The potential impact of the $85 mln budget sequester is dizzying, from federal workers losing as much as 20% of their pay to travelers facing airport delays. Immigration and Customs Enforcement planned to release many of the undocumented immigrants being held at federal detention facilities while their cases were being processed.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters at a White House briefing earlier the same day that the sequester cuts amounting to 5% of DHS funding would leave ICE unable to maintain its current detention capacity, TalkingPointsMemo.com reported (2/26). “I’m supposed to have 34,000 detention beds for immigration,” she said. “How do I pay for those?” She added that it would result in a loss of 5,000 Border Patrol agents.

Meat processors may have to shut down their production if the US Department of Agriculture furloughs inspectors. National parks may have to adjust their operations with the furloughs of staff members. Border crossings may see longer lines as fewer agents are available.

Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (2/25) that unemployment compensation benefits are in for a nearly 11% cut, adding as much as $450 during the time that jobless people are eligible for benefits. Cuts to programs for disadvantaged students could lead to the loss of jobs for 10,000 teachers and aides. Special education cuts endanger the jobs of 7,200 teachers, aides and other staff. Some 70,000 kids would lose Head Start services, leading to another 14,000 teachers and other school personnel working not just for state and local governments, but also community and faith-based organizations. The sequester also could boot 30,000 kids off child care subsidies, forcing their parents to find other child care or miss work.

Seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels also may be in for trouble, as the program will be serving 4 mln fewer meals. And 600,000 women and their children may lose nutrition assistance from the Women, Infants and Children program. More than 100,000 people could lose access to housing and emergency homeless shelter programs, putting them back on the street. And 125,000 families could lose rental assistance that helps them stay in permanent housing; they too would risk homelessness as a result.

While Medicaid is exempt from sequestration, mental health services would be cut for more than 373,000 mentally ill people, and 8,900 mentally ill homeless people would lose outreach and support. AIDS and HIV treatment and testing are on the chopping block, too: Sequestration would mean 424,000 fewer HIV tests, and 7,400 patients without medications.

Clawson added, “the thing is, if Republicans in Congress really get their way, these are exactly the vulnerable groups that will be even harder hit by cuts.”

PUBLIC DOESN’T LIKE CUTS. There is limited support for spending cuts Republicans are demanding. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found (2/22) that clear majorities oppose reductions in spending for a range of specific programs, including defense entitlements, education and health care.

For 18 of 19 programs tested, majorities want either to increase spending or maintain it at current levels. The only exception is assistance for needy people around the world. Nonetheless, as many say that funding for aid to the needy overseas should either be increased (21%), or kept the same (28%), as decreased (48%).

The survey by the Pew Research Center (2/13-18) among 1,504 adults, finds little change in attitudes about government spending since 2011. One notable exception: somewhat fewer support reducing military defense spending, which would bear a major share of the sequester cuts.

In the poll, 24% say that if they were making up the federal government’s budget this year they would decrease spending for military defense, down from 30% two years ago. More than seven-in-ten either support increasing defense spending (32%) or maintaining it at current levels (41%).

The survey also finds higher support for increases rather than decreases in spending for education, veterans’ benefits, entitlements and other programs. Sixty percent say they would increase education funding, while 53% want funding for veterans’ benefits and services to grow and 41% say the same about spending on Social Security.

The Pew poll also found that 62% of adults think Republicans were out of touch with the American people, 56% think it is not open to change and 52% say the party is too extreme. In comparison, 46% said the Dems were out of touch, and 39% said they were too extreme. While both parties’ congressional leaders receive negative job ratings, just 25% approve of GOP leaders, compared with 37% approval for Democratic congressional leaders.

Overall, 51% approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president. (His approval ratings in the growing Hispanic community was 73% for the first quarter of 2013, a turnaround from the 48% of Hispanics who approved of the job he was doing in the fourth quarter of 2011, when there was growing concern among Hispanics about the Obama administration’s record on deportations, the Pew Hispanic Center reported. Among whites, Obama’s job rating has improved slightly since 2011, from 36% to 41%, while blacks have remained steady at 88% approval.)

CAL TECH PHYSICIST CALLS OUT FEDS FOR BLOCKING MARIJUANA RESEARCH. In the face of obstacles to marijuana research from both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology and onetime MacArthur Fellow is calling out the federal government on its obstruction of scientific research.

During an address before a medical marijuana conference (2/22), John H. Schwartz explained how the DEA and NIDA act as a “tag team” to censor science, with NIDA holding a monopoly over legal access to cannabis for research, and the DEA refusing to reconsider the drug’s designation in the Controlled Substances Act as a dangerous substance with no medical value on the basis that sufficient research does not exist. Schwartz alleges that the government has blocked research even though it has long been aware of marijuana’s potential to serve many medical benefits including shrink aggressive cancer cells is because it might “send the wrong message to children”:

“The most blatant example of this behavior came last year, when NIDA blocked an FDA-approved clinical trial testing marijuana as a remedy for post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. It’s especially sad to note that the study participants were veterans, with PTSD deemed untreatable by other means. After 12 years of war, this is how we treat them,” he said. As a physicist, I can assure you that this not how physics works. … We are all expected to act like grownups and accept it gracefully as experiments prove our favorite theories are false. In physics, unlike marijuana policy, we consider the right message to send to be the message that’s true. …”

As Schwartz points out, organizations tasked with “drug enforcement” and battling “drug abuse” are not well-positioned to remain neutral on the best way to handle drug policy. A bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) would take federal oversight of marijuana research away from NIDA.

Like many marijuana advocates, Schwartz has a family member whose life was altered by medical marijuana. His wife, Patricia, resorted to remedies as extreme as electric shock before turning to marijuana to treat her chronic bladder inflammation — the only remedy that worked.

“After a few months of using it,” around the time of the passage of Proposition 215′s passage in California 16 years ago, he said, ”her bladder function returned to normal and so did our lives, except for one thing: we were now facing the wrath of the most powerful government in the world.” And they still are. (Nicole Flatow, ThinkProgress.org, 2/25)

GOP PROCEEDS WITH VOTE-RIGGING SCHEME. Earlier this year, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus urged Republican lawmakers in states “that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red” — i.e. blue states with Republican legislatures and governors — to enact a plan rigging the Electoral College so that it would be almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. Under these plans, a large chunk of blue state electoral votes would be allocated to the Republican candidate even if the Democratic presidential candidate won the state as a whole. Although some state lawmakers in key blue states such as Wisconsin or Michigan endorsed versions of this plan, the election rigging plans were widely derided as exactly what they are — cheating — and soon, even top Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell wanted nothing to do with election rigging. The plans to rig the Electoral College appeared dead.

Except, that is, for Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Corbett (R-Pa.) was one of the earliest supporters of rigging the Electoral College, backing a plan to do so as early as 2011. Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi was one of the leading supporters of election-rigging and in late February, he — along with a dozen other co-sponsors — introduced a new plan to rig the Electoral College votes in his blue state of Pennsylvania. Under this legislation, a large chunk of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes would be awarded to the Republican candidate even though Pennsylvania is a solid blue state that has supported the Democratic candidate for president in every election since 1992, Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (2/25).

The 13 co-sponsors on Pileggi’s bill amount to exactly half of the 26 votes he needs to pass the bill through the state senate. According to state Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Pa.), now that Pileggi has introduced his election-rigging plan, Republicans could conceivably ram it through both houses of the state legislature and have it on Corbett’s desk in just four days.

Milhiser also noted that Republicans at the Michigan GOP convention in Lansing (2/23) voted 1,370-132 to back a similar plan that would “divvy up 14 of the state’s 16 electoral votes according to which candidate got the most votes in each congressional district. If the plan had been in effect last year, because of the gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2011, Mitt Romney would have won the state by a 9-7 margin despite President Obama winning the state by 9.5%.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) told his fellow Republicans gathered in Lansing that he does not believe this is “the appropriate time” to discuss rigging future presidential elections. “But this assurance should be cold comfort to supporters of democracy,” Milhiser noted. “Snyder similarly once claimed that pushing a so-called ‘right-to-work’ law would not be ‘appropriate in Michigan during 2012.’ He then signed the very same anti-worker legislation he’d called inappropriate for 2012 in December of 2012.”

VOTE RIGGER GETS CHALLENGER. US Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.) said she plans to challenge Gov. Tom Corbett (R). In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News’ John Baer (2/25), Schwartz, who said as recently as December after election to her fifth term in Congress that she would not challenge the Republican incumbent, said she changed her mind because she views the race as an “opportunity” to push priorities and issues related to jobs, education and economic development she sees largely ignored. A recent poll by the Democratic Governors Association showed Schwartz leading Corbett 50%-42% statewide.

DEMS FACE TOUGH SENATE RACES IN ’14. On paper, the 2014 Senate picture looks worse for Democrats than it did in 2012, Markos Moulitsas noted at DailyKos.com (2/11), “but if we survive that, look out, because 2016 will be wondrous!”

Republicans will be defending 13 seats in 2014 and Dems 20, but the GOP seats are nearly all in their territory: Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming, as well as Maine, which is blue territory, but Sen. Susan Collins (R) is probably secure unless she retires. Meanwhile, Dems must defend tough seats in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, and keep vacant seats in Iowa and West Virginia. Moulitsas writes:

“Mark Begich in Alaska is holding his own in the early polling, but it’ll be close. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Tim Johnson in South Dakota, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina should all face serious and difficult reelection bids. Democratic retirements in Iowa and West Virginia will also be tough holds. Slot in Colorado and New Hampshire as GOP longshots, but they’re on the map. Finally, Montana Democrats have been able to buck their state’s Red lean during Senate races, and Max Baucus would have the slight edge, though Brian Schweitzer could lock it down (whether via primary challenge, or after a Baucus retirement).

“What that all means is that Republicans are well within reach of the six seats they would need to control the Senate. The math makes that obvious. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the Red-state Dems on that list don’t have to run with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, and won’t have to contend with presidential-year turnout which would undoubtedly hurt most of them.”

Democrats look much better in 2016, Moulitsas noted, because “if a Democrat survived 2010 they can survive anything.” Seats in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington appear safe. “There’s not a good GOP opportunity in that lot, even if retirements were to take place (and none are expected at this time).

“Republicans, on the other hand, have to defend (in addition to their safe seats) Florida, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Furthermore, [Arizona, Georgia and Missouri] could be competitive if there were retirements, scandal, or teabagger primary victories.

“Yes, Marco Rubio is the darling of the GOP and media establishments, but his Florida numbers are average at best. And in any case, he may be on the presidential ticket anyway. Mark Kirk in Illinois is toast. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley will be 83 on Election Day 2016. Republicans are praying he doesn’t retire.

“As long as base turnout doesn’t plummet, a la 2010, New Hampshire freshman GOPer Kelly Ayotte will face a tough re-election battle. North Carolina’s Richard Burr is a longshot, but still on the map.

“But the most fun will be teabagger troika in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, particularly in a presidential year when base turnout will be maximized: Scuttlebutt out of Wisconsin is that Russ Feingold wants a rematch against the joker Ron Johnson representing his state in the Senate. Pat Toomey won the Keystone State by just two points in a year when the Democratic base sat out. And while Rob Portman won his seat convincingly in the Buckeye State, again it was with depressed Democratic turnout.

“Put Hillary Clinton on our presidential ticket, and you might even see Republican-held seats in Arkansas and Kentucky under pressure. And finally, Alaska presents an interesting scenario: Lisa Murkowski already lost a Republican primary and won election as a write-in independent. She would likely face a similar situation in 2016, and against another split field, a Democrat might be able to succeed (or push Murkowski out of the GOP).”

In other news on potential Senate races, Public Policy Polling reported (2/20) that potential Democratic primary voters favor former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) over Sen. Max Baucus (D) 54% to 35%. Schweitzer told KPAX-TV in Missoula he hadn’t seen the poll and said, “I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I’m not senile enough to be in the Senate,” but added that he would have “big news” in the next week or so.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.)’s announcement that he is retiring has set up a scramble for his seat, with Newark Mayor Cory Booker the likely frontrunner but US Rep. Frank Pallone, state Sen. President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Rep. Rob Andrews among the potential Dems, David Nir reported. TV personality Geraldo Rivera is among the potential Repubs, but Nir noted the GOP doesn’t have much of a bench and the party hasn’t won a Senate seat from N.J. since 1972.

In Kentucky, Republicans are freaking out over the possibility that Ashley Judd might run as a Democrat against Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC unleashed an ad attacking Judd as a “Hollywood liberal.” The right-wing DailyCaller.com (2/26) compared Judd’s unabashed feminism and environmentalism to former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), whose Senate campaign foundered after he claimed women couldn’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape.” But ThinkProgress.org noted that two surveys, including McConnell’s own internal poll, found the progressive actress trailing him by just 4 points.

Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) surprised Republicans with his announcement that he will retire after one term. Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) would be favored if he decides to run. Former Sen. Bob Kerrey ruled out another race and no Democratic names jump out.

Outside hopes that former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) might switch parties and run as a Dem were squashed when Senate Republicans (2/26) finally allowed Hagel to proceed to a confirmation vote for defense secretary. He was confirmed 58-41.

In West Virginia, Dems are having trouble finding a candidate to run for the seat Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) is giving up. Carte Goodwin, who served in the Senate in 2010 following the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd, ruled out a race for the Senate or the 2nd Congressional District, whose incumbent, Shelley Moore Capito (R), is running for the Senate, AP reported (2/19).

GUN CONTROL CANDIDATE WINS CHICAGO-AREA SPECIAL ELECTION. In a race to replace former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., former state Rep. Robin Kelly, now Cook County Chief Administrative Officer, handily won a 16-candidate Democratic primary with 52% of the vote (2/26), with 99% of precincts reporting in a district that is split between Chicago and its suburbs. Kelly apparently benefited from her support for gun control, particularly as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $2.3 mln attacking former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson for her support for gun rights. She finished second with 24%. The district is close to a lock for Dems, as it went 81% for President Obama in 2012.

SUPREME CONS OK SECRET WIRETAPS. Journalists and human rights advocates worried they are being swept up in an electronic dragnet cannot challenge the US government’s secretive warrantless wiretapping program in a lawsuit, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision (2/26). The court’s decision, handed down in a case called Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, will complicate civil libertarians’ efforts to push back against the post-9/11 expansion of surveillance.

Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union and the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in a statement the ruling was a “disturbing decision” that “insulates the [warrantless wiretapping] statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”

At issue is the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, begun in secret and without congressional authorization under the George W. Bush administration. In the wake of a 2008 federal law passed to legalize that program, the National Security Agency and other agencies are supposed to be able to read emails and listen in on phone calls without a warrant — but only when they are targeting foreign nationals.

The court’s ruling amounts to something of a catch-22 for the plaintiffs. The program is so secret that reporters and human rights advocates don’t know whether they’re being wiretapped. But because they don’t know whether they’re actually having their calls picked up, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion for the court’s conservative majority, the plaintiffs’ argument that they have the standing to challenge the program was based on a “highly speculative fear.” (HuffingtonPost.com)

Justice Stephen Breyer, responding in a dissent for the court’s liberal minority, wrote that the harm the warrantless wiretapping law was causing is not merely speculative. He cited an array of news reports about the wiretapping program from 2005 to 2010, and noted that even the US government has said it is “impossible” to calculate how many Americans are having their communications tapped. He thought it was highly unlikely that no Americans were getting caught up.

RON PAUL TURNS TO UN IN WEBSITE DISPUTE. Libertarian hero Ron Paul, who once sponsored legislation to end US participation in the United Nations, has turned to the international organization to award him the rights to ronpaul.com and ronpaul.org after he was unable to secure the rights to those domain names via the free market. The website owners, who said they are Paul supporters who have been developing RonPaul.com for five years, reportedly offered to sell the domain name RonPaul.com and its 170,000-person mailing list for $250,000, throwing in RonPaul.org for free. Paul rejected that offer and instead appealed to the World Intellectual Property Organization, an agency of the UN, to confiscate the domain names. His supporters expressed their disappointment on their website blog: “Back in 2007 we put our lives on hold for you, Ron, and we invested close to 10,000 hours of tears, sweat and hard work into this site at great personal sacrifice,” the blog said. “Now that your campaigns are over and you no longer need us, you want to take it all away — and send us off to a UN tribunal? That’s not cool! We want our old pre-retirement Ron Paul Back!”

BORK: NIXON OFFERED SUPREME COURT SEAT FOR COX FIRING. Robert Bork says President Richard Nixon promised him the next Supreme Court vacancy after Bork complied with Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973. Bork’s recollection of his role in the Saturday Night Massacre that culminated in Cox’s firing is at the center of his slim memoir, *Saving Justice*, that is being published posthumously by Encounter Books, the Associated Press reported (2/25). Bork died in December at age 85.

Bork was solicitor general when Nixon ordered Atty. Gen. Elliot Richardson to fire Cox over the prosecutor’s subpoena of White House tapes. Richardson resigned rather than carry out the order. The next in line, William Ruckelshaus, refused to fire Cox and was himself fired. That left Bork, whose main job was arguing in front of the Supreme Court. He fired Cox and served as acting attorney general until January 1974 and stayed on as solicitor general until January 1977. President Reagan nominated Bork to the high court in 1987. That nomination failed in the Senate.

MONTANA BILL WOULD GIVE CORPORATIONS RIGHT TO VOTE. A bill introduced by Montana state Rep. Steve Lavin (R) would give corporations the right to vote in municipal elections. “The idea that ‘corporations are people, my friend,’ as Mitt Romney put it, is sadly common among conservative lawmakers. Most significantly of all, the five conservative justices voted in Citizens United v. FEC to permit corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections. Actually giving corporations the right to vote, however, is quite a step beyond what even this Supreme Court has embraced,” Ian Milhiser wrote at ThinkProgress.org (2/22).

The bill contains some limits on corporate voting rights, Milhiser noted. Most significantly, corporations would not be entitled to vote in “school elections,” and the bill only applies to municipal elections. So state and federal elections would remain beyond the reach of the new corporate voters.

In fairness to Lavin’s fellow lawmakers, Milhiser noted, the bill was tabled shortly after it came before a legislative committee, so it is unlikely to become law. A phone call to Lavin was not returned as of this writing.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Lavin was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) now defunct Public Safety and Elections Task Force. Last year, pressure from progressive groups forced ALEC to disband this task force, which, among other things, pushed voter suppression laws.

TRADE WATCHERS WANT TRANS-PAC DETAILS. President Obama wants the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations concluded by October, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch reported (2/14). But after more than three years of closed-door talks between US trade representatives and officials from Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam; with countries like Japan and China potentially joining later, the public knows what’s in the pact only from a few leaked texts that show the TPP would lead to offshoring of US jobs, higher medicine prices, and floods of unsafe food and imports.

Steve Kneivel of Global Trade Watch said members of Congress are being kept in the dark about the trade talks, so he asked that people write their member of Congress and request a copy of the TPP texts, to help make their representative realize he or she is being shut out. For more information see citizen.org/TPP.

FOX NEWS SEES HUGE DROP IN KEY RANKING. Fox News once again had the top 13 programs — much better than January, where it failed to sweep the top 10 for the first time in years and had its lowest ratings in the all-important Age 25-54 demo since 2001, HuffingtonPost.com reported (2/26). But Shep Smith, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity all saw huge drops in the demo from the same point in 2012. Hannity fell a staggering 35% from 2012, and O’Reilly fell 26%. It was the two mens’ worst performance in the demo since 2006 and 2008, respectively. True, 2012 was an election year — but even though MSNBC hosts Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews also saw their ratings decrease, their ratings fell by much smaller percentages.

Several CNN programs, including Anderson Cooper’s and Erin Burnett’s, bucked this trend by growing their ratings. CNN also touted the much slimmer gap between itself and MSNBC as compared to 2012. Even so, MSNBC topped CNN in total day, primetime and in the “demo.”

MEDICAL MARIJUANA BRINGS $10M FOR MICH. Michigan’s legalization of medical marijuana has proven to be a financial boon for the state. The Associated Press reported (2/6) that the program, which was approved by voters in 2008, collected nearly $10 mln from applicants — more than double the cost of running the program. To register as a marijuana user in the state, individuals must pay $100, while those who grow marijuana must also pay a fee.

Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard, has estimated that on a national level replacing marijuana with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcohol would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 bln and $14 bln per year, Natasha Lennard noted at Salon.com (2/11).

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2013



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