Several big corporations have reaped millions of dollars from “Obamacare” even as they support GOP candidates who vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Charles Babington reported for the Associated Press (4/8). Among the corporations benefiting from the health care law is Koch Industries, the giant conglomerate headed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who, with conservative allies, are spending millions of dollars attacking Democratic senators in North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and elsewhere, chiefly for backing President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

In a Senate chamber speech, Reid noted that Koch Industries benefited from a temporary provision of the health care law. The Early Retiree Reinsurance Program, Reid said, “helped the company pay health insurance costs for its retirees who are not covered by Medicare.” Reid asked sarcastically: “So it’s OK for Koch Industries to save money through Obamacare” even as Koch-related groups seek the law’s repeal, Babington reported.

In the health care law, Congress appropriated $5 bln for the temporary reinsurance program to subsidize employers’ costs for workers who retire before they become eligible for Medicare. Hundreds of employers applied — many were corporations, cities and public universities — and virtually all the money was soon distributed. Federal records show that Koch Industries received $1.4 mln in early retiree subsidies.

Other corporations that accepted subsidies while heavily backing GOP House and Senate candidates, most of who call for repealing the 2010 health care law, include United Parcel Service, which received $37 mln from the program’s subsidies for early retirees. From 1989 through this year, political action committees affiliated with UPS donated $32 mln to federal candidates and political parties. Of that, 64% went to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Union Pacific Railroad’s employee health system received $9.7 mln in subsidies. Republicans received more than two-thirds of the nearly $20 mln in political donations from the railroad’s PACs in the 25-year period tracked by the center.

Altria Client Services Inc. (a unit of the former Phillip Morris Cos.) received nearly $11 mln in the early retiree subsidies. And Republicans received 71% of the nearly $24 mln in Altria-related political donations from 1989 to 2014.

One of the biggest subsidy recipients was AT&T, at $213 mln. More than half of the $56 mln in AT&T-related political donations went to Republicans during the 25-year period.

Other companies that steer most of their political donations to Republicans, and the early-retiree subsidies they received, include: Pfizer Inc., $23 mln; GlaxoSmithKline, $14 mln; Southern Company Services, $7 mln; Lockheed Martin Corp., $4 mln; CSX Corp., $2.2 mln; KPMG LLP, $1.4 mln; and Deloitte LLP, $1.2 mln.

The data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics omits much of this year’s heavy political spending, because many major players are not required to report donations. The Koch-funded group Americans for Prosperity is among those “super PACs” that can keep their finance details private, even as it dominates the airwaves in some states, like North Carolina, with competitive Senate races, Babington noted.

MONEY LINES UP AGAINST MINIMUM WAGE HIKE. As the Senate is expected to vote on a bill by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour across the country, up from the current level of $7.25, 20 trade associations that represent companies in the hotel, restaurant and other industries — including the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Business — wrote that “raising the minimum wage will be detrimental to job creation and low-skilled workers trying to get started on the economic ladder.”

Robbie Feinberg noted at OpenSecrets.org, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics (4/4), that the political heft of the opposing trade groups will certainly make it tougher to get the bill through both houses of Congress. The groups have laid out huge amounts of money for both lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions in recent years, giving more than $5.5 mln to Congress over the past two election cycles and spending more than $91 mln on lobbying just last year.

There has been a noticeable Republican tilt to the donations, matching the party’s general opposition to minimum wage hikes. Nearly 83% of the groups’ contributions to candidates in the 2012 and 2014 cycles went to the GOP, a total of more than $4.7 mln.

The US Chamber of Commerce was the largest outside spender on the list, shelling out more than $36 mln in the 2012 elections and about $2 mln so far in the 2014 mid-terms.

CONN., MD. PASS $10.10 MINIMUM WAGE. Maryland became the second state to pass a $10.10 minimum wage (4/7), though the increase will be phased in over 4 years and it won’t be indexed to increase with inflation. The minimum wage, which was last raised in 2005, will increase from $7.25 an hour to $8 in January 2015, $8.25 in July 2015, $8.75 in July 2016, $9.25 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018. However, the General Assembly kept the base wage for tipped workers at $3.63 an hour, which is 50% of the federal minimum wage but still higher than the federal rate of $2.13 an hour; Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) had proposed increasing the base wage to 70% of the state’s minimum wage. And businesses would be able to pay a lower training wage — 85% of the state minimum wage — to workers under age 20 for their first six months. Some small businesses would be exempt from paying the higher state minimum.

Connecticut was the first state to get on course for a $10.10 minimum wage (3/27) as Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed into law the measure that will phase in the increase over three years. The state’s minimum wage is now $8.70 an hour. Out of Connecticut’s workforce of nearly 1.7 million people, economists estimate there are 70,000 to 90,000 workers who earn the minimum wage. With the increase, an employee working 40 hours a week would earn $21,008 per year. Currently, the federal poverty guideline for a family of four is $23,850.

Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (4/7) that legislators in Minnesota are close to a deal to raise their minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, with increases tied to inflation but subject to a governor’s veto. Massachusetts the state House and Senate have agreed on raising the minimum wage above $10.10 an hour, but they can’t agree whether to raise it to $10.50 an hour, as the House wants, or $11 an hour, as the Senate wants.

“Maryland’s important action is a reminder,” President Barack Obama said in a statement following the vote, “that many states, cities and counties — as well as a majority of the American people — are way ahead of Washington on this crucial issue.”

ON HIGH COURT, FORMER LOBBYIST GUTS CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. Unlike a bipartisan majority of Americans, who are troubled by the increasing power of money in politics, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court regards the dollar’s domination of democracy as an inevitable consequence of constitutional freedom — and anyway, not a matter of grave concern. “Expressed in their decisions on campaign finance, which continued last week to dismantle decades of reform in the McCutcheon case, the court’s right wing sees little risk of corruption and little need to regulate the flamboyant spending of billionaires,” Joe Conason wrote (4/4), noting that the right wing on the court not only includes Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who flout the rules that govern partisan behavior among lower-court judges, but also a former corporate lobbyist in Anthony Kennedy, who represented racing, entertainment and liquor interests in Sacramento before he was appointed to the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals in 1975.

Kennedy, who is considered the potential swing vote on the court, wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United in 2010, which dismissed the notion that corruption will arise from unlimited political campaign contributions because all such money will be disclosed. “Citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests ... and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” he wrote. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Yet if any Supreme Court justice knows how ridiculous that sounds, Conason wrote, it must be Kennedy — whose own background as a corporate lobbyist and son of a lobbyist has been forgotten in nearly three decades since his confirmation to the high court in 1987.

While Kennedy always insisted that lobbying was only a “sideline” in his law practice, his billings were substantial — the equivalent of hundreds of thousands or more in today’s dollars. In 1974, he pushed through a bill for Capitol Records that saved the company (and cost the state) millions in sales taxes.

“How did he do it? The same way that special interests work their will today — by doling out huge wads of cash to lawmakers on behalf of his clients. The single largest recipient of Kennedy lobbying largesse, according to the Los Angeles Times, was a legislator who introduced a bill to benefit the opticians lobby that Kennedy himself had drafted (it passed). He gave that guy alone about $6,500 in campaign contributions over six years, or roughly $40,000 in today’s dollars,” Conason wrote.

“So if anybody on the court knows how the political and legislative process is greased in this country, Conason wrote, that would be Justice Kennedy. After all, he was reared in the game. And it shouldn’t deceive anyone when he sounds as if he doesn’t understand how things work or who wins in that perverse process — and how everyone else loses.”

PROGRESSIVE DEMS MOVE TO DRAFT BERNIE SANDERS FOR PRESIDENT. Progressive Democrats of America are mounting a petition campaign to convince Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to run in the 2015/16 presidential primaries as a Democrat.

Sanders, who was re-elected to the Senate in 2012, has said he is considering running for president to bring a progressive populist voice to the race and he wants to hear from supporters 1) whether he should run and 2) whether he should run as a Democrat or as an independent.

On Thom Hartmann’s radio show (4/4), Sanders said he would not start campaigning until after the mid-term elections and until then he will work to make sure Democrats remain in control of the Senate. He added that progressives should not count on him or any other leader to turn the nation around. “No matter who is elected president, that person isn’t going to be successful unless we have a grassroots movement to take on the oligarchies,” he said.

To sign PDA’s petition for Sanders to run as a Democrat, see pdamerica.org. You also may contact Sanders’ campaign committee, Friends of Bernie Sanders, PO Box 391, Burlington VT 05402, phone 802-862-1505, email bernie@bernie.org.

POLLS SHOW GOOD NEWS FOR DEMS. The progressive activist group MoveOn.org released seven new polls conducted by Public Policy Polling, that show Democrats running well in at least seven competitive Senate and gubernatorial races. David Nir noted at DailyKos.com (4/8) that the main thrust of the surveys is a trio of questions about Medicaid expansion (it’s popular across the board), but all of them lead off with horserace questions. Here’s how they break down, with trendlines where available in parentheses:

• KY-Sen: Alison Grimes (D) 45, Mitch McConnell (R-inc) 44 (Jan.: 45-44 McConnell)

• VA-Sen: Mark Warner (D-inc) 49, Ed Gillespie (R) 35

• FL-Gov: Charlie Crist (D) 49, Rick Scott (R-inc) 42 (Jan.: 43-41 Crist)

• GA-Gov: Jason Carter (D) 43, Nathan Deal (R-inc) 42 (Feb.: 45-42 Deal)

• KS-Gov: Paul Davis (D) 45, Sam Brownback (R-inc) 41 (Feb.: 42-40 Davis)

• ME-Gov: Mike Michaud (D) 44, Paul LePage (R-inc) 37, Eliot Cutler (I): 14 (Nov.: 38-36-15 Michaud-LePage-Cutler)

• PA-Gov: “Democratic candidate” 56, Tom Corbett (R-inc) 34

“Obviously all of these results are positive for Democrats, though it’s not too hard to pick states ahead of time where you can reasonably expect to find good polling numbers. Put another way, there are no real surprises here, as the earlier polls all illustrate. The most optimistic bit of news comes out of Florida, where Crist has rebounded after what seemed like an outlier-ish January survey that had some strangeness in its sample composition. And the Kansas numbers show that PPP’s earlier poll was no fluke. Like we’ve been saying all cycle, keep watching that one,” Nir noted.

Daniel Strauss noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (4/9) that not every high-profile gubernatorial race has good news for Democrats. Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D), for example is still considered the underdog against Texas Att’y Gen. Gregg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, although Abbott’s campaign has had rough sledding with ties to profane gun enthusiast Ted Nugent and white nationalist Charles Murray, who has argued that class and race are linked to intelligence, as well as Abbott’s opposition to equal pay for women. Strauss also noted a Gravis marketing poll in the Illinois governor’s race in March found Bruce Rauner (R) beating Gov. Pat Quinn (D) 43-35. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R) leads Democratic challenger Mary Burke by 15 percentage points, according to a new St. Norbert/WPR poll out 4/9.

VOTERS IN ‘RED’ STATES WANT TO EXPAND MEDICAID. Voters in “red” states want to expand Medicaid despite the determination of Republican leaders to let thousands of working-poor Americans die rather than accept federal funds to pay for their health care.

According to polling by Public Policy Polling for MoveOn, voters support Medicaid expansion in key states by wide margins: 52 to 35 percent in Kansas, 58 to 33 percent in Florida, 59 to 30 percent in Pennsylvania, 54 to 38 percent in Georgia. All are states where Medicaid expansion has been blocked by Republican politicians. In Virginia, where the GOP has also blocked Medicaid expansion, a previous poll found that even a majority of state Republican voters support extending coverage for the state’s low-income residents. And other polls show that three-out-of-four Americans nationwide, including a majority of Republicans, support Medicaid expansion, Sally Kohn reported at TheDailyBeast.com (4/8).

Joan McCarter of DailyKos.com noted (4/8) that “Medicaid has always been a popular program, as has Medicaid expansion, polling up around Medicare and Social Security as a program voters really value. That’s because Americans, minus the Paul Ryan/tea party minority, don’t think poor people should be punished just for being poor.

“Medicaid expansion is a life and death issue. As many as 17,000 people could die prematurely because they aren’t getting the health care that Medicaid expansion would provide. It’s also an economic issue, with the potential to save states billions.

“Voters are smart enough to get all that. Democrats just have to make sure they hear about it,” McCarter concluded.

Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the health-care reform in Massachusetts under then-Gov. Mitt Romney that was the model for the ACA, recently called it “nothing short of political malpractice that we are seeing in these states and we’ve got to emphasize that. ... They are not just not interested in covering poor people, they are willing to sacrifice billions of dollars of injections into their economy in order to punish poor people. It really is just almost awesome in its evilness.”

OKLAHOMA EARTHQUAKES RAISE FRACKING FEARS. Oklahoma has had more earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher through April 6 than in all of 2013, Jim Efstathiou Jr. reported at Bloomsberg.com (4/8).

The state on 4/6 experienced its 109th earthquake of magnitude 3 or higher, matching the total for all of 2013, according to Austin Holland, a research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey. More quakes followed, including a magnitude 4 near Langston, 40 miles north of Oklahoma City (4/7).

Before 2009, Oklahoma experienced few 3.0 or higher earthquakes — no more than three a year from 1991 to 2008. But in 2009, the amount of fracking wastewater injected deep into the ground has risen, and so has the number of earthquakes. Since 2009, earthquake activity in Oklahoma has consistently been about 40 times higher than the average of the previous 30 years.

A surge in US oil and gas production by fracturing, or fracking, in which drillers use a mix of water and chemicals to coax liquids from rock formations, has generated large volumes of wastewater. As fracking expanded to more fields, reports have become more frequent from Texas to Ohio of earthquakes linked to wells that drillers use to pump wastewater underground.

In Ohio, a recent uptick of earthquakes corresponds with increased fracking in the state, according to a Columbus Dispatch investigation. However, officials say the recent earthquakes in Ohio were not related to wastewater injection, and are instead looking into whether fracking itself triggered the earthquakes. A December study from Southern Methodist University linked a string of earthquakes in 2009 and 2010 in Cleburne, Texas, to the injection of fracking wastewater into the ground. The area was hit by a group of more than 50 earthquakes in 2009 and 2010, but before 2008, the Fort Worth Basin of Texas had never experienced an earthquake. (Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress.org, 4/8)

N.C. REGULATORS IN NO HURRY TO CLEAN UP COAL ASH SPILL. North Carolina residents who were under the impression that state Environmental Management Commission was supposed to protect residents from pollution must have been surprised to hear that the commission first decided to give Duke Energy a “reasonable amount of time” to clean up 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled by the utility into the Dan River and will appeal a judge’s ruling that Duke Energy must take “immediate action.”

Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway in March reversed the commission’s findings that groundwater violations require a “reasonable amount of time” to correct. The commission, whose 15 members are all appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy executive, quoted advice given by lawyers at the N.C. Department of Justice.

The Charlotte Observer reported (4/8) that D.J. Gerken, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the state is giving away its authority to force Duke to act by appealing Ridgeway’s ruling. “If the state is serious about enforcing the law, why in the world would the state ask the (N.C.) Court of Appeals to limit that authority?” he said.

Advocates had hoped to use Ridgeway’s ruling to bolster their argument that Duke should clean up its 33 ash ponds in the state.

Charles Pierce wrot at Esquire.com (4/8), “Your great-grandchildren send their regards.”

MARK UDALL SLAMS AFP O’CARE PITCH TO CHINA. Americans for Prosperity, the super PAC that has been softening up Democratic Senate candidates with attack ads funded by the Koch Brothers, thought they could get a fastball past Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). The group handed out foam baseballs that say “Tell Sen. Udall Obamacare is striking out” to baseball fans prior to the opening game of the Colorado Rockies.

But Udall’s spokesman noted, “It’s never good to hand out stuff in American politics that says ‘Made in China’.”

“Sure enough, it says that on the ball,” Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post noted (4/4).

“David Koch goes back ... back to the warning track ... it’s outta here,” David Nir commented at DailyKos.com (4/7).

AFP already has spent nearly $1 mln for a campaign ad attacking Udall on Obamacare, Bartels reported.

FOX NEWS LEAST ACCURATE ON CLIMATE CHANGE. None of the three major cable news channels have a perfect record on portraying climate science, but Fox News was the most inaccurate of all in 2013, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Researchers found that segments on MSNBC were most accurate, with just 8% of the segments containing misleading statements about the science behind climate change. CNN was next in terms of accuracy, with 30% containing misleading statements, and Fox was last with 72% of segments containing misinformation or misrepresentations of climate science.

The nature of the misleading statements differed from station to station, with CNN’s inaccuracy growing from debate guests who doubted certain aspects of climate science, such as the relationship between climate change and extreme weather. Fox hosts and guests, on the other hand, would more often accuse climate scientists of hiding or misrepresenting data, and were also more likely to state outright that climate change was not occurring. Accurate coverage of climate science on Fox came primarily from Special Report with Bret Baier and The O’Reilly Factor, and despite being the least-accurate of the three networks according to the report, Fox’s 28% accuracy rating is an increase from a 2012 UCS report, which found that Fox was accurate just 7% of the time.

MSNBC contained misleading coverage from the opposite side of the spectrum, with hosts sometimes overstating how fast sea levels are rising or making links between things that aren’t yet scientifically known, such as climate change’s effects on tornadoes. See the report at ucsusa.org. (Katie Valentine, ThinkProgress.org, 4/7)

DEMINT: BIG GOVERNMENT DIDN’T FREE SLAVES. Jim DeMint, the former US senator from South Carolina who now leads the Heritage Foundation, which he is transforming from a conservative think tank to a right-wing PAC, raised a few eyebrows in early April when he went on a Christian radio show and claimed that it was not big government but the Constitution that freed the slaves.

“Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people,” DeMint said on Vocal Point with Jerry Newcombe. “Unfortunately there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. In fact, it was Abraham Lincoln, the very first Republican, who took this on as a cause and a lot of it was based on a love in his heart that comes from God.”

Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/9), “It’s difficult to know where to begin a list of the errors this brief passage. The phrase ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ does not appear in the Constitution, although a very similar phrase does appear in the Declaration of Independence. Indeed, the Constitution, at least as it stood before the Civil War, had very different things to say about the subject of human equality. It provided, for example, that ‘[n]o person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.’ The original Constitution also contained explicit language prohibiting Congress from banning the importation of new slaves until 1808.”

Milhiser continued, “Nevertheless, DeMint is technically correct that ‘the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution.’ That’s because the Thirteenth Amendment provides that “[n]either slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The Thirteenth Amendment did not, however, simply come into being because Abraham Lincoln had a “love in his heart that comes from God.” Rather, it happened because Lincoln led the nation in a massive big government program known as the ‘Civil War’ ...”

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2014


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