Republicans are starting to show signs of panic over the Republican push to privatize Medicare. GOP pollsters warned House Republicans that Budget Chairman Paul Ryans plan, which included phasing out the Medicare health care entitlement for people who are now 55 or younger, would be a political time bomb.
The GOP budget proposal would provide vouchers to help retirees buy Medicare plans in the private health insurance market. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that seniors medical costs would rise twice as fast under the GOP Medicare plan as they are rising now, hitting more than $12,000 in out-of-pocket costs in 2021.
Republicans also would turn Medicaid into a grant program run by the states to provide low-income health care.
The time bomb had a short fuse. A month after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) hoping the controversial budget would position their party as a beacon of fiscal responsibility, pushed it through the House with only 4 GOP dissenters, Republican reps were under attack by angry seniors at town meetings and a Democratic candidate, Kathy Hochul, won New Yorks reddest congressional district, the 26th, near Buffalo, by a surprisingly comfortable margin (5/24) after Republican candidate Jane Corwin said she supported the Ryan budget, a position she later flipped as her lead in the polls evaporated. A self-financed independent race by teabagger Jack Davis also took some votes from Corwin, but Hochuls 48% share gave Democrats hope that they could defend the seat in next years general election and they have the Medicareless Republicans to thank for the opportunity.
A coalition of progressive groups is warning swing-state Senate Democrats to think twice before embracing parts of the Republican budget plan that would privatize Medicare and cut Medicaid. Polls show strong support for those health programs, the groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, MoveOn.org and Credo Action told Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and they urged the embattled incumbents to stand tall in defense of the popular social safety net programs.
McCaskills Missouri shows the largest divide in surveys done by Public Policy Polling (PPP), especially on Medicare. When asked, In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Medicare, which is the government health insurance program for the elderly? just 19% of respondents said they would cut Medicare, while an overwhelming 77% said they opposed cuts. Similarly, 20% back Medicare cuts in Browns Ohio, while 76% oppose them. In Testers Montana, its 24% favoring cuts and 71% against. Just 26% of Minnesotans want Klobuchar to vote to cut Medicare, while 69% said vote against cuts.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who is up for election in 2012, reversed his support for the House Republican budget. After he told a crowd at Newburyport, Mass. (5/13) that he would vote for Ryans plan, he reconsidered and wrote in an op-ed in Politico.com (5/23) that he cannot support the House Republican plan to privatize Medicare because he (correctly) fears that health care costs will grow faster than the vouchers the plans provides.
PPP frequently polls for Dems, but the nonpartisan ABC News/Washington Post survey found similar results nationally, in late April, with just 21% supporting Medicare cuts and only 30% supporting Medicaid cuts.
But that hasnt stopped right wingers such as Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who told seniors at a local town hall recently that they ought not look to the government to provide health care for the elderly just because their private employer doesnt provide health benefits for retirees. The private corporation that I retired from does not give medical benefits to retirees, the woman told the congressman in video captured a local Patch reporter in Dacula, Ga., HuffingtonPost.com reported.
Hear yourself, maam. Hear yourself, Woodall lectured the woman. You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, When do I decide Im going to take care of me?
Grim reported that large portions of the crowd responded enthusiastically to the congressmans barb, with some giving him a standing ovation, underscoring the fierce divisions within the electorate.
At the same event, when another constituent suggested the voucher to help seniors buy private insurance may be inadequate in covering growing health care costs, Woodall suggested she leave the US to go to Canada or another industrialized countries that offer coverage for everyone.
Woodall makes $174,000 a year with generous benefits, which become vested after five years service. Before he was elected, he had worked since 2000 as a congressional staffer for his predecessor, Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.).
DEMS MIGHT BAIL OUT GOP. At this point, it appears that only the Democrats can save the GOP from a well-deserved drubbing in next years election over Medicare, and it appears that the Dems are up to the task. In his weekly briefing with reporters (5/24) House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) confirmed that cuts to Medicare will be on the table in deficit and debt limit negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden.
If a grand bargain on spending includes Medicare benefit cuts that both parties buy into, it will further expose the shambolic nature of the last two years politics, Brian Beutler noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (5/24). But more to the point, it will blunt Democrats ability to run against the House Republican vote to privatize, and, yes slash Medicare. And it will hurt Senate Democrats, many more of whom will be up for re-election in 2012 than will their Republicans colleagues. Their opponents wont have Paul Ryans budget to answer for but they will have the Dems vote for the deficit grand bargain, and the Medicare cuts therein.
Republicans also plan to attack Democrats from the left on Medicare, bringing up the cuts to the Medicare Advantage program that were built into the 2010 health care bill, Ben Smith reported at Politico.com. Those cuts mainly hit corporate overhead, a detail the GOP ignores.
LABOR EXPLORES INDEPENDENCE. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka denounced Republicans for their union-busting moves as well as their efforts to cut Medicare spending but he also put Democrats on notice that they still have to earn union members support. In a speech at the National Press Club (5/20), Trumka, who heads the 11-mln-member labor federation, attacked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and other Republicans who were elected to create jobs, but instead have gone to war against public-section unions, to strip them of their collective bargaining rights. But Trumka also suggested that organized labor would withhold support from Democratic lawmakers who do not fight hard enough against Republican efforts to curb collective bargaining or cut social programs. He warned Democrats to do more to battle what he described as the Republican wrecking ball. If leaders arent blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families interests, working people will not support them, Trumka said. This is where our focus will be now, in 2012 and beyond.
Budget proposals have revealed a despicable canvas of cruelty, Trumka said. In Michigan, a state senator thinks foster children should be required by law to purchase second-hand clothes. In Maine, the governor thinks more children should go to work. In North Carolina, the legislature thinks we should balance the state budget on the backs of autistic children. In Arizona, the state Senate president floats the idea of locking up protesting public employees in desert tent city jails. In New York, a billionaire mayor proposes to fire 5,000 teachers rather than tax the bonuses of the Wall Street executives who brought down the American economy.
But the final outrage of these budgets, he said, is that these so-called fiscal hawks are actually doing almost nothing to cut the deficit. The federal budget embraced by House Republicans cuts $4.3 tln in spending, but gives out $4.2 tln in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit wealthy and corporations.
He added, Florida is gutting aid for jobless workers and using the money saved to cut already-low business taxes. At the end of the day, our governments will be in no better fiscal shape than we started they are just being used as a pass-through to enrich the already rich at a time when inequality stands at historic levels.
Trumka said organized labor would spend the summer holding elected leaders in Congress as well as the states accountable on one measure: Are they improving or degrading life for working families?
He also said workers want an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people in the workplace and in political life. If Republicans embrace parts of the AFL-CIOs agenda, the federation will respond in kind. If Democrats abandon the unions principles or if they fail to protest as those principles are attacked they can expect similar treatment.
Unions are pleased that the National Labor Relations Board under President Obama is pursuing a complaint against Boeing for moving an assembly plant to South Carolina to punish workers in Washington state who exercised their legal rights. Republicans have responded with threats to defund the agency for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. (The Republican House approved a $50 mln reduction in the NLRB budget.)
GOP ATTACKS VOTING RIGHTS. As Republicans hurried a voter suppression bill through the Wisconsin Legislature so it will take effect before the recall elections of six GOP state senators this summer, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Wisconsin denounced the GOPs fear-based approach instead of a fact-based solution, saying that In its rush to pass legislation to restrict voting before the recall elections, the majority party in the state Senate has shown an utter disregard for common respect and fair process.
The Voter ID bill, which also requires voters to live at their current residence for 28 days instead of the current 10, is part of a nationwide effort to make it more difficult for working people to vote, as Republicans are trying to suppress voting rights in 36 states, the We Party noted at WePartyPatriots.com (5/22). While the common thread is a requirement that voters produce a specific government-issued photo ID, usually a drivers license and often excluding college IDs, many bills also shorten early voting periods and make it more difficult to register voters even threatening criminal penalties and fines for breaking arbitrary rules in the voter registration process.
The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a report, The Truth About Voter Fraud, that drew several conclusions, including the unsubstantiated specter of mass voter fraud suits a particular policy agenda and fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare.
States are supposed to assume costs of printing valid photo IDs for individuals who do not have them, since they otherwise could be challenged as a poll tax. Other costs include training polling staff to accurately perform their updated duties and the cost of the bureaucratic shift caused by the changing of long-standing procedure. There also is a cost incurred by the voter, regardless of the gratis nature of the IDs, because many individuals must travel to obtain their cards, something that is not always easy for the poor and elderly.
Naturally, there is debate about the true cost of the bills. In South Carolina, Voter ID opponents claim the law will cost more than $1 mln to enforce, while House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R), said it would be $500,000 to $600,000. There is also a recurring annual cost of $100,000 associated with the bill, according to detractors.
A report by the Democrats Voting Rights Institute, Real Cost of Photo ID, at Democrats.org suggests that 36 states with collective budget shortfalls of $97 bln have introduced Voter ID laws that will cost anywhere between $276 mln and $828 mln to implement. The estimates are based on actual costs of implementing Voter ID laws in Indiana and Georga. The problem of voter impersonation, which is the only type of fraud photo ID could conceivably address, the report points out, is less likely to occur than a person being struck by lightning.
DONT ASK ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE. Was the massive tornado system that left much of Joplin, Mo., in rubble related to the tornado outbreak three weeks earlier in Tuscaloosa, Ala., or the outbreak a few weeks earlier that made for the most active April for tornadoes in US history? Environmental writer Bill McKibben noted sarcastically at the Washington Post (5/23), It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advisable to try to connect them in your mind with, say, the fires burning across Texas fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than theyve ever been the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if theyre somehow connected.
At the same time as the drought in the Southwest, record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest have resulted in record flooding along the Mississippi. Climatologists have been predicting for years that, as the atmosphere is flooded with carbon, it will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.
Never mind the unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year. Why its just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years, he wrote.
Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade well, you might have to ask other questions. Such as: Should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal mining? Should Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign a permit this summer allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might also have to ask yourself: Do we have a bigger problem than $4-a-gallon gasoline?
The House of Representatives voted 240-184 this spring to defeat a resolution saying simply that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare. Never mind last years failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queenslands failed grain harvest from its record flood, and Frances and Germanys current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields, McKibben wrote. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.
McKibben noted that the US Chamber of Commerce told the Environmental Protection Agency in a recent filing that theres no need to worry because populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations. McKibben concluded, Im pretty sure thats what residents are telling themselves in Joplin today.
GOP SEES OPPORTUNITY IN JOPLIN CRISIS. While rescue workers continued to search for possible survivors in the wreckage left by a tornado that destroyed nearly a third of Joplin, Mo., President Obama pledged full support to the state (5/23), telling survivors Were with you. Were going to stay by you.
But not so fast. Before Congress approves federal funds for disaster relief, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, it had to offset the relief spending with cuts to other programs, the Washington Times reported (5/24). If there is support for a supplemental, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental, Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters at the Capitol. The term pay-fors is used by lawmakers to signal cuts or tax increases used to pay for new spending.
In 2005, ThinkProgress.org noted (5/24), Republicans criticized then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) for his willingness to fund relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by adding to the deficit. It is right to borrow to pay for it he said at the time, explaining that cuts could attack the economy.
Meanwhile, as ClimateProgress.org reported (5/1), the governments tornado forecasting service faces cuts in the GOP Congress. Included are cuts to NOAA weather satellites that could halve the accuracy of precipitation forecasts. Accurate and early forecasting is tremendously important, as tornado deaths in the US have gone from 8 per 1 million people in 1925 to 0.11 per 1 million people today a trend largely attributed to early warning systems fed by advanced meteorology and the introduction of Doppler radar, ClimateProgress noted.
WILL DEMS GIVE IN TO HOSTAGE TAKERS? Meanwhile, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (D-Wis.) said he wants to cut trillions of dollars from spending before it agrees to increase the debt limit. Jed Lewison wrote at DailyKos.com (5/23): The smartest move for Democrats at this point is to stop serious negotiations with Republicans over the debt limit. At some point, Republicans are going to drop their insistence on major policy changes and will instead demand a fig leaf. Until that point comes, theres nothing to be gained from negotiating over a non-negotiable item. If Republicans really are crazy enough to force the country into default, no amount of negotiating is going to stop them; if you keep on letting an armed madmen take hostages, sooner or later somebodys getting shot. So lets put them to the test and find out whether they are bluffing or not.
GOP SENS. FLIP ON JUDICIAL FILIBUSTERS. In what Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com called "a hall of mirrors of hypocrisy," Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (5/19). Liu, a highly respected professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, got 52 votes, all Democrats or Dem-aligned indies, but he needed 60 under Senate filibuster rules. He is the first judicial nominee filibustered since 2005, when a bipartisan "Gang of 14" pledged that "nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances." That detente is over, Lithwich wrote. "The era in which the self-styled grownups on both sides agree that the judicial vacancy rate represents a national crisis, and that the Senate's responsibility to advise and consent does not extend to delaying and distorting, is over, too."
Ian Milhiser of ThinkProgress.org noted (5/19) that just six years ago, Republicans almost unanimously declared filibusters of judicial filibusters to be a horrific betrayal of their constitutional role. "Many Republicans outright declared judicial filibusters to be unconstitutional," he noted. Among those who said judicial nominees deserved an up-or-down vote were Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said, The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.
Others who have said that filibustering judicial nominees is unconstitutional include Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), People for the American Way noted (5/19). Senators who have never before supported a judicial filibuster, but did not in this case, included Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who refused to filibuster Bush's most right-wing nominees, also voted against Liu.
SOLOMON RUNS FOR CONGRESS. Norman Solomon, a charter columnist with TPP, has filed to run for Congress for the 6th District, north of San Francisco. Rep. Lynn Woolsey holds the seat but has indicated she will not seek re-election. Solomon has been a leader of the region's Green New Deal commission and the national Healthcare Not Warfare campaign. see solomonforcongress.org.
Whether the issue is war in Afghanistan, massive giveaways to Wall Street, chronic deference to corporate power or Washingtons failure to take drastic action against climate change, the North Bay should be represented in Congress by someone with extensive knowledge and a track record of strong public advocacy on key local, national and international issues, Solomon said in announcing his campaign. Ive spent decades working for social justice, environmental protection and a rational foreign policy, Solomon said. I see Congress as a place where strong progressive voices must be heard and basic changes must be fought for.
He also said his position for closure of Californias two nuclear power plants means that voters will have a clear alternative to nuclear business as usual. Solomon, a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has called for closure of the states Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear power plants. The 6th District includes Marin and Sonoma counties but may be redistricted. For more information, see solomonforcongress.org.
CATHOLICS DUEL OVER SOCIAL VALUES. Catholic scholars took House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, to task for his support of legislation to place the interests of the wealthy above those of the poor and most vulnerable. In a letter (5/11) congratulating Boehner on being selected to deliver the commencement address at Catholic University of America, they reminded him, your voting record is at variance from one of the Churchs most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.
The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 tln in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
The scholars cited a letter on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop Howard Hubbard that detailed the anti-life implications of the Republican budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens. They explained the Churchs teachings in this regard clearly, insisting that A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.
Unfortunately, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, got in the act in response to a letter House Budget Chairman Ryan sent him (4/29) attempting to reconcile his budget cuts with Catholic social teaching. In a response (5/18), Dolan, who knows Ryan from Dolans time as archbishop of Milwaukee, praised Ryan for his professed attention to the Churchs values.
As you allude to in your letter, the budget is not just about numbers. It reflects the very values of our nation. As many religious leaders have commented, budgets are moral statements, Dolan wrote.
I commend your letters attention to the important values of fiscal responsibility; sensitivity to the foundational role of the family; the primacy of the dignity of the human person and the protection of all human life; a concrete solicitude for the poor and the vulnerable, especially those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty; and putting into practice the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, here at home and internationally within the context of a commitment to the common good shared by government and other mediating institutions alike.
The widely read Capitol Hill paper Politico wrote that Ryan got a boost from Catholic bishops.
Michael Sean Winters, at National Catholic Reporter, commented that Dolan has been very ill-served by whomever suggested he write such a letter. Providing political cover for politicians should not be part of the USCCB Presidents brief, especially when it means cutting off USCCB Committee chairs at the knees. But Winters added, if Ryan went looking for an endorsement of his budget bill, he failed to get it. Dolan praises Ryans assurances of moral concern, not his budgetary proposals. However, Winters added, the political and media environment did not read Dolans letter as carefully as Dolan wrote it.
Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic commented, The president of an organization as dedicated to social justice as the Bishops claim to be should oppose the Republican budget, loudly and without hesitation. He should not be praising the budgets architect, no matter what that architect said about Catholic values.
And I find it hard to believe Dolan didnt understand the political signal he was sending, Cohn added. The Conference of Bishops is a sophisticated lobbying organization and Dolan, although new to the presidency, doesnt appear to be a political novice. I wonder, among other things, if Dolans letter was meant to undermine, or at least mitigate, the impact of the Catholic scholars letter to Boehner.
WIS. BOARD CLEARS RECALL ELECTIONS. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, has rejected most challenges to recall efforts targeting three Republican state senators and cleared the way for recall elections on 7/12, WISC-TV of Madison reported (5/23). The recalls target state Sens. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon. The board is expected to rule 5/31 on six more Republicans and three Democrats targeted for recalls for their positions on GOP Gov. Scott Walkers proposal taking away collective bargaining rights from most state workers.
At the Wisconsin Republican Partys annual convention, the issue of Sen. Herb Kohls open US Senate seat dominated some conversations, but WITI-TV of Milwaukee reported that Gov. Walker told the party to keep its sights on defending the six Republican state senators, or his entire agenda would be in peril. For the next two months, you shouldnt think about any United States Senate seat. You should think about protecting six brave senators and picking up three others, he said.
MICH. GOV. RECALL PETITION IS LIVE. Michigan residents on 5/21 started circulating petitions to recall Gov. Rick Snyder (R). The petitions need 807,000 signatures, 25% of the amount cast in the last election, and must be turned in before 8/20, but organizers say they probably need to get 1.1 mln signatures by 8/5 to get the recall on the November ballot. See firericksnyder.org.
RIGHT TO WORK ON THE ROPES IN MAINE, N.H. In Maine, the state House revived a right to work bill that seeks to have Maine join 22 other states that say employees are not required to join a union or pay their share of the costs for collective bargaining handled by the unions. Separate bills have been filed to establish right to work for public and private unions, but they had not received public hearings until the House on 5/25 set a 6/2 public hearing on the bill that would establish "right to work" for public employees. Republican Speaker of the House Robert Nutting said both bills were likely to be contentious, and the Republicans would meet in caucus to discuss the future of the proposals. Asked if the bills might die a quiet, procedural death, Nutting replied: That certainly is an option. I have said from the very beginning that [right-to-work] wasnt high on my list of things to do.
Union busters still hoped to revive a similar right to work bill in New Hampshire after Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the bill passed by the right-wing Republican Legislature, saying it interferes with private businesses and their employees negotiations over contracts. There is no evidence that this legislation will offer any benefits to New Hampshires economy or workers, he wrote in his veto message, the Associated Press reported (5/11).
New Hampshire has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation, has one of the lowest unemployment rates at 5.2% in April and has one of the highest median incomes. New Hampshire has a lower unemployment rate and a stronger economy than most states with so-called right-to-work laws. In states with a right-to-work law, workers on average have a lower standard of living, bringing home less in their paychecks and going without health insurance more frequently, Lynch wrote.
The bills fate likely rests with the 400-member House, where the original vote was not veto-proof, but Speaker William OBrien told NPR he is convinced the needed two-thirds vote will come together to override. But he came up short on 5/25.
GOP SENS. FLIP ON JUDICIAL FILIBUSTERS. In what Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com called a hall of mirrors of hypocrisy, Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (5/19). Liu, a highly respected professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley, got 52 votes, all Democrats or Dem-aligned indies, but he needed 60 under Senate filibuster rules. He is the first judicial nominee filibustered since 2005, when a bipartisan Gang of 14 pledged that nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances. That detente is over, Lithwich wrote. The era in which the self-styled grownups on both sides agree that the judicial vacancy rate represents a national crisis, and that the Senates responsibility to advise and consent does not extend to delaying and distorting, is over, too.
Ian Milhiser of ThinkProgress.org noted (5/19) that just six years ago, Republicans almost unanimously declared filibusters of judicial filibusters to be a horrific betrayal of their constitutional role. Many Republicans outright declared judicial filibusters to be unconstitutional, he noted. Among those who said judicial nominees deserved an up-or-down vote were Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said, The Constitution of the United States is at stake. Article II, Section 2 clearly provides that the President, and the President alone, nominates judges. The Senate is empowered to give advice and consent. But my Democratic colleagues want to change the rules. They want to reinterpret the Constitution to require a supermajority for confirmation.
Others who have said that filibustering judicial nominees is unconstitutional include Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), People for the American Way noted (5/19). Senators who have never before supported a judicial filibuster, but did not in this case, included Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who refused to filibuster Bushs most right-wing nominees, also voted against Liu.
25% TRUST FOX NEWS. Fox News is the most trusted political news source which might explain why US politics is in such a mess. The Suffolk University Political Research Centers national poll in May found that TV and cable news networks were the primary source for political news and information for 57% of Americans, followed by online news websites, 15%; daily newspapers, 13%; radio, 7%; magazines, 2%; and friends and family, 2%. Asked what political news source the respondent trusted most, 25% named Fox News, 18% CNN, 12% undecided, 10% NBC, 10% other, 7% MSNBC 6% each for ABC and CBS and 3% CSPAN. Asked who was the most trusted political reporter, 21% said dont know, 15% said none, 9% said Foxs Bill OReilly, 6% said CNNs Anderson Cooper and the rest got 4% or less and none of them were in print media.
PAWLENTY DRAWS FIRE FROM GOP PREDECESSOR. Tim Pawlenty hopes to leverage his record as governor of Minnesota into a successful Republican presidential bid, often touting his tenure as evidence that he can govern as a fiscal conservative. But his predecessor as Minnesota Republican governor, Arne Carlson, wrote that Pawlentys budget cuts at the state level forced more costs on local governments, who were forced to raise their property taxes, resulting in one of the larger tax increases in Minnesotas history, $2.5 bln during the eight years of Pawlentys rule.
Carlson noted at govarnecarlson.blogspot.com (5/23) that Pawlenty balanced the budgets by borrowing $1 bln from the tobacco settlement that was supposed to go to health care; taking $2 bln from federal stimulus funds; $1.4 bln from k-12 education funds; $400 mln from the Healthcare Access Fund for low-income families and other accounting tricks. In the process, Moodys lowered Minnesotas bond rating and Pawlenty left the state with a $5.1 bln deficit the 7th most severe in the US.
Carlson told Ed Schultz on his radio show that Pawlenty balanced the budget in part by taking money from programs such as MinnesotaCare, which insured farmers and other self-employed workers. I think the Republican Party is way off track, he said. He came up in the age of Dwight Eisenhower, when Republicans favored cost efficiencies but knew that balancing the budget meant raising taxes when necessary. Gov. Pawlenty pledged that there would be no tax increase, but he pushed costs onto local governments, which were forced to raise their property taxes. We got our tax increase.
Pawlenty bragged that he reformed health care, but a woman who identified herself as Holly from Minneapolis, phoned Schultz (5/23) to tell what those cuts to MinnesotaCare meant to her family. Her uncle was self-employed in his 50s and got coverage from MinnesotaCare until Pawlentys budget cuts forced him to lose his insurance. Then he developed melanoma, for which he could not afford treatment. He died, but not before leaving $30,000 in hospital debts to his family.
FLA. GOV. SCOTT TOXIC IN LOCAL RACE. A Democrat won the mayoral race in Jacksonville, Fla. for the first time since 1991 (5/17), as Alvin Brown, a former aide to Bill Clinton, also became the first African American ever to hold the post. Republicans expected to win the race handily, Abel Harding noted at the Florida Times-Union (5/18), but the race, which Brown won by less than 2,000 votes, may have turned when Gov. Rick Scott (R) endorsed Mike Hogan (R). Browns pollster told Harding that the governors disapproval ratings topped 51% among voters who turned out, Scott and Hogans most fervent backers the tea party also fared poorly and the most important issue for Jacksonville voters was funding for public schools, which was cut to pay for corporate tax breaks.
US LAGS IN BROADBAND ACCESS. The US ranks 18th among industrialized nations in households with broadband Internet penetration, at 63.5%, the Federal Communications Commission reported (5/20), using figures developed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD. The US ranked ninth among mobile broadband penetration and 12th for fixed (cable or DSL) broadband. US fixed broadband adoption lags behind such countries as South Korea, Britain, Canada and Germany, but exceeds adoption rates in Japan and the European Union average. The report also found that European and Asian cities exhibit a significant edge over comparable US cities in download speeds.
The reach of broadband varies greatly by state, from a low of 41% in Mississippi to the high of 73% in Alaska, Utah and New Hampshire, Paul Waldman noted at Prospect.org (5/23).
North Carolina, which was tied for 37th with Texas and South Dakota at 59% penetration, wont be moving up in the standings anytime soon as that states Legislature passed a law that hamstrings local governments from providing competitive broadband service to their residents. Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and founder of the schools Center for Internet and Society, noted at HuffingtonPost.com (5/20) that community networks provide faster, cheaper service than their commercial competitors, so the telecom companies urged legislators to override the will of the states communities and ban these faster, cheaper broadband networks. Lessig appealed to North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) to veto the bill. Waldman noted that Perdue criticized the bill but let it become law without her signature.
BILLIONAIRES BACK SCHOOL PRIVATIZATION. Two weeks ago, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) marked a new era for education in Indiana when he signed into law one of the most expansive school voucher laws in the country, opening up a huge fund of tax dollars for private schools. A few days later, the Wisconsin state Assembly vastly expanded school vouchers, freeing up tax dollars even for private religious schools. GOP legislators in the Pennsylvania Senate say they have the votes to pass a sweeping voucher bill of their own. And on Capitol Hill, House Republicans successfully revived Washington, D.C.s voucher system after it was killed off two years ago.
This rapid expansion of voucher programs which undermine and undercut public education by funneling taxpayer money to private schools is remarkable, Zaid Jilani wrote at ThinkProgress.org (5/21). After all, vouchers have been unpopular with the American public. Between 1966 and 2000, vouchers were put up for a vote in states 25 times, and voters rejected the program 24 of those times. Yet if one looks behind the curtain at the foundations, non-profits, political action committees (PACs) into the workings of the voucher movement, its apparent why it has gained strength in recent years. A tight-knit group of right-wing millionaires and billionaires, bankers, industrialists, lobby shops, and hardcore ideologues has been plotting this war on public education, quietly setting up front group after front group to promote the idea that the only way to save public education is to destroy it disguising their movement with the innocent-sounding moniker of school choice.
Some of the top billionaires and their organizations waging war on public schools include Dick DeVos, son of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr., has poured millions of dollars into right-wing causes, including hundreds of thousands of dollars into seed money for numerous school choice groups, including Utahs Parents for Choice in Education, which used its PAC money to elect pro-voucher pols. Betsy DeVos, wife of Dick DeVos, is the sister of Erik Prince, leader of Xe, the mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater and former chair of the Republican Party of Michigan. Mrs. DeVos has poured millions into numerous voucher front groups. She launched the pro-voucher All Children Matter in 2003, which spent $7.6 mln in its first year to impact state races related to vouchers, winning 121 out of 181 races in which it intervened. Other voucher front groups she has founded or funded include Children First America, Alliance for School Choice, Kids Hope USA and the American Federation for Children.
Bill and Susan Oberndorf used their fortune, gained from Bills position as managing director of the investment firm SPO Partners, to funnel money to a wide variety of school choice and corporate education reform groups.
The Walton Family Foundation, funded with WalMart fortunes, has financed a number of privately managed charter schools and showered ASC with millions of dollars since 2009.
By demonizing traditional public schools and the teachers that staff them, Jilani noted, this corporate education movement is undermining a very basic aspect of our democracy: a public commons that provides true opportunity for all, no matter what their background or socioeconomic status.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2011
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