Nel's New Day

October 19, 2018

DDT: Week 91 – Violence against Reporters Acceptable

After passing a tax cut for big business and the wealthiest, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the ballooning deficit is “disturbing.” The GOP solution is to reduce “entitlement programs”—the ones that taxpayers funded and the Republican legislators siphoned off to pay for the military and huge tax cuts for the wealthiest. Voters might want to consider this plan when they vote.

DDT has threatened to protect the Mexican border with military and overturn his shiny new trade agreement with the country if they don’t stop a caravan of Honduran immigrants crossing Mexico. He also plans to cut off foreign aid to Honduras, saving the United States a grand $127 million, equivalent to about a year of DDT’s weekend getaways. The differences of opinion in the White House led to a fight between Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton when Bolton dared to criticize DHS director Kirstjen Nielsen’s inability to keep immigrants from crossing the border.

Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and WaPo reporter, wrote about the importance of freedom of the press, the Saudis murdered him, and DDT is protecting Saudi Crown Prince MBS. After denying his death for weeks, Saudi Arabia claimed that he got in a “fist-fight”—presumably with the 15-person death squad sent with a bone saw into the Saudi embassy—and sadly died. DDT called the assumption “credible.” Photos show that members of the murder squad have close ties to Mohammed, including four of them who served as his guards during his visit to the U.S. last March–this 59-year-old man against 15 strong men possessing a bone saw. Here is the piece of trash that Saudi Arabia released. DDT lamented, “This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately.” Everytime he is asked about Khashoggi’s death, DDT says that he doesn’t want to lose $100 billion of arms sales. Now one of the murder squad of 15 has mysteriously died in a car crash.

DDT has restricted access to any information about the murder of Khashoggi by refusing to share any of this information with the Senate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the situation “disappointing.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was derisive about the Saudi story, but most Republicans are covering for DDT by smearing Khashoggi’s reputation using conspiracy theories spread by the radical right-wing press that falsely accuse him of being sympathetic to Islamic terrorism. The GOP support for Saudi Arabia has even erased their memory that 15 of the 19 hijackers attacking the U.S. on 9/11 were Saudis. Saudi Arabia went so far as to claim that 9/11 was an Israeli plot.

Only after Saudi Arabia delivered $100 million to DDT as support for stabilization in northeastern Syria, did DDT agree that Khashoggi was probably dead. The State Department denied any relationship between the money and Mike Pompeo’s discussions with the Saudis about Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has followed a pattern for paying off countries to support its foreign policies, and it may pay off Turkey for a joint investigation into the murder. Saudi Arabia is looking more and more like ISIS

In his rally this past week, DDT entertained his audience by praising Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) for his physical assault on a Guardian reporter. For the first time, DDT openly cheered a violent act against a journalist in the United States when he expressed his approval of Gianforte because he “body-slammed a reporter.” Gianforte pled guilty to the charge of assault and was sentenced to four days in jail which was changed to 40 hours of community service and a mandated anger-management course. The Guardian US editor, John Mulholland, said:

“The president of the United States tonight applauded the assault on an American journalist who works for the Guardian. To celebrate an attack on a journalist who was simply doing his job is an attack on the first amendment by someone who has taken an oath to defend it.

“In the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it runs the risk of inviting other assaults on journalists both here and across the world where they often face far greater threats. We hope decent people will denounce these comments and that the president will see fit to apologize for them.”

A bizarre continuing story this week focused on the Interior Department where the IG, in the midst of four separate investigations into its secretary, Ryan Zinke, seemed to be fired. HUD Director Ben Carson emailed information about her replacement with Suzanne Israel Tufts, one of his own employees who is a DDT political appointee with no experience in government work. After a report was released showing that Zinke violated his department’s policy on travel, White House officials said they knew nothing about these personnel transactions. Interior Department spokeswoman said that Carson’s email “had 100 percent false information” and the long-term IG is staying.

Zinke permitted his wife to travel in government vehicles while she was assisting in a campaign for a political candidate, tried to make her a “volunteer” to justify his actions, told the department’s top lawyer to lie to the public about the situation, and ordered his security detail to drive an associate to the airport. His decision to take an unarmed security detail on his overseas vacation cost taxpayers $25,000. Other investigations include Zinke’s involvement in a Montana land deal and two Connecticut tribes’ application to open a new casino. Interior Department officials also objected to the new political appointee as the Interior’s IG.

The story didn’t end there, though.  HUD said that the information was just a “mistake” and that Tufts had a job interview for IG elsewhere in the government. She didn’t show up for the appointment and then resigned her HUD position. Although she hadn’t come to her HUD job for the past two months, she had been regularly paid. All of this drama and revelation in less than a week.

More drama came from the First Lady’s self-pity party when she called herself “the most bullied person” in the world during an interview. In 2009 Minnesota GOP Senate candidate Karin Housley compared then-First Lady Michelle Obama to the chimpanzee from 1951’s movie Bedtime for Bonzo. And Michelle Obama did not parade in a cheap “I really don’t care” jacket like Melania Trump did. The GOP has a decade-long record of describing the Obama family as simians. (BTW, Trump also said that her jacket was a putdown on the press.)

Senate Democrats have again learned that they cannot trust their GOP counterparts. They agreed to quick confirmation of 15 more DDT judicial nominees so that they could recess for campaigning. Republicans stayed in Washington to hold hearings on more nominees and claimed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) had agreed to these hearings. She didn’t. The handful of Republicans attending Wednesday’s hearing moved them forward.

Last Sunday, DDT’s 60 Minutes interview addressed the people he does and does not trust. Here’s a summary:

Asked about climate change, DDT again dragged out his Uncle John and their conversations to prove that he knew best. John Trump, who died in 1985, worked in electronics and X-ray machines. DDT said that he didn’t talk about his uncle about climate change, but he has “a natural instinct for science.”

Farmers—DDT’s base—have a better instinct about climate change, and they are concerned. They may not need to worry about tariffs stopping them from shipping soybeans; almost a foot of rain has turned their crops into a bog. Their fertilizer is running off into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico to create a dead zone the size of New Jersey that destroys the shrimping industry. Soil is annually disappearing at two to three tons an acre but regenerates at only a half-ton each year. Less soil means less protein in a kernel or pod, and corn becomes higher in starch. Corn yield can also drop by one half within 50 years. Des Moines Water Works faces $100 million in improvement costs because of toxic agricultural chemicals. Minnesota crops are either washed out or weedy. Kansas now requires 100 acres of prairie grass for a calf instead of 40 acres. The huge Ogallala Aquifer, vital to cattle feedlots, is down 150 feet at Dodge City in a little over a half century and may be gone in 20 years. Corn can’t be grown in western Kansas because of the heat.

More people in North Carolina are accepting the fact of climate change after two overwhelming hurricanes in rapid succession. While DDT hosted an insane rant from Kanye West in the Oval Office, needy people are without food, water, and electricity. FEMA director Brock Long told them to be patient, and Florida’s governor Rick Scott, running for U.S. Senate, said that “everyone just needs to help each other.”

Once again, the Republicans have failed, and midterm elections are 18 days away.

June 27, 2018

Democracy in the United States – Gone?

With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s resignation from the Supreme Court and the GOP stolen seat for Neil Gorsuch, no one will have to wonder about decisions from the Supreme Court: they will always favor Christian and business conservatism. Gone are any careful deliberations about the constitutionality of the cases. The five conservative justices will legislate from the bench according to their united radically right-wing ideology. An appointment from Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) can ban legalized abortions and contraception, reverse LGBTQ rights, promote discrimination against minorities and women, and increase capital punishment and solitary confinement.

Despite Kennedy’s conservative leanings and his decision to appoint George W. Bush as president in 2000, Kennedy was the swing vote to legalize marriage equality and preserve—to some extent—Roe v. Wade.  On the other hand, he overturned DC’s handgun ban, allowed unlimited finance restrictions, and set in place the destruction of equal voting right. Recently he supported discrimination against Muslims and Christian opposition to abortions and birth control. The week of his resignation after 30 years in the U.S. Supreme Court, Kennedy contributed to the taint of the “Robert Court.”

Despite Republicans ranting against legislating from the bench, the conservative justices made conservative law today in deciding against public-sector unions. The decision of Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees permits workers to take union protection for free despite the fact that the small fees they paid has no political influence. The takers, including Mark Janus, won. Even conservative Antonin Scalia, who died before he could hear the case, wrote in 1991 that public sector unions could compel agency fees. Forcing unions to help nonmembers who do not pay them, “mandated by government decree,” would be constitutionally problematic. [Left: Janus was the name for a two-faced god of transition.]

For 41 years, public sector unions could levy fair-share fees to pay for workers interests.  The only intention of the five conservative justices is to break the union in their goal to protect large businesses and hurt working people. The loser in this case is the future for women and young people in the nation because union workers have greater wages—up to 20 percent more. The winner is the group of foundations funded by rightwing billionaires such as the Koch Brothers and the DeVos family who want to make money from privatizing the public sector. Their actions cost people more because privatization always costs taxpayers more money. Therefore people have lower wages while paying more money for everything.

The restrictions in Janus follows the courts’ history of blocking worker freedom. Nineteenth-century courts ruled that workers’ collective action infringed on employers’ freedom of commerce guaranteed by antitrust laws. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lochner v. New York (1905) decided that labor protections such as maximum-hour laws violated workers’ freedom of contract. The Depression of the 1930s encouraged courts to give labor protections, but the GOP soon gained success in destroying these rights, actions that greatly expanded since their success in electing Ronald Reagan.

Although the Janus ruling may feel like doom, Shaun Richman, a veteran union organizer, warned that the ruling might require public employers to allow multiple unions competing for workers instead of negotiating with just one. If unions go to great lengths to show that they are the best worker advocates, the results could be more union militancy and power.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,”  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said two years ago when President Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice eleven months before the next president would be inaugurated. His position was that no nominee should be considered in an election year, and he refused a hearing for the nominee. For over a year, the Supreme Court was sometimes tied because of only eight justices voting on rulings. The next Congress is only six months away, but McConnell has abandoned his former belief. “We will vote to confirm Justice Kennedy’s successor this fall,” he said on the Senate floor with no idea of who that nominee will be.

Much has been said about the standard of whether a nominee will overturn Roe v. Wade, but McConnell’s standard is an approval by the NRA. In an interview with Fox, he said that he “can’t imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm, in a lame duck session, a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association [and] the National Federation of Independent Businesses.” McConnell also told a crowd at a campaign rally:

“One of my proudest moments was when I looked at Barack Obama in the eye and I said, ‘Mr. President, you will not fill this Supreme Court vacancy.’”

The United States, which claims to be a democracy, now has a bogus president, a bogus Supreme Court justice, and a senate leader who decides which nominees can be confirmed.

Two days ago, the Supreme Court sent a gerrymandering case from North Carolina back to a trial court for further examination. Emboldened by other recent Supreme Court non-decisions on gerrymandering, North Carolina Republicans are asking SCOTUS to use the 2017 map plan that would inordinately favor the GOP.

DDT is fortunate that the media is not concentrating on some of the worst news for the United States because of DDT’s horrific policy separating children and families, his Russian scandals, and the recent disasters of the Supreme Court. During the time of President Obama, conservatives railed against the growing national debt after the president saved the U.S. economy that tanked from George W. Bush’s decreased taxes, $5 trillion wars, and the corruption of subprime mortgages. The last budget from President Obama, the one for 2017, increased the national debt by only $672 billion, a lot of money but much less than the projected deficit from DDT’s first budget in 2018. DDT’s first deficit is $1.233 trillion—almost twice that from President Obama—and his next year is about the same. DDT blamed President Obama for doubling the national debt after he took over Bush’s excesses, but now DDT is doubling President Obama’s debt.

Continuing deficits from tax cuts for the rich and big companies will come with increased dependence on foreign investors that weakens the world power of the U.S. Usually drastic debt increases result because of war and poor economy; the U.S. has neither at this time. After President Obama made progress in decreasing the deficit, however, Republicans’s huge tax cuts moved the nation to higher debt levels and erased its ability to respond to emergencies. Instead of addressing the problem, the GOP wants to make permanent the temporary taxes for individuals after 2026 to create even greater debt. Also contributing to greater debt and decline in the economy is DDT’s trade war with China, Mexico, Canada and Europe.

The GOP solution for the debt in the coming year will be to shred the safety net and established programs that people have paid into for decades. DDT ran on a campaign of preserving Medicare and Social Security, but the 2019 budget proposed by the GOP House now have drastically cuts many programs, including Medicare and Social Security, in order to pay for its tax cuts. Presenting these priorities that hurt the GOP voting block of older U.S. citizens is a brave move less than five months before Republicans try to keep the House majority in the midterm general elections. Republicans knew that the tax cuts could drive up the deficit, but they are now crying that the biggest domestic problem are debts and deficits. The GOP budget, called “A Brighter American Future,” goes back to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) desire of privatizing Medicare which supposedly reduces Medicare by $537 billion over the next decade. Considering that privatization always costs more than government programs, that’s a big slice out of health care for its recipients.

A new law that permits additional Medicare benefits for people with multiple chronic illnesses is a move toward privatization. These benefits may include home improvements such as wheelchair ramps, transportation to doctor’s offices, home delivery of hot meals, and other social and medical services. The catch is that only people with MedAdvantage programs, contracted with private companies, will have this “advantage.” Those who subscribe to traditional Medicare won’t have them available because Congress waived the requirement that all plans offer the same benefits for those with chronic illnesses.

Ryan is blaming God for taking benefits for people:

“Catholic social teaching … cautions us against allowing the state too great a reach into civil society. This is about saving souls, not dollars.”

Ryan’s college education was provided by his survivor’s benefits from the “state” after his father died. At the same time Ryan began “dreaming” about destroying Medicaid when he was “drinking out of kegs.” He plans to spend his last six months taking more money from people like him and ordered his team to provide reconciliation instructions to fast-track the budget without Democratic votes in the Senate—probably in the lame-duck session after the elections.

This June, the Supreme Court ended with a bang.

October 30, 2015

Budget Bill, GOP Debate Dismay Republicans

This past week was filled with news, especially the GOP debate and the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. A miracle also happened, but the media largely ignored this amazing event: Congress passed a bill that stops threats of government shutdown from the GOP refusing to both raise the debt ceiling and eliminate the sequester for the next 18 months. The GOP cannot use these threats before the general election a year from now. President Obama will finish his second term without the budget warfare, including an almost month-long government shutdown, that he’s endured for the past five years.

The budget agreement raises the government debt ceiling until March 2017 and sets the budget of the government through the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years. A collection of spending cuts and revenue increases provides $80 billion more for military and domestic programs, avoiding the sequester for another two years. The appropriations committees are just left to write legislation to reflect the spending by December 11.

The House passed the deal by a 266-167 vote; 79 Republicans joined 187 Democrats. Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had hoped for this bill to pass before he left his position—and the House—but most people didn’t believe it was possible. Not everyone in the House wanted the bill: 167 Republicans voted against the bill. The so-called Hastert Rule, requiring that no bill would be put on the floor without the promise of enough Republican votes for passage, was totally ignored. The rule is named after the former Speaker who just pled guilty about lying to the government after they discovered he had been paying off a former student sexually abused by Hastert while he was a high school coach.

The budget accord raises spending caps on domestic and defense spending over the next two years and makes changes to the Social Security disability program while raising the debt limit until March 2017. There’s also a drawdown from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and savings reaped from a Justice Department fund for crime victims that involves assets seized from criminals.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the budget a “major victory” and removes “the stranglehold of sequestration … from our nation’s growth.” The other indicator that the bill is a positive move forward is that conservatives absolutely hate the agreement. Boehner almost lost the deal over the proposed cap for insurance in the federal crop insurance system but backed down in an agreement that the situation would be addressed later this year.

Social Security played a part in the bill that continued a two-percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers. Earlier this year, the Republicans tried to eliminate part of the Social Security disability program, but the current bill covers the shortfall in the disability trust fund with Social Security funds. At least one-third of Medicare recipients avoided a 52-percent premium hike.

The bill finally passed the Senate by 64-35 at 3:00 in the morning after long wrangling when 18 Republicans joined all Senate Democrats to support its final passage. The vote could have been earlier, but Rand Paul (KY), who came back from his presidential campaign trail for the vote, spoke against it for an hour. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Marco Rubio (FL) also voted against the bill; Lindsey Graham (SC) voted in favor of it.

The bill’s great advantage is that the congressional appropriations committees can stop arguing about short-term continuing resolutions to avert government shutdowns. Cruz can no longer threaten the nation with his favorite activity—stopping all government activity. Hedge funds and private equity firms are losers because the bill calls for heightened IRS scrutiny for them. The government receives $11 billion to audit large partnerships.

The bill also requires generic drug makers to pay an additional rebate under Medicaid if drug costs outpace inflation—a given. Non-generic drugs already have to pay that rebate. The GOP should be happy that it finally killed one small part of the Affordable Care Act that no one knew about—the mandate for large employers to automatically enroll new employees in health plans. That part hadn’t been enforced yet so people won’t notice.

Equally crushing for conservatives is that over half the Republicans joined Democrats to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, which conservatives called corporate cronyism. The backers used a little-used discharge petition which circumvents leadership opposition to bring the bill up for a floor vote. It is yet to be seen whether the Senate will pass a bill that got almost three-fourths of the House vote.

While the congressional Republicans were fighting about the budget, the GOP presidential candidates were honoring the liberal union position of striking to get better working conditions. They banded together to protest what they perceived as unfair media treatment at last Wednesday’s debate and erase the contract with NBC for the debate in Houston on February 16, 2016. RNC Chair Reince Priebus called the questions “petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.” He added that the debate “was not an attempt to give the American people a greater understanding of our candidates’ policies and ideas.”

Conservatives are calling for “conservative media professionals” (an oxymoron) to moderate GOP debates because “liberal moderators” are in charge. This may be the first time that the Fox network has been called “liberal.” Their suggestion is to have Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin as moderators because they “influence more Republican primary voters.” Diana Banister, Executive Director of Citizens for the Republic, described past debate questions as being “of zero relevance, yet designed to bring chaos and disorder to the Republican’s chance to win the race for the White House.” Others went farther to ask that Democrats have a debate moderated by “conservative opinion leaders.”

Thus far the group of protesting presidential candidates has at least ten of the remaining 16 wannabes although they are excluding RNC Chair Priebus.  Each one is voicing complaints and ways to make the debates more successful for them individually.

Jeb Bush and Rand Paul want equal speaking time, and Bobby Jindal, still at the kids’ table, wants to change the criteria for determining who qualifies for the prime-time debate. Polling better in Iowa than nationally, he wants early state polling instead of just national surveys. Others at the early debate at the bottom of polling want a random drawing instead of poll numbers to determine the main debate. Ben Carson is upset about what he called “gotcha” questions about his affiliation with the fraudulent supplement company Mannatech. He skipped over the fact that he lied about his relationship with the firm. Chris Christie accused a moderator of being rude, “even in New Jersey”; he’s the governor who bellowed “sit down and shut up” and calls people in the audience “idiot.”

Donald Trump had already convinced the networks that two hours was better than three hours, reducing fire from other candidates. The candidates also demanded opening and closing statements, something that the network said would take too much time for ten candidates but agreed to. Before the debate, candidates complained about the quality of their green rooms. The post-mortem of the GOP-failed 2012 campaign concluded that 20 debates were too many because they allowed candidates to show the weaknesses of their opponents.

Petty? Mean-spirited? Too long? Zero relevance? “Gotcha” questions? Designed to embarrass? All these terms describe the past month’s grueling 11-hour Benghazi hearing at the House of Representatives that Democratic presidential candidate faced with grace and patience. The GOP candidates could take a lesson from watching her.

July 18, 2015

GOP Competes with Trump in Bigotry

No matter how much Republican politicians want Donald Trump to go away, he continues to suck the energy out of the presidential candidate. HuffPo has so little regard for him that they are leaving him in the entertainment section instead of putting his news in “politics.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) railed against Trump’s “firing up the crazies,” having forgotten that he tried to put one of the finest crazies just a heartbeat away from being President of the United States. McCain may have the last word, however, after Trump insinuated that McCain wasn’t a war hero because he was captured. The question is whether that’s the tipping point of Trump’s outrageous statements.

For what seems forever, Trump has led the growing GOP pack of presidential candidates, now at 18 percent and trailed by Scott Walker and Jeb Bush who flip back and forth between second place. This was after Fox laid out Trump’s position, repeating the accusation that undocumented immigrants are “rapists.” Seven in ten Republicans—70 percent—believe that Trump is right.

Even worse for the Republicans is the increase of President Obama’s approval rating, up three points last month to 47 percent—on a Fox poll. A real poll put the president at 52 percent approval.

Having gotten elected for another six years, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) set out to alienate another GOP constituency—older people. After the House passed a five-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund—meaning no projects because of no funding assurance for next year–McConnell wants a long-term funding law paid by removing money from Social Security for the elderly and disabled, homeowners, and retirement funds for federal employees. McConnell’s proposal would cut the return investment rate on a retirement investment plan and eliminate Social Security payments for an elderly recipient who has an outstanding arrest warrant, no matter the reason or how long ago the warrant was issued. There was no mention of increasing taxes on the wealthy or cutting funding from wars.

The grand idea for the future highway funding from the House is not much better: a small tax on monies that corporations bring back from tax havens in exchange for massive corporate tax breaks in the future. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) supports the idea, why I don’t know.

Technically, highways should be funded by the gas tax, but that hasn’t been increased for 22 years, and the GOP isn’t about to raise it now. President Reagan, for all his lack of progressive attitudes, raised the gas tax by 125 percent because he knew the importance of the nation’s infrastructure. President Eisenhower created the interstate highway system in the name of national security, but current Republicans lack the foresight to consider this while they clamor for war in the Middle East.

The GOP is also back to attacking women’s reproductive rights through a bill limiting abortions to under 20 weeks. At this point, they think they’ve got the goods on Planned Parenthood through a heavily-edited misleading video that insinuates the falsehood that the organization sells fetal tissue from its abortions. Conservatives have gotten a lot of press from an official talking clinically about fetal tissue, but there was no indication of wrong-doing—just a lack of perceiving a fetus as a cuddly creature as anti-abortion activists think of it.

Examining the issue, however, brings up some unpleasant facts for the congressional members who are crying foul: they have known about the video for almost a month and saved it for their own political reasons. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), a member of the House Pro-Life Caucus and chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee looking into the video, said that he’d seen the clip weeks before. When he was asked why he and others waited weeks to take action, Murphy searched for words until he said, “This interview didn’t happen.” He’s been in Congress for 12 years and knows that he can’t tell a journalist that there was no interview. He does know how ridiculous the GOP looks to call the situation potentially criminal but do nothing about it, such as calling authorities.

Obviously, Republicans want to use the video to push their anti-choice issues. The destruction of the low-income housing group ACORN was so successful years ago from edited undercover videos suggesting criminal activity that they hope the strategy will work with Planned Parenthood. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said he keeps an acorn in his pocket that “represents ACORN’s scalp.” He added, “Ask me after the appropriations cycle and see if I have a talisman in my pocket for Planned Parenthood’s.” (I hate to think what it would be.) King, known for his outrageous, virulent anti-immigrant statements, also tweeted yesterday, “What does [Housing and Urban Development Secretary] Julian Castro know? Does he know that I’m as Hispanic and Latino as he?” He hasn’t responded to questions about what he meant by the tweet.

On the video, Planned Parenthood didn’t talk about doing anything illegal, but it may have been illegally made. The organization called Center for Medical Progress (CMP) may also be in hot water. It describes itself as “a group of citizen journalists dedicated to monitoring and reporting on medical ethics and advances” and filed with the IRS as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The group actually pushes pro-life, anti-abortion principles, as shown by its website, with its “undercover footage.” Pushing anti-abortion legislation makes the group a “right-to-life” non-profit which must be shown in its filing.

The head of CMP, David Daleiden, is a former anti-abortion Live Action worker and associate of both Lila Rose and James O’Keefe, who creates edited sting videos to attack progressive organizations and politicians. CMP is a recent creation, its blog starting 12 days ago, tweets not coming out until last Tuesday, and its Facebook page only two months old. Deliberately misleading the IRS and donors makes an organization subject to civil and criminal fraud penalties.

While the House is looking for ways to destroy women’s reproductive rights, the Senate voted in favor of LGBTQ discrimination and bullying in K-12 public schools by voting down Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) bill to ban these activities. The Student Non-Discrimination Act, would have extended the same protections to LGBTQ students that they receive for race, national origin, sex, and disability. School officials can still ban same-sex couples at proms and stand by while LGBTQ students are bullied. Even Franken’s statements about LGBTQ youth suicides didn’t sway the GOP no vote, led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). All 45 votes against the bill were Republicans. As usual in the senate, a majority of 52 yes votes didn’t move the bill forward. Two presidential candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against Franken’s bill; two voted for it—Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Franken said that the Republicans were “grumpy” since same-sex couples now have the legal right to marry.

I gave Jeb Bush a pass over his statement that people “need to work longer hours” because he might have been misquoted or misunderstood. Now, however, he claims that the president’s proposed expansion of overtime pay to millions more “managers” and white-collar workers” to earn below $50,440 a year will result in “less overtime pay” and “less wages earned” because it would “lessen the number of people working.” Experts and studies refute this claim, but Republicans have never been deterred by facts and evidence. At this time, employers can deny overtime pay to “exempt” salaried managers earning more than $23,660 a year, allowing a fast-food assistant manager to work 60 hours a week with no overtime. If employers don’t want to pay the overtime, they can hire more people—creating more jobs. Increasing pay nationwide by $1.5 billion a year also increases the taxes the employees pay. Bush also misrepresents the proposal by claiming that the rules would prohibit bonuses. Ross Eisenbrey, a vice-president of the Economic Policy Institute, said: “Bush should be embarrassed about how misinformed he was.” No pass for Jeb Bush this time.

At the same time the GOP fails to support human rights, a federal agency fills in the void. Over 50 years after the civil Rights Act was passed, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided that the law protects LGBTQ people in the workplace. The new decision states, “Allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.” EEOC rulings aren’t law unless the person is a federal employee; for others, courts consider EEOC rulings as only expert advisories. When EEOC and the Supreme Court disagreed about whether federal law indefinitely prohibits discriminatory pay practices against women, only congressional action—the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—granted these protections to women. This ruling is a start in the 31 states that don’t prevent job discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The GOP supports bullying and discrimination against LGBT kids, taking money from needy Social Security recipients who paid their SS taxes, destroying the U.S. highways, and discriminating against women–not men–who have sex while single. Pregnant women lose their rights but not the men who impregnated them. Welcome to the GOP US of A.

 

December 10, 2013

The Poor on Human Rights Day

Sixty-five years ago, the United Nations adopted the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; its drafting committee was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt because of her expertise. The document, celebrated every December 10’s Human Rights Day, defines the world’s commitment to human rights as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Human rights standards for everyone include “the right to life, liberty and nationality, to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, to work, to be educated, [and] to take part in government.”

From the beginning of years of the 21st century, the United States has been increasingly negligent about human rights as the government supported torture, unjustified imprisonment, and other unethical and illegal violence. Within this country, however, the government has failed millions of people in poverty as Congress has increasingly failed to support a safety net while creating an economy that promotes this poverty.

Because of  bad or nonexistent legislation and a president who struggled to compromise with recalcitrant, extortionist lawmakers in the House, the poor are in the midst of a losing game. The sequester that further puts the screws to the poor digs deeper on January 1, one week after the Christian holiday that celebrates a compassionate Jesus. Here are a few experiences, the poor can expect, thanks to GOP House members:

Homelessness: Budget cuts from increased sequestration will take rental assistance vouchers away from 140,000 low-income families by the beginning of next year, making housing more expensive as agencies raise costs to offset the budget cuts. About three million disabled seniors and families will be affected to save the $2 billion that the government shutdown cost in back-pay to federal workers.

Cold: Those who can stay in their homes may not be able to heat it. Sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) meant that 300,000 low-income families in 2013 were denied government support for energy costs. 

Hunger: The recent reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, affecting more than 47 million Americans, is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964. Those cuts were made on November 1, but the House isn’t satisfied. Their goal is to take $39 billion from SNAP during the next decade. The result is loss of benefits for 3.8 million low-income people in the upcoming year. An additional 2.8 million will lose benefits each year. Last year alone, SNAP kept 4 million people out of poverty.

Cutting SNAP is just a start in creating more hunger. Cuts to Meals on Wheels will cost poor seniors 4 to 18 million meals next year.  The Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which provides health care referrals and nutrition to poor pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age five, took cuts of $500 million this year with far more next year.

Lack of Education: Head Start started to take children out of its program last March and removed 57,000 children from their classrooms in September. More than half of the public schools fired personnel because of cuts. Forty percent of children who don’t receive early childhood education are more likely to become a parent as a teenager, 25 percent are more likely to drop out of school, and 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Joblessness: The unemployment program in the United States is one of the worst in the developed world, and it’s getting worse. People out of work for 27 weeks or more–40 percent of the unemployed –have already begun and will continue to lose a large portion of their benefits between January and March. Eight percent of this year’s sequestration cuts are coming from unemployment insurance.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has given the party line that the GOP is doing unemployed people a favor by taking away their benefits because that will force them to get jobs. Evidence shows that government assistance helps the job searches of 4.4 million people. On January 1, 1.3 million will lose the extended jobless benefits if Congress doesn’t take action—which looks highly unlikely. Cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, or welfare) means even less of safety net.

A proposed shift in Social Security would keep fewer jobs available for the unemployed. President Obama proposes cuts in this program for 2014 through a new formula called Chained CPI. Instead of building an economy that contributes more taxes to the Social Security program, the government plans to keep more money out of circulation, causing more joblessness from fewer consumers.

Sickness: In the 25 states where GOP governors have refused to accept federal funding for Medicaid, a gap between the state’s version of Medicaid and the level for exchanges leaves more than 5 million people in poverty without health insurance. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the part of the Affordable Care Act requiring all states to extend Medicaid to people with household income up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level despite the federal government picking up the entire tab for the first three years and then gradually phased back to 90 percent.

The law states that people over 100 percent of the poverty line can go to exchanges, but those under 100 percent are ineligible. It was assumed that Medicaid would take care of them. The GOP governors changed all that. Coverage in Texas is almost non-existent for the poor: Medicaid is available to only these making less than 25 percent of the poverty level. A family of three cannot participate on the exchange if they make over $4,000, the state’s level for Medicaid, and $19,500, 100 percent poverty level.

Today, a bipartisan Congressional committee chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) released a two-year budget plan that they hope will pass both chambers. The poor is sure to not benefit from Paul’s work. He continues to believe that poverty can be cured by “spiritual redemption” as he again said in a speech last week at the Heritage Foundation. There were no specifics of how religion will put food on the table.

A missing part of the budget deal is any tax reform. Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s low tax rate is a prime example of the nation’s tax abuses. The “carried-interest loophole” allows investors to have their entire income taxed as if they were capital gains, saving them 19.6 percent on income over $400,000. Using the 20-percent capital gain tax rate instead of the 39.9-percent income rate takes $25 billion from the government and lowers the percentage of taxes paid by the wealthy below those in the middle class.

The refusal of 25 GOP governors to accept federal Medicaid funding is both driving up rates in their own states’ exchanges by 15 percent and returning billions of dollars back to the federal government. That means that everyone on exchanges have to pay much more, and the state doesn’t have the jobs resulting from improved economy that the federal infusion would provide. Just 15 of these states, including Texas, have turned down $8.4 billion in assistance.

The estimate of reduction to the deficit from the ACA has increased since the original projections. In 2020, Medicare spending will be $137 billion lower than thought in 2010, and Medicaid spending will be 16 percent, $85 billion, lower. Private health insurance premiums are expected to be about 9 percent lower. These projections are assuming a temporary slowdown, but the savings could actually be $750 billion over a decade.

The proposed deal is split between revenues through fees and spending cuts. Travelers will pay higher prices on airline tickets, and federal workers will have to contribute more to pensions. Millionaires and billionaires are safe from higher taxes. Defense spending takes half reduction of sequestration for 2014 of $45 billion, and non-defense discretionary spending takes the rest. The sequester’s cuts to mandatory spending are not affected. There is no chance of an extension for unemployment benefits.

As of today, the House plans to vote on Friday to pass the budget deal and delay the SGR’s cuts to Medicare’s doctor pay. There are no changes to Social Security and Medicare in the deal, but amendments can always change that. If conservatives have their way there will be another “continuing resolution” for a few days so that Republicans can avoid talking about issues such as jobs.

 

The struggle will be between the Republicans who are afraid that they will lose their next elections because the country knows they are unreasonable and the extremists who believe that no one can defeat. Three years ago, the mainstream Republicans thought the Tea Party would save them. Now they see them as a menace.

cartoon snake tea party

Later this week, the fight begins as conservative Republicans push to inflict the poor with more homelessness, cold, hunger, lack of education and jobs, and sickness because they think the poor deserve to suffer. Even if today is Human Rights Day.

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

November 16, 2013

Progressives Decide to Move Forward

While House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) sits on all potential legislation such as immigration reform, non-discrimination, etc., the rest of the world is moving forward to make life better for people. Here are some recent actions:

The Sacramento Superior Court defended California’s clean energy economy by upholding California’s cap-and-trade program. Business interests opposed the law, but the court supported the state’s position that auctioning carbon permits holds polluters accountable for making an adverse impact on the climate. The first four “auctions” raised $395 million for the state, and the fifth one is due this coming week.

In two different cases, Mutual Pharmaceuticals v. Bartlett (2011) and Pliva v. Mensing  (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that makers of generic drugs could not warn people of the dangers associated with their drugs because they had to copy the brand-name drug label, per FDA mandates. The FDA policy and Supreme Court decisions eliminated any incentive for generic drug makers to investigate and report safety problems related to their products, about 84 percent of the medication market, by giving them total immunity.

Recently, differences between generics and brand-names, such as Wellbutrin and its generics, resulted in several generics being pulled from the market because the generics are not equivalent to the brand-name drugs. For example, stories about problems surrounding Wellbutrin generics were in the media for at least six years before the FDA ruled that the generic was not equivalent.

The good news: After extensive petitioning, the FDA proposes revising its 1992 ruling to requiring changes in generic drug labels listing dangers not provided in labels for brand-name drugs. If generic drug makers present a valid case for changes in the labeling, the FDA may permit this information on the labels. Generic drug manufacturers could also distribute “Dear Health Care Provider” letters. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the change would create new liability standards for generic drug manufacturers under the same failure-to-warn standards that have resulted in huge fines for many branded drug manufacturers. The FDA is providing 60 days for public and industry input regarding the changes in the rules before they could go into effect.

Public Citizen, which worked to petition the FDA regarding labeling rules, has also issued a report about the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma and Texas just weeks before the 485-mile-long pipeline is supposed to have 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen pumped through it daily. Members of Public Citizen who walked a 250-mile stretch documented and photographed engineering code violations and approximately 125 “anomalies” of dents, sags, peeling patches, and other problems.

 multipatch2_1292 (2)

Public Citizen has called for a U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) investigation into its findings. The organization has also requested that Congress and the White House delay any pipeline use until a government investigation is complete.

Martin Bashir has called out Sarah Palin about her comparison between slavery and the national debt. Although right-wingers accuse Bashir of being a misogynist, I think he’s a hero for his history lesson, using the diary of plantation overseer Thomas Thistlewood to describe the brutality and inhumanity of slavery in Colonial America.  

In 1756, Thistlewood recorded that a slave named Darby “catched eating kanes had him well flogged and pickled, then made Hector, another slave, s-h-i-t in his mouth.” The overseer’s punishment became known as “Darby’s Dose.” The diary also described treatment for a man he called Punch. “Flogged punch well, and then washed and rubbed salt pickle, lime juice and bird pepper, made Negro Joe piss in his eyes and mouth.”

The liberal wing of the Senate is moving forward while GOP senators filibuster the three women nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit: Nina Pillard, Patricia Millett, and Caitlin Halligan. GOP senators accused the women accused of “militant feminism” because of their work for women’s rights. (Misogyny?)

Democratic senators have introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 that would prevent states from passing TRAP laws. Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers attempt to stop abortion access in 45 states by creating frivolous regulations such as specific dimensions for clinic restrooms and mandates that doctors performing abortions have privileges at nearby hospitals. These state laws, some of them overturned by courts, have closed 54 women’s clinics, 12 of them in Texas. That state’s reduction in funding closed another 50 family planning clinics.

Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Barbara Boxer (CA), Tammy Baldwin (WI) introduced the bill in the upper chamber. Reps. Judy Chu (CA), Marcia Fudge (OH), and Lois Frankel (FL) brought the bill to the House. The last time that Congress passed proactive legislation protecting abortion access was the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994.

Another Senate bill extends the life of Social Security and improves its benefits. Democrats Sherrod Brown (OH),Tom Harkin (IA), Brian Schatz (HI), and Mark Begich (AK) are sponsoring the Strengthen Social Security Act of 2013:

Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula:  By changing the way that SS benefits are calculated, the average increase per person would by about $70 per month with those in low- and middle-income levels targeted.

Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: A change in the calculation of Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) would also create an increase in SS benefits. At this time, the COLA is tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation, using items that do not correctly reflect purchases that seniors make, such as medical care. The bill bases future COLAs on the CPI for the Elderly (CPI-E), an experimental index that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has been keeping since 1982.

Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: According to the most recent Social Security Trustees report, the Trust Fund can pay full benefits through 2033, another 20 years. The proposed change is phasing out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that the wealthiest Americans contribute to the program the same share of their income as the middle class.

Republicans may not vote for these bills, but they’ll be forced to show that they vote against women and senior citizens.

 

October 29, 2013

Re Heathcare.gov Issues

Imagine living in a country where the government pays for your major medical expenses without a lot of registration, picking an insurance company, and checking on possible subsidies. In this country you wouldn’t shop for insurance; you’d just register. If you live in the United States, you already have this—if you’re over 65. It’s called Medicare, and it’s popular. Most people don’t worry about socialism; they’re just grateful that they have basic insurance. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s much better than no insurance at all.

There’s one reason that everyone in the United States doesn’t have the same insurance—insurance companies. With their lobbying power and the Tea Party selfish craziness of the Tea Party, we have settled for a “better-than-nothing” solution. Republicans would like to get rid of Medicare, too, but the majority of their constituents are either on or near the program.

During the federal government shutdown, we rarely heard the  word “glitch.” Since the media forgot how the far-right tried to destroy the country, they are in full attack mode against the Affordable Care Act.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote, “A nation that waited several decades for health insurance is becoming increasingly infuriated by a Web site that is wasting minutes of its time, reports from across the United States confirm.” Actually,  the country has been waiting for over 70 years to have a watered-down version of health care.

For the second time in a decade, the government launched a health care website Back in 2005, the launch online shopping for Medicare prescription drug programs was three weeks late. A review of the 1-800 Medicare phone number indicated that the agency “only responded to calls accurately and completely only about two-thirds of the time.” An annual booklet sent out to seniors called “Medicare & You” contained “inaccurate details about some of the prescription plan choices.” Stories about the poor launch of the 2005 reform were back on page 17 of the Washington Post; problems with HealthCare.Gov are typically front-page news.

When Medicare Part D (the prescription addition to Medicare) premiered, it was far less popular than Obamacare. Part D started out with a 21 percent favorability. Since then, it has a 90 percent popularity.

On the floor of the House, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) tried to remind Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR) and other GOP members of the House of events eight years ago, five years before the Tea Party elected Griffin. The Democrats didn’t like George W. Bush’s Medicare drug program with its huge gap without insurance and the fact that drug prices could not be negotiated. Yet they convinced their constituents to enroll instead of whining through 40+ bills to get rid of Part D. Griffin tried to defend the GOP by claiming that they have co-sponsored proposals, but Pascrell pointed out that there no legitimate alternatives. Maybe that’s why Griffin has said he won’t be running in the next election.   

The media has joined the GOP in denigrating the Affordable Care Act:

CBS told the story of a woman who was forced off a $54 per month policy for one that cost ten times as much. The cancellation letter gave the Affordable Care Act as the reason. The woman’s “junk insurance” didn’t even cover hospitalization, and it gave her only $50 for a procedure. For example, if she needed a $2,000 MRI, the insurance paid only $50, leaving the balance for her to pay.

Most of the policies being canceled were sold after the ACA became law: insurance companies knew they were selling policies that failed to comply with Obamacare. Customers were not told that these policies would have to be replaced. Because of GOP pressure, grandfathered policies are allowed yearly limits on coverage while they are not required to offer a “essential health benefits” package.

NBC News reported that “50 to 75 percent of the 14 million consumers who buy their insurance individually can expect to receive a ‘cancellation’ letter or the equivalent over the next year because their existing policies don’t meet the standards mandated by the new health care law.” The White House had told Congress that in 2010 that policies after 2014 could not unfairly burden customers. The law keeps policies from canceling coverage when a person becomes ill, imposing lifetime limits on benefits, eliminating all benefits for a particular condition, and reducing the cap for covered services each year. People actually benefit because enrolling through an exchange may cost them less, especially if they get subsidies.

CNN  interviewed people trying to get onto the health care website. When a women responded that she really liked what she saw, the host immediately moved on to someone else. Like all the other media, CNN is clogging the website by playing with it. If everyone stayed off of it except people who actually need the information, it might work better.

Fox’s Sean Hannity found six people willing to misrepresent reasons for their dislike of Obamacare. A couple who complained about not growing their construction business by keeping employees under a certain number of hours has only four employees. Proving health insurance is required only for businesses with 50 or more employees. A woman who complained about her rates going up hadn’t bothered to check the exchange. If she had, she would have found a 60-percent reduction from pre-Obamacare market. Another couple with the same complaint said that they also had not gone to the exchange but instead went to an insurance agent because they oppose Obamacare. The exchange would save them 63 percent of their bill.

Hannity also hosted Dr. Marc Siegel who complained that too many people have access to health care. He said that not everyone can get into his office to see him because of health insurance. “There’s a shortage of doctors. So what do they do? They’re going to pay us less.”

On Mike Huckabee’s program people complained about rate increase. One of them who said that her rates went up was unemployed and eligible for Medicaid. She said, however, that she wouldn’t take it because someone else might need it more.

Meanwhile the GOP members are just flat-out lying:

  • Real cost of the website: $70 million, not Fox’s guess of $634.
  • Website not designed to deceive customers: The site lists the actual cost to people before listing cost without subsidies.
  • No interference from the White House: Contractors denied Rep. Darrell Issa’s accusation that the administration botched the website development by making the “political decision” to mask the costs of insurance premiums online.
  • No HIPPA Violation: No breach of privacy because the website doesn’t ask for health information.
  •  No delay in individual mandate: The only delay is the sign-up deadline, not when people receive the insurance.

Basic facts about the Affordable Care Act:

  • The federal government is operating marketplaces in 36 states, and 14 states and the District of Columbia are operating their own marketplaces.
  • Marketplace plans offer five levels of coverage—catastrophic, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—ranging from less generous to more generous.
  • Individuals with family income from one to four times the federal poverty level (about $26,000 to $94,000 for a family of four)—and who are not eligible for other qualified coverage—are eligible for tax credits to help cover the cost of a plan, based on the silver plan.
  • The tax credit caps the amount an individual must pay for the second-lowest-cost silver plan at a certain percentage of family income, ranging from 2 percent of income at the poverty level to 9.5 percent of income at four times the poverty level.
  • Increased competition has lowered the cost of premiums in the individual market, meaning that the U.S. will pay $190 billion less than expected and lowering the ten-year deficit by $300 billion.
  • An additional 700,000 people will gain coverage over the earliest projection.
  • Of young people on their parents’ plan, 63 percent belong to the GOP as compared with 45 percent who register as Democrats.

Almost 80 years ago, Social Security got to a rocky start, beginning with employers reporting earnings with no name or SSN. Four years after the Act went into effect, syndicated columnist Drew Pearson tried to create panic by claiming that people would never receive their benefits. Now the entire situation is an obscure historical footnote.

Almost 700,000 eligible seniors refused to sign up for Medicare less than 50 years ago because they mistakenly thought that they were giving up Social Security. Some segregated Southern cities had no participating hospitals because Medicare required that they comply with the new Civil Rights Act. Originally doctors billed patients directly, causing long waits for the seniors’ reimbursements.

The enactment of government-financed income tax sent people over the edge because of the forms’ complexity. After one-hundred years, people still complain but most accept, especially when they think about the many government benefits from the country’s infrastructure. No politician has emerged victorious for the past century in getting rid of the progressive tax.

In less than a decade, the Affordable Care Act will be a success, and most people—even those elected to Congress—will not remember any problems in its inception. Or maybe there will be a better solution by then—universal health care.

October 9, 2013

Day Nine of the GOP Government Shutdown: Koch Brothers Getting Nervous

Eleven months ago, the wealthy Koch Brothers started orchestrating the current government shutdown; now they understand that they have unleashed a monster because many of the most vocal Tea Party members in Congress are ignorant. And stupid.

Last Saturday, the New York Times divulged the background for the plot to create the current developing disaster for the United States:

“Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.

“Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed ‘blueprint to defunding Obamacare,’ signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups. It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government. …

“To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010—waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known. …

“A defunding ‘tool kit’ created in early September included talking points for the question, ‘What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?’ The suggested answer was the one House Republicans give today: ‘We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare.’

“Groups like Tea Party Patriots, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all immersed in the fight, as is Club for Growth, a business-backed nonprofit organization. Some, like Generation Opportunity and Young Americans for Liberty, both aimed at young adults, are upstarts. Heritage Action is new, too, founded in 2010 to advance the policy prescriptions of its sister group, the Heritage Foundation.

“The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, have been deeply involved with financing the overall effort. A group linked to the Kochs, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, disbursed more than $200 million last year to nonprofit organizations involved in the fight. Included was $5 million to Generation Opportunity, which created a buzz last month with an Internet advertisement showing a menacing Uncle Sam figure popping up between a woman’s legs during a gynecological exam.”

The day after the NYT revealed the right-wing plans to shut down the government, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) admitted that in July he had cut a deal with Democrats: if the Senate would accept his budget demands, the House would pass a clean Continuing Resolution to keep the government functioning. Then Boehner double-crossed the Democrats.

Up until now the right-wing and their funder, the Koch Brothers, have held the position that they need to get rid of democracy because it allows views that they don’t want, such as raising taxes on the wealthy to help other people in the country. The Koch Brothers have also supported the right-wing neo-Confederate ideology that states have the right to ignore federal mandates, especially those that help racial minorities and the poor.

“States’ rights” gained its popularity to first defend slavery and then maintain racial segregation after the Civil War.It continued in the second half of the 20th century with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan getting Southern Democrats to turn Republican by fueling their white resentment against integration.

In the 21st century, voters are beginning to understand that survival of the middle class depends on investment in infrastructure, research, education, health care, and other domestic programs, using revenue from increased taxes on the rich. They also recognize that slowing and eventual reversal of global warming depends on reduction of carbon dioxide and other emissions while changing the U.S. energy system.

The Koch Brothers and other right-wing billionaires retaliated by paying millions to extremist far-right organizations, getting them to create strict voter ID laws and gerrymander congressional districts to keep control of state legislators and the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout the nation, the right-wing follows William F. Buckley’s position from 1957: “The white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

The Koch Brothers saw the problem with their strategy because many of the GOP House members think that not raising the debt ceiling will not cause problems. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) led the debt ceiling denier caucus when he claimed that reaching the debt limit will help the economy: “I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.”

Other GOP Congressional members asserted that the government could pick and choose what bills to pay, like they do in their personal lives. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said, “I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast, that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we will default on our debt. We won’t. We’ll continue to pay our interest.”

If investors start pulling cash out of money market funds, which hold large amounts of short-term government debt, credit markets will freeze up, as in the 2009 collapse of Lehman Brothers, resulting in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Rep. Richard Burr (R-NC) claimed that “the only people buying our bonds right now is the Federal Reserve.” He ignored the nearly $6 trillion, almost half the public outstanding debt, that is owned by foreign governments, including $2.4 trillion by China and Japan alone. Both of those nations this week warned the United States against doing anything that would put these massive investments at risk.

At least two large banks have already stocked ATM machines with extra money out of concern for a run on the money. The price of insurance contracts on Treasury bonds, known as credit default swaps, more than doubled in the last two weeks. If nothing is done, the swaps will drastically increase, interest rates will send shockwaves through markets, and disaster will ensue except for those who invest in credit derivatives.

People who don’t get Social Security, Medicare, and other benefits may decide to revolt against government. The GOP needs to remember that one-third of the people in this country have over 300 million guns, thanks to the GOP laissez-faire attitude toward gun control and its promotion of a violent culture.

“A Federal debt default would rank as one of the more unprecedented economic and financial events in the country’s history,” Michael Cembalest, global head of investment strategy at J.P. Morgan Asset Management wrote in a note to clients. Debt limit denier Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) showed his ignorance in this statement: “They are trying to overstate their case to get their way. I think if the president were a true leader, he would take default off the table and he would say, ‘We’re not going to default.’”

In an attempt to pretend that they had nothing to do with the government shutdown, a top official from Koch Industries sent a letter today to senators stating that they have not “lobbied on legislative provisions defunding Obamacare.” Privately, Koch officials have expressed concern to lawmakers that the prospect of a government default over the Obamacare issue would be a “disaster” for the economy. Last month, Koch Industries paid $7.2 billion for a company that makes connectors for Apple iPhones and other consumer products–one of many markets that could be effected by spikes in credit resulting from a government default.

“We believe that Congress should–at a minimum–keep to sequester-level spending guidelines, and develop a plan for more significant and widespread spending reductions in the future,” the letter claimed.

The Koch Brothers’ influence is obvious. Soon after the letter was sent, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham told reporters he wants to defund “Obamacare,” but he doesn’t want this to be tied to the debt ceiling because “failure to raise the debt ceiling would indeed disrupt the global economy.” Immediately after that, FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe said that he, too, believes Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling.

The Democratic Party’s favorability rate has gone down slightly to 43 percent, but the GOP rating is now 28 percent, the lowest at any time since Gallup started measuring party favorability. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) tried to get a vote on a clean CR by using the declining popularity of Congress under Rule IX. “The government shutdown is a mark upon the dignity of the House, and the House should be willing to pass a clean continuing resolution to end it,” he said. To make his point, he explained that Congressional popularity was lower than witches, hemorrhoids, and dog poop. Speaker pro tempore Steve Womack (R-AR) cut off Grayson at dog poop.

In separate op-ed pieces today, Reps. Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) show the direction in which the GOP House may be heading. They will likely veer away from Obamacare toward “reform” of Social Security and Medicare (aka raising the age and reducing the benefits). The GOP House leadership is caught between pressures from the “take no prisoners” position of the Tea Party and the growing fear of the Koch Brothers. At the same time, President Obama may have learned his lesson from the past two negotiations when he rewarded the bad behavior of the GOP who continued to starve the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile Congressional members are still being paid. And fortunately for them, the House members’ gym stays open, providing the hostage-takers with swimming pool, basketball courts, paddleball courts, a sauna, a steam room, and flat screen TVs. Sadly, towel service is unavailable, but taxpayers are paying for daily cleaning and maintenance as well as heating the pools and keeping the lights on.

April 13, 2013

Chained CPI Cuts Benefits

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:12 PM
Tags: , , ,

When the president released his 2014 budget earlier this week, the media immediately focused on his Social Security position. Conservative Republicans tried to complain about how President Obama wants to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations, but the difference of opinion between Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), NRRC chair, and John Boehner (R-OH), House Speaker, took center stage when Walden complained about the president ripping off seniors.

The president’s horrifying proposal links Social Security cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) to “chained CPI” (chained consumer price index). Each year, the Social Security gods decide whether there will be a slight increase in benefits based on inflation in one quarter’s Consumer Price Index. In the past three years, there was no COLA for two separate years in Social Security benefits. Yet the new way of determining the level of inflation gives an even more unfair method of establishing future benefits.

“Chained” connects the way that people buy cheaper stuff when costs rise. If they do that, according to the government, then they aren’t spending any more so there is no inflation. No inflation, no increase in benefits. The problem with this for many seniors is that they can’t buy cheaper because they are buying as cheap as they can. Also, the chained CPI isn’t the same for seniors as for others. Serious inflation for that age group comes from health care, but costs for this are skyrocketing.

Defenders of this proposal claim that it isn’t a cut–just a slowdown in the rate of  increases. It’s a cut! People get less money.

The government can get $122 billion during the next ten years in a variety of ways that doesn’t hurt the vulnerable:

  • Close capital gains loopholes: $174 billion.
  • End the Bush tax cuts at Obama’s original $250,000 level, rather than the compromise $400,000 number: $183 billion.
  • Cut overseas military bases by 20 percent: $200 billion.
  • Negotiate with drug companies: $220 billion.
  • Enact “Defense-friendly” Pentagon cuts: $519 billion.
  • End corporate tax loopholes (without being “revenue neutral,” as the President’s proposing): $1.24 trillion.
  • Enact a financial transaction tax on the folks who ruined our economy: $1.8 trillion.
  • And more!

In addition, cutting the Social Security doesn’t reduce the deficit because Social Security is separately funded. In fact, law forbids Social Security from contributing to the deficit.

Implementing the chained CPI for Social Security also means cuts for more than 4 million children because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired, or deceased. For some of them, like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), benefits mean a college education. Social Security keeps 21 million people above the poverty line; about one-third of these are under retirement age, and 1.1 million are under the age of 18.

Bob Cesca gives a series of myths—lies that Washington lawmakers have been spreading so that they can give more money to the wealthy and corporations:

Social Security is broke. This is the first thing that they say about Social Security because the GOP wants to get rid of Social Security. Nobody involved in Social Security thinks that Social Security is going broke: the trustees say that without any changes, the program can keep paying for the next 20 years and may even run a surplus until 2033. No other government program is running a surplus, but conservatives want to get rid of this one.

Social Security increases the deficit. So does the inflated tax cuts and subsidies of the wealthy and the corporations, but no conservative asks them to “sacrifice”—to pay an extra small percentage of their millions and billions. They have the lobbying power; the poor don’t. And Social Security isn’t attached to the deficit; it’s a separate program.

The U.S. can’t survive without cutting the deficit. The deficit is already shrinking. As a percentage of the GDP, it’s dropped by nearly 48 percent since President Obama first took office. In raw numbers, the deficit has gone down from its top of $1.4 trillion in 2009 (the hangover of the Bush years) to a projected $845 billion by the end of this year. The CBO projects that by the end of 2016, the deficit will have dropped to $433 billion, for a total of nearly a trillion dollars in deficit reduction in six years. This can continue if lawmakers don’t force austerity on the United States to slow the economy. A better economy results in more taxes from the 99 percent which then further reduces the deficit. More jobs create more jobs that create more jobs ad infinitum.

Raising the payroll tax rate or lifting the income cap is impossible. Raising the income cap on the payroll tax from $113,000 to $200,000 wouldn’t affect the bottom 80 percent of the population. A person making $200,000 would pay less than $5,000 if the cap were raised. And if it were eliminated, Social Security could pay full benefits until 2087. Republicans have raised the income cap before: in 1983, President Reagan signed Social Security reform legislation that increased the payroll tax rate, required that higher-income beneficiaries pay income tax on part of their benefits, and required the self-employed to pay the full payroll tax rate, rather than just the portion normally paid by employees.

The deficit has no relationship to the nation’s economic problems. The GOP lawmakers that 2010 swept into Congress and onto state legislatures had campaigned on getting jobs for people in the United States. They failed. If they had worried about expanding growth instead of breaking unions, the country would have wage growth, consumer confidence, financial security for the elderly and disabled (which means increasing Social Security). Increased Social Security can help do all this because the poor will spend their money and create more jobs. The wealthy will just stash their money out of the country. Austerity will automatically increase the deficit.

The supreme advantage of Walden objecting to the chained CPI is that it gives the president a perfect reason for dropping the idea from his budget proposal. “I thought Republicans wanted this policy,” he could say. “But if they consider this ‘a shocking attack on seniors,’ I’ll gladly drop the idea.”

Following is the letter than I received from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) about Social Security. He makes sense.

“I see Social Security and Medicare as a covenant with seniors.  People work their whole lives with the understanding and expectation that they can rely on these programs when they retire. That’s why I was so distressed that the President’s proposed 2014 budget included the idea of applying the so-called ‘chained CPI’ to Social Security. ‘Chained CPI’ is DC-speak for cutting the hard-earned benefits of seniors who have worked their whole lives.

“This new way of calculating inflation would mean a smaller annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security, but seniors already get less than they need to keep up with the inflation they face.  In fact, in two of the last four years, there was no COLA at all.

“There seems to be a view among some in Washington that we have been too generous to our seniors. They are simply wrong. Seniors receive an average of $1,230 a month from Social Security.  For more than half of our seniors Social Security constitutes a majority of their income. For a third, it’s nearly 90 percent of their income.

“There’s no crisis facing Social Security–it’s going to pay full benefits for a generation before the trust fund starts running short.  We do need to address the long-term financing, but not by making seniors close to the edge already cut back even further.  And it’s important to note that Social Security has not increased our debt or deficits by one dime. If the goal is to lower our debt and deficits, there are plenty of ways to do so that will not affect seniors living on fixed incomes: ending the war in Afghanistan, closing loopholes in the tax code that mainly benefit the wealthy and well-connected, and stopping handouts of wasteful subsidies to big agriculture companies through direct payments.

The implementation of chained CPI will pull at least $12.2 billion out of circulation each year. That’s $12.2 billion that could employ people because people who get Social Security use their money to buy food, shelter, medical needs, and other necessary expenditures. The wealthy would just take that money and send it offshore.

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