It would be easy to frame President Obama’s speech to the US Chamber of Commerce (2/7) as part of an ongoing capitulation to the corporate sector, Andrew Leonard wrote at Salon.com. But Leonard noted that the speech defended regulation, including health care reform and bank reform, which the Chamber has attacked.

“For example, even as we work to eliminate burdensome regulations, America’s businesses have a responsibility to recognize that there are some safeguards and standards that are necessary to protect the American people from harm or exploitation,” Obama said.

“Few of us would want to live in a society without the rules that keep our air and water clean; that give consumers the confidence to do everything from investing in financial markets to buying groceries. Yet when standards like these have been proposed, opponents have often warned that they would be an assault on business and free enterprise. Early drug companies argued that the bill creating the FDA would ‘practically destroy the sale of ... remedies in the United States.’ Auto executives predicted that having to install seatbelts would bring the downfall of their industry. The President of the American Bar Association denounced child labor laws as ‘a communistic effort to nationalize children.’

“Of course, none of this has come to pass.”

Obama also made a very clear statement of the thesis that most Americans have not benefited as much from globalization and technological progress as much as his audience:

“These forces are as unstoppable as they are powerful. But combined with a brutal and devastating recession, they have also shaken the faith of the American people — in the institutions of business and government. They see a widening chasm of wealth and opportunity in this country, and they wonder if the American Dream is slipping away.”

He also encouraged American companies, who have nearly $2 tln on their balance sheets to “get in the game” and invest in the recovering economy.

Leonard concluded, “The headlines covering Obama’s speech will probably emphasize his apparent newfound desire to accommodate business interests. But practically speaking, he hasn’t committed to doing anything but getting rid of some ‘outmoded’ regulations. He strongly defended the principle of regulation, as well as his administration’s two flagship achievements — both of which the Chamber fought to destroy.

“Liberals are upset at any sign of accommodation but it might be worth considering the possibility that the notion that Obama is now ‘pro-business’ is just as bogus as the idea that he was ever fundamentally ‘anti-business’ to begin with. But by making the rhetorical shift, Obama appears to have successfully neutered one source of constant criticism that could have been negatively influencing how independent, moderate voters perceived this White House.

“After the State of the Union speech, The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber argued that Obama wasn’t capitulating to business, he was actually ‘co-opting’ it. My initial reaction was skeptical, but after watching Obama before the Chamber of Commerce, I’m not so sure. A Republican president would not have told the Chamber that ‘the perils of too much regulation are matched by the dangers of too little.’ And a Republican president certainly wouldn’t have been defending the necessity of healthcare reform and new ‘common sense reforms’ for the financial sector — because those two things would never have happened.”

ThinkProgress.org noted (2/7) that much of the executive leadership of the Chamber has spent the last few years rewarding themselves with millions in compensation while eliminating US jobs.

• Navistar CEO Daniel Ustian increased his total compensation 25% to $8.43 mln in 2010 and Navistar enjoyed profits of $3.11 a share while the company slashed jobs at factories across the country while opening a new factory in Mexico.

• AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson got $20.3 mln in 2009, up 35% from 2008, and last year the company put an extra $8.99 mln into his pension plan, which is valued at $31 mln today. Meanwhile, AT&T killed over 16,000 jobs in 2008 and continued layoffs even as the economy has recovered.

• Agricultural manufacturer John Deere & Co. CEO Samuel Allen got $12.29 mln in 2010, three times the size of his pay in 2009, while the company slashed 367 jobs ins East Moline, Ill., 325 in Iowa and 89 in North Dakota.

• WellPoint health insurance CEO Angela Braly was awarded a 51% compensation boost from $8.7 mln in 2008 to $13.1 mln, while WellPoint laid off more than 1,700 employees. At the same time, WellPoint’s trade group secretly transferred $86 mln to the Chamber to fight health reform.

INSURANCE MANDATE MEANS NO RIGHT TO A FREE RIDE. David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, was unimpressed with US District Judge Henry Judson’s decision (12/3) that the mandate in the health care reform law that people buy insurance if they are not otherwise covered is unconstitutional. “It has long been established that Congress may regulate citizens’ economic activities, such as entering into contracts, producing or purchasing goods and services, or shipping goods across state lines, Cole wrote at the New York Review of Books (2/24). But it is entirely unprecedented, Judge Hudson said, for Congress to regulate “inactivity” — a failure to buy insurance.

But Cole noted that the individual mandate is aimed at “free riders” who fail to get insurance and then cannot pay for their own health care. Under the current system, hospitals must treat people regardless of their ability to pay, and they recover those costs from the government, insurers and other paying customers.

Cole concludes: “Near the end of his decision, Judge Hudson writes: ‘At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance — or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage — it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.’ Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who brought the suit, echoed that point the day the decision came down, insisting that ‘this lawsuit is not about health care. It’s about liberty.’ But that is exactly what the case is not about. A decision that Congress lacks the power to enact the individual mandate says nothing about individual rights or liberty. It speaks only to whether the power to require citizens to participate in health insurance, a power that states indisputably hold, also extends to the federal government. The framers sought to give Congress the power to address problems of national or ‘interstate’ scope, problems that could not adequately be left to the states. The national health insurance crisis is precisely such a problem. The legal question in the case is about which governmental entities have the power to regulate; not whether individuals have a liberty or right to refuse to purchase health-care insurance altogether.

“But Judge Hudson and Ken Cuccinelli’s misstatements are nonetheless telling. Opposition to health-care reform is ultimately not rooted in a conception of state versus federal power. It’s founded instead on an individualistic, libertarian objection to a governmental program that imposes a collective solution to a social problem. While Judge Hudson’s reliance on a distinction between activity and inactivity makes little sense from the standpoint of federal versus state power, it intuitively appeals to the libertarian’s desire to be left alone. But nothing in the Constitution even remotely guarantees a right to be a free rider and to shift the costs of one’s health care to others. So rather than directly claim such a right, the law’s opponents resort to states’ rights.”

That appeal is the same one used by proponents of slavery and segregation, and opponents of progressive labor and consumer laws, Cole noted, but opponents of health care reform are not really seeking to vindicate the power of states to regulate health care. “Rather, they are counting on the fact that if they succeed with this legal gambit, the powerful interests arrayed against health care reform — the insurance industry, doctors, and drug companies — will easily overwhelm any efforts at meaningful reform in most states. Unless the Supreme Court is willing to rewrite hundreds of years of jurisprudence, however, they will not succeed.”

Jonathan Cohn at TNR.com noted (2/4) that the argument that the government can’t make us obtain private insurance because it would force us to buy a private product also would seem to argue against privatization of Social Security, but that hasn’t stopped many of these same conservatives from proposing mandatory personal investment accounts to replace the mandatory public pension program.

We note that many of these same “conservatives” originally proposed the individual mandate as an alternative to expanding Medicare to cover everybody.

US District Judge Keith Starrett of Mississippi became the latest judge to dismiss lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act. Starrett, an appointee of George W. Bush, ruled (2/3) that the plaintiffs did not show that they act’s minimum coverage mandate — which requires uninsured Americans to pay slightly more income taxes — would actually cause them to pay more taxes when the law goes into effect in 2014.

At least 14 lawsuits have been tossed on procedural grounds such as standing, Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress. Only four judges have reached the merits of the Affordable Care Act, and two of those judges upheld the law.

OPEN CAL SEAT GIVES PROGS OPPORTUNITY. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) announced (2/7) she will step down from the House to head the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which Chris Bowers noted at DailyKos.com (2/7) gives progressives an opportunity to pick up the reliably Dem suburban Los Angeles 36th District now held by centrist Harman and give the Progressive Caucus momentum going into 2012.

“If Progressives ... want to build real power in the House, being able to win open seat races in districts like CA-36 is a necessity,” Bowers wrote. “If Progressives can’t pull off a win in a district like this, it will significantly reduce their prospects for doing so in a wider range of districts with more closely balanced partisan compositions in the 2012 general election.”

Among Dems considering the race are Marcy Winograd, who challenged Harman in 2010, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn and Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

WHO TOTES U.S. NOTES? At the end of 2010, the US owed $9.39 tln and Americans held 53% of that debt, the Congressional Budget Office recently reported. Treasury notes remain good, solid additions to any portfolio, Peter Grier noted at the Christian Science Monitor (2/4), as US individuals hold 12% of the country’s debt, followed by the Federal Reserve, with 9%, and pension and retirement funds, mutual funds and state and local governments. Foreigners hold 47% of US public debt, led by — yes, China, with 9.8%, narrowly ahead of Japan’s 9.6%. UK investors hold 5.1%, oil exporting nations as a group hold 2.6%, Brazil has 1.8% and the rest is split among lots of other countries.

“So if anybody tells you that Americans work for China now, since they hold all our T-notes and can yank our fiscal chain, tell them that’s an exaggeration,” Grier concluded. “The vast majority of US debt is owed to non-Chinese, after all.”

HEALTH REFORMS BRING OUT BIG BUCKS. Health lobbyists spent $508 mln in 2010, ranking behind only miscellaneous business in influence peddling, OpenSecrets.org reports. Pharmaceuticals and health products led with $238 mln, followed by hospitals and nursing homes with $103 mln, health professionals $84 mln, health services/HMOs $71.8 mln and miscellaneous health $10 mln.

The Washington Post’s R. Jeffrey Smith, working with the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates OpenSecrets.org, reported (2/6) that $42.7 mln in health-care and health-insurance industry funds flowed directly to Republican and Democratic lawmakers after each chamber voted on the health reform. But while Democrats got just more than half of the industries’ money before the bill was approved in spite of uniform Republican opposition, the GOP got 60% after the votes were counted. Republicans got $25.7 mln during that period, while Dems got $17 mln, as the industry focused on changing the bill through the legislative and regulatory process.

The finance/insurance/real estate category ranked third with $468 mln, which included $156 mln from insurance companies, $102.9 mln from securities & investment and $62.9 mln from real estate.

Energy/natural resources spent $434.9 mln, including electric utilities $191.5 mln, oil and gas $146 mln, misc. energy $52.5 mln and mining $29 mln.

Miscellaneous business lobbying included $164.9 mln from business associations, mainly $131.8 mln from the US Chamber of Commerce; $126.6 mln from misc. manufacturing and distributing, including $36 mln from General Electric and $8.6 mln from the National Assn. of Manufacturers; and $50.49 mln from chemical and related manufacturing, including $8.1 mln from the American Chemistry Council, $7.3 mln from Dow Chemical and $4.8 mln from DuPont.

FOX BOTCHES OBAMA FAITH SMEAR. Conservatives have spent the last several years casting doubt on President Obama’s professed Christianity, and Ben Dimiero noted at MediaMatters.org that their smears have been effective. Pew reported last year that only 34% of Americans believe Obama is a Christian, compared with 18% who think he is Muslim. But Fox News hit a new low (2/4) when they claimed on their website that “Obama botches Bible verse at Prayer Breakfast.”

The story claimed, “President Obama misquoted a familiar Bible verse during a faith-based address at the National Prayer Breakfast.

“ ‘Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint,’ the president said during a speech to several thousand people at the breakfast.

“But the actual passage, from Isaiah 40:31, states: ‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.’” Fox “reported.”

Somewhat ironically, while Fox Nation appears to be positioning themselves as the arbiters of authentic Christianity, they seem unfamiliar with the fact that there is more than one version of the Bible, Dimiero noted. (Isaiah, like most of the Old Testament, was originally written in Hebrew. The New Testament was written in Greek.)

Obama didn’t cite his source, but Dimiero, after originally crediting the New International Version, noted the quote was closer to the Holman Christian Standard Bible Protestant translation, published in 2004, while Fox Nation was pointing to the older King James Version to “debunk” the president.

By Fox “News” standards, Catholics also “misquote” the Bible.

CLINTON: GOP IN ‘PARALLEL UNIVERSE.’ At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former President Bill Clinton said that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)’s assertion that the United States has the best health care system in the world is not true and that the new crop of Republicans in Congress are living “in a parallel universe divorced from reality with no facts,” Andy Birkey reported for MinnesotaIndependent.com (2/7/11). Clinton was responding to comments Bachmann made during her Tea Party response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. ... Clinton continued, “You can get the best health care in the world in America if you are Bill Clinton, or David Gergen or Turki Faisal [of the Saudi royal family], but that’s not the same thing as having the best system that works for everybody.”

COLO. GOP CHAIR TIRED OF THE NUTS. Dick Wadhams is stepping down as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party because the state GOP has just gotten too far to the right. Steve Kornacki noted at Salon.com (2/8) that Wadhams was a rising star in the party after he oversaw winning Senate campaigns in Colorado, Montana and South Dakota, where John Thune narrowly beat Tom Daschle, who was then the Senate’s Democratic leader, in 2004. Wadhams then went to work for George Allen who expected that an easy re-election in 2006 would position him to run for the White House in 2008.

Allen flamed out in 2006 after his remark that an Indian-American videographer was a “macaca,” a racial slur, helped focus attention on his racial history. Jim Webb and a Democratic tide narrowly defeated Allen.

Wadhams returned to Colorado and took over the party in 2007. Obama carried Colorado and Mark Udall (D) was elected to the Senate in 2008, but Wadhams expected the party to do well because of economic anxiety in 2010 until the GOP nominated right wingers Ken Buck for the Senate and Dan Maes for governor. Maes was so far right, claiming that a Denver bike-sharing program was part of a UN plot, that former Republican congressman Tom Tancredo, an immigrant basher but closer to the center, jumped into the race as an independent. In the end, Colorado voters, during one of the strongest Republican years in decades, elected a new Democratic governor and kept their appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

Wadhams walked away from a third term (2/8) telling Republicans in a letter, “I have loved being chairman, but I’m tired of the nuts who have no grasp of what the state party’s role is,” the Denver Post reported (2/8). He said Republican chances in 2012 could be “severely undermined” by a strategy aimed solely at uniting conservatives.”

TEXAS PROBES BLACKOUT PROFITEERS. Texas electricity consumers are calling for an investigation of power plant outages during a winter storm that forced rolling blackouts across the state and caused electricity prices to spike. Severe weather knocked out 15% of the state’s 550 power plants early on 2/2 and prices for electricity on the spot market shot up from about $50 per megawatt-hour to $3,000, the Texas Observer reported.

The Public Utility Commission has ordered its independent energy-market monitor to investigate whether the energy industry and the grid operators at the Electric Reliability Council on Texas followed rules and procedures in response to the outages. The Texas Railroad Commission will discuss the natural gas industry’s role in the blackouts.

Although US Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) blamed the blackouts on federal energy policies run amok, state officials say the problems apparently started when pipes froze at Luminant (formerly TXU) plants near Temple and Rockdale, and other plants also had problems with natural gas supplies. ERCOT ordered the Lower Colorado River Authority to put all six of its hydroelectric dams online to help pick up the slack, the Statesman reported. Normally, the Austin-based river authority only generates at one dam per day.

Forrest Wilder of the Texas Observer noted that in 2006, the PUC staff accused TXU of manipulating the market and recommended fines of $210 mln. The governor-appointed commission accepted $15 mln but TXU did not admit to wrongdoing.

Wilder also noted that only a week before the blackouts, the cap on market rates was $50 per megawatt-hour.

DLC R.I.P. The centrist Democratic Leadership Council is preparing to close its doors after 25 years of undercutting progressive initiatives. “With its CEO Bruce Reed joining the Administration [as chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden], the DLC Board of Directors has decided to suspend operations while it considers what the next phase of the DLC will be,” founder Al From said in a statement to Politico.com (2/7). “The issues the DLC has championed continue to be vital to our country and the DLC will continue to impact them in its next phase. The Democratic Leadership Council has had an historic impact on American politics over the past 25 years. We’re convinced that it will continue to have that impact in the future.”

Ben Smith of Politico.com noted that the DLC’s website leads with an op-ed by former Rep. Harold Ford from last November titled “Yes we can collaborate.”

Alex Pareene noted at Salon.com noted that the DLC was founded after Ronald Reagan’s re-election with the idea that the Dems were too liberal to win elections. Instead of catering to organized labor, the DLC “sided with management, because in order the “modernize” the party they had to modernize its donor list.” The DLC model helped the party fundraise from corporate donors, but that money came with a price of “adopting a whole bunch of positions that are popular with money but not with people who voted for Democrats for a hundred years,” like the “partial” privatization of Social Security. Pareene added, “The group helped create and maintain the Washington consensus that liberalism is dead, which makes lovely things like single-payer healthcare impossible.”

BUDGET CUTS FORCE PRISON REFORMS. Revenue-strapped states facing budget deficits are causing governors to consider prison reforms, Scott Keyes noted at ThinkProgress.org (2/7). Over the past 40 years, US prison population has increased more than 700%, to 1.4 mln in state prisons in January 2010, according to the Pew Center on the States. (The feds held another 208,000.) States spent $50 bln on prisons in 2008, when there were actually 4,777 more state prisoners, which works out to about $35,714 per head annually, while the feds spent $5 bln.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), facing an $8 bln budget shortfall, has proposed releasing the more than one-third of convicts who are sent to the state prison for less than one year.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), facing a $3.6 bln deficit, has called for $1 bln to come form the Department of Corrections budget. His transition team endorsed rehabilitation and job placement programs to reduce recidivism.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), facing a $1 bln deficit, decried that one out of every 13 Georgia residents is under some form of correctional control, costing the state $3 mln per day. He called for prison alternatives for non-violent offenders such as day reporting centers, drug, DUI and mental health courts and expanded probation and treatment options.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) facing a $25 bln shortfall, has proposed changes that would save $1.6 bln, including sending non-violent offenders to county jails and strengthen county rehabilitation programs instead of sending them to prison.

FLA. GOV. CUTS HEALTH CARE FOR CORPORATE TAX BREAKS. Don’t give Florida Gov. Scott too much credit. At a Tea Party event in Eustis, Fla. (2/7), Scott proposed to cut Medicaid, which provides medical care for low-income Floridians, to help pay for a $700 mln reduction in corporate income taxes. Pat Garofalo noted at ThinkProgress (2/7) that Florida already has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country, with low-income workers paying 13.5% of their income on taxes while the richest 1% pay 2.6%.

Scott built Columbia/HCA into the largest healthcare company in the world before he was forced out in 1997 amid the nation’s biggest healthcare fraud scandal. The company ultimately admitted guilt and paid $1.7 to settle charges including the overbilling of state and federal health programs but Scott was never found criminally liable.

ONE MAN’S EARMARK IS ANOTHER’S WORTHY PROJECT. Gone for now are the taxpayer-financed teapot museum or studies on the mating habits of crabs, Jennifer Steinhauer noted in the New York Times (2/8). But also shelved are a project to help consolidate information about warrants in Brazos County, Texas, and staffing for two new shelters for abused women and children in Salt Lake City. A rural Wisconsin county will not be able to upgrade its communication system, and a road in Kentucky will not be widened next year. Across the country, local governments, nonprofit groups and scores of farmers, to name but a few, are waking up to the fact that when Congress stamped out earmarks last week, it was talking about their projects, too. “I do agree we have to cut from somewhere,” said Steve Tribble, the county judge executive of Christian County, Ky., where a planned road project is now imperiled. “I am against some earmarks,” he said. “Not the good ones. I can promise you this is not a road to nowhere.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) criticized his predecessor, Rep. David R. Obey (D), who retired after four decades in Congress, for securing earmarks. Duffy said he traveled to his district recently to explain to local governments that times had changed. “I am being honest with people,” Duffy told the *Times*. “I draw them a pie chart.”

But even Duffy said that he had come to see that not every earmark was of the much-maligned teapot museum quality, and that he would help his constituents “work through the grant process” to secure needed financing in other ways.

But there’s the rub. With President Obama proposing a five-year freeze on domestic spending, and the Republican-controlled House vowing to cut spending in federal agencies by hundreds of millions of dollars, it almost certain that every agency will have far less money to spend on thousands of legitimate projects that were approved after extensive review. Simply put, without earmarks to turn to, far more applicants will be scrambling for a smaller pot of grant money.

CONS CELEBRATE REAGAN MEDICARE BASHING. You probably have heard the audio of Ronald Reagan in 1961, before he sought elective office, railing against Medicare. Steve Benen of WashingtomMonthly.com noted (2/7) that it was part of the American Medical Association’s campaign against a precursor to the legislation that would become law four years later.

“What I don’t quite understand is why the right looks back at the recording with such fondness a half-century later,” Benen wrote.

As Media Matters Action Network noted (2/6), “For the greater part of the last two years, the conservative Heritage Foundation has based part of its campaign against health care reform on the argument that reform means a weakening of Medicare. Most recently, Heritage’s James Capretta railed against the Affordable Care Act by arguing that it will reduce seniors’ access to quality health care by limiting the health care plan options currently available to them.’

“The charge is not only false but also ironic given that Republicans have repeatedly voted for Medicare cuts totaling more than a trillion dollars and we’ve heard barely a squeak from the folks at Heritage. Nevertheless, their new appreciation for Medicare — the most expansive and expensive government program — is worth something.

“It’s somewhat surprising, then, that Heritage chose to honor President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday by sending out a video in which the Gipper assails Medicare.”

BUSH CANCELS EUROPE TRIP AFTER PROTESTS. A planned trip by George W. Bush to speak at the Switzerland-based United Israel Appeal (2/12) was canceled after human rights groups called for demonstrations and threatened legal action over allegations Bush authorized torture of terrorism suspects. The Swiss group and Bush’s spokesman claim that it was threats of protest, not of legal action, that prompted the cancellation. But Steve Benen wrote at WashingtonMonthly.com (2/7) facing protests is nothing new for Bush. What was different about this trip was that groups including Amnesty International and the Center for Constitutional Rights argued that Switzerland, as a party to the UN Convention against Torture, is obligated to investigate Bush for potential prosecution. The Center for Constitutional Rights said it intended to file a 2,500-page complaint against Bush in Swiss court on behalf of two Guantanamo detainees.

MANCHIN CLAIMS COAL ‘DOESN”T GET A PENNY OF SUBSIDIES.’ Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), newest member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, claimed (2/3) that the coal industry doesn’t receive any government subsidies, unlike every other form of energy. At a hearing, the former governor of West Virginia criticized the EPA for issuing regulations to limit mountaintop removal mining and regulating global warming pollution.

In reality, ThinkProgress noted (2/3) the coal industry is heavily subsidized by federal and state governments, getting around $17 bln between 2002 and 2008, including tax credits for production of “nonconventional” fuels ($14.1 billion), tax breaks on coal royalties ($986 million), exploration, and development breaks ($342 million), according to a study by the Environmental Law Institute. The coal industry also enjoys the freedom to emit pollution that contributes to the deaths of an estimated 10,000 Americans a year, destroys the land and water of mining communities and destabilizes our climate.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2011


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