After all the controversy over President Obama speaking at the Notre Dame commencement (5/17), with Cardinal George of Chicago expressing “extreme embarrassment” at the invitation and a Florida bishop saying “Notre Dame ... has forgotten what it means to be Catholic,” there was little criticism among the US Catholic hierarchy of Pope Benedict’s decision to host Obama at the Vatican on 7/10.

Three days before that meeting, Benedict showed a populist streak in his new encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), released 7/7. “Profit is useful if it serves as a means towards an end,” Benedict wrote, but “once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty.” He added, “Financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity, so as not to abuse the sophisticated instruments which can serve to betray the interests of savers.”

As Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J., wrote for Newsweek online (7/7), “Sounding like a union organizer, Benedict argues that ‘Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development.’”

Instead, the pope said the goal should be decent employment for everyone, which among other things “permits the workers to organize themselves freely, and to make their voices heard” as well as “work that guarantees those who have retired a decent standard of living.’”

The pope also disagrees with those who believe that the economy should be free of government regulation. While Benedict acknowledges the role of the market, Reese noted, he emphasizes that “the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy.” The pope also unflinchingly supports the “redistribution of wealth” when he talks about the role of government. “Grave imbalances are produced,” Benedict wrote, “when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.”

In his call to redistribute wealth and talk of international governing bodies to regulate the economy, Reese noted, Benedict is to the left of almost every politician in America.

As David Gibson, a writer for Commonweal, noted at PoliticsDaily.com, “Not even the purportedly ‘socialist’ Barack Obama ... would imagine going that far.”

We look forward to the first archbishop who calls for withholding communion from a Catholic pol who votes against the Employee Free Choice Act or calls for cutting Social Security benefits.

LONG NATIONAL ELECTION FINALLY OVER. The Minnesota Supreme Court decided (6/30) that, yes, Al Franken won by 312 votes out of 2.9 mln cast, and was entitled to take his seat in the US Senate. The former comic was understated as he appeared with Majority Leader Harry Reid 7/6 in the Capitol, on the eve of his swearing in. He will serve on the major Judiciary and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees, as well as Aging and Indian Affairs. A protégé of the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Franken is a progressive who might be a key vote on healthcare reform, but in his quest to be taken seriously it appears that the former Saturday Night Live comic has been counseled to avoid being funny at all costs.

Franken’s election has driven Rupert Murdoch’s media holdings bonkers. Fox News tried to stop publication of Franken’s book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right in 2003, alleging that the title infringed on Fox’s trademark, but it only succeeded in generating publicity for the book, which among other things accused Bill O’Reilly of lying. The book became a bestseller, while a federal judge found Fox’s lawsuit to be “fully without merit.” But Fox bears a grudge and one of the channel’s blowhards, Glenn Beck, said, in full froth (6/30), “This is like having me in the Senate. You don’t want me as a senator! ... I mean, it shows how crazy our country has gone ...” News of Franken’s win also unsettled Fox host Brian Kilmeade, who said (7/1), “Now we find out that Al Franken — who’s barely sane if you read his books, and is quite angry in every facet of his life — is now the senator from Minnesota.” Kilmeade turned to his Minnesota-born co-host Gretchen Carlson and demanded, “Explain yourself, Gretchen!” The Wall Street Journal editorialized (7/2) that “Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election,” ignoring the facts that a bipartisan election commission and a bipartisan Supreme Court upheld Franken’s election.

Even David Broder, the dean of D.C. establishment columnists, called Franken a “loud-mouthed former comedian,” which caused Paul Krugman to respond (7/5) that “these days the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body is, not to put too fine a point on it, chock full o’ nuts. James Inhofe: I rest my case. Second, Al Franken’s dirty secret is that … he’s a big policy wonk. I used to go on Franken’s radio show, all ready to be jocular — and what he wanted to talk about was the arithmetic of Social Security, or the structure of Medicare Part D ... So what will Franken do to the level of Senate discourse? He’ll raise it.”

Some liberals, such as radio and TV talker Ed Schultz, expressed outrage that Franken did not adopt a more confrontational attitude after his election was certified. But Franken was clearly adopting a conciliatory tone just before his swearing-in as he ran across Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) who the previous week had called him “the clown from Minnesota.” Franken gave him a hug.

PALIN BAILIN’. The good judgment of American voters in electing not to put Sarah Palin one heartbeat from the presidency was confirmed when Palin unexpectedly announced (7/3) her intention to quit as governor of Alaska at the end of the month. She did not bother to give a good reason for quitting with 18 months remaining in her first term, but Palin’s lawyer tried to prevent any speculation that a corruption scandal might be at the root of her sudden departure from public office. Attorney Thomas Van Flein of Anchorage issued a letter (7/4) threatening to sue any news media that reported on any alleged investigation of Palin relating to questions about the construction of the Wasilla Sports Complex in 2002, when she was mayor, or the building of the Palin’s home at Lake Lucille in 2002.

Even if she isn’t trying to beat a grand jury to the draw, some of her Republican supporters wondered how quitting in the middle of her term, just as economic conditions were creating challenges in governing Alaska, would enhance her qualifications to run for president in 2012. In an interview with ABC News, she remained vague about her reasons for quitting, but she said that one reason was she didn’t want to be a “lame duck” and another was the mounting legal bills she has incurred fighting ethics charges. She suggested that she might run for president in order to insulate herself from such charges. If she were in the White House, she said, the “department of law” would protect her from baseless ethical allegations. “I think on a national level, your department of law there in the White House would look at some of the things that we’ve been charged with and automatically throw them out,” she said.

As ABC’s Kate Snow noted, there is no “Department of Law” at the White House.

HEALTHY EXAMPLES. While opponents of healthcare reform, particularly Republican members of Congress, raise the specter of government-rationed healthcare and long waits to see a doctor, Jonathan Cohn, a senior editor of The New Republic, traveled to France and the Netherlands to check out their healthcare systems. He spoke to elected officials, industry leaders, scholars, doctors and patients. While he heard complaints of too much paperwork and public health experts thinking that patients with chronic disease weren’t getting the kind of sustained, coordinated medical care that they needed (complaints that also could be heard in the US), Cohn wrote in the Boston Globe (7/5), “in the course of a few dozen lengthy interviews, not once did I encounter an interview subject who wanted to trade places with an American. And it was easy enough to see why. People in these countries were getting precisely what most Americans say they want: Timely, quality care. Physicians felt free to practice medicine the way they wanted; companies got to concentrate on their lines of business, rather than develop expertise in managing health benefits. But, in contrast with the US, everybody had insurance. The papers weren’t filled with stories of people going bankrupt or skipping medical care because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills. And they did all this while paying substantially less, overall, than we do.”

France, where people get basic insurance from nonprofit “sickness funds” that are paid by payroll taxes, spends around 11% of its gross domestic product on healthcare while the Dutch, where competing private carriers provide the insurance, spend around 10%. The US spends 16% of GDP on healthcare and that still leaves some 50 mln uninsured, millions more underinsured and medical procedures are rationed by profit-driven insurance company bureaucrats or ability to pay.

HARD TO SAY NO TO LOBBYISTS. What is the problem with Dems, for whom universal health coverage should be an article of faith? The Washington Post reported July 6 that the nation’s largest insurers, hospitals and medical groups have hired more than 350 former government staff members and former members of Congress to influence their old bosses and colleagues. At least seven former aides to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) are lobbying for Big Health. One of them, David Castagnetti, lobbyist for America’s Health Insurance Plans, is not only Baucus’ former chief of staff, but also was director of congressional operations for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Big Health is spending more than $1.4 million a day on lobbying Congress and very little of that is in the public interest. And they have been spending for a long time: Baucus has received $3.9 million from the health care industry in the past 20 years. Among Dems, only Arlen Specter (D-Pa., $4.8 mln.), who was a Republican until this spring, and John Kerry (D-Mass., $8.9 mln.), whose contributions were inflated by his 2004 race for president, got more from the industry.

YES WE CAN. After the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee proposed to achieve near-universal health coverage through a combination of regulation, subsidies and a government-run public health insurance plan would be set up to provide real competition to the private health insurance market, the Congressional Budget Office said the bill would cost $597 bln over the next decade. If you add the cost of expanding Medicaid to cover the poor and near-poor, the plan would cost up to $1.3 tln, Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times (7/6). “There are a number of ways to look at this number, but maybe the best is to point out that it’s less than 4% of the $33 tln the US government predicts we’ll spend on health care over the next decade,” Krugman writes. “And that in turn means that much of the expense can be offset with straightforward cost-saving measures, like ending Medicare overpayments to private health insurers and reining in spending on medical procedures with no demonstrated health benefits.”

Krugman also noted that George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich cost $1.8 tln over a decade. “We can do this — and have no excuse for not doing it,” he wrote at his blog (7/2).

Chris Bowers of OpenLeft.com also noted (7/2) that the Senate in April passed a budget that included $634 bln to pay for health reform over 10 years.

REMEMBER RULE 1. After the Heritage Foundation recently claimed that Medicare administrative costs are higher than for private insurance, Paul Krugman noted that the conservative propaganda shop was reviving an old argument that has been thoroughly refuted. The Congressional Budget Office found that administrative costs under the public Medicare plan are less than 2% of expenditures, compared with 11% administrative costs under Medicare Advantage, which operates under similar rules and treats the same population but is administered by private insurance companies. The General Accounting Office in 2006 found that Medicare Advantage administrative costs are 16.7% of expenditures.

Krugman noted the rules for reading a report from the Heritage Foundation: “1. Don’t believe anything Heritage says. 2. If you find what Heritage is saying plausible, remember rule 1.”

WEAK ‘TEABAGGERS.’ “Tax protesters” apparently are still upset that Barack Obama was elected president. But despite efforts by Fox News to promote a second round of “Teabag” protests around the country on Independence Day (7/4), turnout appeared to be down dramatically from the first round on Tax Day, 4/15. One of the largest events was supposed to be at the famed Southfork Ranch, near Dallas, where organizers expected 50,000 for an event that featured right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin and former Monkee Mickey Dolenz, but WFAA-TV of Dallas reported that “only a fraction of that number actually showed up.” Organizers later claimed that thousands more showed up for fireworks in the evening. In Austin, hundreds showed up at the Texas Capitol to denounce big government, taxes and illegal immigration, but the crowd also booed Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, apparently for voting last year for the bailout of Wall Street. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who was cheered at the Tax Day protests on 4/15 when he raised the possibility of seceding from the Union, drew scattered boos on 7/4, apparently for his advocacy of toll roads. A rally in north Houston drew 1,000 to hear “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher protest most forms of government spending, except for budget increases to deport 12 mln undocumented immigrants.

A theme at a GOP-sponsored Tea Party in Jacksonville, Fla., which drew about 1,000, seemed to be Obama’s resemblance to Adolf Hitler and equated ACORN, the community organizing group, with the Nazi SS.

VETO THWARTS TYPO’D VOTERS. Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) vetoed a bill (6/19) that would have allowed the secretary of state to allow correction of obvious typographical errors by voter registration clerks when matching voter registrations to the state drivers license file. Last year 70,000 applications were denied because of clerical errors, and Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-Houston)’s bill, which passed the House 144-1 and he Senate 31-0, was designed to clear up honest errors, but some Republicans have resisted making it easier to register to vote and Perry is among that number. Since he vetoed the bill after the Legislature adjourned, the Legislature cannot override it. Ironically, Karl-Thomas Musselman of BurntOrangeReport.com noted (7/3), Perry’s veto message contains a clerical error, as it misspells “identifying” as “indentifying,” causing some to wonder if a veto message containing a typographical error is valid.

‘POST’ DUMPS BOATROCKER. The Washington Post fired popular online columnist Dan Froomkin (6/18), who riled the D.C. establishment and particularly conservatives with his “White House Watch” blog for nearly six years. Froomkin skewered not only the Bush administration but also criticized the media establishment. He survived an attempt by the Post’s political editor to muzzle him in 2005 after a Republican official complained that his column was biased. But his challenges of mainstream media that are sycophantic to political power may have done him in. Press critic Bob Somerby wrote at DailyHowler.com (6/26), “Dan Froomkin criticizes the press corps. In the press corps, if you’re a liberal, that just isn’t done ... If there’s one thing you’ll never see [E.J.] Dionne or [Eugene] Robinson do, it’s criticize their cohort — the coven, the clan ... But in the mainstream press corps, liberals don’t discuss the mainstream press. That’s the price of getting those (very good) jobs. It’s also the price of holding them.” Arianna Huffington hired Froomkin to head HuffingtonPost.com’s D.C. bureau (7/6).

Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (7/6), “For all the self-serving talk about how political journalism is dying, it is striking how new and online media outlets continue to thrive. Yesterday (7/5), Josh Marshall’s TalkingPointsMemo — which began as a one-person blog — announced a major investment from Netscape founder Marc Andreesen that is allowing it to double its reporting staff [to 14] ...

“Clearly, journalism itself is not dying,” Greenwald continued. “What is dying — and rightfully so — is the staid, establishment-serving, passion-free, access-desperate, mindless stenographic model to which establishment journalism rigidly adheres. As the Post’s ombudsman reported from personal experience, Froomkin’s firing left ‘an army of angry followers’ and ‘an outcry from a loyal audience.’ People are obviously hungry for the type of real journalism Froomkin practices. The Huffington Post immediately capitalized on the Post’s short-sighted and myopic decision to fire one of their most (and one of their very few) vibrant, passionate and innovative journalists. In this episode lies many insights about the real reasons establishment journalism is struggling severely.”

The Post also suffered a blow to its prestige (7/2) when it was disclosed that the newspaper was offering to sell access to Obama administration officials, members of Congress and the Post’s own reporters and editors at exclusive “salons” at the home of Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth. The offer of “sponsorships” to the salons, at costs from $25,000 to $250,000, was made to a healthcare lobbyist who provided it to Politico.com. Weymouth cancelled the salons after the news broke.

HOPING TERRORISTS ATTACK. Some rightwingers really do hope al Qaeda attacks the US. Talking with Glenn Beck on Fox News (6/30), former CIA counter-terrorism expert Michael Scheuer said politicians won’t do the right things to protect America at all costs, including the use of torture to interrogate suspects. “The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama Bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States,” Scheuer said. “... It’s an absurd situation again, only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently and with as much violence as necessary.” Beck nodded along.

Adam Serwer wrote at Prospect.org (7/1) “[U]nderstand, this is not unpatriotic. You can wish all manner of horrors on this country, but as long as these horrors might serve a specific political agenda, you’re not being unpatriotic. Unpatriotic is a public health care plan. Unpatriotic is a judge modifying subprime mortgage loans to keep a roof over someone’s head. Unpatriotic is phosphate-free detergent. Patriotic is wishing for a terrorist attack on the United States.”

GOP ACTIVIST CONVICTED OF VOTE FRAUD. Republicans spent the better part of last fall raising fears of “voter registration fraud,” and the GOP and the right-wing media machine continue to raise the specter of voter registration shenanigans that undermine the integrity of US elections, Michael McDunnah of Project Vote noted (6/18). In June someone finally was convicted of voter registration fraud — and it turns out the fraud was conducted for, and paid by, the Republican Party!

The Los Angeles Times reported (6/16) that Mark Anthony Jacoby, owner of Young Political Majors, pled guilty in Los Angeles to lying on his own voter registration form in order to collect petitions, a misdemeanor. Brad Friedman of BradBlog.com noted (6/17) that the Times failed to report that Jacoby and Young Political Majors were hired by the California Republican Party to head up voter registration efforts in the state. Jacoby was arrested for voter registration fraud last October, even as the GOP was pushing the ACORN “voter fraud” hoax and Fox News and other news outlets were pushing insinuations about voter fraud by ACORN, Democrats and Obama.

Friedman noted that in the cases involving ACORN, workers were accused of defrauding ACORN and the offenders were turned in to authorities by ACORN officials. There are no allegations of voter fraud having been committed by, or at the behest of, ACORN, Friedman noted.

According to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, two felony counts of perjury and one felony count of voter registration fraud were dismissed in a plea deal with Jacoby, who was sentenced to three years probation and 30 days of community service. Jacoby’s company was alleged to have changed thousands of registrations from Democratic to Republican, preventing those voters from voting in the California Democratic primary. Officials also are reportedly investigating YPM activities in Florida and Massachusetts.

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2009

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