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Pawlenty says he’d sign Ryan budget into law

“As president I’ll have my own plan,” he said. “If I can’t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not, Congressman Ryan’s plan, of course I’d sign it.”

Later in the day, Pawlenty fired off this Tweet on Medicare:

@BarackObama sorry to interrupt the European pub crawl, but what was your Medicare plan?



Blue Shield CEO Bruce Bodaken Earned $4.6 Million Last Year

Blue Shield, California’s largest nonprofit health insurer, releases the salary data in response to a new state law intended to keep healthcare insurance costs under control.

For the first time, California’s largest nonprofit health insurer has released the salaries of its 10 highest-paid executives in response to a new state law intended to keep healthcare insurance costs under control.

The top earner at Blue Shield of California was Chief Executive Bruce Bodaken, who made $4.6 million last year — more than four times the salary of his counterpart at the state’s largest for-profit insurer, Anthem Blue Cross.

San Francisco-based Blue Shield revealed Bodaken’s salary in documents filed with the state’s insurance commissioner, who had demanded the information under the law that allows regulators to examine executive salaries and other criteria to determine whether insurance rate increases are “unreasonable.”

In its report to the state, Blue Shield said that its 10 highest-paid executives earned more than $14 million total last year. The insurer identified the executives only by number, saying each earned $749,643 to $4,601,226. The top earner was listed as “chief executive officer,” Bodaken’s title.

“It’s a totally out-of-proportion salary for a not-for-profit company,” Jamie Court, president of the Santa Monica group Consumer Watchdog, said of Bodaken’s salary. “This is a salary that would quench the thirst of one of the Fortune 500 companies on Wall Street.” […]

Regardless of the comparisons, a top official with the California Department of Insurance said the release of the Blue Shield salary information was good news for consumers.

“As health insurance rates continue to increase steeply and frequently, there are a large number of policyholders who are shopping around…. Many would like to have a full picture of what insurers are spending their money on,” Deputy Insurance Commissioner Janice Rocco said.


California lawsuit accuses Apple, Google, Adobe, and others of fixing worker pay

A lawsuit filed in California accuses Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar of violating antitrust laws by conspiring to fix employee pay, and agreeing on “no solicitation” deals with one another. Executives from the aforementioned companies “entered into an interconnected web of express agreements to eliminate competition among them for skilled labor,” the suit charges.



GDP and jobless claims reports add to evidence that economy is slowing down

After the release of two statistics this morning, The Wall Street Journal chose the word “murky” to describe the current economic situation. It’s not murky for rank-and-file Americans, 45 million of whom are living off food stamps, millions of whom are losing unemployment compensation benefits over the next few months, most of whom still cannot find work even though a few more are at least getting interviews now.

While job growth has trended steadily upward, it’s been a slog for the many millions still unemployed or working part-time. And here we are in the 41st month since the recession began. Yet some who claim to be on the side of the working classes are still saying be patient, be calm, steady as she goes while viewing with equanimity plans by both political parties to chop government spending and make the situation worse. Not to mention the would-be-funny-if-it-weren’t-so-pathetically-true-to-form Republican “plan” for creating jobs.

Today’s report on last week’s unemployment compensation claims from the Department of Labor and the revised (or rather unrevised) figures on weak first-quarter gross domestic product are not encouraging. Add to that Wednesday’s numbers on orders for durable goods and you have a week of, at best, sluggish economic news.

Start with the new jobless benefit claims. In November 2010, these convincingly broke through a plateau, headed toward a low in February, and held below 400,000 new claims for six of seven weeks. The 400,000 number matters because anything below that has traditionally been seen as meaning that significant job growth is under way, although an argument has been made for a higher number. But new claims hit 424,000 last week, a rise of 10,000 over the previous week, which was revised upward. This was way above the 4000 decrease that a consensus of experts had predicted.

As with all economic statistics, trends matter more than a single data point. So analysts prefer to use the four-week moving average of jobless claims to smooth out volatility in the weekly numbers. No solace can be found there. As can be seen in the chart above, even though the average fell slightly this week, the trend is not good. What it shows, once again, is that the labor market is exceedingly and stubbornly weak even though we are officially in the 23rd month of economic recovery. The trend could change again, of course. Or what we’re seeing could reflect the so-called “new normal.”

The other big statistic released today was the second estimate of the annualized rate of growth in gross domestic product for the first quarter of 2011 from Labor’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. The headline figure for GDP? Still at the same paltry 1.8 percent growth. Once again, the “consensus of experts” missed the mark, having figured there would be an upgrade today to 2.2 percent since the first estimate was released a month ago.

Revisions to the “internals” of the second GDP estimate were mixed. Exports were up, a good thing, but imports were up even more. Demand, final sales, labor compensation and the all-important consumer spending that makes up 70 percent of the economy were all lower than in the first estimate. In fact, the rise in consumer spending in the first quarter was revised from 2.7 percent to just 2.2 percent.

Earlier this year, some economists, including the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke said that GDP growth for the whole year might be north of 4 percent. But those rosy predictions seem extremely optimistic now. Analysts who were predicting 3.5 percent or higher GDP growth for the second quarter of 2011 have since retreated. It would be no surprise to see that figure clock in at 2.5 percent given that gas prices, meager pay increases, the double dip in housing prices and continued high unemployment make it highly possible that consumer spending will fall off.

That could be rough on financially beleaguered state and local governments just when many have been seeing a much-needed rise in tax revenues. Add to that the fact federal spending fell at an annualized rate of 5 percent in the first quarter and the stimulus provided by the Federal Reserve’s bond-buying program will end next month, and the jury-rigged system that was supposed to bring us back to economic health is looking more wobbly than murky.

What does all this mean for anyone looking for a job? Despite the fact the economy has generated 1.8 million new private positions in the past 12 months and some analysts still predict we’ll see 2.3 million added for 2011, the unemployment rate is outrageously high and the damage being caused immense. The too often ignored employment-to-population ratio remains awful.

Instead of this delusional backing off on spending at a time of economic slowdown, the government should be creating jobs—directly—by investing more money now so it can spend less in the future. Instead of lopping $4 trillion off the federal budget over the next decade, we should be directing tax revenue and additional borrowing toward investment in a national infrastructure plan that is heavy on the green stuff.

That investment would pay dividends for decades the same way that investing in the WPA during the Depression and GI Bill after World War II did. That was the answer two-and-a-half years ago, and it’s the answer now. Politically possible then; politically impossible now. But that doesn’t make it any less necessary.


Remember Us?

Jason Muhlhauser lost his job 17 months ago. Washington has all but forgotten about him. Congress is distracted by budget wrangling. The news media has drifted from unemployment to the federal budget deficit, a National Journal analysis found last week. President Obama and Republican leaders can’t agree on how to boost jobs, so they’re doing precious little.

Today in America, 13.7 million women and men are looking for work. Nearly 10 million others want to be working more hours than they are or are too discouraged to even look for a job. Nearly 6 million people—43 percent of those who are unemployed—have been searching for more than 27 weeks. That number includes Muhlhauser, a 37-year-old single father. Before being laid off in December 2009, he worked in the Navistar auto plant in his native Indianapolis. He made “plenty,” he says, to provide for his daughter, Alyssa, who is now 3 years old.

Muhlhauser isn’t giving up. But a new study this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reinforces what economists have been saying for years: The longer a person is out of work, the more likely he or she is to drop out of the workforce entirely.

This week, Muhlhauser shared his job-search story with a reporter. Here it is, as told to NJ:

In high school, I was told to go do something you like to do, and I really liked cars. After high school, I went to Ivy Tech [Community College] and got an associate’s degree in automotive. I was a mechanic at a few dealerships on the southeast side of Indy. My dad worked on the engine side of the Navistar plant. They had lottery drawings for family members. I won the drawing. I started there in September 1997.

It was a union job. I made $21 an hour. I had plenty to provide for my daughter. I was in the melt department, pouring the blocks and heads for the Ford Power Stroke diesel engine. The work was hard, and it was hot, but the surroundings, as far as the people I worked with, it was like family. I had a lot of pride in what
I did. I bought a Ford Power Stroke truck, a black F-250. I still have it. It’s been paid off for five years.

In ’08, Navistar lost its contract with Ford for diesel motors. That was our bread and butter. At that point, we started to realize it was coming to an end. I was laid off in December 2009. I started to collect unemployment. I’m still on extended benefits.

The union worked hard to set up training programs for us. I took some computer classes. I started in an advanced manufacturing program in May 2010. I’ll be done in August. I’ll be trained to operate an advanced [computer numerical control] machine. I might be able to find a job running one for $6 or $7 less per hour than I made at Navistar. The final part of the training program is through Ivy Tech. It’s a little bit of a joke. Sometimes we can’t get instructors; we can’t get rooms. We’re kind of treated like red-headed stepchildren.

Since I lost my job, life has been very stressful. It’s been very hard. I’m not just worried about myself, I’m worried for my daughter. I lost my insurance, so my daughter and I haven’t had insurance. She’s a pretty healthy little girl, thank God. She loves dolls and being outside with her dad. Her mom is working a few hours a week, making minimum wage.

My daughter has a birthday coming up. I’d like to be able to buy her a big old swing set. I can’t do that. I want to just let her be a kid and have fun, you know? She likes to go to Chuck E. Cheese’s, but by the time you’re done there, you’ve spent an arm and a leg, so I can’t do that.

I was supposed to get recalled [to Navistar] next week, but I got a call saying the truck market took a dump, so now it may not be until next year—if then. I might quit school and take a job now, with Alyssa’s mom’s dad. He does sewer readings. It pays probably $10 an hour, no health insurance.

It’s really scary because my unemployment benefits are going to be up in August, so I have to do something. That’s why I may have to take this job. It pays nothing, but I might have to do it.

I used to work 60 hours a week and be fine. Now, I’m just worn out, mentally drained, all the time. I’m sure it’s depression.

I go to church. That helps.

I always think: It could be a whole lot worse. I’m lucky to have what I have.


Workers at an Ohio GM plant who are returning to work after being laid off two years ago share their stories


Tithing Declines With Economy

In the study, released May 10, 77 percent attested to being personally touched by the nation’s financial difficulties. About one-quarter (28 percent) indicated they have been affected in a “major way.”

Following the economic crisis of late 2008, 20 percent of Americans reduced their giving to churches and religious organizations, and 31 percent downsized giving to other nonprofits. Fourteen months later saw a slight improvement in giving trends, but the latest research from Barna, conducted in April 2011, indicates that the numbers of reticent church givers are still hovering at 30 percent. While for the last decade, between 5 and 7 percent of Americans tithed, this number has dropped to 4 percent of the adult population in 2011—significantly lower than last year’s rate  of 7 percent.


The Tax Freeloader Myth

The right-wing talking point that half of all Americans pay no income tax keeps circulating endlessly. Chuck Marr and Brian Highsmith of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities gives it the thorough debunking it so badly deserves. Summary:

  • The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the “Making Work Pay” tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect. Together, these developments removed millions of Americans from the federal income tax rolls. Both of these temporary tax measures have since expired. In a more typical year, 35 percent to 40 percent of households owe no federal income tax. In 2007, the figure was 37.9 percent.
  • The 51 percent figure covers only the federal income tax and ignores the substantial amounts of other federal taxes — especially the payroll tax — that many of these households pay . As a result, it greatly overstates the share of households that do not pay any federal taxes. Data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center show only about 14 percent of households paid neither federal income tax nor payroll tax in 2009, despite the high unemployment and temporary tax cuts that marked that year.
  • This percentage would be even lower if federal excise taxes on gasoline and other items were taken into account.
  • Most of the people who pay neither federal income tax nor payroll taxes are low-income people who are elderly, unable to work due to a serious disability, or students, most of whom subsequently become taxpayers. (In a year like 2009, this group also includes a significant number of people who have been unemployed the entire year and cannot find work.)
  • Moreover, low-income households as a whole do, in fact, pay federal taxes. Congressional Budget Office data show that the poorest fifth of households as a group paid an average of 4 percent of their incomes in federal taxes in 2007 (the latest year for which these data are available), not an insignificant amount given how modest these households’ incomes are — the poorest fifth of households had average income of $18,400 in 2007. The next-to-the bottom fifth — those with incomes between $20,500 and $34,300 in 2007 — paid an average of 10 percent of their incomes in federal taxes.
  • Even these figures understate low-income households’ total tax burden, because these households also pay substantial state and local taxes. Data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy show that the poorest fifth of households paid a stunning 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2010.
  • When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account,the bottom fifth of households paid 16.3 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average, in 2010. The second-poorest fifth paid 20.7 percent.

It’s worth pulling out the part about state and local taxes. Our federal system devolves a significant share of government responsibility to state and local government, which overall charge higher tax rates to the poor than to the rich:

You need a progressive federal tax system merely to compensate for the regressivity of state and local taxes. And, of course, conservative politicians at the state and local level favor the most regressive tax systems, and conservative politicians at the federal level favor devolving more federal functions to the state and local level, where they’ll be funded by regressive rather than progressive taxation.




Betsy De Vos Uses Astroturf Group “American Federation of Children” to Push Vouchers

When you’re a billionaire woman in a billionaire man’s world, the best way to get attention sometimes is to out-boy the boys.  That’s what Betsy Devos’s of All Children Matter fame did a few years back when the astroturf group run by Amway’s exploitation queen pumped tens, maybe hundreds, of millions of illegal dollars into the 2006 election pushing corporate education reform (vouchers and charters).

In fact, she was nailed by the Ohio Election Commission, which handed a $5.2 million fine to the sister of the dark Eric Prince of Blackwater fame (now building in the UAE mercenary armies for hire to the despots of the Middle East whenever the urge for democracy needs to be crushed).

Now Betsy has a new astroturf group called the American Federation of Children (get it?) that she uses to front the revival of school vouchers.  With the containment vessel’s lid blown off of political contributions by the Citizens United Decision and by the creation of Super Predators Pacs, Betsy is on a roll again, sending money any place she can find legislators or governors for sale on privatization issues close to that thing is in her chest that pumps blood.

Betsy’s most reliable client right now has to be Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and the Keystone State’s corporate-controlled State Legislature, where back room deals and under the table exchanges have pushed the school voucher back to the center of the table for those who would have have been reformers during the 1960s when the school voucher became the school reform choice for segregationists hoping to escape the mandate of the Brown Decision.  That bit of history does not stop these antiquarian relics from clinging to the reformer label.



Bowing To Koch Pressure, Chris Christie Announces Plan To Withdraw From Successful Climate Initiative

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to kill New Jersey’s participation in the nation’s first successful carbon trading program. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a ten-state climate and clean energy program that has reduced emissions and brought tens of millions of dollars to New Jersey ratepayers. Following a multi-million-dollar campaign to derail RGGI by the Koch front group Americans for Prosperity, Christie today called RGGI a “gimmicky” program that is “nothing more than a tax on electricity.”

But in a 2008 campaign ad, Christie said, “I will be New Jersey’s number-one clean-energy advocate.” He explicitly embraced President Obama’s climate and clean energy goals, which included a national cap-and-trade system for clean energy investment.[…]

Christie has now joined Tea Party opposition to Obama’s clean-energy policy to the detriment of programs he once supported. In his press conference today, Christie said he didn’t want to “overplay” the benefits to ratepayers because “we’re not talking about a huge difference.”

In fact, in addition to reducing New Jersey’s emissions by around 80,000 tons per year, this “gimmicky” program brought back $29.6 million to New Jersey ratepayers in 2010, supporting enough clean electricity to supply 20,000 homes. A new progress report out from RGGI shows that for every dollar invested by the program, states have gotten $3 to $4 in benefits.

“There’s only one thing you need to do in order to pull out of RGGI – ignore all the tangible, clean energy benefits. That’s it,” said the Conservation Law Foundation’s Seth Kaplan to Think Progress. “Christie’s had a good record in the past. The only reason to pull out now would be to score some ideological political points.”

New Jersey follows three other states – Delaware, Maine and New Hampshire – that have considered pulling out of RGGI. Resisting the polluting influence of Koch-backed lobbying and media campaigns, all those states decided to remain in the program because of the proven, positive benefits to ratepayers and businesses.



Squandering Medicare’s Money

Apart from the politics, though, Medicare’s financing challenges are worsening: this month, Medicare’s trustees projected that the insurance program would become insolvent by 2024, five years earlier than previously estimated.

Much has been said about the growing gap between the program’s spending and revenues — a gap that will widen as baby boomers retire — but little attention has been focused on a problem staring us in the face: Medicare spends a fortune each year on procedures that have no proven benefit and should not be covered. Examples abound:

• Medicare pays for routine screening colonoscopies in patients over 75 even though the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of experts financed by the Department of Health and Human Services, advises against them (and against any colonoscopies for patients over 85), because it takes at least eight years to realize any benefits from the procedure. Moreover, colonoscopies carry risks of serious complications (like perforations) and often lead to further unnecessary procedures (like biopsies). In 2009, Medicare paid doctors more than $100 million for nearly 550,000 screening colonoscopies; around 40 percent were for patients over 75.

• The task force recommends against screening for prostate cancer in men 75 and older, and screening for cervical cancer in women 65 and older who have had a previous normal Pap smear, but Medicare spent more than $50 million in 2008 on such screenings, as well as additional money on unnecessary procedures that often follow.

• Two recent randomized trials found that patients receiving two popular procedures for vertebral fractures, kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty, experienced no more relief than those receiving a sham procedure. Besides being ineffective, these procedures carry considerable risks. Nevertheless, Medicare pays for 100,000 of these procedures a year, at a cost of around $1 billion.

• Multiple clinical trials have shown that cardiac stents are no more effective than drugs or lifestyle changes in preventing heart attacks or death. Although some studies have shown that stents provide short-term relief of chest pain, up to 30 percent of patients receiving stents have no chest pain to begin with, and thus derive no more benefit from this invasive procedure than from equally effective and far less expensive medicines. Risks associated with stent implantation, meanwhile, include exposure to radiation and to dyes that can damage the kidneys, and in rare cases, death from the stent itself. Yet one study estimated that Medicare spends $1.6 billion on drug-coated stents (the most common type of cardiac stents) annually.

• A recent study found that one-fifth of all implantable cardiac defibrillators were placed in patients who, according to clinical guidelines, will not benefit from them. But Medicare pays for them anyway, at a cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per device implantation.

The full extent of Medicare payments for procedures with no known benefit needs to be quantified. But the estimates are substantial. The chief actuary for Medicare estimates that 15 percent to 30 percent of health care expenditures are wasteful. Medicare spending exceeded $500 billion in 2010, suggesting that $75 billion to $150 billion could be cut without reducing needed services.

Why does Medicare spend so much for procedures and devices on patients who get no benefit and incur risks from them?

One reason is that Medicare’s reimbursement procedures are not sophisticated enough to track the appropriateness of the care provided. Medicare delegates its claims administration to private local contractors based on how quickly and cheaply they can process claims.

These contractors have few incentives to audit the taxpayer dollars they are paying out, and even if they wanted to, they would need information often not available on the claim form. For example, a claims administrator, processing a claim for a screening colonoscopy, does not know when the patient’s last colonoscopy was, or whether there was a new clinical reason for repeating it. While this information is available, finding it would require extra steps, and there are no incentives to do so.

Moreover, denying payment after a procedure is performed invites the wrath of both patient and physician. Medicare and private insurers are also keen to avoid situations that could be viewed as telling doctors how to practice medicine — even if such advice is in the patient’s best interest. The political sensitivity of limiting services based on age, for example, was illustrated by the uproar over the Preventive Services Task Force’s finding two years ago that women in their 40s do not benefit from routine mammography.

Another factor is the shocking chasm between Medicare coverage and clinical evidence. Our medical culture is such that if the choice is between doing a test and not doing one, it is considered better care to do the test. So while Medicare is obligated to follow the task force’s recommendations to cover new preventive services, it has no similar mandate to deny coverage for services for which the task force has found no benefit.

Changing the system would be relatively easy administratively, but would require a firm commitment to determining whether tests and procedures truly benefit patients before performing them. Unfortunately, in a political environment in which doctors providing end-of-life counseling are called death panels, and in which powerful constituencies seek to preserve an ever-increasing array of procedures and device sales, this solution remains hidden in plain view.

Of course, doctors, with the consent of their patients, should be free to provide whatever care they agree is appropriate. But when the procedure arising from that judgment, however well intentioned, is not supported by evidence, the nation’s taxpayers should have no obligation to pay for it.

Rita F. Redberg, a cardiologist, is a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and the editor of Archives of Internal Medicine.


Medicare and Mediscares


Yes, Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is a sore loser. Why do you ask?

To be sure, Mr. Ryan had reason to be upset after Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District. It’s a very conservative district, so much so that last year the Republican candidate took 76 percent of the vote. Yet on Tuesday, Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, took the seat, with a campaign focused squarely on Mr. Ryan’s plan to dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher system.

How did Ms. Hochul pull off this upset? The Wisconsin congressman blamed Democrats’ willingness to “shamelessly distort and demagogue the issue, trying to scare seniors to win an election,” and he predicted that by November of next year “the American people are going to know they’ve been lied to.”

You can understand Mr. Ryan’s bitterness. He has, after all, experienced quite a comedown over the course of the past seven weeks. Until his Medicare plan was rolled out in early April he had spent months bathing in warm approbation from many pundits, who had decided to anoint him as an icon of fiscal responsibility. And the plan itself received rapturous praise in the first couple of days after its release.

Then people who actually know how to read a budget proposal started looking at the plan. And that’s when everything started to fall apart.

Mr. Ryan may claim — and he may even believe — that he’s facing a backlash because his opponents are lying about his proposals. But the reality is that the Ryan plan is turning into a political disaster for Republicans, not because the plan’s critics are lying about it, but because they’re describing it accurately.

Take, for example, the statement that the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. This may have Republicans screaming “Mediscare!” but it’s the absolute truth: The plan would replace our current system, in which the government pays major health costs, with a voucher system, in which seniors would, in effect, be handed a coupon and told to go find private coverage.

The new program might still be called Medicare — hey, we could replace government coverage of major expenses with an allowance of two free aspirins a day, and still call it “Medicare” — but it wouldn’t be the same program. And if the cost estimates of the Congressional Budget Office are at all right, the inadequate size of the vouchers — which by 2030 would cover only about a third of seniors’ health costs — would leave many if not most older Americans unable to afford essential care.

If anyone is lying here, it’s Mr. Ryan himself, who has claimed that his plan would give seniors the same kind of coverage that members of Congress receive — an assertion that is completely false.

And, by the way, the claim that the plan would keep Medicare as we know it intact for Americans currently 55 or older is highly dubious. True, that’s what the plan promises, but if you think about the political dynamics that would emerge once Americans born a year or two too late realize how much better a deal slightly older Americans are getting, you realize that this is a promise unlikely to be fulfilled.

Still, are Democrats doing a bad thing by telling the truth about the Ryan plan? “If you demagogue entitlement reform,” says Mr. Ryan, “you’re hastening a debt crisis; you’re bringing about Medicare’s collapse.” Maybe he should have a word with his colleagues who greeted the modest, realistic cost control efforts in the Affordable Care Act with cries of “death panels.”

Anyway, the underlying premise behind statements like that is the assumption that the Ryan plan represents a serious effort to come to grip with America’s long-run fiscal problems. But what became clear soon after that plan was unveiled was that it was no such thing. In fact, it wasn’t really a deficit-reduction plan. Once you remove the absurd assumptions — discretionary spending, including defense, falling to Calvin Coolidge levels, and huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, with no loss in revenue? — it’s highly questionable whether it would reduce the deficit at all.

What the Ryan plan is, instead, is an attempt to snooker Americans into accepting a standard right-wing wish list under the guise of deficit reduction. And Americans, it seems, have seen through the deception.

So what happens now? The fight will shift from Medicare to Medicaid — a program that has become an essential lifeline for many Americans, especially children, but which in the Ryan plan is slated for a 44 percent cut in federal aid over the next decade. At this point, however, I’m optimistic that this initiative will also run aground on popular disapproval.

What of Mr. Ryan’s hope that voters will realize that they’ve been lied to? Well, as I see it, that’s already happening. And it’s bad news for the G.O.P.




Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans are the nation’s largest Hispanic country-of-origin groups.

Pew Hispanic Center:



James O’Keefe not protected by First Amendment, has to stand trial in CA

I recently posted about ACORN-hating fraud and parolee James O’Keefe and how a judge grounded him in Joisey.

If you’re not familiar with the little brat, he had his sick idea of fun with NPR; he stuck his greedy, grimy little hand out for donations; avoided the very same cameras he feels free to turn on others; squirmed out of more serious charges thanks to connections; and did his level best to punk a CNN correspondent.

What a perfect person for Andrew Breitbart to pal around with.

But back to being grounded:

Since O’Keefe is on probation for tampering with the phones in Senator Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans district office, he has to get judicial approval to travel outside New Jersey, where he resides with his family. In a ruling yesterday, Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Knowles, III denied O’Keefe’s motion to make seven trips outside the Garden State between May 20 and July 5.

Knowles’s order does not detail his reasons for vetoing the 26-year-old O’Keefe’s motion.

Poor New Jersey! They’re stuck with him unless he’s given permission to leave.

Looks like he’s got even more woes. As an email buddy summed it up, “Now he has to stand trial in California in a civil suit as well, having lost his claim that it is protected First Amendment speech.”

Well, at least he’ll get out of town for awhile. Via Courthouse News Service:

The First Amendment does not protect the conduct of two conservative activists who secretly filmed an employee of the national community organizing group Acorn, a federal judge ruled.[…]

[U.S Judge M. James] Lorenz also rejected O’Keefe’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, in which he argued that First Amendment protections for journalists supersede the California Privacy Act. Since there was a mutual understanding that the conversation was confidential, Lorenz found that the privacy law “is not an overbroad intrusion on exposé newsgathering in which O’Keefe participates.

Don’tcha hate when that happens?

See, Fake Jimmy Olsen, you aren’t protected by the U.S. Constitution (the one you seem to know very little about) when you intrude on the privacy of others in your nasty little efforts to destroy them.

ACORN, which has been vindicated of all wrongdoing, this post is dedicated to you.


How are they going to make Jared Lee Loughner fit to stand trial?

With drugs. A competent defendant must be able to understand the proceedings against him and to cooperate with his lawyer, according to the 1960 Supreme Court decision in Dusky v. United States. Two experts have diagnosed Loughner as a schizophrenic, a condition that can prevent a defendant from meeting these criteria. When a defendant is ordered into a treatment program, he may receive some education about the trial process and talk therapy, but anti-psychotic drugs are by far the most common and most effective treatment.

If Loughner refuses to take the drugs—which have quite a few severe side effects, such as muscle spasms and blurred vision—the government could try to force the issue. One way would be to show that an unmedicated Loughner is a safety risk to himself or other inmates. The Supreme Court has also allowed the government to medicate incompetent defendants against their will if the feds can demonstrate four things: a compelling reason for medicating, a good chance the drugs will work, proof that the drugs are necessary, and a lack of other options. Involuntary medication doesn’t always mean the inmate receives forced injections or has pills shoved down his throat; often he’ll simply agree to take the drugs after a court rules that he must.

Why does Loughner get four months to regain competency? Because that’s about how long it takes for the drugs to improve psychotic symptoms. A bit more time might be useful: Studies find that around 75 percent of incompetent defendants are restored to competency within six months, but initial treatment periods in federal cases are limited by the U.S. Code to four. (Federal courts can extend treatment if it’s showing promise. Most state courts allow for initial treatments of three to six months.) Defendants deemed to have no chance of regaining competence are supposed to be released or committed to a nonprison psychiatric ward. At that point, the government can decide whether to drop the charges or to keep them in place in case the patient regains competency. In high-stakes cases, though, the government can continue to treat the inmate for many years while the charges remain in place. Paranoid schizophrenic Russell Eugene Weston Jr., for instance, has been held at the Butner Federal Correctional Institution in North Carolina for more than a decade, as the government tries to render him fit to stand trial for the killing of two Capitol Police officers in 1998.

Some defendants tend to regain competency quicker than others. Defendants with psychoses like schizophrenia return to trial after re-evaluation more often than those with mental retardation. In practice, defendants with severe criminal records and current charges are more likely to be found competent after treatment than others, at least according to a study conducted in Alabama. Still, mental health professionals have a difficult time predicting whether an individual defendant’s competency can be restored. A 1984 study asked mental health professionals to predict the defendants whose competency could be restored. Nearly a quarter of the defendants they chose failed to regain competency.




Ladies and Gentlemen, Our New Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff!


The backstory on how Dempsey was in, Cartwright out for chairman of the Joint Chiefs



American Bridge: the new Democratic oppo shop

When Tim Pawlenty confused Iraq with Iran during a press availability in Washington, it wasn’t a rival 2012 Republican campaign or Democratic Party operative who caught the mistake and blasted out a transcript to reporters on Thursday.

It was a tracker for American Bridge 21st Century, the outside independent expenditure group founded by David Brock, the force behind the left-wing Media Matters.

If you’re wondering where all the footage for Democratic attack ads will come from, look no further. For 2012, American Bridge will be the Democrats’ unofficial opposition research wing.

Initially billed as a massive Democratic group that would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat Republican candidates in 2012, American Bridge has scaled back and reorganized following the launch of Priorities USA, the independent expenditure group headed by Obama White House veterans. Their new goal: build a comprehensive video library for Democratic ad makers to use to defeat Republican House and Senate candidates — and, of course, the eventual Republican presidential nominee.

“We will definitely have the biggest research and tracking shop in politics,” said Chris Harris, a spokesman for the group.

American Bridge’s tracking arm is led by Kelli Farr, who worked with Harris at Progressive Accountability, a similar but much smaller tracking effort that operated during the 2008 campaign. Her title is “tracking director” — and as recently as last week she was advertising on left-wing job boards for more trackers to hire.

Leading the overall effort is Rodell Mollineau, who until recently ran the Democratic communications war room in the Senate for Majority Leader Harry Reid.

American Bridge already has trackers on the ground in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida — and in New Hampshire, where a rugby shirt-clad American Bridge tracker followed Jon Huntsman for four days of his retail campaign swing through the state. The only other tracker on the trip was from the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

They’ve started so early in the process for a reason.

“Now, when they’re pandering to their base, is when they’ll say the things that eventually the nominee will be distancing themselves from,” Harris explained. “It’s crucial that we capture everything they say so their record is on videotape.”

Or, perhaps, another macaca moment, like the one captured by a tracker for Jim Webb’s 2006 Senate campaign, sinking George Allen’s re-election.

American Bridge wouldn’t say just how many trackers they are planning to send on the trail — but they’re going to make sure that their trackers know more than just how to work a video camera.

“We’ll have trained, politically savvy trackers based in and/or dispatched to every state with key presidential primaries or competitive Senate races,” Harris said. “These aren’t just college kids with flip cams. These are political operatives who know what they’re doing and can instantly decipher what’s important and how it will impact a given race.”

They learned the ropes, Harris said, from American Crossroads’ effort in the 2010 election and that group’s coordination with other independent expenditure groups like the American Action Network. While outside groups aren’t allowed to coordinate with candidates or with political parties, they are free to work with each other — and the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United will allow corporations to donate unlimited sums of money to help them with their goals.

“We’re looking at what they did, seeing what works,” Harris said, “and trying to do it even better than they did going forward.”


DCCC Chair: Democrats Can Win House Majority

On the heels of a Democratic upset victory Tuesday in a special election in New York’s 26th District, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel told reporters Thursday morning for the first time that he believes the control of the House is in play for Democrats this cycle.

“Today, I can tell you that I fundamentally believe the House of Representatives is in play and that the Democrats can win a majority in 2012,” Israel said.

Israel based his assessment on combination of factors, including Democrat Kathy Hochul’s victory in NY-26, recruiting, fundraising and mobilization.

“I am not saying that we will win. Yet,” Israel continued. […]

“The victory in NY-26 will inform our strategy, it will not be our strategy,” said Israel. […]

Appearing alongside Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray on Thursday, Israel characterized the NY-26 race as a “shot in the arm,” but he emphasized Thursday that Democrats will be on offense with a message of protecting Medicare. […]

On Wednesday, Bill Clinton urged Democrats to cut a “reasonable” deal with Republicans on Medicare savings instead of concluding “that we shouldn’t do anything.”

“Quite honestly, I think some are trying to create a disagreement where there is no disagreement,” Israel said. “Bill Clinton and Democrats have consistently said that we will enter into a responsible, constructive negotiation with Republicans on how to improve Medicare, straighten Medicare and reform Medicare. We will not negotiate an end to Medicare.”


GOP vows to improve Medicare message

Feeling they have gained momentum from the race, Democrats promised Wednesday to keep up the pressure on the GOP by continuing their attack on Ryan’s blueprint, which only four House Republicans opposed on the floor.

Publicly, Republicans on Wednesday offered support for Ryan’s budget while echoing Cole’s argument that they needed to do a better job of fighting off Democratic attacks.

“I think we need to be stronger in marketing who we are and our message, and not just Medicare but in every aspect — with the jobs situation, with the economy, with national security. That’s what we need to do,” freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said.

West said he was not worried about losing elderly voters in his south Florida district, noting that he had been holding regular town-hall meetings since his election.

“When you continue to talk to people and keep them informed, then there are no surprises,” he said.

But behind the scenes, several sources reported grumbling.

One source familiar with the internal discussions over the Ryan budget plan described members as frustrated that their leadership failed to prepare them for the outrage they have heard from constituents in their districts over the Medicare changes.

“Members know that you don’t piss off senior citizens, and they know that this was handled badly, that there was no messaging, that Ryan’s not making his case and they are all looking down the road thinking, ‘Oh my God, it’s coming,’ ” the source said.

A separate GOP lawmaker, who faces a tough reelection race, told The Hill that there’s been talk of revisiting the Ryan Medicare plan. “How serious it is … don’t know,” the lawmaker said.

But a GOP official involved in the discussions told The Hill that the House Republican leadership absolutely cannot revisit the Ryan Medicare plan “or the Tea Party will kill them.”

Republicans who have criticized the Medicare reforms have themselves come under attack. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (Ga.) presidential campaign nearly imploded after he described Ryan’s proposal as right-wing social engineering. Gingrich later apologized and on Wednesday defended the Ryan plan.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) voted against the Ryan budget on Wednesday after criticizing it earlier in the week. His criticism met with scorn from Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who said Brown should be ashamed of himself.

Former House GOP policy chairman Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) said that he’s heard of some bickering “at a higher level than the average member.” Rank-and-file lawmakers, he said, “just want to know what happened.”

McCotter said the National Republican Congressional Committee would have post-election statistics shortly to determine whether Medicare was, in fact, the decisive issue in NY-26.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the GOP policy committee chairman, said Medicare likely played a role in the race, but insisted Republicans remain firmly behind the Ryan plan.

“We have a high level of enthusiasm for the budget, and we’ll continue to have it,” Hensarling said.

The GOP leadership official congratulated Democrats on the election. “They won, we lost,” he said. But he warned them against overreacting to the victory.

“I remember a three-way race in a Democrat district that we won in Hawaii that we didn’t keep too long,” Hensarling said, referring to a special-election victory by Rep. Charles Djou (R) in 2010. Djou lost his seat after six months.

A frustrated Ryan accused Democrats of distorting his plan.

“The Medicare takeaway from this is that Democrats are happy to shamelessly distort and demagogue the issue to try and scare seniors to win an election,” Ryan told reporters off the House floor.

“We have a year and a half for the truth to come out, and when it does, the American people are going to know they’ve been lied to. I think we’ll be doing very well. If you demagogue entitlement reform, you’re hastening the debt crisis. You’re bringing about Medicare’s collapse.”

Some Republicans rallied around Ryan’s message that the budget had been unfairly tarred.

“Paul Ryan is right: The Democrats are wrong to use scare tactics,” said Rep. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.). “They’re scaring old people, and it’s disgusting.”


Budget tactics divide Senate GOP

Senate Republicans are scrambling to regain the political edge in the budget debate, with internal divisions surfacing over policy and tactics in the wake of a House special election loss in New York.

The tensions spilled out at a closed-door lunch this week in the ornate Lyndon B. Johnson room of the Capitol.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint expressed frustrations that Senate Republican leaders have failed to publicly lay out a specific set of demands as a condition for increasing the national debt ceiling. But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had heard enough, scolding DeMint for pushing a strategy he believed could undercut his Arizona colleague, Whip Jon Kyl, who is engaged in closed-door bipartisan talks to cut a deficit deal with the White House, according to four people in the room.

Adding to the private consternation, five Republicans broke with their party Wednesday, voting against Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial budget plan, which had emerged as a central issue in the New York race.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear that he wouldn’t twist arms and pressure his colleagues to vote for the Ryan plan, and McConnell reportedly told his colleagues that he warned House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of the political risks in proposing a major Medicare overhaul as part of the Ryan budget, sources said.

The Senate GOP’s internal debate speaks to the broader political dilemma now facing Republicans on both sides of the Capitol: They have dominated the deficit issue since the 2010 election season and are now struggling to get back on offense. At a closed-door Wednesday lunch, Senate Republicans said they agreed they still need to “aggressively” tackle Medicare, believing that is the only way to control the spiraling costs of health care that are contributing heavily to the $14.3 trillion national debt.

And Republicans roundly dismissed reading too much into the House loss, saying a third-party candidate contributed to Democrat Kathy Hochul’s win and that voters would eventually punish Democrats if they failed to produce a budget plan of their own.

“Try to keep it to two candidates,” Kyl said of his takeaway of the House race.

But following the collapse of the Ryan plan in the Senate and the loss of a House race where the Medicare overhaul emerged as a major issue, how the GOP repositions itself in the budget debate will have enormous stakes for a party that campaigned on cutting deficits in 2010.

Republican leaders have placed their faith behind Kyl and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to reach a deal for their party as part of bipartisan talks being led by Vice President Joe Biden to raise the national debt ceiling while enacting trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

“If you’ve made that vote, … then you’ve got to get out there and aggressively get on offense and explain it to the American people,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday ahead of his vote to advance the Ryan plan. “I think part of the problem right now is we’ve made that vote and they’re starting to launch grenades at us and everyone is starting to duck and run for cover. And I don’t think that’s the way you engage in a fight.”

But with the Ryan plan now off the table, some rank-and-file Senate Republicans are growing anxious about what comes next — and want to exert themselves more in the debate to show what they stand for. Presenting a new challenge for McConnell, some senators are weary of watching House Republicans drive the debate while they sit on the sidelines, as was the case during the fight in April to avert a government shutdown.

“I think it’s important in any negotiation to put your demands on the table and, in this case, to make it very public,” DeMint told POLITICO. At the very least, DeMint said, Republicans must demand a constitutional balanced-budget amendment as a condition for voting on the debt ceiling hike.

McConnell has spoken in generalities about his demands for the debt ceiling increase, saying the party must do something “significant” to reform entitlement programs as well as cut spending deeply. If Democrats reach a deal with the GOP on Medicare cuts, it would largely take the Ryan plan off the table as a major wedge issue, some top Republicans believe.

In an interview, McCain downplayed his disagreement with DeMint at the Tuesday lunch, saying his comments were addressed broadly to the entire Republican Conference — not directly to the South Carolina conservative.

“I expressed my confidence in Jon [Kyl] and his record to do a very excellent job,” McCain said Wednesday. “I respect everyone’s views and thoughts on these issues, and I expressed mine — I wasn’t speaking about any particular individual.”

At a Wednesday lunch, Republicans said they weren’t panicking over the special election loss — but they recognize they must continue to aggressively push to reform Medicare, attendees later said.

Senate Republicans argue that the best way to fend off the attacks that they’re “ending Medicare as we know it” is to make the case that their proposals would “save” Medicare — while Democrats are content with leaving the program on the brink of collapse.

“Any candidate who doesn’t deal with Medicare is going to have to explain how they let the country go bankrupt,” said Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the Senate GOP’s message man. “Any candidate who does deal with Medicare is going to have to explain why it saves Medicare.”

But the fight over Medicare has become central to the fight over the budget deficit. The House budget would have converted Medicare into a “premium support” model, giving consumers a government-funded voucher to help buy a private but Medicare-approved insurance plan. But it wouldn’t take effect for at least 10 years, keeping the current Medicare program in place for Americans in the system now or those over 55.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Wednesday that the GOP will need to figure out how selling Medicare changes “can be done more effectively.”

“From my perspective, there are two elements of winning the argument: No. 1, you have to be right on the merits. And No. 2, you have to have the courage and ability to articulate it in a way that people find persuasive.”

But if they cut a deal on Medicare that doesn’t go far enough in cutting deficits, they are certain to infuriate their party’s right wing.

“The tea party is a big influence, and you better have them on your side if you want to win,” said freshman conservative Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. “That means Republicans need to be more true to their principles.”


Proof-positive that Paul Ryan is SATAN


Democrats Promise to Keep Up Medicare Attacks Through 2012

“The victory in New York 26 will inform our strategy,” Israel told reporters. “It will not be our strategy.”
Israel adopted a tone similar to John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, promising that, “We will take the fight to those districts, no matter how high the odds, no matter how steep the climb. We will, as Democrats, take the fight almost anywhere in America to protect Medicare: East Coast, West Coast, Lake Eerie.”

Israel hammered home three points: Democrats are recruiting good candidates, the DCCC is out-raising the National Republican Congressional Committee even though the GOP is in the majority and the party apparatus for mobilization is strong, which he called “a critical element for taking the House back.”
Israel told reporters that earlier this month 43 recruits visited Washington. After Hochul’s win, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) “made 50 calls to our top 50 recruits,” he said.

He explained that, “Republicans spent $3.4 million to lose on the air. Kathy Hochul and Democrats beat them on the ground. We won New York 26 in good old-fashioned street campaigning and mobilization.”
Israel also noted the importance of independent voters in the Hochul race and said that independents were part of the reason he was saying the House was in play.

Murray criticized the GOP for saying they would focus on jobs and the economy but instead focusing on “changing Medicare as we know it today in order to protect the wealthiest Americans and tax cut subsidies for oil companies.”


Fox keeping Palin on payroll

The political world might be reading today’s announcement of Sarah Palin’s national bus tour as a clear step toward a presidential run, but Fox News doesn’t see it that way.

The network, which kicked Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum off the air over their presidential intentions, is keeping Palin as a contributor for the time being.

“We are not changing Sarah Palin’s status,” Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming for Fox News, said in a statement Thursday to the Los Angeles Times.


Senate Passes PATRIOT Act Extension


Inhofe: Obama embraces “the ones who want to kill us”

Wonkbook: Why did Senate Republicans vote for Ryan’s plan?

Ezra Klein:

The big story isn’t that Ryan’s budget failed in the Senate. It’s that it only lost the votes of five Republican senators. That’s a remarkable show of party unity on behalf of a budget that can’t pass, is deeply unpopular, and is largely blamed for the GOP’s defeat in New York’s 26th district. That’s a lot more political information than House Republicans had when they passed the budget. But it didn’t change the Senate vote at all.

Perhaps Senate Republicans really, truly believe in Ryan’s framework. But since it’s not passing, and about 40 of the Republicans who voted for the budget expressed interest in modifying it or finding an alternative, it seems difficult to hang this one entirely on conviction. More likely is that most Senate Republicans are, for the moment, more afraid of their base than of their voters. The general electorate might not like Ryan’s budget, but Republican primary voters — or at least the organizations that are assumed to represent Republican primary voters — love it. Grover Norquist is trying to train 150,000 activists to make the pitch for the plan. “The challenge will be to teach each of our activists to deliver the Ryan speech,” he said. American for Prosperity, the group most associated with the Tea Party successes in the 2010 cycle, whipped yesterday’s Senate vote. And remember what happened to poor Newt Gingrich?

For Democrats, of course, this is perhaps the best of all possible worlds. The Ryan plan won’t pass, so they don’t need to worry about it actually becoming law, but almost every Republican incumbent Republican has voted for it, making it a legitimate campaign issue in races all across the country. For elected Republicans, conversely, the upside is harder to discern: they’re taking a huge political risk, but one with no chance of a policy payoff. But for them, the risk of not voting for the Ryan plan outweighed the risk of voting for the Ryan plan, which is testament to the tremendous and continuing power of the conservative base.

Five in the morning

1) Ryancare failed in the Senate, report Paul Kane, Amy Goldstein, and Peter Wallsten: “Senate Republicans on Wednesday stood by a GOP plan to transform Medicare, one day after the party lost a conservative House district in Upstate New York amid a strong effort by Democrats to make that proposal the central issue. The measure was defeated in the Democratic-run Senate on Wednesday. But the unity among Republicans — with only five out of 47 voting against it — served as an important sign that party leaders remain wedded to a deficit-reduction plan that is a loyalty test for many GOP voters but is widely unpopular, according to polls…Still, signs of unease about Ryan’s approach remain within the party…Even some of the 40 senators who voted for it openly discussed their interest in finding alternatives.”



House Ways and Means chair David Camp is reassuring Wall Street the debt limit will be raised, reports Ben White: “House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has been working the phones in conversations with top banking executives to explain the politics of next week’s planned debt limit vote in the House, sources tell POLITICO. The vote will be on a measure to raise the $14.29 trillion debt limit with no spending cuts. With the GOP majority and many Democrats opposing this ‘clean vote’ approach, it will fail. But Camp has made the case to Wall Street that the vote is just a political marker intended to make clear that significant cuts will be required to get an increase through by August, when emergency measure run out and markets could begin to take possible default more seriously.”

Forget Paul Ryan, appropriations chair Hal Rogers is the real GOP hatchet man, writes Suzy Khimm: “Two weeks ago, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, made the GOP’s next big move to slash spending for social programs. In a little-noticed proposal, Rogers detailed how the GOP wants to inflict the pain of more than $1 trillion in unspecified discretionary spending cuts contained in Ryan’s 2012 budget, which passed the House in April…Under his proposal, the poor and the working class will be hardest-hit. On Tuesday, Rogers kicked off the GOP’s budget-cutting party in the House, deciding which programs should pay the price. Rogers has focused on capping labor, health, and education spending at $139 billion–$18 billion less than the 2011 budget and $41 billion below what President Obama proposed in his own 2012 budget.” […]

Health Care […]

Paul Ryan is getting a taste of his own demagogic medicine, writes Dana Milbank: “Democrats and, particularly, liberal activists, are engaged in some shameless demagoguery (one group’s ad shows a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman and her wheelchair off a cliff). And Ryan is well qualified to call out shameless demagoguery and scare tactics: Over the past two years, he has practiced both. Speaking on the House floor in 2009, he said the Democrats’ health-care legislation would ‘take coverage away from seniors,’ ‘raise premiums for families’ and ‘cost us nearly 5.5 million jobs.’ Later, he said the health plan would bring about government ‘rationing’ of health care. He also labeled the plan ‘a government takeover of our healthcare system’ claimed America was at a ‘tipping point’ toward a ‘European social welfare state,’ and gave a wink to the “death panel” allegations. His suggestion that the legislation would result in the IRS getting ‘16,000 agents’ to police the health-care law was knocked down as ‘wildly inaccurate’ by”


The Top 30 contributors to Paul Ryan’s Campaign

Northwestern Mutual


Harris Association


American Family Insurance


Aurora Health Care


Credit Union National Association


Select Medical Holdings




Abbott Laboratories


Caterpillar Incorporated


Credit Suisse Group


ESOP Association


Investment Company Institute


New York Life Insurance


Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance


Kinetic Company


Aetna Incorporated


American Association of Orthodontists


American Association of Orthapaedic Surgeons


Associated General Contractors


AT&T Incorporated


Blue Cross/Blue Shield


Boeing Company


Carpenters and Joiners Union


Comcast Corporation


Deere and Company


Home Depot


Honeywell International


Humana Incorporated


Indep Insurance Agents and Brokers of America


Koch Industries


Source: OpenSecrets.Org


Koch Industries and ExxonMobil Among Hundreds of PACs to Switch Party Allegiances After Election 2010

In an election year where more congressional incumbents were ousted from power than any time since 1948, political action committees were quick to switch allegiances from one party to the other in the aftermath of the historic Democratic losses.

A total of 352 PACs in 53 U.S. House races and two U.S. Senate races gave money to incumbents prior to Election Day only to begin funding the winning challengers immediately after their preferred candidates went down to defeat, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s double the number of PACs that flipped support following the 2008 election.

Those 352 PACs gave a combined $6.9 million to these incumbents prior to the election and contributed a combined $3.07 million to the successful challengers afterward, according to the Center’s analysis of campaign finance reports primarily through the first quarter.

Of these PACs, 39 actually gave more to the winner than they originally gave to the defeated incumbents. Meanwhile, 40 PACs have given an equal amount. And oil and gas industry giant Koch Industries has made the biggest U-turn in contributions since Election Day, according to the Center’s analysis.

Two other energy companies — Chesapeake Energy and ExxonMobil — are close on the heels of Koch Industries among PACs that have contributed more since Election Day to politicians whose opponents they backed before the election.


House GOP Fights To Keep Federal Contractors’ Donations Secret

Republicans are working on multiple fronts to stop President Barack Obama from making companies bidding on federal contracts disclose their donations to third-party political groups.

The chairmen of the House Oversight Committee and the Small Business Committee have introduced legislation that would ban the federal government from collecting or using information about the political expenditures of federal contractors, allowing them to keep their political donations to third party groups secret. Yesterday, the House passed an amendment to the 2012 defense bill which would prevent federal agencies from collecting such data. […]

A companion bill is being introduced in the Senate by Susan Collins (R-ME), Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH).

Center for Competitive Politics President Sean Parnell called Cole’s amendment to the defense bill a “strong rebuke to the executive branch’s effort to bring politics into the federal contracting process and enable the creation of a Nixon-style Enemies List.” […]

Here’s a rundown of what’s in the bill, per a joint press release:

• Prohibit a federal agency from collecting the political information of contractors and their employees as part of any type of request for proposal in anticipation of any type of contract;

• Prohibit the agency from using political information received from any source as a factor in the source selection decision process for new contracts, or in making decisions related to modifications or extensions of existing contracts; and

• Prohibit databases designed to be used by contracting officers to determine the responsibility of bidders from including political information (except for information on contractors’ violations already permitted by law).

The full bill is here.


Barney Frank: Yes, I Once Helped My Domestic Partner Find Work At Fannie Mae

“If it is [a conflict of interest], then much of Washington is involved [in conflicts],” Frank said. “It is a common thing in Washington for members of Congress to have spouses work for the federal government. There is no rule against it at all.”


After Demanding Repeal Of Stimulus, GOP Rep. Long Attends Ceremony For Stimulus-Funded Clinic


BREAKING: House to block Obama from making recess appointments, source says

A senior Republican Senate aide says that the House has indicated it will not agree to let the Senate leave for a full recess over Memorial Day in an attempt to block President Obama from making any appointments during the break next week.

Under the U.S Constitution, neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days unless both chambers agree to it.

When Democrats took over Congress in 2007, they held pro forma Senate sessions every three days during breaks to prevent President Bush from making any appointments, some of which lasted mere seconds.

This has not yet been confirmed by House GOP sources.

UPDATE: DeMint confirms House will block Obama recess appointments

“President Obama has been packing federal agencies with left-wing ideologues, but thankfully he won’t be able to for at least the next week. The House will not be sending an adjournment resolution to the Senate, we will remain in pro forma session, and no controversial nominees will be allowed to circumvent the confirmation process during the break.”

“By the way, I hope your insurance plan, the Ryan plan, covers the twisted arms and limbs you get tying yourselves in knots explaining this.” [Heh!]




Republicans ignored warnings on Paul Ryan plan

It might be a political time bomb — that’s what GOP pollsters warned as House Republicans prepared for the April 15 vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed budget, with its plan to dramatically remake Medicare.

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun the bill in their pitch — casting it as the only path to saving the beloved health entitlement for seniors — the Ryan budget’s approval rating barely budged above the high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican operative familiar with the presentation.

The poll numbers on the plan were so toxic — nearly as bad as those of President Barack Obama’s health reform bill at the nadir of its unpopularity — that staffers with the National Republican Congressional Committee warned leadership, “You might not want to go there” in a series of tense pre-vote meetings.

But go there Republicans did, en masse and with rhetorical gusto — transforming the political landscape for 2012, giving Democrats a new shot at life and forcing the GOP to suddenly shift from offense to defense.

It’s been more than a month since Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenant, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va) boldly positioned their party as a beacon of fiscal responsibility — a move many have praised as principled, if risky. In the process, however, they raced through political red lights to pass Ryan’s controversial measure in a deceptively unified 235-193 vote, with only four GOP dissenters.

The story of how it passed so quickly — with a minimum of public hand-wringing and a frenzy of backroom machinations — is a tale of colliding principles and power politics set against the backdrop of a fickle and anxious electorate.

The outward unity projected by House Republicans masked weeks of fierce debate, even infighting, and doubt over a measure that stands virtually no chance of becoming law. In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters, led by Ryan’s main internal rival — House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) — argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP staffers say.

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, “We shouldn’t have done it” and that he was “overridden,” according to a person in attendance.

A few days earlier, as most Republicans remained mute during a GOP conference meeting on the Ryan plan, Camp rose and drily asserted, “People in my district like Medicare,” one lawmaker, who is now having his own doubts about voting yes, told POLITICO.

At the same time, GOP pollsters, political consultants and House and NRCC staffers vividly reminded leadership that their members were being forced to walk the plank for a piece of quixotic legislation. They described for leadership the horrors that might be visited on the party during the next campaign, comparing it time and again with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to ram through a cap-and-trade bill despite the risks it posed to Democratic incumbents.

“The tea party itch has definitely not been scratched, so the voices who were saying, ‘Let’s do this in a way that’s politically survivable,’ got drowned out by a kind of panic,” a top GOP consultant involved in the debate said, on condition of anonymity.
Read more:

Memo To GOP: Cutting Medicaid Is Unpopular, Too


But with health care still the No. 1 one issue driving the nation’s long-term budget problems, advocates for seniors and the poor are worried that would-be budget balancers will set their sites on the vast Medicaid program for the poor instead.

And they’ve got good reason to be concerned. First, the same House budget blueprint that proposes to transform Medicare would also turn the Medicaid program back to the states and at the same time make huge cuts — reducing federal funding to states by about a third within the next decade.

And while that budget might not be going anywhere fast (it was voted down in the Senate on Wednesday), Republican Senators and members of the House have already introduced legislation that would make it easier for states to cut existing eligibility for Medicaid. That’s seen as a bill likely to come up in negotiations on legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling later this summer.

But Republicans who think it might be easier to pick on the poor than politically powerful seniors might want to think again.

This month’s health tracking poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds that only 13 percent of those polled support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of congressional efforts to reduce the deficit. At the same time, 60 percent want to keep Medicaid as it is. That means having the federal government guarantee coverage and set minimum standards for benefits and eligibility for every state.

Perhaps even more striking, although maybe it shouldn’t be given how much Medicaid has grown in recent years, is that more than half of respondents said they had a personal connection to the Medicaid program. That was defined as the respondent or a friend or family member having received assistance from the program at some point.

Still, Medicaid supporters have their guard up.

“What a lot of people don’t understand, is that Medicaid is so critically important for our nation’s population,” said Ron Pollack of Families USA. “It is the bulwark of our long-term care system. If somebody needs nursing home care or other long-term care, it’s Medicaid they go to. And for millions of people in the country, it really is THE safety net.”

But the fact remains that Medicaid, particularly with expansions envisioned as part of last year’s Affordable Care Act, is projected to grow dramatically, to more than 78 million people by 2019, at an annual cost of $840 billion.


Obama Approval Ratings Up in Two States

In Florida, a Quinnipiac University poll found 51 percent of voters in the state approve of the way Mr. Obama is handling his job as president, up from 44 percent in early April. Independent voters, who had disapproved of the president’s job performance last month by a 16-point margin, are now about evenly split in their assessment of him.

In New Jersey, 55 percent of voters in a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll now say they approve of the way Mr. Obama is handling his job as president, up from 47 percent in early April. And while New Jersey voters are still more negative than positive about the direction of the country, the percentage saying the country is on the wrong track is down six percentage points since early last month.

These state polls reflect a national trend found in Gallup’s daily tracking poll.


OH-Gov: Eye-poppingly horrible numbers for Kasich

Q: If you could do last fall’s election for Governor over again, would you vote for Democrat Ted Strickland or Republican John Kasich?

Ted Strickland (D): 59 (55)
John Kasich (R-inc): 34 (40)
Undecided: 7 (5)
(MoE: ±4.1%)


Poll: GOP Voters Sour On Gingrich After Disastrous Campaign Rollout

Poll: Mitt has broadest issue support

Romney is the candidate who’ll be able to build a Republican coalition, a new Gallup survey says.



Supreme Court upholds Ariz. law punishing companies that hire illegal immigrants

In a 5 to 3 vote, the court rejected arguments that control over illegal immigration is solely a federal responsibility and endorsed narrowly drawn state efforts to regulate the employment of those in the country illegally. Eight other states — Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — have passed similar laws that would punish companies for hiring undocumented workers.

Arizona’s provisions “fall squarely” into an exception in the federal immigration law that Congress wrote in 1986, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said.

Thursday’s decision does not not necessarily shed light on how the justices would view a more controversial Arizona law, S.B. 1070. The law contains, among other things, a provision requiring local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of people they stop who they suspect have entered the country illegally. It has been challenged by the Obama administration and blocked by lower federal courts. The state has said it will ask the Supreme Court this summer to review the law.


What does Supreme Court’s Ariz. decision mean for SB 1070?

The Supreme Court upheld today Arizona’s 2007 employer sanctions law, which revokes licenses from employers who are caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. The state’s Chamber of Commerce, supported by the U.S. government, led the challenge against the law, arguing that it violated a 1986 federal statute that said states could not regulate the employment of illegal immigrants.

Supporters of the law have been quick to tie the court’s decision to the fate of another controversial Arizona statute making its way through the courts, and to suggest that the Supreme Court is not moved by the federal government’s argument that states cannot legislate around immigration. The SB 1070 law–which has been blocked by two courts since it passed last year–requires police officers to check the immigration status of people in some cases, and makes it a misdemeanor for immigrants not to carry proper I.D. Judges have ruled it interferes with, or “pre-empts,” the federal government’s constitutional right to regulate immigration policy.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and lawmakers argue that both laws are simply complementing federal immigration law, not interfering with them. Brewer said today the employer sanction decision is a “victory” in the state’s “battle” against illegal immigration.

“With this opinion, the Supreme Court has dealt a game-changing blow to special interests that have misused federal preemption claims to impede meaningful immigration enforcement at the local level,” Federation for American Immigration Reform President Dan Stein said in a press release. The organization helped write the legislation SB 1070 is modeled after.

But two legal experts consulted by The Lookout were quick to point out that the two cases are very different, and that today’s decision reveals nothing about how the highest court will decide SB 1070.

In today’s ruling, the Supreme Court decided that federal law does not prevent Arizona from revoking business licensing. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act has an explicit loophole excepting “licensing and similar laws” from its ban on states regulating the employment of illegal immigrants. Arizona’s law dealt specifically with licensing, and thus did not violate that statute.

Meanwhile, SB 1070 deals with constitutional issues of pre-emption, not simply the interpretation of federal statutes.

“Today’s ruling does not provide any encouragement to supporters of SB1070 in legal terms,” Migration Policy Institute Director Muzaffar Chishti said.

Chishti pointed out that both a district judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the employer sanctions law, while SB1070 has been blocked by both courts. “That’s not a good omen for upholding that law,” he said.

“It’s such a different problem because [the 2007 law] really is regulating the economy, which is a traditional state role, while SB 1070 is designed to get people to leave the country, which is not a traditional state role,” said Jack Chin, a law professor at the University of Arizona. Chin also noted that the Supreme Court decided in 1976 that states could regulate employment of illegal immigrants in the absence of federal regulations, while no such Supreme Court decision exists for state-level enforcement of immigration law.

“One law has to do with regulating immigration itself, the other has to do with regulating employment of undocumented immigrants, which the Supreme Court already held over 30 years ago that the states could do,” he said.

South Carolina, Missouri, and Tennessee are the three states that have similar employer sanctions laws to Arizona. Several states–including Utah and Georgia–have passed laws similar to SB 1070.


Scalia and Thomas Urge Results-Based Decision

This week, the two most famous arch-conservative Supreme Court Justices openly praised results-based jurisprudence and the legitimacy of bending the law in order to reach the desired result. Coming from Justices who have derided others for allegedly shaping their legal decisions to reach a preferred outcome, this was a jarring example of hypocrisy.

The case of Brown v. Plata involves California’s prisons, which are so overcrowded as to violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. A lower court had ordered California to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates in order to remedy the constitutional violation. In a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Kennedy and joined in by the four more progressive Justices, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court order.

The opinion frankly acknowledged that the release of prisoners in large numbers “is a matter of undoubted, grave concern.” Nevertheless, after a careful analysis of the law, as well as the state’s long history of failing to cure the constitutional violation, the majority concluded that there is simply no other realistic way for California to come into compliance with the United States Constitution.

In their dissent Justices Scalia and Thomas quite frankly acknowledged a fondness for results-based jurisprudence:

There comes before us, now and then, a case whose proper outcome is so clearly indicated by tradition and common sense, that its decision ought to shape the law, rather than vice versa. One would think that, before allowing the decree of a federal district court to release 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid that outrageous result.

The law does not exist in a vacuum, and there are circumstances in which common sense and fairness dictate how the law should be interpreted. For instance, in the Ledbetter sex discrimination case, the dissenters correctly looked at the consequences of the majority’s cramped interpretation of the law and saw that it was not in line with the law’s purpose of eliminating sex discrimination in the workplace. Justices Scalia and Thomas joined the flawed majority opinion that ignored the real world impact and thereby violated legislative intent.

The jurisprudence of Justices Scalia and Thomas is littered with, to use their term, “outrageous results” – women who can’t sue for ongoing illegal sex discrimination (Ledbetter), parties whose rights are forever lost because they followed a judge’s incorrect instructions (Bowles v. Russell), or a disabled man who had to crawl up two flights of courthouse stairs who they said could not sue to enforce his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (Lane v. Tennessee). It sometimes seems that they actually take pride in not caring about the harsh consequences of so many of their decisions. And now Justice Scalia – who once told law students that “[i]f you’re going to be a good and faithful judge, you have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not always going to like the conclusions you reach” – is writing that judges’ interpretation of the law should be shaped by the result they want? They should bend the law to reach a foreordained conclusion? The hypocrisy is stunning.

Scalia and Thomas and their arch-conservative colleagues are generally more circumspect when they engage in results-based jurisprudence. For instance, with their votes, the Roberts Court has become notorious for regularly bending the law in order to rule in favor of large corporations, as we saw in Citizens United. But it is nevertheless jarring to see these two Supreme Court Justices openly support blatant results-based jurisprudence.




Another big boost for Wisconsin Dems and the recall effort

Greg Sargent:

We keep getting told by our friends on the right that Scott Walker has already “won” the confrontation in Wisconsin or that he’s “crossed the Rubicon.” Turns out the end-zone dancing was just a tad premature:

A Dane County judge has struck down Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation repealing most collective bargaining for public employees.

In a 33-page decision issued Thursday, Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said she would freeze the legislation because GOP lawmakers on a committee broke the state’s open meetings law in passing it March 9….

In the decision, Sumi appeared to be bracing for an outcry from Republicans and supporters of the law, noting that judges are supposed to apply the law even if their decisions will be “controversial or unpopular.” Sumi writes that Ozanne showed by “clear and convincing evidence” that the open meetings law had been violated.

“This decision explains why it is necessary to void the legislative actions flowing from those violations,” wrote Sumi, who was appointed to the bench by former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson.

This does not mean that the Walker proposal has been defeated. It could go to the Supreme Court, which will decide in June whether to hear the case. But it’s still a big boost for Wisconsin Democrats and the recall effort.

Here’s why. It gives Democrats and labor a powerful new weapon to make the case that Wisconsin Republicans deserved to be recalled because they abused the power of their office. The argument Dems and labor are making is that the decision by Senate Republicans to jam the rollback of bargaining rights through is precisely the kind of conduct that justifies the extraordinary step of recalling them. Now a court has pronounced that they violated state law.

Kelly Steele, a spokesman for the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin, which is coordinating the recall push, emails me this:

Today’s decision is a huge repudiation of Scott Walker’s extreme power grab and the sleazy legislative tactics used by his allies in the Senate to ram through their attacks on Wisconsin’s working families in the dark of night. GOP senators who continue to blindly follow Scott Walker’s extreme agenda now have one last chance to abandon Walker’s rapidly-sinking ship or be held to account in the upcoming elections.

Second, and equally important, the court’s decision today raises the possiblity that Republicans may be forced to vote on their rollback of bargaining rights again. The budget needs to be wrapped up by the end of June, and Republicans have said that if the bargaining rights proposal is still tied up in court by then, they’ll vote on it again. The Wisconsin Supreme Court might not take the case, or could still be deliberating over it by then, meaning a second vote is very possible.

The key here is that the Republicans who are targets of the recall drive may now find themselves casting a vote for this proposal after the public has rendered a very clear verdict on it, and after a court has ruled that their earlier fealty to the unpopular Walker led them to trample ordinary democratic processes. Such a display of total deafness to public opinion would only reinforce impressions that these public officials have gone rogue and need to be dealt with by extraordinary means — and must be recalled.

UPDATE: In fact, the Supreme Court will decide in June whether to hear the case. I’ve edited the above to correct.



Truck driver blows up ‘like a balloon’

WHAKATANE, New Zealand, May 26 (UPI) — A New Zealand truck driver said he is “lucky to be alive” after an air hose became lodged in his buttocks and blew him up “like a balloon.”

Steven McCormack, 48, said he fell from the rigging between his truck and the trailer at Waiotahi Contractors in Whakatane and he landed on the hose connected to the vehicle’s air brakes, the New York Daily News reported Wednesday.

McCormack said the nozzle pierced his left buttocks and began pumping air into his body at 100 pounds per square inch.

“I was blowing up like a football,” he said. “I had no choice but just to lay there, blowing up like a balloon.”

Doctors said the air separated fat from muscle, caused his lungs to fill with fluid and compressed his heart.

McCormack was rescued by coworkers and taken to an intensive care unit at a Whakatane hospital. He said it took nearly three days for his body to deflate to normal size.

“You just have to burp it out, or fart it out,” he said.


Shakespeare’s Insults

I do desire we may be better strangers.
As You Like It (3.2.248)

He is deformed, crooked, old and sere,
Ill-faced, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind;
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind.
The Comedy of Errors (4.2.22-5)

Thou whoreson, senseless villain!
The Comedy of Errors (4.4.24)

Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all!
The Comedy of Errors (4.4.100)

They lie deadly that tell you you have good faces .
Coriolanus (2.1.59)

You wear out a good wholesome forenoon in hearing a cause between an orange wife and a fosset-seller.
Coriolanus (2.1.68-9)

More of your conversation would infect my brain.
Coriolanus (2.1.91)

For such things as you, I can scarce think there’s any, ye’re so slight.
Coriolanus (5.1.108-9)

The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.
Coriolanus (5.4.18)

Frailty, thy name is woman!
Hamlet (1.2.147)

This sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh!
1 Henry IV (2.4.225-6)

‘Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck!
1 Henry IV (2.4.227-9)

There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.
1 Henry IV (3.3.40)

Hang him, swaggering rascal!
2 Henry IV (2.4.66)

I scorn you, scurvy companion.
2 Henry IV (2.4.115)

Away, you mouldy rogue, away!
2 Henry IV (2.4.117)

Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! By this wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!
2 Henry IV (2.4.120-22)

O braggart vile and damned furious wight!
Henry V (2.1.100)

Avaunt, you cullions!
Henry V (3.2.20)

He is white-livered and red-faced.
Henry V (3.2.30)

Hag of all despite!
1 Henry VI (3.2.54)

I had rather chop this hand off at a blow,
And with the other fling it at thy face.
3 Henry VI (5.1.51-2)

Thou mis-shapen dick!
3 Henry VI (5.5.35)



“The trouble with quotes on the internet is that it’s difficult to determine whether or not they are genuine” – Abraham Lincoln



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Cher, I have been so busy this week; my friend’s passing, the sapecial election, starting a new 2nd job (extra money), my campaign…I haven’t had a chance to read your column until late every night. Thank you again, for such a great round up…I miss reading it in the morning though! 🙂


RE: Rick Perry…

Remember when Rick Perry scuttled over to DC in the middle of night during the govt. shutdown talks to lobby for 25 million in federal education funds to help balance his budget?

Good times….

After facing a $6.6 billion budget hole, Texas used $6.4 billion of Federal money to help patch it, allowing the state to keep its $9.1 billion emergency fund intact, CNN reports.

But on the same day he asked for the bailout money, governor Rick Perry started a petition called “No Government Bailouts.”


Good times…..


When it comes to grading, Republican and Democratic professors at one unnamed elite university put their ideologies into practice, a new study finds: Republicans welcomed inequality, handing out more very high and very low grades, and Democrats’ grades grouped more tightly around the average.

Republicans also gave black students lower grades than their colleagues. In both cases, the researchers stressed, there was no way to know which approach better reflected students’ performance.


Nothing is more dangerous to our democacy than the roberts Supreme Court with scalia and the impeachable idiot thomas;wonder what shakespeare would say on that subject.


“The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”

Henry VI


Love the Shakespeare put-downs!