Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is prepared to run for president in 2016, he told John Nichols. In an interview published at TheNation.com (3/6) Sanders said, “this country faces more serious problems than at any time since the Great Depression, and there is a horrendous lack of serious political discourse or ideas out there that can address these crises, and that somebody has got to represent the working-class and the middle-class of this country in standing up to the big-money interests who have so much power over the economic and political life of this country. So I am prepared to run for president of the United States. I don’t believe that I am the only person out there who can fight this fight, but I am certainly prepared to look seriously at that race.”

Asked if he was preparing for a run, Sanders said he is not organizing and raising money for a campaign, but he is talking to people around the country. “But I think it’s premature to be talking about (the specifics of) a campaign when we still have a 2014 congressional race in front of us.”

Asked if he would run as an independent, he said he hasn’t reached a conclusion on that yet. “Clearly, there are things to be said on both sides of that important question. Number one: There is today more and more alienation from the Republican and Democratic parties than we have seen in the modern history of this country. In fact, most people now consider themselves to be “independent,” whatever that may mean. And the number of people who identify as Democrats or Republicans is at a historically low point. In that sense, running outside the two-party system can be a positive politically.

“On the other hand, given the nature of the political system, given the nature of media in America, it would be much more difficult to get adequate coverage from the mainstream media running outside of the two-party system. It would certainly be very hard if not impossible to get into debates. It would require building an entire political infrastructure outside of the two-party system: to get on the ballot, to do all the things that would be required for a serious campaign.”

Since he has been in Congress, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “has been extremely kind to me and has treated me with enormous respect,” as Sanders advanced to chairman of the Veterans Committee. “But there is no question that the Democratic Party in general remains far too dependent on big-money interests, that it is not fighting vigorously for working-class families, and that there are some members of the Democratic Party whose views are not terribly different from some of the Republicans. That’s absolutely the case. But the dilemma is that, if you run outside of the Democratic Party, then what you’re doing — and you have to think hard about this — you’re not just running a race for president, you’re really running to build an entire political movement. In doing that, you would be taking votes away from the Democratic candidate and making it easier for some right-wing Republican to get elected — the Nader dilemma.”

He said he wants to hear what progressives have to say about that. As the longest-serving independent in congressional history, he said, “In Vermont, I think we have had more success than in any other state in the country in terms of progressive third-party politics. During my tenure as mayor of Burlington, I defeated Democrats and Republicans and helped start a third-party movement. Today, there is a statewide progressive party which now has three people in the state Senate, out of 30, and a number of representatives in the state legislature. But that process has taken 30 years. So it is not easy.

“If you look back to (Ralph) Nader’s candidacy (in 2000), the hope of Nader was not just that he might be elected president but that he would create a strong third party. Nader was a very strong candidate, very smart, very articulate. But the strong third-party did not emerge. The fact is that is very difficult to do.” He said he would consult with activists in and outside of the Democratic Party.

Sanders also said he did not fear being identified as a democratic socialist. “In Vermont, people understand exactly what I mean by the word. They don’t believe that democratic socialism is akin to North Korea communism. They understand that when I talk about democratic socialism, what I’m saying is that I do not want to see the United States significantly dominated by a handful of billionaire families controlling the economic and political life of the country. That I do believe that in a democratic, civilized society, all people are entitled to health care as a right, all people are entitled to quality education as a right, all people are entitled to decent jobs and a decent income, and that we need a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful.” The people in Vermont understand, and that’s why he was re-elected with 71% of the vote.

But a large part of his campaign would involve educating people about what is possible. “One of the things that I find most disturbing — in fact, beyond comprehension — is that the Democrats now lose by a significant number the votes of white working-class people. How can that be? When you have a Republican Party that wants to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc., etc., why are so many people voting against their own economic interests? It happens because the Democrats have not been strong in making it clear which side they are on, not been strong in taking on Wall Street and corporate America, which is what Roosevelt did in the 1930s.”

He also said he was not attacking the presumed Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. “I have known Hillary Clinton for a number of years ... I like Hillary; she is very, very intelligent; she focuses on issues. But I think, sad to say, that the Clinton type of politics is not the politics certainly that I’m talking about.”

See the entire interview at TheNation.com <http://bit.ly/1fLzFKd>.

GOP THREATENS PAY CUTS FOR DOCS IF OBAMACARE GOES AHEAD. House Republicans are threatening to cut the pay of physicians unless Democrats agree to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to buy insurance, Sahil Kapur reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (3/10). GOP leaders would delay the individual mandate to fund a “doc fix” that avoids a 24% pay cut to physicians under Medicade — which would automatically take effect on 4/1 unless Congress acts. Inaction would disrupt the health care system, in part by causing many doctors to stop accepting Medicare patients.

The strategy could backfire on Republicans, Kapur noted, because delaying the individual mandate is a nonstarter with Democrats and demanding a largely partisan unraveling of Obamacare, in exchange for must-pass legislation, they risk being blamed by seniors and the health-care industry if the doctor pay cuts go into effect. When Republicans insisted on such an approach for federal funding last fall, the government shut down and they took most of the blame, Kapur noted.

“This bill represents a new low, even for House Republicans,” fumed Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who decried the plan as “irresponsible and dangerous” and promised it’d be a “legislative dead-end.”

In 1997, Congress enacted a formula to limit Medicare reimbursement rates to physicians, known as the Sustainable Growth Rate. Starting in 2002, it began imposing significant cuts to doctor payments. Congress responded by routinely passing short-term patches to stave off the cuts (and instead giving doctors pay raises), usually by cutting health care spending elsewhere. Kapur noted that there is virtually unanimous agreement in Congress that the cuts shouldn’t go into effect, but the formula remains in place because replacing it with a bipartisan alternative would cost $138 bln over a decade, which is a tall order in a Congress this divided.

WHAT A GOP SENATE WOULD LOOK LIKE. The cast of character waiting in the wings to chair powerful Senate committees if Republicans win the majority this November would radically shift the direction of the chamber and probably make life miserable for the White House, Sahil Kapur noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (3/12).

Republicans who are best positioned to chair various panels under a GOP majority, Kahul said, include: Chuck Grassley (R-IA) at Judiciary; Orrin Hatch (R-UT) at Finance; James Inhofe (R-OK) at Environment & Public Works; John McCain (R-AZ) at Armed Services; Jeff Sessions (R-AL) or Mike Enzi (R-WY) at Budget; Lamar Alexander (R-TN) at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Bob Corker (R-TN) at Foreign Relations; Richard Shelby (R-AL) at Appropriations; Mike Crapo (R-ID) at Banking; and Enzi at Homeland Security, if he doesn’t lead the Budget Committee.

Charles Pierce at Esquire.com reviewed that list and concluded, “Go ahead. Stay home now. I dare you.”

UNINSURED RATE DROPS UNDER ‘OBAMACARE’. Two months after Americans started getting health coverage under the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, it’s working. The uninsured rate is dropping, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows. In the fourth quarter of 2013, 17.1% of Americans did not have health insurance. So far in 2014, that number has dropped to 15.9%, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (3/10).

The biggest drops in the uninsured rate — or gains in the insured rate — came among lower-income and black people. In late 2013, 30.7% of people earning less than $36,000 a year were uninsured; now, 27.9% are uninsured, a drop of 2.8 percentage points. The uninsured rate declined a similar 2.6 percentage points among black people. Latinos lag, with their uninsured rate having dropped just 0.8 points, a disappointment, and one perhaps linked to the troubled rollout of the exchanges.

With the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group, Latinos were expected to be major beneficiaries of the new health care law, with a relatively young population and many on the lower rungs of the middle class, holding down jobs that don’t come with health insurance, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar noted for the Associated Press (3/10). But the outreach effort to Hispanics got off to a stumbling start. The Spanish-language enrollment website, CuidadodeSalud.gov, was delayed due to technical problems. Its name sounds like a clunky translation from English: “Care of Health.” A spot check of the Spanish site on 3/9 showed parts of it still use a mix of Spanish and English to convey information, which can make insurance details even more confusing.

CRAZY PAUL BROUN LEADS GOP SENATE RACE IN GA. Crazy congressman Paul Broun — the “evolution is lies from the pit of hell” guy — is the man Democrats would very, very badly like to see win the Republican nomination for Georgia’s open seat Senate race, David Nir noted at DailyKos.com (3/10). And whaddya know, a new Public Policy Polling poll for progressive group Better Georgia shows Broun leading the pack, in a big jump from last August (shown in parentheses):

Rep. Paul Broun: 27 (19); Rep. Phil Gingrey: 14 (25); Rep. Jack Kingston: 13 (15); Businessman David Perdue: 12 (5); Former Sec’y of State Karen Handel: 9 (13); activist Derrick Grayson: 3 (3); undecided: 23 (20).

The primary is 5/20, and candidates have only started advertising statewide — and Broun hasn’t yet been among them, Nir noted. “It’s easy to imagine that Broun, as the most extreme true believer in the GOP field, has an appeal his opponents lack, but he’s fared poorly on the fundraising front and won’t have an easy time maintaining his advantage once the campaign kicks into high gear.

“Still, in a race with five legitimate candidates, tea party enthusiasm may be enough to power Broun to a spot in the July 22 runoff, which would be held if no candidate reaches 50% in the first round of voting. And in the world of Republican politics, crazy can often beat money.”

Interestingly, though, Broun actually fares best against the lone Democrat in the race, non-profit founder Michelle Nunn. Here’s how Nunn performs against each Republican, though Better Georgia for some reason did not include Perdue. Again, August’s trendlines are in parentheses:

• 38-38 vs. Broun (41-36)

• 42-40 vs. Gingrey (41-41)

• 43-39 vs. Handel (40-38)

• 44-41 vs. Kingston (40-38)

LANDRIEU SEES OPPORTUNITY IN MEDICAID EXPANSION. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has been a frequent critic of Obamacare. But that ends when it comes to Medicaid expansion, and it has become a centerpiece in her re-election campaign, a hint that more Democrats in red states are looking at this issue for 2014. Landrieu is running against both her GOP opponent Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

“Our governor may not like the president, but this is not about the president,” Landrieu writes on her website. “It’s about providing health coverage for 240,000 Louisianans who work 40 or 50 hours a week, but still make too little to qualify for assistance in the new marketplace — and too much to qualify for Louisiana’s current Medicaid.”

Medicaid expansion, according to a Pew poll conducted late last year, is very popular in Louisiana, with 63% support, Joan McCarter notes at DailyKos.com (3/10). It also gets majority support in Virginia, Tennessee, and Maine, to name a few of the states which have yet to expand or are in the middle of a political fight to make it happen.

Meanwhile, Republicans are maintaining their conviction that their denial of health care to millions of people is no big deal.

“To me, ObamaCare is 1,000 times bigger than the Medicaid issue,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak, who described Medicaid is a peripheral issue. “It’s kind of like when you’re drowning, you grab for anything you can,” he continued. “So they’re pulling out minimum wage, equal pay, violence against women, and their other go-to issues. But to me, ObamaCare is so much bigger than all that.”

Republicans remain convinced that voters — who have been telling pollsters for months and months that they are sick of the Obamacare fight — will be going to the polls in November because of Obamacare. And their base voters probably will be. The thing is, it’s the rest of the people in these red states who are drowning, and they’re drowning because of Republican policies, on the minimum wage and equal pay and women’s issues. And health care. It’s important for Democrats to be pointing that out, but it’s just as important that they get those voters to the polls. A strong message on Medicaid, and on other basic pocketbook issues, is a good way to start.

KOCH BROTHERS OUTSPEND TOP 10 UNIONS. Right-wing pundits recently have claimed that the Koch Brothers’ influence in political campaigns is overstated and Kimberley Strassel, in a 3/7 column, “The Really Big Money? Not the Kochs,” in the Wall Street Journal, parrots that meme. Strassel cites a Center for Responsive Politics list to claim that unions “collectively spent $620,873,623 more than Koch Industries” on political races from 1989-2014. But Lee Fang noted at TheNation.com (3/7) that the CRP website has a disclaimer noting that the list does not include certain Super PAC spending or most undisclosed dark money spending, the preferred route for the Koch brothers for decades. In fact, the CRP site notes that union spending might appear inflated since unions’ traditional PAC spending is coupled with outside Super PAC spending. For the purposes of this chart, union spending is inflated compared to the giving of companies like Koch or Super PAC donors like Sheldon Adelson.

For the last election, Koch PACs spent $4.9 mln in disclosed contributions (figures that appear on the chart referenced by Strassel). But they also spent over $407 mln on undisclosed campaign entities, which does not show up in the CRP chart.

Republic Report broke down the figures for the last election and found that Koch groups alone spent more than double the $153 mln political spending (including to undisclosed groups) for the top 10 unions combined. The chart includes union spending on dark money Democratic groups and Koch spending on dark money groups like Americans for Prosperity.

This undisclosed campaign system is nothing new for the Koch brothers. In 1995 and 1996, Koch set up a shell company called Triad Management to spend millions in secret money to help the Republican Party. Of course, this type of spending never shows up in databases like the one cited by Strassel.

All NRLB-regulated unions, on the other hand, disclose every outside payment. Payments that cannot be found through the FEC can be found on a database maintained by the Labor Department. Individuals and corporations are under no such similar disclosure rules. The Koch money identified recently by the Washington Post, the $407 mln, relates only to money filtered through foundations and nonprofits. The money Koch spends as a corporate entity, as it has in the past, may have gone unreported, Fang noted.

SENATE REJECTS LAWYER FOR HELPING NOTORIOUS CLIENT. Debo Adegbile would appear to be the ideal candidate to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The former acting head of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund is also an expert on voting rights who twice defended the Voting Rights Act before the Supreme Court. He also was senior counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In normal times he would be a shoo-in to oversees the Civil Rights Division. The only problem is his record of fighting for civil rights.

That record was enough to get all 45 Republican senators to vote against him despite his qualifications. But with 55 Senate Dems, Adegbile should have had a clear route to the new job. Yet seven Dems joined 44 Republicans in voting his nomination down. The Dems who opposed Adegbile’s confirmation are Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Pryor (D-AR) and John Walsh (D-MT). (Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also voted with the opponents for procedural reasons that would allow him to bring the nomination back to the floor.)

The fatal flaw in Adegbile’s resume was that, when he was with the NAACP, it supported an appeal of the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer. In 2008, a federal appeals court unanimously held that a trial judge erred in his jury instructions and the death sentence was overturned. Abu-Jamal remains in prison with a life sentence.

It used to be broadly accepted in the US that every criminal defendant should have access to a fair trial and their attorneys should not be blamed for the crimes of their clients. That tradition goes back to colonial days, in 1770, when John Adams defended 8 British solders accused of murder in the Boston Massacre. It continued to John Robert’s pro-bono defense when he was in private practice of John Errol Ferguson, a Florida man convicted of murdering 8 people — But the Fraternal Order of Police said Adegbile’s defense of Abu-Jamal disqualified him from service and a majority of the Senate agreed.

The same day the Senate rejected Adegbile, the New Hampshire GOP blasted out a statement declaring Democratic Sen. Jeanne “Shaheen votes for radical Obama nominee who defended unrepentant cop killer.” North Carolina Republican Party issued a statement that Democratic Sen. “Kay Hagan Votes For Extremist DOJ Nominee Who Helped Get A Convicted Cop Killer Off The Hook.”

WARREN WOULD TAX M’AIRES TO REFINANCE STUDENT LOANS. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) laid out a new plan that would tax millionaires and use that revenue to help students refinance their student loans. Delivering the keynote address at the Higher Ed Not Debt Campaign launch (3/6) at the Campaign for American Progress, Warren argued that America faces a choice: “Do we invest in students, or millionaires?”

She proposes to enact the Buffett rule, named after billionaire Warren Buffett, who said it was wrong that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary. It would establish a minimum tax on income in excess of $1 mln. It would raise $50 bln in revenue and ensure that millionaires don’t pay lower tax rates than middle-class families.

Congress acted to lower the federal unsubsidized student loan interest rate to 3.86% for undergraduates for the 2012-2013 academic school year. But unless it acts again, the $1.2 tln in outstanding student loan debt will continue to grow. Warren’s plan would allow students with outstanding student loans to refinance at lower rates. (Mason Atkins, ThinkProgress.org)

COLO. WEED SALES TOP $14M IN FIRST MONTH. During the first month of recreational marijuana sales in January, Colorado’s licensed dispensaries sold more than $14 mln, generating $2 mln of tax revenue for the state, the state Department of Revenue reported (3/10). Medical marijuana sales for January generated an additional $900,000 in sales tax, plus $592,000 in license and application fees, as tax and fee revenue surpassed $3.5 mln.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) recently announced that he expects that the combined sales from both legal medical and recreational marijuana in the state will reach nearly $1 bln in the next fiscal year — and about $600 mln of that is projected to come from just recreational sales. The state stands to collect at least $134 mln in taxes and fees. Though the first $40 million in tax revenue from the industry is flagged for school construction, Hickenlooper has proposed that the state use additional revenue to fund a statewide media campaign to address substance abuse treatment and highlight the risks associated with drug use, the HuffingtonPost reported (3/10).

SENATE INTEL CHAIR ACCUSES CIA OF SPYING ON CONGRESS. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly accused the CIA of spying on certain members of Congress and destroying hundreds of documents relating to the Agency’s use of torture (3/11).

In a Senate floor speech, Feinstein said that the CIA secretly searched Congress’s internal computer network to remove emails, internal memos and video files depicting so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques being reviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee has been investigating a secret report that detailed the United States’ use of torture during the Bush Administration after the 9/11 attacks.

The CIA “assured us that this was not destruction of evidence as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper,” Feinsten said. But in 2010, several hundred documents and about 50 videos were scrubbed from committee-members and staff’s computers without authorization, she said.

The removed documents detailed the CIA’s detention conditions and day-to-day interrogations, Feinstein said. According to the senator, the CIA blamed IT staffers before stating the White House ordered the removal of the documents. The White House apparently denied this, but had not yet put out a statement in response to Feinstein’s floor speech (3/11).

Her comments follow up on recent media reports that the CIA accessed panel members’ computers to ascertain whether staff accessed a copy of a classified report of the agency’s controversial detention and interrogation program.

Feinstein, who has been a staunch supporter of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) mass surveillance techniques, learned of the unauthorized access in January and said she tried to discreetly resolve the issue, asking for the CIA to admit its wrongdoings and apologize. She’s received neither.

The senator’s speech reveals a deep-seated feud between intelligence agencies and their Congressional watchdogs. The CIA has suggested Senate staff illegally took the documents out of the CIA, charges Feinstein sees as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also blasted the CIA’s alleged interference, suggesting the agency had violated the Constitution, criminal law, and possibly “the core founding principle of the separation of powers.” Though the two senators have butted heads over NSA surveillance, “I cannot think of any speech by any member of either party as important as the one the senator from California just gave,” Leahy said on the floor.

Feinstein’s remarks, coupled with the CIA’s response to the committee’s investigation, “made a powerful case” for declassifying the Congressional report. “The public has a right to know the truth about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and we need more safeguards in place to ensure the CIA never uses torture,” said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s security and human rights program, in a statement.

In response to a question from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (3/11), John Brennan dismissed Feinstein’s charge that the CIA hacked the committee’s computers. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that,” he said. “If I did something wrong, I will go to the president…He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” (Lauren C. Williams, ThinkProgress.org)

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2014


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