House Republicans have spent much of the past three years reminding Americans that Senate Democrats hadn’t passed a budget since 2009. It was a regular Republican talking point, a particular favorite of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But now that the Senate has returned to “regular order” by passing a budget, Travis Waldron noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/23), House Republicans are refusing to come to the table to negotiate a long-term spending plan.
Republicans in March passed Ryan’s budget, which cuts $4.6 tln in spending, with no new taxes, while the Senate budget proposes $975 bln in new taxes. The regular order requires the two chambers to organize a conference committee to iron out their differences in a compromise budget that is then taken back to the full memberships of each chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hinted at forming such a conference for more than a week, but Senate Republicans blocked Reid from creating a conference committee.
“It seems House Republicans don’t want to be seen even discussing the possibility of compromise with the Democrats for fear of a Tea Party revolt,” Reid said, according to TheHill.com. “A strange thing happened: House Republicans did a complete 180 — they flipped. They’re no longer interested in regular order even though they preached that for years,” he added.
Ezra Klein of the Washington Post noted (4/23) that despite their public demand for “regular order,” Republicans see a disadvantage in the formal public process. “If you appoint conferees and after 20 legislative days there’s no agreement, the minority has the right to offer motions to instruct, which become politically motivated bombs that show up on the House floor,” Speaker John Boehner recently told reporters.
Ryan has said leaders need to agree on a “framework” for a deal before he agrees to form a conference committee.
FLIGHT DELAYS GET REPUBLICANS’ ATTENTION. Furloughs of Federal Aviation Administration employees, required by the budget sequestration ordered by Congress, forced flight delays of more than two hours at New York City and Washington, D.C., airports. (Gee, who could have predicted that requiring air traffic controllers to take unpaid days off would interfere with air traffic?) Republicans were quick to place the blame on President Obama, and accused the administration of trying to make a political point at the inconvenience of everyday travelers.
“Why is President Obama unnecessarily delaying your flight?” Cantor tweeted as part of the GOP social media offensive, according to RollCall.com. “FAA can reprioritize.”
Sam Stein of HuffingtonPost.com noted (4/22) that the Republican attacks were the sharpest since Republicans collectively bemoaned the ending of White House tours.
“Yet since those White House tours ended, the economic ramifications of sequestration have been felt in many, and more substantive, ways,” Stein noted. “Private cancer clinics have denied Medicare patients, Head Start has closed its doors to students, and military students have lost their tuition assistance. That no hashtag campaigns were birthed from those cuts left ample space for pushback.”
“What do tours and flight delays have in common?” mused White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. “They affect [Congress] members directly.”
Stein also noted that the administration does not have many options when it comes to cutting $637 mln form its budget before the end of September, with every account sliced by the same percent. “The FAA’s operations account, from which 71% of all payments goes to salary, can’t avoid the chopping block,” he wrote.
“Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), told Huffington Post that his boss believed the president and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood could save money elsewhere in the FAA budget without unnecessarily delaying air travel. ... But specific programs that could be cut as a replacement for the money saved by furloughs are hard to pinpoint.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested that money saved by troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan be used to pay down the spending cuts for the next five months. The Overseas Contingency Operations fund has about $650 bln in unspent money that could be used to delay sequestration, he said.
BAUCUS RETIREMENT RAISES PROGRESSIVE HOPES. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a perennial disappointment for progressive populists, announced (4/23) that he would pass on a race for a seventh term. He cleared the way for a possible bid by populist former Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D).
Schweitzer told TheHill.com (4/23) he would consider a run for Baucus’ seat. “I’m the kind of guy that, when I see a broke-down pickup, I’ll get out with my tools and try to fix it, and I can tell you looking at Washington, D.C., from Montana, there is no bigger broke-down pickup than the Senate in Washington, D.C.,” Schweitzer said in an interview. But he said he was “focused like a laser” on helping the Stillwater Mine, a major Montana employer that he’s working to turn around. He lost a close race to Republican Conrad Burns for the Senate in 2000, but last year told the Associated Press, “I am not goofy enough to be in the House, and I’m not senile enough to be in the Senate.” But he served two terms as governor, leaving office in January 2013 with a 56% approval rating in a February survey by Public Policy Polling. Progressives had been hoping that he would challenge Baucus in a primary.
Schweitzer has proposed setting up a single-payer healthcare program in Montana and has been a critic of “free trade” deals.
Although many observers expressed surprise that Baucus would support a filibuster of the background check legislation sought by Democratic leaders just a few days before he announced his retirement, Brian Beutler noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (4/23) that “Baucus ... has amassed a remarkably consistent record of working at cross purposes with the rest of his party whether politics in Montana have demanded it or not.
“He voted for the Bush Tax Cuts in 2001; then after securing re-election, and against the will of Democratic leadership, supported a Medicare prescription drug benefit that routed tax payer money through private insurers. He spent months and months behind closed doors with GOP lawmakers in 2009 in a futile search for bipartisan support for what became the Affordable Care Act. That quixotic effort dragged on well past the point at which party leaders believed it might pay off, and it delayed legislative action for so long that the bill nearly died when Democrats lost Ted Kennedy’s seat to Scott Brown in early 2010,” Beutler wrote.
“His biggest contribution to ACA was to help build industry support for the process by cutting secret deals with pharmaceutical manufacturers and other powerful stakeholders, some of which may have been necessary to pass the bill, but which nevertheless came at the expense of beneficiaries and taxpayers. In late 2010, Baucus voted against the DREAM Act.
“A key exception to this track record is his long history of bucking GOP attempts to slash and privatize popular social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. But viewed through the prism of his broader approach to politics, this seems more an idiosyncratic instance of liberal priorities lining up with Baucus’ venal decision making, than an expression of genuine commitment to the legacy of the New Deal and Great Society.”
Potential Republican candidates include US Rep. Steve Daines, former US Rep. Denny Rehberg, who was defeated by Sen. Jon Tester (D) in 2012, and state Attorney General Tim Fox.
If Democrats can hold onto the Senate majority, the departure of Baucus would leave the much more liberal Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as his likely replacement leading the Finance Committee.
In another possible Senate race, former US Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader she is considering a run for the seat Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is giving up (4/23). Former Gov. Mike Rounds (R) already is in the race. Another Democrat considering the race is US Attorney Brendan Johnson, son of the incumbent senator.
ILLEGAL OIL AUCTION DERAILER RELEASED FROM DETENTION. After 21 months in federal custody for interfering with a Bureau of Land Management auction of oil and gas leases that the Obama administration agreed never should have taken place, climate activist Tim DeChristopher was released from a halfway house in Salt Lake City (4/21).
DeChristopher in July 2011 was convicted of interfering with the George W. Bush administration’s December 2008 move to sell off oil and gas exploitation rights in Utah before Barack Obama took office. DeChristopher bid on 22,500 acres in an attempt to save them from drilling. He won them at a price of $1.8 mln, and came up with the initial payment, but the Department of Justice under Obama charged him with two felonies, for making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act — even after BLM later ruled that the auction was illegal. (The judge refused to let DeChristopher’s defense attorneys tell the jury that he had tried to pay for the leases and that the auction was overturned and declared illegal. DeChristopher also was prohibited from testifying on how he acted on moral convictions relating to climate change.)
DeChristopher was shuffled off to several prisons, including a private prison run by Corrections Corp. of America in Pahrump, Nev., during his 21 months in detention, including a two-and-a-half-week stretch in isolated confinement in the federal prison in Herlong, Calif., for writing an email that the Bureau of Prisons deemed potentially harmful because it contained the word “threat.” It turned out he was only threatening to return a potential legal fund donation from a company whose ethics weren’t aligned with his own, Laural Whitney wrote at DeSmogBlog. He later was sent to minimum security at Englewood Prison in Littleton, Colo., before being moving to the halfway house in Salt Lake City in October 2012.
His case is the subject of a documentary film, Bidder 70, which is being screened around the country (see bidder70film.com). He also co-founded Peaceful Uprising, or PeaceUp, after the illegal auction with the intention to advocate nonviolent civil disobedience in defense of the climate (see peacefuluprising.org).
REGAL EXECS GET MASSIVE PAY RAISES, CUT EMPLOYEES’ HOURS TO AVOID HEALTH COSTS. The country’s largest movie theater chain probably didn’t expect much of a backlash when Regal Entertainment Group recently announced that it would cut employees’ hours down to 30 per week to avoid health costs under the Affordable Care Act. But coming just a few weeks after the corporation announced that its CEO, Amy Miles, got a 31% pay raise, to $4.45 mln, and other executives also got big pay raises, while Regal’s stock was up 20% in the past year, the cost-cutting at the expense of hourly employees’ health benefits struck a discordant tone in customers of Regal Cinemas, Edwards Theaters and United Artists movie theaters in 38 states. HuffingtonPost.com (4/17) noted that many customers expressed their outrage at the company’s Facebook page, with some vowing never to visit Regal movie theaters again.
Regal is not the first large US employer to face public backlash after attempting to skirt Obamacare, HuffingtonPost.com noted. Darden Restaurants, the parent company to Red Lobster, also faced scorn as a result of tests to use of more part-time workers to limit healthcare costs. The company ultimately backed away from the idea.
BUSINESS AS USUAL IS THE PROBLEM. Two oil projects in the works could significantly increase the amount of heavy crude oil moving on — and near — the Great Lakes, causing alarm among environmentalists because they involve the same heavy oil that was behind a $1 bln oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that remains an ecological disaster, the Detroit Free Press reported (4/14). And the company fined for that spill — Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge — is behind one of the new projects.
Charles P. Pierce of Esquire.com’s Politics Blog noted (4/22) that development, suggesting that the company behind a spill that’s already cost a billion dollars and hasn’t been cleaned up yet should not be allowed to do more business in this country for a while.
“And, while we’re at it, maybe some people should be going to jail behind the explosion in West, Texas, too,” he wrote, noting that the fertilizer plant that exploded (4/17), obliterating part of a small Texas town and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Reuters reported. “Yet a person familiar with DHS operations said the company that owns the plant, West Fertilizer, did not tell the agency about the potentially explosive fertilizer as it is required to do, leaving one of the principal regulators of ammonium nitrate — which can also be used in bomb making — unaware of any danger there.”
“Roll that figure around in your head,” Pierce wrote. “That would be 1350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that should have tipped the Homeland Security people, who are now busily running around trying to figure out what websites the Tsarnaev brothers may have been frequenting. Meanwhile, because of the magic hand of the free market, an entire ... town in Texas gets blown up because of business as usual. A Canadian corporation gets another chance to screw up the Great Lakes area even before its previous screw-up is under control. Business as usual is the problem, and it’s why the homeland is so damned insecure.”
PERRY STILL TOUTS TEXAS’ LACK OF REGULATION. Days after the fatal explosion in West, Texas, Gov. Rick Perry was in Chicago pitching the lack of government oversight to lure businesses from northern states. Perry has spent $80,000 on a print and broadcast advertising campaign in Illinois urging companies to “Get out while there’s still time.” He joined Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on a Bioscience Economic Development panel at the Bio International Convention in Chicago.
Perry, in his media campaign, said, “I have a word of advice for employers frustrated by Illinois’ short-sighted approach to business: you need to get out while there’s still time. The escape route leads straight to Texas, where limited government, low taxes and a pro-business environment are creating more jobs than any other state.”
Quinn had argued Texas has its own challenges, from a historic drought and water issues to ranking near the bottom on SAT scores and a large percentage of workers without health insurance, stating, “We don’t need any advice from Gov. Perry,” the Chicago Sun Times reported (4/24).
YES, TEXANS OPPOSED SANDY AID BUT SEEK HELP FOR TEXAS BLAST RECOVERY. The death toll in the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion reached 15, with at least 200 more injured. President Obama already has pledged federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies. The blast not only destroyed the plant, but also neighboring homes, schools, a nursing home and apartments in a four block area.
Texas congressmen who opposed aid for Northeastern victims of Hurricane Sandy are now requesting aid to help the victims and the town of West, Texas, rebuild. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he is “working to ensure that all available resources are marshaled to deal with the horrific loss of life and suffering that we’ve seen.” Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) has said that he, plus Sens. Cruz and John Cornyn (R-Texas) are working with congressional leaders to extend necessary assistance. Cornyn also has said there is funding under his subcommittee for chemical site security standards and infrastructure protection. Yet, Bryce Covert noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/22), when Northeast cities needed disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a storm that killed hundreds, all three congressmen voted against the aid package. (Cornyn voted against the Sandy aid after requesting drought relief for Texas in 2009 and disaster aid for Texas wildfires in 2011.)
Covert also noted that the plant has been a victim of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) underfunding, as it hadn’t been inspected since 1985. Yet Flores voted for the 2011 House Republican budget that would have reduced OSHA’s budget by $99 mln. He also voted to pass the Budget Control Act, which also decreased funding for OSHA’s inspections.
‘STAND WITH RAND’ ON QUICKSAND. In March, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) got some admiration from progressive libertarians with his talking filibuster on the Senate that drew attention to drone strikes and civil liberties questions that too often go ignored. But Steve Benen noted at MaddowBlog.com (4/23), “as the spectacle faced, a problem emerged — Paul didn’t seem to fully understand the issue he ostensibly cares so much about.”
The Kentucky Republican wanted to know if the Obama administration feels it has the authority to “use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil.” Attorney General Eric Holders said the “answer to that question is no.” For many involved in the debate, the answer was superficial and incomplete — who gets to define what constitutes “combat”? what about non-weaponized drones? — but Paul declared victory and walked away satisfied.
The senator went further (4/23), saying he’s comfortable with drones being used over US soil if the executive branch decides — without a warrant or oversight — there’s an “imminent threat.” Paul told Fox Business Network:
“... I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him. But it’s different if they want to come fly over your hot tub, or your yard just because they want to do surveillance on everyone, and they want to watch your activities.”
Benen concluded, “I realize it’s difficult to explore complex policy questions in detail during a brief television interview, and perhaps if the Republican senator had more time to think about it, he might explain his position differently. But as of this afternoon, it sounds like Rand Paul is comfortable with the executive branch having the warrantless authority to use weaponized drones to kill people on American soil suspected of robbing a liquor store. But flying over a hot tub is where he draws the line.”
TERRORISTS CAN STILL BUY GUNS AND POWDER. George W. Bush said al Qaeda hated the US for our freedom, but Ailsa Chang of NPR reported (4/23) that in June 2011, a senior al Qaeda operative, Adam Gadahn, released a video message that encouraged people to take advantage of lax US gun laws. “America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” Gadahn says, explaining that “you can go down to a gun show at the local convention center” and buy a gun without a background check. Then a faint smile crosses Gadahn’s face. “So what are you waiting for?” he asks.
Even if a background check reveals that your name is on the national terrorism watch list, Chang noted that under current law you’re still free to walk out of a gun dealership with a firearm in your hands — as long as you don’t have a criminal or mental health record.
Data from the Government Accountability Office show that between 2004 and 2010, people on terrorism watch lists tried to buy guns and explosives more than 1,400 times. They succeeded in more than 90% of those cases, or 1,321 times, Chang reported.
“It’s absurd that we allow people to buy unlimited AK-47s, AR-15s and Uzis, even if we feel they are too dangerous to be allowed on a plane, even after they’ve gone through a security check,” says Jon Lowy, a lawyer for the Brady Campaign, a gun control group.
Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has tried since 2007 to push for legislation that would close the terrorism loophole. Under the bill, if a background check reveals a gun buyer is on the terrorism watch list, the US attorney general would have the discretion to block the gun sale.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said people on the terrorist watch list should not lose their Second Amendment right without the ability to challenge that determination.
The Department of Justice under the Bush administration had supported the legislation, which was filed as an amendment to the gun control bill last week, but things ground to a halt in the Senate after every major gun control proposal failed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced (4/24) he was filing a bill (S 792) on behalf of Lauterberg, who has been ailing for much of the year, to require background checks on anyone buying explosive powder, a reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing. Under current law, anyone can buy up to 50 pounds of explosive “black powder” with no background check, and can buy unlimited amounts of other explosive powders, such as “black powder substitute” and “smokeless powder.”
The new bill does not include a requirement that explosive powders contain “taggants,” which help police identify the maker of an explosive and who it was sold to, Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com (4/24). The NRA has blocked the use of taggrants in explosives ever since they were developed in the 1970s.
SEQUESTER FORCES GUN TRACING CUTS. The nation’s only tracing facility for guns used in crimes has laid off 90 people as a result of budget cuts forced by sequestration, Igor Volsky reported at ThinkProgress.org (4/24). The National Tracing Center (NTC) is part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and provides law enforcement with information about gun trafficking, guns used in crimes and stolen weapons. In 2012, NTC processed close to 350,000 trace requests and officials worry that the cuts and resulting staffing shortfalls will undermine tracing efforts and impede ongoing police investigations. Sources told ThinkProgress that as a result of sequestration, NTC may face significant delays in indexing vital records, processing urgent requests and identifying stolen firearms.
ATF has long been in the crosshairs of the budget debate. President Obama proposed a 12.8% reduction in the bureau’s budget for 2012, before reversing himself after the shooting of then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). ATF has also been without a director since 2006.
The Tsarnaev brothers may have used up to three guns in their rampage, though neither had a license to carry a weapon in Massachusetts. It’s unclear if the reductions will affect the Tsarnaev case, though officials fear that lower profile murders and shootings could be impacted.
SENATE BILL WOULD CLOSE ONLINE SALES TAX LOOPHOLE. The Senate appears poised to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would require online retailers iwth sales over $1 mln a year to collect sales taxes from online customers and pass them on to their respective states. The bill’s opponents claim that it’s too complicated for online retailers to have to apply thousands of different tax laws, but the states would have to pay for the software and simplify their tax system to make things easier for retailers. The bill was supported by 74 senators (4/22). The bill’s prospects in the House are less certain, as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias noted that House Speaker John Boehner could keep it bottled up under general anti-tax principles. Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is opposed to what he considers a tax bill. But Amazon has reversed its opposition, as it has decentralized its operations with warehouses around the country in an effort to speed deliveries, which also has subjected it to charge sales taxes for customers in those states. Cities and states are hoping to recover their share of billions of dollars in sales tax revenues. And brick-and-mortar local retailers have been pushing for a tax on Internet sales to level the playing field.
GOP QUITS PUBLIC POLICY DEBATE. How much has the GOP become the party of “No”? Jonathan Bernstein reported at Salon.com (4/24) that Republicans aren’t even trying to pass bills this year. Over the last couple of decades, he noted, majority parties in the House of Representatives have reserved the first 10 bill numbers for key bills in their party’s agenda. But when he checked the records, he found that more than 100 days into the current Congress, the Republican agenda is almost completely empty.
“In fact, of the 10 reserved slots, there’s only one bill filed. That’s HR 3, a bill to force the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. Even that is pretty minimal – it’s far more of a symbolic position than it is an energy policy. And even that took until March 15 to introduce. But at least it’s a real bill, and to their credit it is a substantive measure, even if it’s not an overall energy policy.
“Beyond that, Republicans have announced that HR 1 is reserved for a tax reform bill. There is, however, no bill, at least not so far.
“For the rest of them, and for that matter for HR 1, nothing. All you get is ‘Reserved for the Speaker.’”
After the new Republican majority took over in 2011, by the end of the 112th Congress, which Bernstein noted “was hardly a high achiever,” Republicans had filed bills for nine of the 10 reserved spots. HR 1 that year was for continuing appropriations, and was filed on Feb. 11. HR 2 was to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and was introduced on Jan. 5. By April 2011, eight of the 10 bills had been dropped into the hopper.
“Now, to be fair, Democrats in the 111th Congress only used two of the 10 spots. But both were introduced in January, and in fact both (the stimulus and S-CHIP expansion) had become law by this point,” he wrote. “And at any rate, surely no one would argue that the Democrats in 2009 didn’t have an agenda.”
Bernstein’s conclusion: Republican members of Congress can’t be bothered with the hard work of legislating. “My guess is that the Republican-aligned partisan press is just so easy for Republican politicians that they’ve all become lazy. If all you have to do to be a favorite guest on Fox News or on syndicated conservative talk radio is to mutter something vague about Benghazi and make a teleprompter joke, what’s the incentive of doing the hard work of actually writing a bill?”
Michael Tomasky wrote in TheDailyBeast.com (4/24) that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) illustrated the party’s problem. “The Orrin Hatch of the 1980s and 1990s was a titan compared with the Orrin Hatch of today,” Tomasky wrote. “When I look at Senate roll-call votes and see that immovable wall of nays on virtually everything of consequence that comes before them, I wonder what someone like Hatch really thinks deep down, but of course we’ll never know. He is doing what the party’s base demands of him, and those demands include that he clam up and denounce Obama and not utter one sentence that could be misinterpreted as signaling compromise.
“This brings me back to immigration. The Tsarnaevs may not have derailed things, but other cracks are starting to show. Last Thursday — before we knew who the Boston bombers were — Rush Limbaugh speculated that immigration reform would constitute Republican ‘suicide.’ A Politico article yesterday made the same point — an analysis showed that if 11 million ‘undocumented residents’ had been able to vote in 2012, Obama might have won Arizona and would even have made a race of it in Texas. This did not go unremarked in right-wing circles yesterday. The Big Bloviator himself [Limbaugh] weighed in: ‘Senator Schumer can taste this. He’s so excited. All the Democrats. Why would we agree to something that they are so eager to have?’
“Immigration is the one area today on which a small number of Republicans are actually trying. Limbaugh’s position last week is a change from a couple of months ago, when Marco Rubio had him admitting that maybe the GOP needed to embrace reform. It’s not hard to imagine him and Laura Ingraham and others turning surlier as the hour of truth on the bill approaches.”
Tomasky concluded: “I will be impressed and more than a little surprised if the day comes and a majority of Republicans back an immigration bill. Passing such a bill is undoubtedly in their self-interest, as everyone has observed. What fewer have observed is that doing so is just not in their DNA. And life teaches us that genes usually get the better of reason.”
THE GREAT MULLIGAN. Conservatives were quick to seize upon the Boston Marathon bombing to criticize President Obama’s approach to national security as they seek to rehabilitate the reputation of former President George W.Bush. Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, spoke for many when she wrote (4/23) that “Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.”
Charles P. Pierce replied at Esquire.com (4/24): “Thus do we confront what we can call The Great Mulligan, which is granted by the dimmer lights in the chandelier to the president and to the national security team — Hi, Condi! — who presided over the most massive intelligence failure in American history, and over the greatest loss of life to an enemy attack on American soil since everybody hugged it out at Appomattox. This has popped up from time to time in the years since it became obvious what a complete and utter failure the Bush presidency really was. Sorry we lied you into a war, but we kept you safe. Sorry we demolished American values, and just about every shred of American moral credibility in the world, but we kept you safe. Sorry we let New Orleans drown, but we kept you safe. Sorry we allowed the national economy to blow up, but we kept you safe. In fact, if you sent C-Plus Augustus into his own museum, and had him take that interactive quiz, and provided he didn’t break a thumb trying to get a Diet Coke out of the exhibit, his answer to everything would be I kept you safe.
“No. In fact, you didn’t. Stop saying that before 3000 ghosts come to your room some night and pummel you with ectoplasmic bags of sheep dung.”
Find the entry at Esquire.com’s Politics Blog (http://bit.ly/11BZyIJ) and read the whole thing.
KOCHS EYE TRIBUNE PAPERS. As if newspapers weren’t already in bad enough shape, the billionaire oil moguls Charles and David Koch are pushing ahead with their plants to purchase several major newspapers owned by the Tribune Co. in the US, including the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, according to the New York Times (4/21).
In addition to the LA Times and the Tribune, the papers up for sale include the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, the Hartford Courant, the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., and the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Va. A sale also could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.
The papers, valued at roughly $623 mln, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, which has annual revenue of about $115 bln. Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas, the Times’ Amy Chozick noted.
Annie-Rose Strasser of ThinkProgress.org noted (4/21) that Charles and David Koch’s money has been instrumental in getting anti-climate politicians into office, and in funding anti-climate science studies. The brothers have also funded with the secretive conservative network ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which has crafted “model legislation” for voter ID laws that limit voting rights, particularly for low-income people of color. The group also has promoted so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws in various states. The brothers also tried to influence the latest election by warning some 45,000 employees that there would be “consequences” if they didn’t vote for Republicans.
JUST 4 SOLS SHOW UP FOR HEARING ON LONG-TERM JOBLESS. With the nation’s unemployment rate at 7.6%, members of Congress are fond of saying that they are focused on nothing but jobs. And yet, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) scheduled a Joint Economic Committee hearing on one of the biggest jobs-related crises facing the US, just four of the committee’s 20 members bothered to show up (4/24).
The Joint Economic Commitee is one of a handful of committees whose members come from both parties and both houses of Congress. Klobuchar was joined by three colleagues (in order of their appearance): Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. All four are Democrats, National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reported. None of the committee’s 10 Republicans showed up.
Chokshi noted that it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to be absent at the beginning of hearings, and there were 25 others going on simultaneously at the time. But Travis Waldron at ThinkProgress.org suggested that the poor attendance at a hearing dealing with unemployment shouldn’t be a surprise, given the general lack of focus from members of Congress on unemployment since the end of the recession. Instead, Congress has focused on debt and deficits, cutting spending even when evidence shows that the opposite needs to be done to grow the economy and create jobs.
There are currently 4.7 mln American workers who have been unemployed for at least six months, and the challenges they face are immense, Waldron noted. Not only do they long-term unemployed face discriminatory hiring policies that make it nearly impossible for them to find work, they are also losing federal unemployment insurance thanks to state-level cuts and sequestration, which slashed 10% from federal benefits.
From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2013
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