Nel's New Day

March 17, 2016

Gov. Snyder, Government Isn’t a Business

The U.S. House actually did something today: they held committee hearings about the travesty in Flint with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder testifying. For those of you who lost track of Flint’s water problems in the midst of Trumpmania, a governor with no political experience who was hired on the basis of his “business” skills and anti-government policies said he saved money on the water supply to Flint’s citizens by poisoning them with lead and causing deaths from Legionnaires Disease. The brilliant minds behind the scheme that poisoned Flint residents were a think tank funded by the powerful, conservative DeVos family, owner of Amway marketing.

Leaked emails show that Snyder didn’t poison Flint residents to save money. He just wanted to privatize the utility.  The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) offered Snyder a deal of $800 million over 30 years, 20 percent cheaper than switching to the polluted Karegnondi Water Authority. It also offered a 50 percent reduction over what Flint had paid in the past to stay with DWSD. By breaking up DWSD and starve it of the Flint customer base, DWDS would be forced to privatize, sold off by Snyder. Snyder refused to release the emails from 2013 which would confirm this information. The governor has also slashed corporate taxes while instituting a flat tax and crippling public schools with budget cuts.

Ironically, Michigan could have saved billions of dollars and thousands of people suffering from serious health issues and brain damage for only $50,000 a year. A city administrator refused to pay to add orthophosphate to the process, as is done in Detroit to Lake Huron sourced water. That chemical would have prevented the corrosion of lead pipes.

Snyder came into today’s hearing after ignoring the problems for almost two years and said, “This was a failure of government at all levels. Local, state and federal officials — we all failed the families of Flint.” To Snyder, everyone else was responsible, and he is innocent, despite his appointment of an “emergency manager” instead of allowing elected officials to guide the city’s government processes. That was before he ignored all the complaints from Flint residents about the dangers of the water after his manager changed the water source and caused the disaster. According to Snyder, “Bureaucrats created a culture that valued technical competence over common sense.” He’s wrong only about his personal bureaucrats. No one valued “technical competence” and no one showed “common sense.”

The governor who believes in states’ rights—and would have screamed bloody murder if anyone had tried to violate them—blamed EPA’s Gina McCarthy for not fixing the problem while Snyder ignored it. McCarthy responded that Snyder’s people in Michigan’s DEQ told the EPA that they had done corrosion controls when they hadn’t done anything. She concluded, “We were strong-armed, we were misled, we were kept at arm’s length, we couldn’t do our jobs effectively.”

After the EPA sent Michigan’s DEQ directives about the Flint water two months ago, the state agency’s director questioned the EPA’s “legal authority” to “order a state and its agencies” to protect the health of its citizens. EPA had told Michigan to inform the public about upcoming steps, but Michigan is one of two states in the nation where the governor is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. In that way, the state thinks that it can legally violate the state’s open meetings act as the governor meets with all his emergency managers behind closed doors. Before this order from EPA, the state supplied the federal agency with altered documents and purposely skewed test results to support the falsehood that there was no problem with Flint water.

Snyder also blamed federal regulations. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires chemicals to reduce corrosiveness in public water systems to keep water from leach lead from pipes. Michigan, however, misread the regulations.

With the disaster in the public spotlight, Snyder now feels really bad about what happened. Yet he refuses to provide any funding from the state’s surplus funds of $575 million to replace pipes and instead is spending $1.2 million on lawyers to deal with the crisis. Snyder’s AG, Bill Schuette, also appointed a special counsel, a donor to both Shuette’s and Snyder’s campaigns, to investigate whether anyone broke state laws. The governor also hired a public relations firm with no offices in Michigan in order to cover himself. Its senior vice president in the Florida office is married to Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

Today’s hearing was the second on the subject this week. On Tuesday, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings (MD), called the testimonies “sickening.” State-appointment Darnell Earley who switched the water moaned about how he’s been “unjustly persecuted, vilified, and smeared.” He claimed that the water was safe even after GM refused to use it because it corroded its auto parts. “I’m not a water treatment expert,” he said. At the same time that he denied any problem with the water, state employees were receiving bottled water at their offices.

Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor who largely contributed to exposing the sham, said, “Apparently being a government agency means never having to say you are sorry.” He said that the agency “covered up evidence of their unethical actions by authoring false scientific reports.”

The water is unusable, but parents were told that the state would take their children if they didn’t pay their water bills because they needed running water in their homes. Flint residents also pay more for unusable water than other U.S. communities pay for usable running water. Average  spending for each Flint household is $864.32—more than twice as much as homes served by public water utilities and ten times as much as Phoenix, Arizona. The average cost for private water utilities is $500, typically 58 percent more than other public utility systems and 2.7 times the average cost in Michigan. The cost in Flint skyrocketed after the emergency manager raised water and sewer costs by 25 percent. Over 40 percent of Flint residents live under the poverty line, and the media income is $25,000.

After Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton brought Flint’s inexcusable condition to the media forefront—soon followed by Bernie Sanders–GOP candidates spoke up. Sen. Marco Rubio, now out of the race, praised Snyder for taking “responsibility,” and Sen. Ted Cruz offered to send water, but only through anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers.” He also single-handedly blocked an aid package of $850 million to help victims in Flint and other cities suffering lead crises.

This week, a resolution “recognizing magic as a rare and valuable art form and national treasure” was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform—the same group holding hearings on Flint.  Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said he did this as a matter of constituent services. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) tweeted, “The House GOP believes in magic but not climate change.” Evidently representatives don’t believe in constituent service for Flint. Instead of helping Flint and other communities with lead pipes, the U.S. is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in the next ten years—and Israel wants that increased to $50 billion. House Democrats are pushing a bill to block the appointment of emergency managers instead of elected officials, but it’s an uphill battle.

Michigan’s governor is a Republican dream: Snyder is anti-government and anti-regulation while strongly states’ rights. He firmly believes that government should be run like a business. At least that’s his belief until he wants to blame all his problems on someone else and complain that the federal government didn’t solve his problems years ago so that he wouldn’t be sitting in a House committee hearing. In reality it’s a  nightmare–what happens when GOP leadership is allowed to run rampant over people’s rights.

This week’s test of water shows higher levels than earlier ones. Snyder refuses to replace the pipes until he does extensive studies. People are still without usable running water. That’s Flint under a small government, business plan.

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.

July 22, 2012

Whining Republicans Protest States’ Rights

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 4:45 PM
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President Obama is gutting welfare: that’s the latest cry from Republicans about a recent White House directive giving more flexibility to states in determining requirements for welfare. Mitt Romney is leading the charge, complaining that Obama wants to “strip the established work requirements” from the welfare reform act of 2006 that required people to be searching for work in order to get any welfare. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)follows right behind, calling the action “a partisan disgrace.”

Back in 2005, 29 governors asked Congress to grant them waivers from some requirements in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Romney, then Massachusetts governor, signed the letter asking for waivers as well as Gov. [Haley] Barbour (Mississippi) and Gov. Mike Huckabee (Alabama). Secretary Tommy Thompson and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) also supported the waiver suggestion. Romney’s campaign now denies that he would do such a thing, but the signatures are on the Daily Kos website. It won’t be the first time that the Romney camp has had to back down when they lacked the facts about an issue.

George W. Bush didn’t take any action on the governors’ request, but less than two weeks ago the current White House issued a directive that giving alternatives to states so that they can use a combination of learning and work or vocational educational training to meet TANF requirements. George Sheldon, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), invited all the states to submit applications for waivers from certain parts of the TANF law, permitting states the opportunity to try programs that promote employment for welfare recipients in the face of the recession.

Sheldon’s memo states, “The Secretary will not use her authority to allow use of TANF funds to provide assistance to individuals or families subject to the TANF prohibitions on assistance.” That means that states cannot bail out people who aren’t on TANF because they didn’t meet the law’s work requirement. States have to provide specific methods of performance evaluation with establish necessary standards for the continuation of the state’s program.

Current Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote that “within limits, however, we agree … that states should have ‘the flexibility to manage their TANF programs and effectively serve low-income populations.” She did add in her letters to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) and to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), “We do not go as far as these governors in supporting state flexibility.”

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities’ LaDonna Pavetti wrote that TANF’s work requirements are often phrased in terms of “activities,” unpaid work and internships, job searching, etc. as well as employment, activities which may only lead to unpaid work or unsuccessful job hunts. Waivers could  target employment rather than activity and ensure that successes are actually employment and not “busy work.” Pavetti added that waivers could reduce “mind-numbing” (Sheldon’s term) red tape and free up social service workers to give more attention to people in need.

When jobs were plentiful in the late 1990s, welfare reform moved people into employment. The growing recession has caused a steady drop of transferring single women into employment. Much of the TANF money is also spent on administration: only 30 percent of the budgets are used for cash assistance, and twice as many people live on less than $2 per day now.

Thus far two states with GOP governors, Utah and Nevada, have submitted requests for a waiver so far, while three additional states, Connecticut, Minnesota, and California, have asked about the potential for waivers. Also Orrin Hatch, also from Utah, is a leader in trying to dismantle the president’s directive.

Sounds like a win-win, giving states the flexibility to create their own programs, but the Republicans are reacting like swarming bees, stinging everything in sight. They’re screaming that the directive is “a blatant violation of the law” and have dragged out the old canard that poor people will become more dependent on handouts. “By waiving the law’s requirements, President Obama will make it harder for Americans to escape poverty,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) wrote in a statement. “He is hurting the very people he claims to help.” Rick Santorum compared President Obama to “a two-bit dictator” in this attempt to permit states to make welfare requirements more flexible.

Nevada wrote the following in its request for a waiver:

“Nevada is very interested in working with your staff to explore program waivers that have the potential to encourage more cooperative relationships among the state agencies engaged in economic stimulus through job creation, employment skill attainment and gainful employment activities. Nevada is also interested in exploring performance measures that ensure program accountability and also increase the probability of families becoming self-sufficient by providing meaningful data as to the services or combination of services with the best outcomes.”

Nevada Republicans think they can benefit from the voluntary program. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had a hissy fit about the lack of states right. So now Republicans want regulations and federal law? Go figure!   Republicans just want to disagree with President Obama more than they want to follow their own philosophy. They will do anything to destroy President Obama even if it destroys the country.

June 25, 2012

Immigration Not a ‘Victory’ for Brewer

The U.S. Supreme Court is probably holding onto its revelation of the health care ruling until the last minute (aka Thursday), but justices did reveal their decisions on immigration and Montana’s version of Citizens United today. Both these cases will set the direction of the United States for decades to come.

American Tradition Partnership Inc. v. Bullock, the Montana case, was lower profile than the Arizona case on immigration but equally important. Those who watch the millions of dollars rolling into the Republican candidate campaigns know that Citizens United gave corporations unrestricted political spending in the name of “free speech.” Before this SCOTUS 2010 ruling, Montana had passed a law, exactly one century ago, against corporations buying elections, but a 5-4 ruling from SCOTUS refuses to let this law stand.

The immigration ruling, Arizona v. United States, has been far more publicized and perhaps more misunderstood. Justice Elana Kagan recused herself from the decision, resulting in a 5-3 split for most of the decisions.  (Clarence Thomas should take a lesson from Kagan because of his conflict of interest in an extensive number of cases!)

Three provisions of Arizona’s immigration law were struck down; making it a state crime for an immigrant not to be carrying papers, criminalizing the failure of immigrants to register, and forbidding an illegal immigrant from working in Arizona. The fourth provision, the requirement that police check the immigration status of people they stop for traffic or other offenses, was allowed to stand because it seemed to coordinate with federal law and had not gone into effect. The justices left the door open for this provision to be challenged again after it does go into effect, allowing the possibility that it, too, will be declared unconstitutional.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has been touting the decision as a victory. However, most law officials in Arizona, other than the infamous Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, disagree; they view the SCOTUS ruling as a way for them avoid racial profiling. The provision does require Arizona police to check the immigration status of people reasonably stopped in the course of keeping public order in the state, but it doesn’t permit police to hold people if they don’t have papers. The only responsibility that police have is to tell immigration authorities about undocumented immigrants.

According to the ruling, a state doesn’t have the right to make laws on a law reserved for the federal government. In the decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state may not pursue policies that undermine federal law.” Supporting Kennedy’s decision were Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Samuel Alito joined the majority of five in striking down the provision that immigrants not carrying papers are guilty of a misdemeanor.

From these two rulings came two revelations that are not connected to the decisions themselves. The first is the lack of professionalism from at least one of the justices. Antonin Scalia used his dissent to rant against President Obama’s executive directive to allow undocumented immigrants under the age of 30 to stay in the United States to apply for citizenship if they meet certain criteria including being brought into the country as a minor.

Scalia also declared that the Constitution’s Framers would have “rushed to the exits” if they’d known an executive branch would wield such power and that some of the states would not have joined the union if they knew what the president was going to do. In addition, he stated that keeping the Arizona immigration law was important to protect the state.

This and other comments show that his dissent came from an opinion regarding what “should” be done and not the constitutionality of the Arizona law. Like his arguments during the health care debate, Scalia is showing himself to have lost his ability to “judge”; instead he wants to make law. The conservatives should take notice that Scalia has gone far beyond the classic “activist judge.”

Scalia’s fury may also have come from the way that the ruling seemed to approve of the president’s directive to allow young undocumented workers to remain in the country. On page 17 of the opinion, the Court explicitly lists “a veteran” or a “college student” as two examples of undocumented immigrants who should not experience “unnecessary harassment.”

The other revelation from these two landmark rulings is the consistent rejection of state’s rights. Both decisions put federal rule over states’ rights, the opposite of traditional conservative views. Ironically enough, the four more liberal judges voted for states’ rights in the case of Montana’s case. Scalia, who had a temper tantrum about the sovereignty of state law in the Arizona case voted against Montana having the right to retain a century-old law to keep fraud out of elections.

The decision for a third case, Miller v. Alabama, announced today also ruled federal law over states’ rights when it forbid mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. The dissent in this case also shows the stress that at least one justice may be feeling. In his dissent to the decision, Alito mixed up the name of the prison administrator, Donald Roper, and the name of the 17-year-old juvenile offender, Christopher Simmons. Alito’s dissent read that Roper “committed a brutal thrill-killing just nine months shy of his 18th birthday.”

The health care case could also be seen as a states’ rights situation, with 26 states trying to keep the Affordable Care Act out of their terrain. There is no second-guessing this court. It may come down to Kennedy’s vote.

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