “a benefits company that may occasionally kill a terrorist.” Over the past decade, active and retired military health care and pension costs have more than doubled and will account for more than $100 billion in 2012. — Sean Savett


POLITICS


ANALYSIS: Pawlenty’s Tax Plan Would Cost $7.8 Trillion Over Ten Years, Triple The Size Of Bush Tax Cuts


Why the 2012 Election Will Be the Most Expensive Ever

Rolling Stone:

In the run-up to the election, outside groups, mainly on the right, announced they would capitalize on Citizens by raising millions of dollars in unlimited funds to run political advertisements to help elect their preferred candidates. (Outside groups are prohibited from “coordinating” their campaigns with the candidates.) Some formed new “super PACs,” political action committees whose unrestricted donors were fully disclosed. Others formed affiliated nonprofit (501(c)) groups through which corporations and wealthy individuals funneled money for the same purposes but without having to reveal their identities. At the end of the day, outside groups raised and spent nearly $300 million, nearly half of it from undisclosed sources. Republican groups outspent Democratic ones 2 to 1, and annihilated them at the polls.

Read Rolling Stone on Karl Rove’s plan to take over the GOP

The same outside groups – plus lots of new ones, including on the Democratic side – are now gearing up for 2012. How will it all play out? And what does it mean for our democracy that wealthy individuals and corporations can anonymously pump millions of dollars into political races? To find out, we called Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, the nation’s top money-in-politics research organization.

The 2010 elections saw an unprecedented flood of outside money flowing into congressional races. Is it safe to assume the same will happen in 2012?

Yes. The 2010 midterms were really a toe in the water to see whether or not there would be any negative consequences. Now the impetus is there for the money to just be off the charts in 2012.

And 2010 spending was already off the charts, wasn’t it?

Outside groups spent over $300 million, four times more than in 2006.

And influenced specific races?

It’s hard to say exactly. They had an outsized influence on specific races, and arguably changed outcomes in some.

Where did the money come from?

About 70 percent of the money comes from corporations and their executives. But the big concern from our perspective is not just that organizations now have greater latitude to raise money from corporations and unions; it’s that they can do it secretly.

How does that compare to prior years?

In prior years, we could see most of the money. Now 50 percent is completely under the radar, and that’s likely to grow as liberal groups create new options for donors to give secretly. I think this is a really damaging trend for public information, for people to make the right choices based on full knowledge.

In the run up to the 2010 elections, new groups were formed to adapt to the new landscape. Some were “super PACs” whose donors were fully disclosed, but others, like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, were sort of front groups for funneling “dark” or undisclosed money to influence races.  And some combined both functions in a kind of affiliate arrangement. How do the pieces fit together?

There’s 100 or more of these new entities – the number grows by the week – that exist only to run political advertisements expressly advocating the defeat or victory of a candidate. Under the new rules, they can to offer a menu to their donors, where they say, “You can choose, you can select whether you want your contribution to our organization to be scrutinized by the media and public – in which case you can contribute to our super-PAC.  If you want it to fly under the radar, you can contribute to our 501(c) organization, but the funds essentially go to the same thing.

Now, Democrats have been slow to get in this game, right?

Well, I think there had been a clear reluctance to take up opportunity provided by Citizens United. President Obama had come out strongly against the decision. But after the Democrats’ “shellacking,” as President Obama called it, in 2010, advisors came out and said, “Well, clearly that didn’t work.”

And now we’re starting to hear about new Democratic groups.

Yes, the White House advisors essentially provided carte blanche to groups like [former White House deputy press secretary] Bill Burton and [former chief of staff to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel] Sean Sweeney’s Priorities USA Action, to begin operations to fight fire with fire. They said, “You don’t go to a gunfight with a knife.” So now there’s Priorities USA Action, American Bridge, 21st Century Super-PAC, founded by Media Matters president David Brock, House Majority PAC, a new Democratic-aligned super-PAC has already weighed in on the New York special election. So, you know, the gloves are off.

And it’s only just getting started.

MORE>>>


Sen. Democrats grumble over Harry Reid’s agenda

A growing number of Senate Democrats are anxious about the lack of a Democratic budget and the unusually slow legislative agenda, creating another headache for Majority Leader Harry Reid as he tries to protect his majority ahead of a daunting election year.

“On the budget front, I’m not a happy camper around here,” California Sen. Dianne Feinstein told POLITICO. “I think we need to have a budget that we stand by.”[…]

Not having a budget, Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor said, “makes it harder to do things that we just need to do — there are people talking about an education bill, a highway bill — a lot of other things you just don’t know how much you have to spend.”

The concerns may amount to just grumbling among the rank and file, but they point to the catch-22 for Reid: If he’s too ambitious, he’ll force Democrats to take tough votes that could backfire in 2012. But now that he’s taken on a decidedly thin agenda, some Democrats are getting restless.

So far, on must-pass bills, Reid has had to cut high-level deals to get GOP buy-in, such as for the extension of the Patriot Act and the 2011 budget law, while mostly leaving out the usually powerful committee chairmen to whom he has long deferred.

And that has unnerved some Democrats.

“I think people also understand the leader faces a tough situation with 53 votes and a Republican House,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. “It’s just not an easy year to engineer the outcomes you’d like to have.”

Asked whether there will continue to be a leadership-driven process in the Senate, Durbin said, “I hope it changes.”

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said Democrats agree they need to defer to Vice President Joe Biden, who is holding bipartisan meetings to cut spending “without undermining our economic recovery.”[…]

Democrats are generally sympathetic to the tough political position Reid faces as Senate majority leader, one of the most difficult jobs in Washington.

Reid knows that pushing forward a Democratic budget resolution — or other high-profile measures, for that matter — will require an enormous lift to get through the narrowly divided Senate and will be dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House. Senate Republicans, too, are not in the mood to cooperate with Reid and are eager to put up procedural roadblocks to further bog down the deliberative body. […]

But if Reid attempts to advance far-reaching measures on the economy or other issues, it could very well prompt internal splits, expose politically vulnerable Democrats to tough votes and, ultimately, stall in Congress.

Democrats have to defend 23 Senate seats next year compared with 10 for Republicans, and for now, Democrats are more eager to rally opposition to the conservative House Republican agenda — rather than rallying behind an agenda of their own.

So far this year, the Senate has spent ample time trying to confirm President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees on the floor, but there have been only 85 votes through Monday, one of the lowest totals through a similar point in the session in the past couple decades. The Senate has passed a handful of bills and this week will try to reauthorize a Commerce Department agency aimed at bolstering job creation.

 


Alan Colmes: Top 10 Reasons Why I’m Standing by My Man, Rep Weiner

 

Tom Tancredo’s anti-recall fundraiser for AZ State Senator Russell Pearce… illegal?

AZCentral:

A national fundraising effort to fight the recall against Senate President Russell Pearce may be running afoul of state campaign-finance laws.

Team America, a political-action committee headed by former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., sent an e-mail blast Friday soliciting corporate and private donations for Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall. […]

But state elections officials say Arizona law bans corporate and union donations to influence an election, and that includes opposing a recall effort.

 

What’s next for Anthony Weiner? Here are 5 predictions from Salon, Gawker, Politico and others


The GOP’s Mediscare: Democrats Have ‘Shred The Social Safety Net’

Greg Sargent notices that the GOP’s campaign to attack Democrats from the left on health care has once again jumped the shark with this ad from the National Republican Congressional Congressional Committee (NRCC) accusing Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) of supporting a “Democrat plan” that would “decimate” Medicare, “shred the social safety net,” and “leave seniors at risk”:

 

Top White House economist Austan Goolsbee said late Monday he plans to step down just as disappointing unemployment numbers and other signs of fragile economy have emerged.

 

Jennifer Granholm on Mitt Romney

 

POLLS



A new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday erased the month-long boost Obama had received after the killing of Osama bin Laden. The poll found that disapproval with Obama’s handling of the economy had reached an all time high.


Pew: The more you know the Ryan Medicare plan, the more you oppose it


Americans Starting To Blame Obama For Economy

In a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Tuesday showed results that imply Americans are beginning to blame President Obama for the economy. While 47 percent of respondents strongly or somewhat approve of Obama’s presidency, 49 percent now strongly or somewhat disapprove. The same poll conducted in May found that 56 percent of respondents approved, with a disapproval rating of only 38 percent. The one-month loss in a majority approval may very well be due to May’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate with only 54,000 additional jobs. If this is the case, it serves as evidence that the American people are starting to view the incumbent President as part of the problem.

When asked who they would trust to do a better job handling the economy, 42 percent of respondents answered Obama, with 45 percent favoring Congressional Republicans. Other parts of the survey seem to have notified the American public that the GOP’s entitlement reform won’t necessarily be a deal breaker. 61 percent disapprove of how Obama is handling the federal deficit, while only 33 percent still approve. 66 percent of Americans also reported feeling that things in this country have gotten pretty seriously off on the wrong track.

In April, a Post/ABC poll showed that 59 percent of Americans surveyed said George W. Bush bore the most responsibility for the current shape of the U.S. economy, with 25 percent that reported blaming Obama. But how long can a current administration blame the last for our nation’s problems? Charlie Cook from the National Journal says not this long. “Within the first six months or even a year of a new administration, it’s fair game to blame predecessors for any problems. Indeed, it’s a legitimate and time-honored tradition by presidents of both parties. But such arguments get much less convincing as the second year comes to an end. Once into the third year, such claims sound downright silly. Gradually, any president and any administration take ownership of the problems facing the country,” he explained. Studies have shown that presidential elections depend on how the American populace is feeling at that time, so the state of the economy during the presidential elections will be a strong determinant for Obama’s chances at reelection. Cook continued, “Unfortunately for Democrats, accountability only applies to those in power, so it’s they and Obama who will continue to pay the price for not having been more aggressive with programs that would have generated more jobs.” With 57 percent of the sample feeling like we haven’t come out of the recession, Republicans are beginning to look like a better option. The poll found that former governor Mitt Romney is now tied with Obama for the preferred President for the next four years, both receiving 47 percent of respondents’ votes. According to a Reuters article, registered voters in America favor Romney over Obama 49 to 46 percent. Now more than ever, Obama’s biggest task will be to convince Americans that his economic policies worked, and to gain the country’s trust with another term to help it recover

 

Pew Research Center: Far more Americans blame wars than domestic spending or tax cuts for the nation’s debt.

 

SCOTUS


Was the Court Conned in Citizens United?

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has been had. “A campaign finance system that pairs corporate independent expenditures with effective disclosure has not existed before today,” he confidently wrote in his majority opinion in Citizens United, the Court’s 2010 decision that freed corporations, unions and others to spend unlimited sums on electioneering.

Justice Kennedy appeared blissfully unaware that his guarantee of disclosure was misplaced. Though his ruling left contributions subject to the disclosure requirements of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, those requirements were rendered meaningless by a government agency pursuing a contrary agenda.

The court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision was bound to create a furor. So Justice Kennedy took care to emphasize that the new campaign spending the court had unleashed would be fully disclosed — that shareholders would be able to hold executives accountable for spending corporate funds on politics, and that voters would know exactly which interests were funding which television ads. The section of the opinion upholding the constitutionality of federal disclosure requirements had added force behind it. All the justices except Clarence Thomas signed on — providing a resounding 8-1 endorsement.

“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” the opinion stated. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Shadowy Political Groups

The court’s embrace of disclosure could hardly have been clearer. Yet we now have a system awash in anonymous donations to shadowy political groups. According to the reform-minded Center for Responsive Politics, advocacy groups spent approximately $305 million in the 2010 midterm federal elections, more than quadrupling the $70 million spent in the 2006 midterms. Few of these groups disclosed their donors; the “transparency” promised by Justice Kennedy is nonexistent.

What went wrong? The answer lies buried in the graveyard of election-law enforcement: the Federal Election Commission. In 2007, prior to Citizens United, the FEC issued a little-noticed “interpretation of law” that narrowed the scope of the McCain- Feingold disclosure requirements. The law itself specifies that disclosure is required of “all contributors” of $1,000 or more to groups running electioneering communications. The FEC interpretation changed that, requiring disclosure only of contributors who gave money “for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications.” Of the commission’s six members, all three Democrats and one Republican voted for the change — the result of a compromise that kept another Republican commissioner from achieving an even more extensive gutting of disclosure rules.

Lack of Disclosure

In its formal “Explanation and Justification” for the rule, the FEC said donor disclosure would be required only if the donation was “specifically designated for electioneering communications.” In other words, if a donor refrains from designating a specific purpose for a contribution, no disclosure is required.

It gets worse. In 2010, after the Supreme Court’s 8-1 affirmation of disclosure requirements in Citizens United, the FEC pushed further. It ignored the recommendation of its general counsel and dismissed a complaint — without an investigation — against a group called Freedom Watch, which had spent more than $125,000 on a political ad without disclosing donors.

Funding Attack Ads

In dismissing the complaint, the three Republican FEC commissioners, Matthew Petersen, Caroline Hunter and Donald McGahn II, stated that disclosure would be required “only if such donations are made for the purpose of furthering the electioneering communication that is the subject of the report.” Translation: Even if the money is given explicitly for the purpose of funding attack ads, no disclosure is required if the donor did not designate the contribution for a specific ad. As this almost never happens, the rule essentially eliminates the last vestiges of disclosure requirements.

Thus, the FEC made a monkey of the Supreme Court. The public disclosure Justice Kennedy had explicitly guaranteed has been thwarted by a handful of individuals who have interpreted the law contrary to its clear words and intent. A lawsuit has been filed by several reform groups (including my organization, the Campaign Legal Center) challenging the FEC’s interpretation, but it may not be resolved before the 2012 election. The three current Democratic commissioners are seeking to undo the damage from the 2007 rule, but they have been blocked by their Republican colleagues (it takes four votes on the six-member commission to take action). So the FEC’s subversion reigns as the supreme law of the land.

According to the Constitution, Congress makes the law, the Supreme Court interprets it, and executive branch agencies execute it. In Washington, it doesn’t always work that way.

Trevor Potter is a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission and was general counsel of the 2008 and 2000 presidential campaigns of John McCain. He is currently president and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center in Washington. The opinions expressed are his own.


UNIONS

 

Inspired by Wisconsin, Union Sees Record Turnout in Rally Against GE

On Saturday, 3,500 people showed up to rally in Erie, Pa., to protest the concessions General Electric is asking its workers to accept. Workers are currently negotiating a contract in New York City set to expire with General Electric on June 19.

As I have reported before, despite making record profits last year and paying zero in income taxes, GE has signaled it will ask its workers for major concessions in contract negotiations, including elimination of a defined contribution benefit pension for new employees and implementation of “health savings” accounts, a move the company has already implemented for non-union salaried employees as well. GE has also indicated that it will ask for a two-tier wage system for new workers.[…]

While the increased mobilization is a response to the unprecedented concessions being asked, union leaders also see the fight in Wisconsin playing a role. Wisconsin has inspired countless union members to become more involved in their unions and fight back against the attacks coming against them. Union members even picked the University of Wisconsin Badger as the mascot of the Erie rally.

“UE Local 506 picked the Badger as the face of our Erie event. Like union families all across the country we are facing employer attacks,” says UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “We intend to respond by taking a lesson from the Wisconsin battle and the Badger both.”

The increased activity over the General Electric contract fight is yet another sign that the fight in Wisconsin has awakened a sleeping giant—working people.


AND IN OTHER NEWS…


Plessy, Ferguson, and the Hard Work of Change

When Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson decided to start a new civil rights education organization that would bear their famous names, they sealed the deal in a fitting local spot: Cafe Reconcile.

They represent the opposing principals in one of the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions, Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of Jim Crow laws mandating segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. It stood from 1896 until the court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

The descendent of the man who tested Louisiana’s law requiring separate railroad cars for whites and blacks and the great-great-granddaughter of the judge who upheld it met in 2004.

The truth is, no reconciliation was required.

The first thing I said to her,” recalled Plessy, “was, ‘Hey, it’s no longer Plessy versus Ferguson. It’s Plessy and Ferguson.’

Her first reaction was to apologize.

I don’t know why,” she said in an interview. “It’s just that I felt the burden of it, this great injustice.”

Plessy’s response?

I said, ‘You weren’t alive during that time. I wasn’t either. It’s time for us to change that whole image.’

So the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation was born, and on Tuesday it will celebrate another anniversary of Homer Adolph Plessy’s decision to buy a railroad ticket for the June 7, 1892, train trip from New Orleans to Covington, on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain.

It’s a beautiful story, a uniquely American story, that says so much about who we can be, and who many of us are: A people who do not merely tolerate diversity but fully embrace it.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that it’s a story that was more than a century in the making. The case that bears their family names, Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), was decided 108 years before Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson met and developed the idea for the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation – proving, as a Twitter friend noted, Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous quote that “[t]he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But it doesn’t just happen, that bending towards justice, as the story of Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson demonstrates. Mr. Plessy and Ms. Ferguson were not products of the “separate but equal” doctrine – the horribly misguided legal principle that their namesake Supreme Court decision announced – but instead grew up after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (in fact, both of them were born the year the Brown case was decided). In Brown, the Court rejected the naïve platitudes it had adopted roughly sixty years earlier in Plessy, taking a hard look at the realities of racial segregation in public education as it then existed:

Our decision … cannot turn on merely a comparison of … tangible factors in the Negro and white schools involved in each of the cases. We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education.

In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. […]

And as we all know, that was only the beginning of the long, arduous process of change. But it was a journey we had to take, not just to talk about constitutional niceties but to bring the vision of the Fourteenth Amendment into reality. It’s a process that’s still going on today, of course, as evidenced by the fact that The Plessy & Ferguson Foundation was established roughly fifty years after the first Brown decision.

It’s never been easy, and the work may never be done, not completely anyway; but the story of Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson reminds me that it’s work that’s well worth doing.


 

Maybe I’m be a sucker, but this stuff always makes me cry. Heartwarming!

 

TAKE ACTION


The Public’s Wishes On Economy Are Kept Out Of Media

Have you seen the People’s Budget discussed in the media? Nope. Have you heard that we need to be more “business friendly” by cutting taxes on the rich and cut the things We, the People do for each other? Yep. Did you know that polls show the public overwhelmingly wants taxes on the rich and government spending on jobs? Nope. Why is that?

We’re getting more and more bad economic news. Obviously the economy suffers from lack of demand. Businesses don’t have enough people walking in the door or placing orders to hire more workers. But Republicans insist that we need “austerity,” which means giving even more money to the rich and cutting the things We, the People (government) do for each other and for our economy. The public is solidly against the austerity idea and wants spending on each other and the economy. But the media is only granting access to people who want to make the austerity argument.

And never mind ever, ever, ever, ever seeing a voice of organized labor explain to working people the benefits of being in a union. Ever.

The Economy

As the stimulus runs out all of the signs point to a slowing of the economy. Job growth has stalled. Housing is dropping again. Etc. Etc. Etc.

The economy suffers from lack of demand. The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) says “weak sales” (i.e. lack of demand) is their number 1 business problem and that this lack of demand is why they are not hiring.

Just ten years ago we had budget surpluses that were so large that it was projected the entire federal debt would be paid off by now. We had a strong economy with more jobs than we could handle. Then the Bush tax cuts created huge deficits and drove up debt. Now the very people behind those tax cuts and deficits are demanding budget cuts to fix the problem.

The Proposals On The Table

There are two areas of proposals on the table: austerity (tax cuts for the rich with budget cuts for the rest of us) vs the People’s Budget (investment in infrastructure to create jobs and grow the economy paid for by tax increases on the rich.)

The austerity argument says that we need to make the country more “business friendly” by cutting taxes on the rich and big companies, then cutting spending on education, environment, health care, alternative energy, unemployment, food and other assistance for the poor, even infrastructure. And in a direct blow to democracy they say that cutting “entitlements” – the things we are entitled to just for being American citizens – is a key to fixing our economy. This at a time when the country is actually richer than ever, but so much is going to a few at the top.

The People’s Budget is explained below.

The Public

The public gets it. Polls show the public wants Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security left alone, wants tax increases on the rich, wants more spending on infrastructure and education. The public rejects the austerity approach.

People understand that investing in infrastructure and education creates jobs now while paying for itself by growing the economy later. People understand that handing rich people even more money doesn’t create jobs, people walking in the door or placing orders is what creates jobs.

The Media

The media discussion of economic policy seems entirely framed from a one-sided perspective – focusing on the bizarre claim that cutting government spending and taxes will lead to more jobs and economic growth. Again and again the media features “experts” who begin with an assumption that federal deficits are the most important problem facing America. But opponents of these ideas, offering the ideas that history shows to have worked — the very ideas the public favors — are not able to reach the public to explain their plans. Elitist pundits always claim that “everyone knows” that the long-term deficit problem is “entitlements” even when we all know that tax cuts and military spending caused the deficits.

Seriously, how often do you see or hear or read someone claiming to be a Tea Party representative talking about how we need tax cuts for the rich and big corporations? Every day. But when have you seen, read or heard a representative of organized labor on TV or radio or in your local newspaper, explaining the benefits of joining a union? Seriously.

Actions

Contact your local newspapers, radio stations and TV stations and demand that they cover the views of the American Majority!

10 years of Bush tax cuts is enough! Click here to demand your representative supports the Fairness in Taxation Act so the rich contribute their fair share.

And, finally: Tell President Obama to put the People’s Budget on the table.

The People’s Budget

The Progressive Caucus — a group of progressives in the Congress — have put together a budget that fixes the deficit and grows the economy, providing jobs. It is called The PEOPLE’S Budget Plan.

Read the plan at: Congressional Progressive Caucus : FY2012 Progressive Budget,

 

‘A street full of protesters’ Confront Rep. Sean Duffy On Medicare |

Freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) faced a tough crowd at a town hall in Superior, WI yesterday, with “several outbursts” of people telling the congressman his party’s Medicare plan is “horrible policy.” Among “a street full of protesters” who greeted Duffy outside the event was one man who said, “We’re here to save Medicare.” “They’re robbing it, taking it away from us.” Watch a report from KBJR:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNTiGwUrtrE&feature=player_embedded


Stop the Medicare Hostage-Taking

Republicans are threatening to let the U.S. default on our debts in order to force big Medicare cuts.

They are holding the entire economy hostage in order to force the President to cut a deal.

He needs to stand up to the hostage takers and protect Medicare.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to President Barack Obama.


QUOTE OF THE DAY:


A stupid man’s report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.~~ Bertrand Russel

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

8 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. funksands says:

    Cher, the Korean kid was a low blow……Wow.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I know, funk. It was like I knew I’d start crying but couldn’t stop myself from watching. I mean, they were mostly happy tears.

  2. lynettema says:

    “Interagency Task Force on Climate Change Adaptation. ”

    Would a name change help those in the tp? When it is known that the tp is against climate change, it is a given that they would oppose a bill that supports this name.

  3. ADONAI says:

    Every week brings a report of Republicans wanting to do something stupid.

    That’s usually followed up a few weeks later by Republicans backpedaling from their stupid plans.

    Are they TRYING to waste our time?

  4. agrippa says:

    Funksands, I agree on all points.

    And, we are seeing a grass roots recovery.

  5. funksands says:

    Real GDP has expanded for seven straight quarters 2013 we’re now in the eighth.

    Corporate profits are at a record;

    The S&P 500 is up 100% from the bottom;

    Consumer spending is $450 billion above its pre-panic 2008 peak,

    And private sector payrolls have expanded for 15 straight months.

    This is called a hitting streak.

    That being said, it is sluggish. I think that what we are seeing is a phenomenon born of three issues:

    1) UCLA estimates that 25% of all private sector jobs created between 1998 and 2008 were a direct result of the real-estate bubble. When that collapsed, those jobs vaporized, never to return. This wasn’t a cyclical slow-down, lay-off, re-hire. This was entirely different. That bubble popping has left a crater in our job force and tax base.

    2) We’ve shipped 4.2 million professional and manufacturing jobs overseas in the last ten years. And we pay our corporations to leave. This also decimates centers of manufacturing and service.

    3) Banks aren’t lending. Because they don’t have to.

    From this stew, we see a new type of recovery emerging, a grass-roots recovery, slowly knitting over the hole in our nation. It is recovery, but it is sloooooow.


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