Archive | Politics

Legal experts: Alleged Sandy extortion could be more serious than Bridgegate

Legal experts in New Jersey aren’t surprised at how quickly area U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman responded to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that the Chris Christie administration tried to extort her into supporting a development project if she wanted more Sandy relief funding.  They not only think there’s enough evidence to open a preliminary investigation (a BFD in and of itself)–but that in the long run, Christie may have more to fear from this than Bridgegate.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.

“Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious.”

Aidan O’Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office considering the gravity of Zimmer’s charges and the enormous public interest.

“You’re going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do,” O’Connor said. “The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation.”

He said the mayor’s journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration’s struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer’s memory of the encounters.

“At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor’s word at this stage,” O’Connor said.

But Cohen said the diary would be “a very important piece of evidence.”

“It adds credibility to the statement,” the Fordham professor said. “She took the trouble to write something down.”

Cohen went on to say that this case will almost certainly go to court, since it’s a slam dunk that there’s probably more evidence.  He also thinks that if there is something to these charges, other local officials will likely speak up.  And if this ends up going to trial, anyone involved in this could face some serious jail time–with some of the potential offenses carrying a minimum of five years in prison.

Zimmer outlined some of that potential evidence last night on Anderson Cooper 360.  She produced two letters that document how she claims the Christie administration was turning the screws on her.  She also revealed why she waited so long to come forward–she was afraid if she spoke up any sooner, it would cripple her city’s chances of getting more funding.  Watch part 1 of that interview here and part 2 here.

The first letter, dated April 23, says that given the damage to Hoboken’s infrastructure, the proposed development project would be a waste.  She told Christie in no uncertain terms, “Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken’s flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development.”  The second letter, dated May 8, was penned less than 24 hours after the already battered city was slammed by a rainstorm; much of the western half of the city was flooded.  Zimmer was aghast that Christie refused to greenlight any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan.  The implication–that funding was dependent on the development project.  According to the Jersey (City) Journal the Hoboken planning board effectively deep-sixed the project on the same day Zimmer sent her second letter.

I have to admit, I was surprised that this could potentially be more serious than Bridgegate.  After all, it doesn’t seem that you could get more serious than an act that not only willfully interferes with interstate commerce, but also puts people’s lives in danger.  But after reading those letters Zimmer provided, I have to agree that this mess is at least as egregious as Bridgegate.  If Zimmer is telling the truth, Christie and his people knew that an entire city was finding it hard to survive–and yet were still willing to play games with their livelihood.  That makes Christie look even more depraved than Bush 43 partying while the levees blew during Katrina–and I didn’t think that was possible.

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PG&E Attempt to Improperly Influence California PUC Should Result in Penalty, City of San Bruno Demands in Legal Filing

Jack Hagan, CPUC Safety HeadElizaveta Malashenko

Jack Hagan and Elizaveta Malashenko of the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division made allegedly illegal deal with PG&E

San Bruno, Calif. – An attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to broker what appears to be a secret deal with a California Public Utilities Commission staffer should result in significant penalties and fines for the utility company and the creation of an independent monitor to ensure transparency and accountability of the CPUC, San Bruno demanded in a legal filing with the CPUC today.

The apparent backroom deal, revealed in a report by Jaxon Van Derbecken San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, detailed how PG&E hoped to quietly pay  a $375,000 fine to avoid paying a proposed $2.5 billion in penalties and fines for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight, injured 66, destroyed 38 homes and left a giant hole in the center of the city.

In a legal motion filed with the CPUC on Friday, San Bruno officials demanded that PG&E face a significant fine for violating CPUC rules when, in December, it paid a $375,000 fine imposed by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division – and then quietly asked that the fine count against the multi-billion-dollar penalty it faces for violations stemming from the San Bruno pipeline disaster.

It was revealed that no parties involved in the more than three-year San Bruno penalty proceeding were made aware of PG&E’s secret payment. Instead, the CPUC withdrew the fine and refunded the $375,000 payment amid concerns that PG&E had attempted to broker a backroom deal that could have triggered a form of regulatory double jeopardy, preventing the CPUC’s administrative law judges from levying a sufficient future penalty.

“Instead of being transparent and forthcoming, PG&E appears to have consciously elected to conceal an ill-fated attempt to quietly settle for the fatal and tragic pipeline disaster in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We believe PG&E should be fined and reprimanded for trying to undermine the ongoing penalty investigation and possibly jeopardizing more than three years of work to ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”

“This attempt to circumvent the legal and public process also raises troubling questions about the CPUC safety division and its staffer who attempted to conceal this backroom deal,” representatives for the city added. “This action is just the latest attempt by the PG&E and some members of the CPUC safety division to hide from public view the unholy alliance and power PG&E has with our State’s regulatory agency.  That is why San Bruno demands an independent monitor to ensure the CPUC is operating properly and transparently.”

The $375,000 fine was originally levied in December by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division in response to a 2012 audit, which concluded that for more than four decades PG&E lacked the proper procedures to monitor its gas-transmission pipelines. Reliable reports indicate that CPUC safety division deputy director Elizaveta Malashenko, who made this deal with PG&E, has a longstanding personal relationship with PG&E outside of her CPUC job.

Because the infraction related directly to the ongoing San Bruno-related penalty proceeding, it should have been handled as part of that process. Instead, it was handled and paid separately, without notification to any parties and in violation of CPUC’s own procedures.

San Bruno officials say they suspect that a backroom deal, involving illegal ex-parte communications between PG&E and the CPUC, played a role in this mishap. Attorneys for San Bruno have filed a public records request to determine whether PG&E officials spoke directly with CPUC leadership to arrange for the fine that PG&E paid – and later tried using to reduce their overall penalty.

In December, the CPUC fined PG&E $14 million for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

San Bruno officials say this latest attempt to undercut its obligation to the public further underscores the need for an Independent Pipeline Safety Monitor to serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and its regulator, the CPUC.

“The Commission lacks the resources to effectively comprehend and oversee PG&E’s compliance,” said the city’s filling. “An Independent Monitor would partner with and provide additional resources to the Commission in order to have more robust regulatory oversight necessary to protect the safety of the public.”

The San Bruno filing came on the same day as the announcement that CPUC Commissioner Mark Farron will be resigning from the Commission to concentrate on beating prostate cancer.

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GOP support for modern biology drops

When it comes to polling Americans’ views on science, surveys often offer very different results based on the wording of the question. Gallup, for example, has published a series of reports over the years that suggest a plurality of Americans is, in effect, creationists.
A new Pew Research Center report approached the issue a little differently and found slightly less discouraging results: a 60% majority of Americans agree that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while 33% reject evolutionary biology, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.”
Whether one is relieved or discouraged that “only” a third of the country doesn’t believe in modern biology is a matter of perspective.
But as is often the case on so many issues, there are stark partisan differences within the results. Among Americans who identify themselves as Democrats or Independents, support for biology has been rather steady since the last Pew Research poll on this issue in 2009, with about two-thirds of each group on board with life evolving over time.
Among self-identified Republicans, however, acceptance of biology has suffered a noticeable drop, from 54% four years ago to 43% now. Indeed, note that in 2009, most Republicans believed in evolution, while in 2013, most Republicans don’t.
In other words, there’s a science gap driven by politics – the Democratic advantage on embracing modern biology is now 24 points – and it’s getting worse, not better.
This does help explain, by the way, why prominent Republican officials – Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia, et al – seem entirely comfortable making public comments expressing skepticism, if not outright hostility, towards evolution. They apparently realize they’re simply keeping pace with their party’s rank-and-file supporters.
Regardless, the larger trend just isn’t healthy for anyone. There are so many political, policy, and cultural issues that divide partisans, but scientific truths need not be one of them. We’re quickly approaching the point – if we haven’t arrived there already – at which science itself is broadly accepted and understood as a “Democratic issue,” abandoned altogether by Republicans hostile to reason and evidence.
As we discussed in November, a few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that only 6% of self-identified scientist say they tend to support Republican candidates. That total now appears likely to drop to new depths in the coming years.
Asked to explain the trend, Brigham Young University scientist Barry Bickmore, a onetime Republican convention delegate, recently told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Scientists just don’t get those people,” referencing Republicans who adhere to party orthodoxy on climate change, evolution, and other hot-button issues. “They [in the GOP] are driving us away, people like me.”
Steve Benin, MSNBC
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‘No fools on our ticket’

By Steve Benen,MSNBC
Just over the last few months, we’ve seen reports from the New York TimesBloomberg News, and theWashington Post on the simmering tensions between Corporate America and Tea Party Republicans, driving a wedge into the GOP coalition. With party primaries looming, talk of a “Republican civil war” abounds.
Some of the party’s major players are even putting their money where their mouths are. This Wall Street Journal piece yesterday was circulated far and wide in Republican circles.
Republican leaders and their corporate allies have launched an array of efforts aimed at diminishing the clout of the party’s most conservative activists and promoting legislation instead of confrontation next year. […]
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort – expected to cost at least $50 million – to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.
“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said the business group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
Though Reed did not specify who would qualify as a “fool,” it’s not hard to look back at major Senate races from the last couple of cycles and know exactly the kind of candidates he’s referencing (O’Donnell, Akin, Mourdock, Angle, et al). In other words, when Reed and the Republican Party’s Chamber of Commerce wing talk about “loser candidates” and “fools,” they’re obviously talking about right-wing Tea Party favorites.
Also note, there’s been ample analysis this year noting that Corporate America may want to overcome extremist candidates in GOP primaries, but if this wing of the party doesn’t commit real resources, Tea Partiers will prevail. It’s worth acknowledging, then, that $50 million in support of establishment candidates is a considerable sum.
But as word of the Chamber’s intentions spread, the backlash soon followed. “Special interests in Washington will do whatever it takes to protect big government Republicans,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins told TPM yesterday. “Their ability to get future bailouts, kickbacks, and other favors depends on it.”
Club for Growth senior fellow Tom Borrelli added, “This is a battle between the outsiders and insiders and insiders include big bucks and establishment Republicans.”
Remember, primary season hasn’t really begun in earnest, which means these disputes are likely to intensify very soon. For many Democrats, hoping to see Republicans at each other’s throats during an election year, the popcorn is already being popped.
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San Francisco Christmas Eve Day Toy Drive for Children at Handlery Hotel by Firefighters is a Success

 

San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 held a successful toy drive to make sure no child went without a toy in San Francisco this Christmas, thanks to Jon Handlery and his family’s landmark San Francisco hotel.

 

Dressed as Santa Claus, San Francisco Firefighter Bob Cuff and costumed characters accompanied by off-duty firefighters were in front of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, 351 Geary (between Powell and Mason), San Francisco from 9 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Eve day.

 

Beloved hotel owner Jon Handlery and Handlery hotel staff served as “Santa’s Helpers” and assisted with the collection of thousands of toys for needy San Francisco kids.

 

The Handlery Hotel has raised $3,500 and donated two barrels of toys to the drive this year to ensure no kid were without a Holiday present.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 asked people to bring unwrapped toys which were collected in front of the Handlery Hotel. Everyone who brought a toy got free pictures with Santa and many children brought their lists of Christmas wishes to Santa in person.

 

An additional toy drive was held just next door to the hotel at Lefty O’Doul’s bar and pub, a property which is also owned by the Handlery family.

 

SF Firefighters Local 798 Toy Program

 

The Local 798 San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program is celebrating its 64th year of providing toys to San Francisco children in need during the holidays.  The San Francisco Firefighter’s Toy Program is San Francisco’s largest and the nation’s oldest program of its kind.  Since 1949 it has evolved from a few firefighters repairing broken toys and bikes for 15 families to, in 2012, 300 firefighters and friends volunteering their time to distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children.

 

Besides helping individual families in need, the Toy Program serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units.

 

The Toy Program is made possible through public donations and the efforts and contributions of Local 798 members.

 

Firefighters Union Local 798 wishes to thank Jon Handlery & the staff of the Handlery Union Square hotel for welcoming the Toy Program at their property.

 

 

The Handlery Union Square Hotel

 

Located at Union Square, the Handlery Union Square Hotel offers the perfect San Francisco lodging for vacationers and business travelers.  As a fourth generation family-owned hotel, the Handlery has created great experiences for guests by offering personal service, beautifully appointed rooms, and a warm atmosphere.  Ideally located right next to the world famous Powell Street cable car line, the Handlery Union Square Hotel is a beloved San Francisco institution.

 

 

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Canvasback Missions Takes a Major Step in the Fight Against Diabetes in the Marshall Islands

By Alexander Hirata

Canvasback Missions has spent years working to reverse the diabetes epidemic in the Marshall Islands. They’ve brought specialty medical care to the islands for over 30 years, and have run the Diabetes Wellness Center on Majuro since 2006. Now, Canvasback is working to reverse the epidemic of diabetes in the Marshall Islands by preventing the onset of the disease before it begins.

 

Made possible by a generous grant from the World Diabetes Foundation, Canvasback is working with Antonia Demas, Ph.D., and Marshall Islands health officials to bring health education into the classroom. Dr. Demas has visited the Marshall Islands twice so far, traveling last with Canvasback co-founder Jacque Spence and employee Jaylene Chung to implement trials of the new food education curriculum in the public schools on Majuro and Ebeye in October. The team trained instructors how to teach from the curriculum, which involves special hands-on activities to engage children and make food education fun.

 

Dr. Antonia Demas studied education, nutrition, and anthropology at Cornell University. She has developed food-based curricula for schools for over 40 years, successfully implementing her “Food is Elementary” program in over 3,000 schools. Demas is also the founder and president of the New York-based Food Studies Institute, a not-for-profit created to improve children’s health through food education.

 

One of Demas’ key beliefs is that the food we eat directly affects our health. Processed foods have replaced natural ones, and chemical preservatives are now a regular part of our diets. Demas believes that children are the ideal group to teach food literacy to: they don’t have established diets that are difficult to change; they are open to new ideas, especially if taught using sensory (taste, touch, and visual) methods; and healthy habits now would prevent illnesses later.

 

Canvasback is proud to work with Demas, because both know that food education is essential to reverse diabetes in the Marshall Islands. It is cost-efficient, slipping into the existing educational system, yet its effects will last for a lifetime. And once established, local schools and teachers will be in full control of the program. The most difficult part of the program won’t be getting kids interested in healthy eating–it will be waiting years to see how well it pays off.

 

To learn more about the work of Canvasback Missions, contact them at: 940 Adams St., Suite R, Benicia, Calif. 94510. Phone: 800-793-7245 or email them at info@canvasback.org

 

 

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California PUC to Consider Historic Fine Against PG&E and Orrick Herrington Law Firm Attorney in Faulty Gas Line Case

Joseph M. Malkin

PG&E and its Orrick Herrington Attorney are Facing Historic Fines and Legal Sanctions for Misleading the California Public Utilities Commission

The California Public Utilities Commission will vote on historic sanctions and a fine of up to $17 million against the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. Thursday, Dec. 19 for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.

PG&E and its attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP law firm are facing a fine of up to $17 million for violating CPUC rules and discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nearly a year after a gas leak unexpectedly revealed faulty records for those pipelines.

Pipelines listed as “seamless,” as in the case of the line that ruptured in San Bruno, were in fact a 1929 vintage welded and reconditioned gas pipe with a strength test less than records showed. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, disclosing the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.

The Commission will make this decision three weeks after PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley made a special presentation before the CPUC in an attempt to convince commissioners and the public of the company’s renewed commitment to safety. Earley was met with a skeptical commission, which challenged PG&E’s credibility in the face of mounting recordkeeping errors and threats to public safety. “We find ourselves here today with a public that doesn’t believe you and in many respects doesn’t believe us,” Commissioner Mike Florio said to Earley at the hearing.

City of San Bruno officials have agreed with the proposed fine against PG&E and are calling on the CPUC to uphold proposed sanctions against PG&E for deliberately covering up the facts after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.

Calling the July 3 PG&E filing a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.

City officials were shocked to discover that, after gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in the fatal tragedy in San Bruno, PG&E paid its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety. They are now calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Officials question how many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first.

Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.

In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.

In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for the company to admit – by way of the subtle “errata” filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.

At previous CPUC hearings, regulators pressed PG&E over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $17 million, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.

San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.

 

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In Michigan, the meaning of ‘rape insurance’

The Michigan state legislature yesterday finished passing a bill that requires women to buy separate coverage ahead of time for abortion if they want to have coverage for it at all. The measure applies to private health insurance, and it has no exceptions for rape or incest.

For that reason, opponents have been calling the new plan “rape insurance,” which is tough terminology, to be sure. As we’ve seen in places like Virginia, what you call something really matters.

Yesterday in Michigan, State. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, was not backing down.

For those you who want to act aghast that I’d use a term like “rape insurance” to describe the proposal here in front of us, you should be even more offended that it’s an absolutely accurate description of what this proposal requires. This tells women that were raped and became pregnant that they should have bought special insurance for it. By moving forward on this initiative, Senate Republicans want to essentially require Michigan women to plan ahead and financially invest in healthcare coverage for potentially having their bodies violated and assaulted. Even worse, it would force parents to have similar and unthinkably terrible discussions about planning the same for their daughters. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: This is by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve ever seen in the Michigan legislature.

Whitmer went on to describe her personal experience of surviving sexual assault. The final vote was 27-11 in the Senate, to go along with passage in the House of 62-47. Republican Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill last year. But because the bill this time arose as a citizens’ initiative, it does not require a signature from the governor – neither can he veto it. Had the Michigan legislature sent it on to the ballot, it faced a divided electorate, with voters opposed to it by 47 percent to 41 percent in a recent poll. The bill will take effect early next year.

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Republican Pol: Gays Want Free Medical Care Because of AIDS

Dave Agema, a member of the RNC, claims gay men are dying in midlife and therefore are seeking free health care.

Dave Agema, the Michigan Republican politician known for outrageous antigay comments, is at it again, claiming gay people want free medical care “because they’re dying between 30 and 44 years old.”

Agema, a former state legislator who now represents Michigan on the Republican National Committee, was making a reference to HIV and AIDS in the statement, which came in a speech before the Berrien County Republicans in Bridgman, Mich., last Thursday. The theme of his speech was the need for unity between Tea Partyers and other Republicans, and between Michigan Republicans and the national party, reports The Herald-Palladium, a newspaper in southwestern Michigan.

Agema said one of his priorities was supporting “traditional marriage, no homosexual ones” and claimed that the employee benefits coming with recognition of same-sex relationships leads to fraud. He asserted that when he was a pilot for American Airlines, which offers domestic-partner benefits, he saw employees list a person with AIDS as their partner so that the sick person could get health care.

“Folks, they [gay people] want free medical because they’re dying [when they’re] between 30 and 44 years old,” he said, a statement that ignores the fact that with proper treatment, people with HIV now have about the same life expectancy as the rest of the population. “To me, it’s a moral issue. It’s a Biblical issue. Traditional marriage is where it should be and it’s in our [national] platform. Those in our party who oppose traditional marriage are wrong.”

Earlier this year, Agema received much criticism for a Facebook post that quoted a questionable article featuring many unsubstantiated assertions about gays, some of which were linked to a Holocaust denier. Among the statements: “Many homosexuals admit they are pedophiles” and “The median age of death of lesbians is 45.” That led some observers to call for his resignation from the RNC, but he resisted.

He also was a prominent sponsor of the national Republican Party’s platform position reaffirming its opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Michigan state Republican Party, which does not have an official platform, should adopt the national platform in total, he said at the Berrien County event.

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‘Centrist’ think tank attacks Warren, sparks major blowback

By Zachary Roth

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the coming battle over economic populism that could tear the Democratic Party apart. But it’s looking more and more like one side has already won.

Consider what happened this week: On Monday, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist Democratic Washington think tank, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that called an economic populist agenda “disastrous for Democrats.” It took particular exception to a proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to expand Social Security, and blasted those who oppose cuts to Medicare. As its sole piece of evidence for the idea that populism is politically harmfu, it cited Colorado voters’ recent rejection of an initiative to raise taxes to pay for public education and universal pre-K.

Cowan and Kessler’s argument, on both the policy and the politics, has already been thoroughly demolished (see here and here, among other places). But what’s fascinating is the swift and decisive pushback their op-ed generated.

As the Huffington Post reported, Warren sent a letter to six big banks urigng them to dislcose the think tanks and lobby shops they fund—the implication being that much of the backing for groups advocating the kind of business-friendly economic poicies supported by Third Way comes, undisclosed. from Wall Street.

And a group of progressive Democratic organizations called on Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat who’s running for governor, to drop her affiliation with Third Way, where she is listed as a “co-chair”. A spokesman for the congresswoman said she wouldn’t resign, but called the op-ed “outrageous,” and said Schwartz “strongly disagrees with it.”

It’s Schwartz’s response that’s most telling of all. Democrats running for office feel they simply can’t afford to be on the conservative side of this split.

There’s plenty of evidence that’s leading them to that view. But it’s striking nonetheless—and great news!—that a movement that not so long ago was embraced by a Democratic White House is now close to being purged from the party.

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Congresswoman Uses Steak, Vodka, And Caviar To Hammer Republicans On Food Stamp Cuts

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier decided to make an unconventional pitch on the House of Representatives floor Thursday to defend food stamps. Speier used a cooked steak, a bottle of vodka, and a can of caviar to point out members of Congress who had large numbers of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in their districts but opposed the program. The congresswoman pointed out many of the same members of Congress took trips around the world with large stipends for food and lodging.

“In my district, California 14, we have about 4,000 families who are on food stamps, but some of my colleagues have thousands and thousands more,” Rep. Speier said. “Yet, they somehow feel like crusaders, like heroes when they vote to cut food stamps. Some of these same members travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business. They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar. They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals.”

Speier went on, using particular examples of members of Congress who went on sponsored trips and spent large amounts of money on food and lodging.

“Let me give you a few examples: One member was given $127.41 a day for food on his trip to Argentina. He probably had a fair amount of steak,” she said.

“Another member was given $3,588 for food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. He probably drank a fair amount of vodka and probably even had some caviar. That particular member has 21,000 food stamp recipients in his district. One of those people who is on food stamps could live a year on what this congressman spent on food and lodging for six days,” she added.

“Another 20 members made a trip to Dublin, Ireland. They got $166 a day for food. These members didn’t pay a dime. They received almost $200 for a single meal only for themselves. Yet, for them the idea of helping fellow Americans spend less than $5 a day makes their skin crawl. The families of veterans, of farmers, of the disabled, of the working poor are not visible to them, not even when they are their own constituents.”

In a previous article, BuzzFeed pointed out many of the Republican members of Congress leading the charge to limit the food stamp program represented large numbers of food stamp recipients.

A quick BuzzFeed search found that the member of Congress who took the trip to Argentina who spent $127 was Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and the trip wassponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange. The member of Congress who took the trip to Russia was Rep. Steve King of Iowa. The 20 members of Congress who went to Dublin can be found here. The trip, sponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange, had an estimated budget of $450,000 to $750,000 according to Roll Call.

From Buzzfeed

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Another Study Shows People With A Low IQ Generally Support The Right-Wing

They made me put away my OTHER pointy white hat and wear this one instead...

Okay now, liberals, don’t get all smug and conservatives, don’t get defensive. The studies hit a hot-button trifecta – examining intelligence, racism and ideology – and our ability to remain objective may be strained. But… it is what it is so let’s dive right in.

The first studies of the correlation between intelligence and racism were done in the U.K. and involved children born in 1958 and another group born in 1970. The children’s intelligence was tested at age 10-11 and at age 30-33, their levels of social conservatism were measured. Verbal and nonverbal intelligence at the early ages was gauged using words, symbols and shapes. The later tests used four methods of testing cognitive abilities. The average IQ for comparison was set at 100.

The adults were given statements with which to agree or disagree dealing with social issues such as women working outside the home and what children should be taught in school. They also answered questions as to whether or not they’d work with people of other races. Once the data was crunched, those children who tested low on the IQ tests grew up to be adults who were racist. It also showed that the people with lower cognitive abilities had less social contact with people of other races.

Gordon Hodson of Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada and his colleague Michael A. Busseri, examined these and other studies. Their findings were published as Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.

“This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that inter-group contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice.”

The point here is that one’s cognitive ability determines how easily one can grasp complexities and that right-wing extremist ideologies (and racism) cater to this handicap. Of course, extremist left-wing ideologies can fall into this trap as well, but few of them are as harmful as right-wing ones. For example, a right-wing view that all foreigners are scary and wish us harm becomes everyone is kind and wishes us well through one left-wing prism. One of these things is not like the other, though.

“Socially conservative ideologies tend to offer structure and order,” Hodson said,explaining why these beliefs might draw those with low intelligence. “Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice.”

Further, these findings may relate to homophobia as well. In another U.S. study, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people who had the same level of education but possessed different levels of abstract reasoning. They found that people whose abstract reasoning abilities were poor tended to be homophobic. Just like in the U.K. study, these people had also had less contact with gays and were more accepting of authoritarianism.

Dr. Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia psychologist, says that the findings are correlational, hence they can’t conclusively prove that low IQs lead to prejudice. The studies would have to compare identical people, which is not possible. But it does point to the idea that people who lack the cognitive ability to process complexity tend to adhere to strict ideologies:

“Reality is complicated and messy. Ideologies get rid of the messiness and impose a simpler solution. So, it may not be surprising that people with less cognitive capacity will be attracted to simplifying ideologies.” (source)

This is not to say that all conservatives are dumb or that all liberals are smart. That’s far too simplistic a conclusion to draw. But the predominance of extremist right-wing ideology amongst those with a low-IQ is too common to ignore.

Another interesting study has shown a correlation between American symbols or cues – such as the flag or the word, “patriot” – and increased aggression in judging other people. These cues also increased the subject’s tendency to fall back onto war imagery and language. This occurred regardless of political affiliation or other factors. So when Fox News (or any other network) precedes a story with one of these cues, it tends to increase their viewer’s aggression towards who or whatever the subject of the report may be. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

What can we conclude from these studies? Strictly speaking, they have their flaws but, overall, I believe that they have been able to draw a connection between low IQ in the form of reasoning and abstract thought and racism and authoritarian ideologies. From here, perhaps we should try to teach children how better to reason and extrapolate as well as to empathize with others. Hopefully, those who have a vested interest in keeping people stupid won’t be able to block these efforts. And if they do, then parents, it’s up to you. Teach your children well.

FROM Addictinginfo.org

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Kirk’s First Senate Speech Since Stroke Is For Gay Rights Bill

Before Monday evening’s 61-30 vote in the Senate to move forward on legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois marked another milestone in the recovery from a stroke he suffered in January 2012.

As Kirk says, he chose that moment to make his first speech from the chamber’s floor since the stroke because “I believe so passionately in enacting the ENDA statute” — ENDA stands for the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Also, said Kirk, “I think it’s particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure in the true tradition of [former Sen.] Everett McKinley Dirksen and [former President] Abraham Lincoln — men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”

The roll call of Monday’s vote is here. Seven Republicans joined with 52 Democrats and 2 independents to give the measure the 60+ votes it needed to move forward. The Senate is expected to take another vote — this time on whether to pass the measure — later this week.

As The Associated Press notes, “the legislation, the first significant gay rights bill since Congress ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military in 2010, faces strong opposition in the House, with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejecting the measure.”

The bill, our colleagues at It’s All Politics write, “would forbid employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Back in January, we wrote about how Kirk was greeted with bipartisan cheers as he slowly walked up the steps of the Capitol for the first time since his stroke. Kirk, 54, served five terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2010.

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‘Ender’s Game’ author Orson Scott Card welcomes attacks on his homophobic beliefs because ‘my sales go up’

Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card responded to threats of a boycott in an interview with the Deseret News in which he says that while his views on same-sex marriage are unchanged, his words have been taken out of context.

He claimed that he’s had “no criticism. I’ve had savage, lying, deceptive personal attacks, but no actual criticism because they’ve never addressed any of my actual ideas.”

“Character assassination,” he said, “seems to be the only political method that is in use today, and I don’t play that game, and you can’t defend against it. All you can do is try to offer ideas, and for those who want to listen to ideas, great. For those who simply want to punish you for not falling in line with their dogmas, there’s really not much you can do about it.”

Card also said that he relishes the attention that LGBT boycotts of the film are bringing to his work: “My sales go up with such attacks.”

He also confessed that he “started writing science fiction for the money.”

Although he told the Deseret News that his words were “taken out of context,” Card’s opinion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage are a matter of public record. On his own website, he wrote that “[t]he dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”

In an editorial for the Mormon Times, he wrote that should same sex marriage become the law of the land, a violent overthrow of the government would be in order: “I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

His controversial opinions are not just limited to LGBT issues. Just this May, he speculated that “[b]y the time Michelle [Obama] has served her two terms, the Constitution will have been amended to allow Presidents to run for reelection forever. Obama will win by 98 percent every time. That’s how it works in Nigeria and Zimbabwe; that’s how it worked in Hitler’s Germany.”

From THE RAW STORY

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Prof. Clinton explains the far right

E.J. Dionne Jr.

Bill Clinton, the nation’s politician in chief, is on a roll on behalf of his friend Terry McAuliffe, the front-runner in next week’s election for governor of Virginia.

“If we become ideological, then we’re blind to evidence,” the former president explained to a crowd of loyalists gathered at a VFW hall here last weekend. Previewing a message he is taking across the state in stumping for Democrats facing a Republican ticket led by an unapologetic right-wing ideologue, Ken Cuccinelli II, Clinton added that ideology “excites people, but it doesn’t get a darned thing done.”

Yet those inspired by passionate belief — people, Clinton says, with “steam coming out of their ears” — do have one important virtue: “They will show up and vote.” Offering a quick political science lecture about who votes when, Clinton explained that “in the non-presidential years, a whole different America shows up than in the presidential years.” The lesson to moderates and progressives: “You’ve got to care as much about this election as you did about the election in 2012.”

And there, in a few sound bites, is why the elections of 2013 are unlike those of 2009. Four years ago, the three big off-year races — in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City — presaged the Republican sweep of 2010 and, in the case of the first two, the rise of the tea party sensibility. This year, all three signal the collapse of the tea party and the mobilization of both the political center and the political left.

Take first the matter of who will vote. Four years ago, Democrats were dispirited by the grueling battle over health care and a still-ailing economy. Gov. Bob McDonnell led a Virginia GOP sweep. The progressive turnout was so anemic that exit polls found that only 43 percent of the voters who showed up in 2009 had voted for President Obama’s election. This meant that there were a lot of stay-at-home Democrats in a state Obama had carried a year earlier with 53 percent. Professor Clinton had a point about those different Americas.

But this year, it’s those who are riled up against the extreme right who seem ready to vote. The latest Washington Post-Abt-SRBI poll shows McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli by 12 percentage points among likely voters and holding a blow-out 24-point lead among women.

While some surveys suggest a somewhat closer race, The Post’s poll shows how a tea party that turned out votes for Republicans in 2009 and 2010 is now dragging the GOP down. Support for the movement has fallen to 36 percent, from 45 percent two years ago. National surveys similarly show the tea party on the decline.

And then there is New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie is on track to win by a landslide over state Sen. Barbara Buono. My hunch is that national Democrats will regret they did not give Buono, a credible candidate, more help. Piling up big numbers will help Christie if he runs for president in 2016, much as George W. Bush’s huge 1998 reelection in Texas helped his presidential campaign two years later.

But the interpretation of this Christie victory will be very different from how his 2009 triumph over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine was read. Back then, Christie was part of a wave of anti-tax, anti-Democratic protest. This time, he’s seen as winning over many Democrats and independents precisely because he has distanced himself from the GOP’s far right. The Jersey outcome will reinforce the narrative coming out of Virginia.

Moving to the New York City mayoral race, Democrat Bill de Blasio is enjoying a large lead. How progressive is de Blasio? “My worldview is one part Franklin Roosevelt — the New Deal — one part European social democracy, and one part liberation theology,” he told New York magazine’s Chris Smith. Neither the nation (nor New York City) is about to embrace liberation theology, but de Blasio’s success reflects an energy on the left that was wholly absent in 2009 and 2010. Discontent with a sluggish economy that was channeled rightward three and four years ago now has an outlet on the other side.

All this underscores how exhausted Americans have become with the right wing’s relentless anti-government, anti-Obama fixations. “There are more of us who believe that working together is better than constant conflict,” Clinton declared. This may be the very best explanation of what will happen Tuesday.

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Bill Clinton Hammers Republicans Over their “Obamacare” Attacks and Hypocrisy

From Forward Progressives:

Leave it to Bill Clinton to put Republicans in their place.  While speaking at an event for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Clinton assured the crowd he had the utmost confidence that the glitches the Affordable Care Act website have experienced since its launch would soon get worked out.

“The computer deal will get fixed up. Don’t worry about that,” he told attendees at the event.

But he didn’t stop there — he also tore into Republicans for their blatant hypocrisy concerning the Affordable Care Act website issues and the issues Bush’s Medicare Part D system had upon its launch.  Issues that, at the time, Republicans downplayed and urged patience as they got worked out.  He also pointed point out that Medicare Part D was actually more unpopular than “Obamacare” at the time it was implemented.

Clinton said, “Everybody’s forgotten, by the way, that when President George W. Bush and the Republicans put that Medicare Part D drug program in, it was more unpopular than the health care law and they had terrible problems with the computers.  Some seniors couldn’t even get medicine they had been getting, and the local pharmacists basically got together and made sure they stayed alive until the computers got fixed.”

Again, that was a Republican-built plan that had a horrible beginning as well.

Yet, as it relates to “Obamacare,” Republicans will say the website’s issues equate to the entire law being an epic failure.

Clinton also went on to point out how, while only a few Democrats supported Medicare Part D, once issues were being experienced most Democrats chose to help people understand the new law and get through the issues until they were fixed.  He said, “But our side, we’re not so ideological.  So, instead of bashing them and screaming about how incompetent they were, most of our people just tried to help people understand the law and make it work and then wait for it to get fixed.”

Which, of course, is the exact opposite of what Republicans are doing.  Instead of helping Americans become more informed about the law, they continue to dish out lie after lie in an effort to ignite fear among Americans, hoping that their efforts will lead to the law’s failure.

Then again, Republicans have been trying everything they can to see the United States fail since 2008.  If it’s something President Obama supports — including the American people — Republicans seem determined to do everything they can to make it fail.

I’m glad we have people like Bill Clinton to call them out on their blatant hypocrisy.  I just wish more Democrats would follow his lead.

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The Scholars Who Shill for Wall Street

Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.”

Zywicki’s withering arguments against financial reform have earned him guest columns in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and on The New York Times’s website. Lobbyists representing the largest consumer finance companies in the country have cited his writings in letters to regulators, and the number of times he has testified before Congress is prominently displayed on his academic website at the George Mason University School of Law.

What isn’t contained in Zywicki’s university profile, CV, byline or congressional testimony is the law professor’s other job: he is a director of the Global Economics Group, a consulting business that boasts in a brochure that its experts have been hired by industry to influence the CFPB and other regulatory agencies. Nor does Zywicki advertise Global’s client list, which includes some of the biggest names in the financial industry, among them Visa, Bank of America and Citigroup.

Last summer, Zywicki’s firm was retained for $500 an hour on behalf of Morgan Drexen, a debt-relief company accused by the CFPB of deceiving consumers and charging illegal upfront fees. None of these potential conflicts of interest, however, have been disclosed during the course of Zywicki’s anti-CFPB advocacy in the media or in government.

After the financial industry lost the battle to defeat Dodd-Frank, it moved quickly to minimize the law’s impact during the long slog of implementation [see Gary Rivlin, “How Wall Street Defanged Dodd-Frank,” May 20]. Academics like Zywicki have played a key role in this process. As Wall Street firms seek to beat back hundreds of rules still under consideration, sponsored scholars have been at the front lines of obstructing reform.

Jeff Connaughton, who worked on financial reform as the chief of staff to then-Senator Ted Kaufman, says that professors receiving undisclosed payments has become a significant issue. “Academics are hired guns like anyone else,” he says.While sponsored research groups are something of a mainstay of Beltway lobbying campaigns, Dodd-Frank has created unique incentives for companies to hire professors to represent their point of view. The first reason is that Dodd-Frank delegates broad rulemaking power for some 400 regulations to a variety of agencies, giving lawyers and lobbyists the opportunity to flood policy-makers with comments, studies and testimony that could be used to affect the outcome of the proposed rules. The Volcker Rule alone — a regulation to prevent federally insured banks from making risky investments with depositors’ money — attracted more than 17,000 comments, including many from professors submitting their research.

Several of the anti-Volcker Rule academics providing comments to regulators, such as Harvard Law School professor Hal Scott, have been paid by investment banks seeking to block the rule. A nonprofit financed by Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other investment banks has paid Scott nearly $1.3 million in compensation since 2007, as Reuters reported in 2010. Separately, Scott has received more than $1.7 million in cash and stock from Lazard since 2006, when he was elected to the company’s board. Scott’s submissions to regulators neglect to mention these payments and other consulting jobs, including one for State Street Corporation, that may color the professor’s outlook.

“If someone is commenting on a regulation,” says the Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison, “there’s no requirement for disclosure.”

The same problem exists with congressional testimony thanks to an ethics procedure change by House Republicans in 2011, which removed a requirement that those giving expert testimony reveal their private sector ties. So-called “Truth in Testimony” forms now ask only if an expert witness has received earmarks or government grants, allowing many Wall Street-sponsored professors to assume the guise of academic neutrality. Jeff Connaughton, who worked on financial reform as the chief of staff to then-Senator Ted Kaufman, says that professors receiving undisclosed payments has become a significant issue. “Academics are hired guns like anyone else,” he says.

The second, and related, reason for the rising demand for sponsored academic research stems from a court ruling that has come to define financial reform implementation. In a decision handed down a year and a day after the Dodd-Frank legislation was signed by President Barack Obama, the DC Circuit Court scolded regulators for failing “adequately to assess the economic effects” of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proxy access rule, which was mandated by Dodd-Frank.

The plaintiff in the case, the Business Roundtable, was represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Eugene Scalia, a prominent attorney and the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

The decision — by a panel of Republican judges on a court that has been a hotbed of conservative legal activism — claimed that regulators had “failed to respond to substantial problems raised” by all of the comments submitted by various parties. The decision marked a new standard for financial regulators, who in the past have been given discretion to choose which comments to take into consideration when promulgating a new rule. Though the SEC had produced a detailed 60-page analysis, this was not enough for the court. Every new rule since then has faced a heightened standard of scrutiny on economic cost-benefit analysis. As a result, financial firms have a new incentive to hire academics to flood the rulemaking process with studies arguing for modifications that will serve their interests.

* * *

Consumer advocates and independent analysts do their best to weigh in as well, but they are outgunned. Meanwhile, consulting firms dedicated to playing matchmaker between corporations and hired experts have flourished in the new regulatory environment. Director Charles Ferguson, whose film Inside Job highlighted the role of sponsored professors in supporting the deregulatory policies that led to the financial meltdown in 2008, says the business of economic consulting firms that work to “source” academics for expert testimony and regulatory filings “has been going on for quite a while, and it’s now quite a large industry.”

National Economic Research Associates, Oliver Wyman, Charles River Associates, Cornerstone Research and the Global Economics Group are just a few of the businesses devoted to helping Wall Street firms find academics. In the DC Circuit ruling against the proxy access rule, the court criticized regulators for failing to fully consider a study written by a Yale professor. The study was sponsored by National Economic Research Associates, which counts Barclays and Morgan Stanley among recent financial industry clients, and had never been peer-reviewed.

Another such firm, Charles River Associates, advertises its services to help clients with “sophisticated economic and statistical analyses…in ways that regulators can easily understand.” Charles River flips the scientific method, promising that its academic services will “make strong cases to support desired outcomes.” Its roster of consultants included academics from the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard University; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and the University of Chicago. The company notes that many have worked on financial regulatory reform, including Dodd-Frank.

In its annual report, Marsh & McLennan, the parent company of Oliver Wyman, touts the role of Dodd-Frank in bringing new business to its consulting subsidiaries. Similarly, the Global Economics Group boasts about its role in financial reform implementation, noting that its academics have submitted white papers and made presentations before regulators.

More than a few scholars have taken advantage of opportunities to supplement their academic salaries. Zywicki’s colleague at George Mason, J.W. Verret, has produced research for regulators. Last year, he testified before Congress on the costs of Dodd-Frank. In the past year, Verret billed lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig (which represented the US Chamber of Commerce and Nomura Holdings, among other firms) nearly $50,000 for his consulting work, a job he did not disclose on his academic profile page. When Verret appeared before the congressional panel, he identified himself only through his academic credentials.

Jim Overdahl, an economic consultant formerly with National Economic Research Associates, told The Nation that professors can fetch $5,000 per letter submitted to a regulator.

Darrell Duffie, a professor of finance at Stanford University, is paid more than $200,000 in cash and stock every year for his board membership at Moody’s, the rating agency. Moody’s has championed him as an asset given his contacts with regulators. “Dr. Duffie has significant expertise in a number of areas that are directly relevant to the Company’s core business operations…and his opinions regarding financial regulatory reform have been solicited by various arms of the US government,” noted Moody’s when it nominated him to its board, listing the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, and the Federal Reserve as places where Duffie enjoys access.

Duffie, who has submitted comments in opposition to a number of Dodd-Frank regulations, is also a member of the Squam Lake Group, an association of economists who have offered regulatory reform ideas on issues that would affect credit rating agencies, including money market reform.

In this context, the implementation of Dodd-Frank has been a nearly impossible task. Even as regulators struggle to produce lengthy economic cost-benefit analysis reports to justify the new rules, congressional Republicans have cut the budgets of various regulatory agencies. What’s more, the new standard won by Eugene Scalia has emboldened opponents of Dodd-Frank to produce more sponsored studies that can be used in legal challenges. In court, opponents of the law continue to score victories using the precedent set by the 2011 proxy access case.

* * *

How much of a difference can one academic make? Last September, a federal court knocked down a proposed regulation concerning “position limits,” a provision of Dodd-Frank designed to limit the role of speculators in inflating the price of commodities like oil, wheat and aluminum. To understand how this came about, follow the path of the University of Houston’s Craig Pirrong, who plays a Zelig-like role in the story of how this rule — hated by both the big speculators and the private exchanges in which commodities are traded — came to face delays, legal setbacks and now an uncertain future.

While numerous studies have demonstrated, and even Goldman Sachs has conceded, that excessive speculation on crude oil has boosted the price of gasoline at the pump by billions of dollars for consumers, the impetus for reform can be traced to the record spike in gas prices in June of 2008. The following month, a congressional hearing was called on the role of speculators. That’s when Professor Pirrong’s assault began on what would later become part of Dodd-Frank.

In his testimony, Pirrong said that “speculation is not the cause of high prices for energy products” and that there is “no evidence” to the contrary. In fact, there is an abundance of research, including a 2006 report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee, about the role of speculators in driving up the price of energy products like crude oil. Nevertheless, Pirrong pressed on, advocating against action on speculation in a report for the libertarian Cato Institute, in an opinion column for CNN Money, and in comments to major media outlets like the Financial Times.

As Congress continued to debate a response to the speculation problem, Terry Duffy, executive chairman of the CME Group, the for-profit company that operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other private commodity exchanges, implored lawmakers to ignore the calls for reform and instead listen to Pirrong, who, he said, was among the “community of responsible scholars of energy markets.”

Pressure from consumer groups and commercial end-users of commodities mounted, and Dodd-Frank ultimately included a provision calling for a position-limits rule to curb how many futures contracts a speculator can hold at one time. The law required the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the government watchdog on commodity trading, to devise a regulation.

As with any major regulation, when the CFTC announced the rule in 2011, the agency said it would welcome public comments to help inform the process. Pirrong then submitted comments, which were similar to the remarks he made in his 2008 congressional hearing. Lobbyists weighed in as well. Trade groups for hedge funds and investment banks submitted comments citing Pirrong’s writing in opposition to the regulation. Ultimately, the rule became riddled with loopholes before being released by the agency.

However, before the rule could take effect, two industry groups, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, filed a lawsuit in US District Court. They retained Eugene Scalia and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that argued the proxy access case. Scalia and his colleague Miguel Estrada’s evidence? They cited Pirrong seven times in their brief, according to court documents. And last fall, the court handed Dodd-Frank one of its most visible defeats by siding with the financial industry to bat down the proposed rule.

In every instance of Pirrong’s involvement with the position-limits rule, he identified himself as a professor of finance and as the energy markets director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. While Pirrong has disclosed at times that he has contracted with private exchanges in the past, including work on soybean futures in 1997, what he has not revealed is that the institute that employs him is underwritten by the largest speculation-industry players in the country.

Pirrong’s Global Energy Management Institute has been funded by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch Global Commodities (a unit of Bank of America) and the New York Mercantile Exchange (owned by the CME Group), among others. Charles River Associates is also a sponsor. In a now-deleted portion of the University of Houston website, corporate sponsors of the Global Energy Management Institute are invited to enjoy “access to [its] activities” and “an opportunity to influence its policies and direction.” Pirrong did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In addition, Cornerstone Research and the Global Economics Group — two more consulting businesses that help financial companies hire academics for expert testimony and regulatory work — list Pirrong as one of their affiliate professors. In the span of time that Pirrong has helped fight the position-limits rule, he has also given a speech at the Futures Industry Association’s annual expo, an industry event for speculators. How much Pirrong may have been compensated for these activities is not disclosed.

Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland who is in favor of greater regulation of commodity speculation, testified before Congress alongside Pirrong but says he had no idea of the latter’s financial ties to speculators. Pirrong “presents himself as an independent academic, and he’s not,” Greenberger says. If Pirrong’s funding had been disclosed during the course of his advocacy over the position-limits rule, “his influence would have been a tenth of what it is.”

Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
This article will appear in the November 11, 2013 edition of The Nation.

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We Should Not Be Complacent: How Ted Cruz Can Win in 2016

 

Forget what you think you know about the next presidential election. David Frum details how the junior senator from Texas can take the White House.  

by  
Three years out, few bets in U.S. politics looked as sure as Hillary Clinton’s election to the presidency in 2016. Republicans had badly polluted their brand in the debt ceiling standoff. Their coalition seemed to have dwindled to an embittered band of older white Southern men.
BUSH SECOND TERM

 Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

 

But it’s never wise to predict the future by projecting forward from the present.

By spring 2014, the U.S. economy had been expanding for almost 60 months, the fifth-longest expansion in U.S. history, but also the weakest and most lop-sided. Through the expansion, poorer Americans failed to raise their consumption to pre-2007 levels, even as richer Americans bid stock prices to record highs.

Facing a bleak Christmas selling season, Wal-Mart began cutting orders to suppliers in the fall of 2013. The official retailer of Lower America cut its sales force by 10%. Target also reported strangely disappointing sales in 2013. Ultra-down-market retailer Dollar General reported better sales, but almost all of those results were driven by its decision to begin selling tobacco products in its stores.

All the oomph in the U.S. economy was delivered by the top 10% of households. And they were vulnerable to events in the financial market. When such an event struck in the early spring, the U.S. economy toppled back into recession. The tentative employment gains of the Obama years were abruptly wiped out, and congressional Democrats suddenly faced a very ugly scenario in the fall 2014 elections.

In a frantic effort to mobilize supporters, the Democrats abruptly veered toward more populist economics. Senator Elizabeth Warren began to demand not just fines on JP Morgan, but the actual breakup of too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Too little, too late: instead of the gains they’d been counting on in 2013, the Democrats lost 15 House seats and control of the Senate in November 2014.

That defeat galvanized something in progressive Democrats. In an effort to collect chits for 2016, Hillary Clinton had campaigned hard for fellow Democrats in 2014. Now Clinton was damaged— and the fundraising successes of her ally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, suddenly became a target of criticism rather than a source of gratitude. “I don’t think we can auction our party’s future to Terry McAuliffe’s rich friends,” Senator Warren told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow three days after the election defeat.

In the painful aftermath of 2014, many Democrats were ready to hear that the party had been defeated because President Obama had been too cautious in his policies and too remote in his style. As Obamacare stumbled from implementation difficulty to implementation difficulty, they remembered that the program they really wanted was Medicare for all. They seethed at the way Obama had submitted to Republican demands that budget balancing take precedence over job creation. And whatever happened to the administration’s promises on climate change?

Democrats liked Hillary personally. But they could see that a Clinton nomination implied a course correction to the right from an administration they already condemned as too conservative. And so, even as the front-runner led the fundraising race through 2015, Iowa and New Hampshire were filling with volunteers canvassing for Elizabeth Warren and her message: “She’s in it to win it. I’m in it for you.”

History didn’t repeat itself, and Elizabeth Warren was no Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton finished off the Warren challenge in April. But Clinton had needed to pivot sharply left in order to secure her victory. Analysis of the 2014 vote showed that Democrats had been hurt by an abrupt drop in Latino turnout. Democrats decided they could afford no more delay on the immigration issue. President Obama listed immigration as agenda item number one in his 2015 State of the Union address, but Hillary Clinton went further. With her characteristic fierce energy, Clinton poured herself into the fight, chanting “Si, se puede” at rally after rally.

With the flaming wreck of Marco Rubio’s presidential hopes as a warning beacon, moderate favorite Governor Christie tried to triangulate the immigration issue. Ted Cruz determinedly took a position of all-out opposition.  In an interview on Univision, he chatted in Spanish with host Jorge Ramos, then turned to English to deliver a stark message: “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here.”

The government shutdown and debt ceiling fight of 2013 may have looked disastrous from a national political perspective. But the dustups nonetheless earned Cruz the best fundraising list on the Republican side. While Rand Paul hesitated whether to play an “inside” game of reassuring Republican donors or an “outside” game of insurgency, Cruz’s fundraising allowed him to bypass the choice altogether, shoulder aside Rand Paul as the conservative favorite, and proceed straight to the main event: the battle against Gov. Chris Christie.

The Clinton-Warren fight divided and weakened Democrats. Many pundits compared the contest to the Humphrey vs. Kennedy fight of 1968. But back in 1968, there was an obvious solution: a unity ticket (had the gunman’s bullet missed Kennedy, that is). Democrats in 2016 were not prepared however to field an all-female ticket. Clinton was the nominee; Warren went back to the Senate.

Ted Cruz, however, could offer the vice presidency to Chris Christie—and the Democrats’ post-2014 leftward veer frightened Republican donors enough that they pressed Christie to accept. Unlike Romney in 2012, Cruz’s conservative allegiance could not be questioned, freeing him to write the vaguest platform and conduct the most issue-free campaign of any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.

Clinton Democrats took for granted that Cruz was unelectable. They had not appreciated how badly the 2014 recession would hurt them. Disenchanted Latinos and young people stayed home. So did down-market white males, who seemed to react to Clinton with almost visceral dislike. In the presidential election of 2008, almost 58% of eligible voters had turned out, the highest level since the extension of the vote to 18-year-olds. In 2016, turnout dropped below 50% for the first time since 1996.

Republicans turned back the clock on the Obama election map. They recaptured Florida and Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada, Ohio and Iowa: moving back into the red column all the states won by George W. Bush in 2004. It was a desperately narrow victory, but it was enough.

 

David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor.

 

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For the Koch brothers: Possible $100 billion in tar sands profit if Keystone XL pipeline is approved

Authors of a 40-page report by the liberal think-tank International Forum on Globalizationhave concluded that the billionaire duo, David and Charles Koch, stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits from their holdings in the tar sands of Alberta if President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline. Because it would cross the boundary between Canada and the United States, the pipeline, which would connect the tar sands to refineries on the Texas gulf coast, requires a presidential permit based on U.S. national interest. Given the mandates of the review process, a decision isn’t likely until early 2014.

Boiled down to the essentials of its executive summary, the IFB report—Billionaires’ Carbon Bomb: The Koch Brothers and the Keystone XL Pipeline—states:

By better connecting Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries and their growing export markets, KWL will create a cash cow on steroids for the Kochs. KWL would worsen today’s chances for controlling carbon by enormously expanding the Kochs’ financial war chest thereby increasing their ability to influence U.S. carbon pollution policymaking and undermine urgent global climate cooperation.IFG’s special report reveals that Koch Industries’ role in KXL includes:

2 million or more potential acres in Alberta with tar sands (and emissions) exceeding Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips combined;

$53 million in Koch Cash for front groups and politicians who are pushing to fast-track KWL;

$100 billion in potential profits due to KWL, or 1 million times more than the average KWL worker’s wage over the life of the pipeline.

The resulting rise in the pace and scale of Canadian crude oil consumption will make more money faster for the Kochs, who stand to personally profit from KWL more than any other individuals, even Exxon executives.

Approval of the pipeline, the report’s authors add, would give the Kochs “more money to ramp up their already successful attacks against Americans’ voting rights, labor rights, pollution controls, and other public interest protections.”

The Kochs, with a combined net worth of $92 billion, have been the leaders in financial support for climate change denialist propaganda, surpassing even Exxon’s massive support for such lies, as well as denying candidates and lobbying meant to spur lawmakers away from pollution controls.

The authors conclude:

No single permit or pipeline will itself solve our Earth’s deepening crisis of economic inequality and ecological collapse, but rejecting both can build awareness and popular pressure to reduce the role of private money polluting politics, the underlying problem obstructing our global economic transition from today’s delusion of endless industrial growth to ecological sustainability and social justice.

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Why Democrats Might Cave On Social Security Cuts

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday opened the door to Social Security cuts as part of a budget deal with congressional Republicans. But Durbin pushed back against GOP calls for entitlement cuts as the negotiating price to curb or extinguish the economically damaging sequester cuts.

“If this is the bargain that the Republicans are now pushing for, that we have to cut Medicare to avoid cuts at the Department of Defense, they need to take a step back,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Congress is currently negotiating a new budget, with a December deadline. The talks were mandated by last week’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown.

Also speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) explicitly offered up trading some of the short-term cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, known as the sequester, for long-term Social Security and Medicare cuts. He argued that Republicans had the tactical advantage on such an exchange.

“If you’re in a divided government and you’re arguing against the law, you’re at a disadvantage,” Blunt said, noting the failed GOP effort to defund Obamacare that resulted in a government shutdown. “The Budget Control Act is the only thing we’ve found that actually controls spending.”

Blunt said that if Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate over “entitlement savings versus some additional spending,” to ease the sequester, then Democrats will have to live with the sequester cuts.

Durbin said that Republicans had to put tax revenue on the table to get entitlement cuts. Fox host Chris Wallace noted that Durbin has previously supported entitlement cuts, and asked why Republicans should have to give up tax increases to get something that many Democrats support. President Barack Obama has repeatedly endorsed Social Security cuts as part of budget deals, and Durbin acknowledged that he did support Social Security reforms.

“Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years,” Durbin said. “The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don’t wanna see that happen.”

Social Security will not run out of money in 20 years. The program currently enjoys a surplus of more than $2 trillion. Social Security will, however, be unable to pay all benefits at current levels if nothing is changed. If a 25 percent benefit cut were implemented in 20 years, the program would be solvent into the 2080s.

 From Huffington Post
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Republicans, Just Admit It — You Lost

 By , FORWARD PROGRESSIVES

boehner-lost

Pride is a funny thing.  It often gets a lot of people in trouble and can cause people to look absolutely foolish.  And it’s ultimately what caused this government shutdown to begin with.

Well, that and a whole lot of lies.

First you had Ted Cruz whose entire stance against “Obamacare” seemed to be built on one lie after another.  But that doesn’t really matter much for him — he really has no desire to govern as a senator.  The only reason he even became a United States Senator was to put himself in a position to run for president in 2016.  And his strategy for that seems simple — pander to the Republican base in hopes of securing the GOP candidacy for president.

Knowing that the Republican base is comprised mainly of people who desire to be told what they want to hear instead of the truth, “facts” really don’t matter to Ted Cruz.

But for the Republican party as a whole, pride is what kept this shutdown going.  Sure, it was the right-wing rhetoric from Cruz which triggered this whole mess to begin with, but make no mistake about it — pride is what kept it going.

After a day or two, Republicans should have just admitted they had no chance at reaching their goal of delaying or defunding “Obamacare.”  I mean, they knew going into this they really had no chance at doing either one of those things, but after the government had been shut down, they should have just admitted this shutdown was utterly pointless.

But they didn’t.  Instead they sat there, repeated the same worn out talking points, and stretched this thing out to nearly the last minute.

All because they were too proud to simply say, “We can’t win.”

Sure, some are saying that they couldn’t get what they wanted, but even then many of them are putting the blame on others.  Some have blamed the media while others are blaming specific Republicans like Ted Cruz.  But this entire fiasco should be spread across the entire Republican party.

They’re the ones who handed over power to the tea party.  They’re the ones who sold their souls to the most radical reaches of their base in hopes of doing anything to defeat President Obama.  And now that they’ve unleashed the monster known as the tea party, they can’t seem to rid themselves of it.  In fact, it seems to be growing in influence over the GOP, with many Republicans afraid of facing a primary challenger in their next election.

But make no mistake, there were no “winners” here.  Millions of Americans suffered, our country looks foolish and even the deal that was reached is only temporary.  Meaning that a few months from now, we might be facing this same level of idiocy yet again.

Yet, even with the majority of Americans blaming Republicans for this shutdown, most members of the GOP can’t admit that they lost.

I’m sure in the coming days you’ll see Republicans try to spin this as some sort of “victory” for their party.  They’ll try to say that they won something.  Exactly what will they have won?  Who knows.  I’ve given up trying to understand exactly what goes on in the fantasy wonderland where many Republicans seem to mentally reside.

But with the majority of Americans putting the blame on their party, “Obamacare” fully funded, the debt ceiling raised and almost no goal Republicans had hoped to achieve in this shutdown having been reached — pride will still get in the way of Republicans admitting one simple thing…

They lost, and they tried their damndest to bring the entire country down with them.

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Tea party ringleader admits the GOP shut down the government for nothing

From The Jed Report at DailyKos

What if I told you that one of the leaders of the tea party strategy to stop Obamacare by shutting down the Federal government didn’t actually believe it was possible to repeal Obamacare until 2017 at the earliest but pushed forward with his plan anyway?

You’d probably get pretty mad, right? Shutting down the government over an unrelated policy dispute is bad enough, but if the people shutting the government down didn’t even believe that their strategy would work, then they’d be guilty of inflicting pain and creating chaos for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

It might be hard to believe that anyone would admit to such a thing, but Wednesday morning on Fox News, that’s exactly what Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham did. He started out by explaining that Republicans had shut down the government because they don’t want to “allow” Obamacare to “go forward” because they believe it must be stopped “before January 1″:

The reason the government is shut down is Obamacare is unfair, it’s unaffordable, it’s unworkable, every single day there’s more evidence of that coming out. House Republicans have remained strong in saying we are not going to let this bill go forward. We’re not going to allow this to be inflicted on the American people. [...]
I think that almost every member of the House Republican conference, if not all of them, is deeply concerned about Obamacare, and knows that we have to do something before January 1 to stop it.

Then, less than sixty seconds later, he admitted that this strategy was doomed:
Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.

Well, as infuriating as the GOP nihilistic strategy has been, one thing is for sure: It’s now a whole lot less likely that come 2017, they’ll still be in control of the House—let alone the Senate or presidency.

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Calif. Gov. Signs Trans Birth Certificate Bill Amid Republican Opposition

The movement toward equality for transgender Californians progressed this week, but not without significant pushback from leaders of the state’s Republican Party.

A bill that will help facilitate legal name changes for transgender people was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, reports the Associated Press.

Authored by Assembly majority leader Toni Atkins, Assembly Bill 1121 was approved by both houses of the California legislature in September. The bill provides an easier and more inexpensive process for Californians seeking to change their name to correspond to their gender identity. The new system will also protect their privacy.

Currently, a transgender person in California must seek a court order to obtain a name change. The change must also be published in a newspaper, which may expose an individual to unwanted attention as well as discrimination or abuse.

According to the Transgender Law Center, which cosponsored the bill with Equality California, 44% of transgender people reported experiencing some form of discrimination, assault, or harassment in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party in California is pushing to repeal a state law that offers greater freedom to transgender teens. Buzzfeed reports that the party has voted to endorse a coalition aiming to repeal Assembly Bill 1266, which gives transgender students access to gender-segregated public school activities and facilities like restrooms and locker rooms that reflect their gender identity. The bill was signed into law by Brown August 12  and will go into effect January 1.

“Clearly the California Republican Party understands that AB 1266 is a threat to the privacy and safety of public school students throughout California,” Gina Gleason, a member of Privacy for All Students, stated in the coalition’s newsletter. “Forcing boys and girls to share bathrooms, showers and locker rooms will not decrease bullying. It is bullying.”

Republican leaders voted to endorse the coalition last weekend at a party convention in Anaheim. They are hoping to strike down AB 1266 in a 2014 voter referendum

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Top 16 myths about the health care law

By Angie Drobnic Holan

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the new health care law.

PolitiFact has been fact-checking claims about the federal health care law since lawmakers started drafting the legislation in 2009. Long controversial, the law has been no stranger to attacks by detractors. Here are 16 of the biggest falsehoods PolitiFact has rated.

( Fact-checks are listed in no particular order. The links will take you to a full report and a source list for each fact-check.)

1. The health care law rations care, like systems in Canada and Great Britain. False.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, July 2, 2012, in an interview on Fox News

The health care law is not socialized medicine. Instead, it leaves in place the private health care system that follows free market principles. The law does put more regulations on health insurance companies. It also fines most large employers who fail to provide insurance for their employees, and it requires all individuals to have health insurance. This is unlike the systems in either Britain or Canada. In Britain, doctors are employees of the government, while in Canada, the government pays most medical bills as part of a single-payer system. The U.S. health care law has neither of those features. PolitiFact has rated this claim and others like it False.

2. The health care law has “death panels.” Pants on Fire.

Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor, Aug. 7, 2009, in a message posted on Facebook

Back in 2009, it was a popular talking point to claim that the health care law had “death panels” to determine if individuals are worthy of receiving health care coverage. The claim was widely debunked and named PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. The talking point started in reaction to an idea for Medicare, that the Medicare program for seniors should specifically cover doctor appointments for seniors who wanted to discuss do-not-resuscitate orders, end-of-life directives and living wills. The visits would have been completely optional and only for people who wanted the appointments. After controversy, the provision was dropped from the final legislation. We rated the “death panels” claim Pants on Fire.

3. Muslims are exempt from the health care law. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, May 29, 2013

A widely circulated chain email claims that the word “dhimmitude” is on page 107 of the health care law, and it means Muslims will be exempt. Actually, the health care law does not include the word “dhimmitude” (a recently coined word that seems to refer to non-Muslims under Muslim rule). Also, the health care law doesn’t exempt Muslims. There is a “religious conscience exemption,” but it applies to groups that disavow all forms of insurance, including Social Security. Muslim groups have supported the Affordable Care Act. We rated the chain email’s claim Pants on Fire.

4. The IRS is going to be “in charge” of “a huge national database” on health care that will include Americans’ “personal, intimate, most close-to-the-vest-secrets.” Pants on Fire.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., May 15, 2013, in an interview on Fox News

The Internal Revenue Service does have a role to play as part of the health care law, but it’s not the role suggested here. If you buy insurance on the marketplace and you get a subsidy, officials will check tax records to make sure you qualify. That communication with the IRS happens via a data hub that’s also connected to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It’s important to note, though, that the hub isn’t a database. The IRS isn’t running it. And it doesn’t include “intimate” health data. The hub is for signing up for health insurance, not for storing medical records. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

5. Congress is exempt from Obamacare. False.

Chain email, Jan. 6, 2013

Even a few sitting lawmakers have repeated this claim, but it’s not true. Congress is not exempt from Obamacare. Like everyone else, lawmakers are required to have health insurance. They’re also required to buy insurance through the marketplaces. The idea is to have lawmakers and their staff buy insurance the same way their uninsured constituents would so they understand what their constituents have to deal with. Most Americans who already get insurance through work are left alone under the law; members of Congress have insurance through work but are treated differently in this regard. Recently, a rule was added so that lawmakers’ could keep the traditional employer contribution to their coverage. But they weren’t exempt from requirements that other Americans face. We rated this claim False.

6. Under Obamacare, people who “have a doctor they’ve been seeing for the last 15 or 20 years, they won’t be able to keep going to that doctor.” Mostly False.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., July 31, 2013 in a Fox News interview

Some have suggested that Obamacare would interfere with doctor-patient relationships. Actually, there’s no more interference than what existed before Obamacare. Right now, patients can lose access to their doctors when their insurance policies change. This typically happens when employers switch plans or when workers switch (or lose) jobs. Under Obamacare, some patients who buy health insurance through the marketplace could lose access to their current doctor, but it’s difficult to predict how many. And it would be because they have a new insurance plan. We rated this claim Mostly False.

7. The health care law is a “government takeover” of health care. Pants on Fire.

U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, Feb. 20, 2010, in a speech to Pinellas County Republicans.

“Government takeover” conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed relies largely on the free market. It’s true that the law significantly increases government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market. The majority of Americans will continue to get coverage from private insurers. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

8. “All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free health care services.” Pants on Fire.

Chain email, July 28, 2009

The health care law does not provide free health care services to anyone, and especially not to people in the United States illegally. Illegal immigrants may not enroll in Medicaid, nor are they eligible to shop on the marketplace for health insurance. Permanent legal residents are eligible for health insurance subsidies on the marketplace, as are U.S. citizens. Current law says that hospital emergency rooms must stabilize illegal immigrants with medical emergencies, but that law predates Obamacare. We rated this claim Pants on Fire.

9. Because of Obamacare, health care premiums have “gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years.” False.

President Barack Obama, Oct. 3, 2012, in a presidential debate

The historical data for health care premiums only goes back 14 years; there’s no evidence to support the idea that premium increases are at a 50-year low. Overall health care costs have slowed down, but even there, Obama exaggerated the impact of his health care law. Experts say slowing costs are due to a variety of reasons, including the recent recession. Giving all the credit to the new law overstates the case. We rated the statement False.

10. Under Obamacare, “75 percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.” Pants on Fire.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., July 25, 2013 in a FoxNews.com op-ed

Suggestions that business are laying off workers because of the health care law have so far proven to be largely unfounded. Most small businesses — those with fewer than 50 employees — do not have to provide health insurance to their employees. (In fact, some very small businesses with fewer than 25 employees may qualify for tax credits under the law.) The claim here that 75 percent of small business were reducing their workforce was based on a misreading of a study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The study actually found that less than 10 percent of small businesses said they will be forced to reduce their workforce or cut hours. We rated the claim Pants on Fire.

11. “At age 76 when you most need it, you are not eligible for cancer treatment” under the health law. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, June 3, 2013

Some misinformation about the health care law has been specifically aimed at seniors, even though the law largely leaves the Medicare program alone. This particular claim, that older cancer patients will go without treatment, is wrong on several levels. For one thing, the health care law didn’t make changes to patient benefits in the Medicare program. Cancer treatment will still be covered by Medicare. Also, there are no changes in the law aimed at people 76 or older. This claim seems to have been invented out of whole cloth as a scare tactic. We rated it Pants on Fire.

12. The health care law includes “a 3.8% sales tax” on “all real estate transactions.” Pants on Fire.

Chain email, July 24, 2012

An anonymous chain email claims that the health care law puts a 3.8 percent tax on home sales. This is not correct. The law does include new taxes, but the taxes are primarily on the health care industry and on investment income for the wealthy. For middle-class homeowners, there are long-standing tax exemptions on the profits from home sales, and the health care law didn’t change them. We rated this statement Pants on Fire.

13. “Obamacare is . . . the largest tax increase in the history of the world.” Pants on Fire.

Rush Limbaugh, June 28, 2012, on his radio show

Radio host Rush Limbaugh and others have claimed the health care law includes historically high tax increases. While there are new taxes in the health care law — representing the first significant federal tax increases since 1993 — they are not the largest increases in the history of the United States, much less the world. When accounting for the size of the overall economy, tax increases signed into law by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were larger than the tax increases in the health law. We rated this statement Pants on Fire.

14. A “hidden” provision in the health care law taxes sporting goods as medical devices. Pants on Fire.

Chain email, June 12, 2013

A chain email claims that common sporting goods equipment — fishing rods, outboard motors, tackle boxes — will be taxed at 2.3 percent under Obamacare. There is a 2.3 percent tax in the law, but it applies to medical devices, not sports equipment. Also, the medical devices tax applies to manufacturers and makers, not consumers. This chain email seems to stem from a mistake made at Cabela’s, a Nebraska-based retail store that sells sporting goods. At the beginning of 2013, Cabela’s accidentally started taxing its sales and labeling it a medical excise tax. But that move was in error, and the company quickly reversed itself the same day. As for the chain email, we rate its claim Pants on Fire!

15. Obamacare will question your sex life. Pants on Fire.

Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, Sept. 15, 2013, in an op-ed in the New York Post

In the op-ed, McCaughey claimed the law pressures doctors into asking about people’s sex lives and recording those answer in electronic health records. Actually, it was the economic stimulus that created incentives for doctors to move to electronic health records. And, none of the criteria require questions about people’s sex lives. Instead, doctors are asked to record standard diagnostic criteria like vital signs, diagnoses, medications and the like. Privacy advocates do have concerns about electronic health records, but it’s not about people getting asked embarrassing questions about their sex lives. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

16. An Obamacare provision will allow “forced home inspections” by government agents. Pants on Fire.

Bloggers, Aug. 15, 2013

State lawmakers in South Carolina got this one going by claiming they were concerned that the health care law allowed forced home inspections. People can relax, though: There are no forced home inspections. What got people concerned is an optional home health care program that sends nurses on house calls to the homes of pregnant, poor women. The idea is that the nurses will check on the moms and offer prenatal advice in a comfortable environment. And the program is not mandatory. We rated this claim Pants on Fire!

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The Last Act in Alternative-Reality Land

Occasionally, a single incident can characterize an entire era. Rosa Parks sits down near the front of a bus. Gary Cooper drops his badge in the dust. Warren Beatty is riddled with bullets.

And then, most recently, a Congressman berates a park ranger for monitoring the closure of a national park he had voted to close.

It is more than likely that historians years from now will cite this incident as the perfect illustration of American politics in the early 21st century. For it is this disjunction, this dislocation from reality, that represents our age. Politics have been dominated by a minority movement that creates its own counter-reality, rejects science, denies established facts, and produces untruthful narratives to justify behavior at odds with reality.

This could all be dismissed as an aberration and an amusement, except when it brings the government of the United States to a standstill. This Congressman, and others like him, did not connect the decision to shutter the government with the closure of national parks administered by that government. Nor apparently did they think a majority of Americans would be outraged by young cancer patients being denied treatment, or veterans losing medication, or the elderly losing home nutrition, or any of hundreds of things the government of the United States, as ordered by Congress, does every day.

If you live in a vacuum-packed world of talk radio, right-wing dominated town halls, and campaigns financed by anti-government billionaires, and if that’s the only Kool-Aid you drink, it must be a shock when you confront the real world. “Why is this park closed?” “Because you closed it, Congressman.”

If the “big government” you oppose is not the one that creates and operates revered national monuments, but is one that provides food stamps, unemployment compensation, breakfasts for poor school children, and rent subsidies and you can’t actually say that’s what you are against, because you believe, wrongly, that it’s mostly people with darker skins who benefit, it makes real-world politics difficult to deal with.

So what’s a Congressman operating in a closed-circuit vacuum, who only hears his own echoes 24/7, to do? What does he do when he finds out that his gerrymandered solid red district dominated by a minority is neither the real America nor the real world? You intimidate your Speaker and you threaten — or more likely have others threaten — your wavering, moderate colleagues with a primary campaign by a fire-breathing, alternative-reality version of yourself.

There is only one way three or four dozen alternative-reality Congresspersons can shut down the United States government: fear. Fear of what? Fear of not being a Congressperson. Fear of losing your job. Fear of not having a staff to look after your every wish. Fear of not being cheered at the next town meeting composed of people you’re already afraid of. Most of all, fear of returning to everyday life back home. But, of course, there is always the lucrative alternative of lobbying, where you can stay in Washington, go to all the parties and fundraisers, write the checks instead of taking the checks, and hobnob with all those other former members of Congress who, like you, decided not to go home.

But even that little promise of nirvana is subject to the perpetuation of the world of alternative-reality. And that world must come to an end. Because the day will come, sooner or later, when men and women of stature, honor, and conviction will say, as Joseph Welch said to Joe McCarthy and the park ranger should have said to our Congressman: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

From HuffingtonPost.com

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