Europe is stunned, and bankers aghast, that the new party of the Left, Syriza, won Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Greece, Greg Palast notes at GregPalast.com (1/26).

Syriza won on the promise that it will cure Greece of leprosy, Palast noted.

“Oddly, Syriza also promises that it will remain in the leper colony. That is, Syriza wants to rid Greece of the cruelty of austerity imposed by the European Central Bank but insists on staying in the euro zone,” he wrote.

“The problem is, austerity run wild is merely a symptom of an illness. The underlying disease is the euro itself.

“For the last five years, Greeks have been told that, if you cure your disease—that is, if you dump the euro—the sky will fall. I guess Greeks haven’t noticed, the sky has fallen already. With unemployment at 25%, with doctors and teachers eating out of garbage cans, there is no further to fall.

“In 2010, when unemployment was a terrible 10%, a year into the crisis, the ‘Troika’ (the European Central Bank, European Commission and the International Monetary Fund) told the Greeks that brutal austerity measures would restore their economy by 2012.

“Ask yourself, Was the Troika right?

“There is a saying in America: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

“Can Greece survive without the euro? Greece is already dead, but the Germans won’t even bother to bury the corpse. Greeks are told that if they leave the euro and renounce its debts, the nation will not be able to access world capital markets. The reality is, Greece can’t access world markets now: no one lends to a corpse.

“There’s a way back across the River Styx. But it’s not by paddling on a euro.”

Palast noted that Greece’s ruin began with secret, fraudulent currency swaps, designed a decade ago by Goldman Sachs, to conceal Greek deficits that exceeded the euro zone’s 3%-of-GDP limit. “In 2009, when the truth came out, Greek debt holders realized they had been cheated. These debt buyers then demanded usurious levels of interest (or, if you prefer, a high ‘spread’) to insure themselves against future fraud. The compounding of this interest premium brought the Greek nation to its knees. In other words, the crimes committed to join and stay in the euro, not Greek profligacy, caused the crisis.”

The US, Brazil and China escaped from depression by controlling their money supply, government spending and currency exchange rates — crucial tools Greece gave up in return for the euro.

Worse, tourism, Greece’s main industry, drained to Turkey where hotels and souvenirs are priced in cheap Turkish lira. This allowed the remorseless wage-lowering machine, the euro, to do its work, to force Greece to strip all its workers of pensions and power, Palast noted.

“Greece fell to its knees, with no choice but to beg Germany for mercy.

“But there is no mercy. As Germany’s [finance minister, Wolfgang] Schäuble insists, democracy, this week’s vote, means nothing. ‘New elections change nothing in the accords struck with the Greek government,’ he says. ‘[Greeks] have no alternative.”

“Ah, but they do, Mr. Schäuble,” Palast concluded. “They can tell you to take your euro and shove it up your Merkel.”

Robert Kuttner wrote (1/25), “Europe should count itself lucky that a leftwing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who’ve had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right.

“If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe’s financial markets, the EU’s smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame.

“Alexis Tsipras, leader of the winning Syriza coalition, says he doesn’t want Greece to leave the Euro. He just wants Europe’s leaders to renegotiate Greece’s debt. It’s about time.”

Kuttner added, “This crisis could have ended years ago with far less suffering for ordinary people who had no responsibilities for the offending policies. Greece, after all, has about 2% of the EU’s total economic product — and it has about 25% less than it had before the crisis. (That’s how well austerity medicine worked.) Writing off Greece’s debt outright would have cost peanuts, and still would.

“The EU should have given Greece serious debt relief in 2009. Now, finally, there is a government in Athens that will demand it. But that will require a very high stakes game of chicken. Tsipras has to be willing to risk a default, and the financial shocks that would set off. He has to gamble that the IMF and the European Commission would institute an emergency damage control plan.”

Should Greece default on its debts, Kuttner noted, that will bring further hardship on the long-suffering Greeks — but also on the rest of the European economy. “It is in the interest of Merkel and the other leaders of the austerity bloc to relent. Otherwise, Europe’s crisis will only deepen.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, welcomed the Syriza victory in the Greek election. The victory says “that people around the world will no longer accept austerity for working families while the rich continue to get much richer. The top 1% of the world’s population will soon own more wealth than the bottom 99%. This is wrong and unsustainable from a moral, economic and political perspective.”

INDIANA RELENTS ON HEALTH CARE FOR WORKING POOR. Indiana became the 28th state to accept funds from the the federal government to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover the working poor. About 350,000 Hoosiers whose income puts them below 138% of the poverty level will qualify for the program. That’s about $2,743 a month or less for a family of four, the Indianapolis Star noted (1/27). Pence received a waiver that will allow the state to require that participants contribute to the cost of their care — between $1 and $27 in monthly premiums. The Medicaid plan provides dental and vision benefits, as well as comprehensive prescription drug benefits.

Pence said he continues to believe the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, should be repealed. But he said the approval of his Medicaid alternative makes this a “great day” for Indiana and for Hoosiers.

Joan McCarter at DailyKos.com noted (1/27) that Pence may have taken himself out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 because of the Medicaid deal. “Somehow I don’t think that disclaimer about how he still believes the law should be repealed will be enough for the GOP primary voter,” she wrote.

Other states that are considering Medicaid expansion proposals include Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming, Christine Vestal reported for Stateline, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service on trends in state policy.

Among the 5 stingiest states in providing Medicaid are Alabama, which cuts off Medicaid eligibility for families making 18% of the poverty level, or $3,562 for a family of 3; Texas, which cuts off families at 19%, or $3,760; Missouri, 23%, or $4,551; Louisiana, 24%, or $4,479; and Idaho, 27%, or $5,343. Before it agreed to expand Medicaid, Indiana cut off Medicaid for families making more than 24% of poverty, or $4,749 for a family of 3. Childless adults do not qualify for Medicaid in any of those states.

Public health researchers from Harvard University and the City University of New York estimated in 2014 that between 7,115 and 17,000 people nationwide (including 1,840 to 3,035 in Texas) would die annually of preventable disease because they were excluded from Medicaid.

Also, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that only 27% of the public agrees with Republican leaders’ strategy to let millions of Americans lose their health care if the Supreme Court rules against the Affordable Care Act, Ian Millhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (1/28). The court might overturn the provision that allows 8 mln people to qualify for tax credits in states that do not cooperate with federal authorities in the health exchange, because of a typographical error in the draft. If that happens, Congress could simply correct the error, as 64% of respondents in the poll said Congress should do, but House and Senate Republican leaders say they are not inclined to fix the law. Also, 59% said their state should comply with the law and create its own marketplace.

SUPERMAJORITIES SUPPORT PROGRESSIVE POLICIES. Solid majorities of voters support progressive policies such as Medicare for all, fair trade laws that protect American workers, jobs and the environment and free education. The poll of 1,500 likely voters conducted by GBA Strategies for the Progressive Change Institute for the Big Ideas Project found that 79% support allowing the government to negotiate drug prices for Medicaid recipients (which is now prohibited); 78% would give college students the same low-interest loan rats as Big Banks; 77% support universal pre-kindergarten; 75% support fair trade laws that protect workers, the environment and jobs; 74% would end tax loopholes for corporations that ship jobs overseas; 73% would end gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts; 72% would let homeowners pay down their mortgages with 401(k) investments.

At 71% approval are Medicare buy-in for all; disclosure of corporate spending on politics and lobbying; require the National Security Agency to get warrants for surveillance; spending $400 bln a year on infrastructure jobs program; and debt-free college at all public universities.

At 70% approval are expansion of Social Security benefits; a Full Employment Act; a Green New Deal that would create millions of clean-energy jobs; and closing offshore tax loopholes.

At 67% approval are retraining coal minors and oil workers for clean-energy jobs and ending tax deductions for Wall Street fines; 66% for transparency in trade negotiations; 65% for eliminating the Electoral College; 64% for a full minimum wage for workers who now must count on tips; 63% to close the carried-interest tax loophole and free community college; and 61% to require shareholder approval for corporate political spending; require a special prosecutor for killings by police officers; and to ensure net neutrality so that Internet service providers cannot delay transmission of messages.

For the entire poll results, see <ThinkBig.us/polling>.

The poll of 1,500 likely 2016 voters was conducted 1/9-15 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5%. Of the respondents, 38.9% identified themselves as Democrats, 25.5% as Independents, and 33.8% as Republicans.

GRAYSON MULLS SENATE BID. Outspoken populist Democratic US Rep. Alan Grayson is talking about running for the US Senate now held by Republican incumbent Marco Rubio, the Orlando Sentinel reported (1/25). Rubio is considering giving up the seat to run for president.

US Rep. Patrick Murphy has also declared an interest. Other Democrats said to be considering the race include US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Grayson said he is content to wait, in part to see what Rubio decides and which other Democrats might declare. “I think that we’d be able to put together a very interesting and effective campaign,” Grayson said. “I think it would be likely that I get the Democratic nomination, unless Debbie Wasserman Schultz decides to run, which is certainly possible — in fact, likely.”

Wasserman Schultz, a six-term congresswoman, chairs the Democratic National Committee. She has repeatedly declined to publicly discuss any Senate aspirations.

In California, where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) is not seeking re-election, Jeff Singer at DailyKos.com noted (1/27) that Democratic Attorney General Kamala Harris has been unveiling endorsements from prominent African Americans, including Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, an ally of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is considering taking on Harris. This is likely a not-so-subtle attempt to keep Villaraigosa out and avert a long and expensive race, Singer noted. Of all Harris’ potential Democratic rivals, Villaraigosa would likely start out as the best known and perhaps the most dangerous.

In Illinois, Democratic Reps. Cheri Bustos, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster and Robin Kelly are all mulling runs against Republican Sen. Mark Kirk.

In Ohio, Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld (D) recently announced that he will take on Republican Sen. Rob Portman, but better-known Democrats are still mulling their options. Former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) sounds interested in jumping in; a Strickland ally says he’s looking at deciding in February or March.

Rep. Tim Ryan also told Roll Call (1/23) that he’s still thinking about it, and will make his choice “in the next month.” Strickland and Ryan are pretty close so it’s unlikely they’ll run against one another. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and former Rep. Betty Sutton are also potential contenders, though they haven’t said much publicly. Singer noted that Portman has a big warchest and is capable of hauling in much more, so anyone looking to unseat him will probably want to start raising money sooner rather than later.

KOCH ALLIES PLEDGE $889M FOR 2016 CAMPAIGN. The political network backed by right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch plans to spend close to $900 mln on the 2016 campaigns, a stunning amount on par with both the major political parties, the Washington Post reported (1/26).

According to the Post, “[t]he new $889 mln goal reflects the anticipated budgets of all the allied groups that the network funds. Those resources will go into field operations, new data-driven technology and policy work, among other projects, along with likely media campaigns aimed at shaping the congressional and White House elections.”

The Koch Brothers announced the historic budget to donors attending the annual winter meeting of Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce in Palm Springs, Calif. About 450 donors and supporters attended the gathering, including four GOP presidential hopefuls (Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas) and six newly elected Republican senators.

“We have never seen this before,” Sheila Krumholz, who runs the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, told USA Today. “There is no network akin to this one in terms of its complexity, scope and resources.”

That network aims to advance a conservative platform that prioritizes austerity, deregulation, and privatization while opposing efforts to address climate change, Deirdre Fulton noted at CommonDreams.org.

Of Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that sits at the center of the Koch-backed political operation, the Post’s Matea Gold writes: “the group’s ultimate goal is to make free-market ideals central in American society.”

A 2014 analysis by the Post and the Center for Responsive Politics found that together, the 17 conservative groups that comprise the Koch network raised at least $407 mln during the 2012 campaign, the sources of which were masked by “a labyrinth of tax-exempt groups and limited-liability companies.”

By comparison, the Republican National Committee and its Senate and House counterparts spent a total of $657 mln in 2012.

Among the changes wrought by Citizens United in 2010, Center for Responsive Politics noted on the fifth anniversary (1/21):

• In 2006 only two donors gave more than $1 mln to outside groups. During the presidential cycle of 2008, eight donors gave $1 mln or more. In the years following Citizens United, the numbers of donors giving such sums ballooned to 26 in 2010, 126 in 2012 and 84 in the 2014 midterms.

• Super PACs have become a tool for the wealthiest donors. In 2012, just 1% of donors gave more than 68% of the $828 mln raised by super PACs. And that doesn’t include sums given to the dozens of 501(c) organizations that have spend hundreds of millions over the last four election cycles without disclosing their donors.

“It may be impossible to know with any certainty what corporations or individuals are funding these groups, but it is clear that in many cases the largest groups are being funded by only a handful of wealthy donors,” Robert Maguire wrote at OpenSecrets.org (1/21).

Only 0.4% of the US population gives more than $200, the Federal Election Commission’s threshold for requiring donor identification. A much smaller group, 0.08%, gives $2,500. Yet this small portion of the population more than $200 in 2014 was responsible for more than 68% of the money raised during the midterms, Maguire noted.

In 2014, after the Supreme Court decided in McCutcheon v. FEC that the law’s aggregate limits, which kept donors from giving more than $123,000 to all candidates, parties and PACs over a two-year cycle, violated the First Amendment rights of those who wanted to give more, 604 donors blew past the limits in 2014, giving a combined $31 million more than they would have been able to give if the aggregate limits had stayed in place.

The 2014 midterms also saw more spending in congressional elections by organizations that don’t disclose their donors. More than $170 mln was spent by these groups — primarily 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(6) trade associations that aren’t supposed to have politics as their primary purpose and don’t have to disclose their donors to the public. The Wesleyan Media Project estimated that “dark money” — from social welfare nonprofits that can engage in politics but don’t have to disclose their donors — paid for almost half the TV ads aired in 2014 Senate races.

The growth in dark money in general, and candidate-specific dark money groups in particular, only stands to continue in 2016 as the IRS has been stalled in the process of proposing new, clearer guidelines for how much political activity is too much for 501(c) organizations, Maguire noted.

SANDERS GETS REPUBLICANS TO AGREE ON UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) got two Republican witnesses to agree with him on the premise that universal health care makes more sense than an insurance system than the current employer-based system. At a hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions devoted to the question of whether the full-time work standard under the Affordable Care Act should be 30 hours a week or 40 hours, Michael McAuliff noted at HuffingtonPost.com (1/23), Sanders asked three of the hearing’s witnesses — two business owners and a school superintendent — whether their lives and daily endeavors would be improved if government lifted from them the burden of providing health care to their workers.

The panel’s only Democratic witness, Joe Fugere, founder of the Seattle-area Tutta Bella Pizzeria chain, readily answered that it would.

And despite all the GOP’s cries and criticisms of “socialized medicine” when the Affordable Care Act was making its way through Congress years ago, the two Republican panelists agreed nearly as readily.

“A question like that — sure,” said Betsy Webb, who runs the Bangor School Department in Maine. “But what is the reality?”

“The reality is that maybe it should not have to be the responsibility of the Bangor school district to provide health care, that maybe it should be a right of all of our people, whether they work at McDonald’s in Bangor, whether they work for the school district, to have health care,” said Sanders, before taking up the question with the next witness, Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which runs the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains.

“If what you’re saying, Senator, is that if we had a bill that was debated, that was vetted through congressional committees, and we looked at the health care system and really tried to come up with a more rational solution, I would say you’re absolutely right,” Puzder said.

Puzder allowed that he and Sanders “might not agree on the ultimate solution,” but when Sanders pressed Puzder on whether he would rather not have to worry about providing health care and instead focus on his products, the CEO was emphatic.

“From your lips to God’s ear,” he said.

INDIA AGREES TO PURSUE NON-CARBON ENERGY. During his visit to India, Barack Obama pressed unsuccessfully for India to set specific carbon limits, but he did get agreement from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the USA and India would pursue vigorously non-carbon energy sources, including nuclear and renewables such as solar.

That was a better outcome than would have been anticipated based on Indian cabinet members’ statements just last spring, Juan Cole noted (1/27) at JuanCole.com. They blamed most of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere on wealthy countries and hinted that it would be unfair to impede Indian economic growth now, given that India had put relatively little of the extra carbon into the atmosphere.

Modi is known as a proponent of solar energy, though like Obama he has an “all of the above” approach to energy, including openness to coal-fired plants.

Alan Neuhauser writes at USNews.com: “Obama agreed to help finance Modi’s planned $100 billion expansion of solar power in the next seven years, from 20,000 to 100,000 megawatts.”

Just for comparison, the total US solar installed capacity today is 20,000 megawatts.

DEMS TIRE OF BENGHAZI COMMITTEE’S PARTISAN TURN. Democrats apparently have had enough of giving bipartisan cover to the special House select committee investigating Benghazi because, Democrats charge, they have been systematically excluded from at least five witness interviews, and only discovered that Republicans had conducted those interviews after the fact through press reports. The Democrats also complain that the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), is downplaying or disregarding interview testimony that contradicts assumptions about the night of the attacks, Sam Stein reported at HuffingtonPost.com (1/26).

The complaints, laid out in a letter from the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), come as the committee was to hold a public hearing (1/27) on the status of records requests related to the attacks. One of the Democrats on the committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), told CQ Roll Call in an interview that it might be time for Democrats to consider leaving the committee altogether.

RECORD NUMBER OF FALSE CONVICTIONS OVERTURNED. More people were released from prison after wrongful convictions in 2014 than any year in recorded history, according to a new report from the National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan Law School. In 2014, 125 people across the US were exonerated, including 48 who had been convicted of homicide, six of whom had been on death row awaiting execution, Sam Brodey reported at MotherJones.com (1/27).

Ricky Jackson of Ohio spent 39 years behind bars, the longest known prison terms for an exoneree, according to the NRE. Jackson was sentenced to death in 1975 after false testimony implicated him in a robbery-murder he did not commit. Texas led the nation with 39 exonerations; it is followed by New York (17), Illinois (7), and Michigan (7). The federal government exonerated eight people.

Brodey also noted, “So, why was 2014 such a record year? There were 91 exonerations each in 2013 and 2012, previously the highest totals. The NRE points to the increasing number and competence of so-called conviction integrity units (CIUs), groups established by local prosecutors that ‘work to prevent, to identify and to remedy false convictions.’ The first CIU was established in California’s Santa Clara County in 2002; now, there are 15 in operation, working in high-population areas such as Houston, Dallas, and Brooklyn. As CIUs have grown, so has their effectiveness in obtaining exonerations: In 2013, CIUs’ work led to 7 exonerations; in 2014, they were responsible for 49.”

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2015


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