HR #3 AN ANTI ABORTION BILL AND LOTS LOTS MORE

I am going to do a series of posts on this subject as there is a lot of ground to cover.  I am going to quote Jessica Arons of The Center for American Progress first to just give you a taste of how far reaching and dangerous this bill is.  Then we need to go back over history to see how we got to these terrible straits.

The number of HR #3 tells you a lot.  This bill is very important to the Republican majority in the House, the Republican party.  This bill unites all the elements of the right.   There is no squabbling amongst them all on how important it is to restrict the rights of women to make decisions about their lives so they can be free and equal participants in our democracy. On that they all are singing on key.

http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/…

Chris Smith Introduces Radical Abortion Ban

What’s more, H.R. 3 would redefine the concept of government funding far beyond the current common understanding. It does not simply prohibit the use of federal funds to directly pay for abortion. Instead, it would insert itself into every crevice of government activity and prohibit even private and nonfederal government funds from being spent on any activity related to the provision of abortion any time federal money is involved in funding or subsidizing other, nonabortion-related activities.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this line of thinking would prohibit roads built with federal funds from passing by abortion clinics, drugs developed by the National Institutes of Health or approved by the Food and Drug Administration from being used at abortion clinics, or medical students with government loans from receiving abortion training-all because such uses could be viewed as “subsidizing” abortion with federal dollars.

Taken to its logical conclusion and of course, restraint is not what the radical right is noted for this bill theory could affect a large swathe of what we have always considered here in America to be private actions and private decisions.

They are not just doing this bill for show or to make a point.  They will do what they need to do to make this bill pass.  The House has a large Republican majority. Everyone one of them will vote for the bill, plus there are 10 anti choice Democratic sponsors.  I have long said they will blitzkrieg this bill through the House.  Then they will look for ways to scale the walls of the Democratically controlled Senate.  Just like yesterday Mitch McConnell attached the repeal of the Affordable Care Act to the FAA authorization bill, there are many, many ways to bring this bill to the floor, even if the the Majority Leader would not on his own bring the bill to the floor.

History: and more after the fold

Last Congress when the Stupak/Nelson amendments were added to the health care reform bill, the choice community initially agreed not to use the health care debate to further abortion rights.  Rather they were convinced or convinced themselves that the 30 year status quo on the Hyde Amendment and the issue of funding would be the a position they should endorse.  It was felt that health care reform was so important to the country and to the well being of women in general that nothing that a fight to eliminate the Hyde amendment was not worth doing.  Sadly that fight has been held in abeyance since Harris v McRae was decided in 1979 which upheld the Hyde provisions.  Sadly also some of the national choice groups also felt that this was not even a fight worth  having.  Their acquiescence and silence allowed the president to say in an interview with Katie Couric that prohibiting federal funds for abortion was a “federal tradition”.

The way the Hyde Amendment has worked in the last 30 years is that it has to be annually reauthorized in the appropriations process. Every year, each committee has to put its restrictions into the language governing disbursement of monies. Hyde initially targeted poor women in the Medicaid program. Over the years, more programs have had the restrictions added.  Military women, veterans programs, Indian Affairs money, even Medicare money for the disability component (!) and the last and really important restriction was to the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. When they added that, even if employees used private funds to supplement their policy choices, they still could not get a insurance which covered abortion.  That was passed in 2002 when the Republicans controlled everything.  

Of course we lost on the anti abortion restrictions in health care.  We lost even worse than was initially thought were had lost. The interim High Risks Pools , that were being set up prior to the 2014 start of the exchanges, all abortion coverage was banned, not just Stupak or Nelson restrictions.T

he Hyde amendment had not been not challenged directly for 30 years. Hyde targeted poor women and the  assault that began on poor women has now become a big, wide open, back door to eliminate access for all women.  It is a perfect demonstration about why principles should be upheld.  When you don’t do that, you lose, literally.  The choice community keeps fighting defensive fights on a rapidly eroding beach. With this bill and future bills based on the theory embedded into it we could be swept out to sea.

During the Stupak debate, we argued  that the anti choice right was being  inconsistent in their assault on the halth care exchanges. If taxpayer money wasn’t permitted for abortion then how could they allow employer provided coverage because they got tax credits. Then by their theory employer provided care was suspect. The right has taken up that challenge and become consistent with this bill. Of course if taxpayer money was implicated in insurance coverage, it would be the same for the tax status of churches. Consistency only goes so far.  

HR #3 does 2 serious things plus it has some  some truly inflammatory things which are meant to be a shiny bauble to distract the opposition. They heinous rape provisions which everyone knows about now, as it has be decried from the rooftops, is a negotiating ploy by the right.  I will go into that more in the next post. this awful provision and it is awful,os one they would “reluctantly”  give up in order to pass the whole bill.  We focus on that, alone,  they will be laughing all the way to the bank.

The Smith bill, aka No Taxpayer Funding Act, 2 serious components are

1. It codifies the Hyde Amendment so that the yearly appropriations process would be eliminated. That would eliminate the ability to rescind it.  It would also codify the idea that unlike every other positive right we have, women’s right to an abortion can be restricted.

 Scott Lemieux at  Lawyers, Guns and Money says it in his:

My Annual Lecture on the Hyde Amendment and “Positive Rights”

http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblo…

The argument made by people who don’t understand the issues is that there couldn’t possibly be a constitutional problem with the Hyde Amendment because American constitutionalism only protects “negative” rights – it’s a contradiction in terms for there to be a “right” to taxpayer funding.   The problem with this argument is that it isn’t true.   First of all, there are explicit “positive” rights in American constitutionalism, most prominently the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel.    In addition to this, there are plenty of other examples of cases where there isn’t a right to government assistance per se, but when a program is created it cannot arbitrarily exclude people.    There isn’t a right to education, but states cannot provide (at least in theory) an unequal education to some groups.   Of even more direct relevance, the Supreme Court has held that if a state university funds secular publications it must also fund religious publications, although there’s obviously no right to taxpayer-funded publications per se.    (And that’s a tougher case, because there’s a plausible argument that such subsidies violate the First Amendment.)   Indeed, the Court’s conservatives have pushed this reasoning even further, recently arguing in dissent that religious groups are entitled to taxpayer money even if they refuse to comply with neutral antidiscrimination criteria.

So the constitutional arguments against the Hyde Amendment are hardly based on some alien, un-American reasoning.    There isn’t a constitutional right to health care, per se, but having established a health care program the government can’t arbitrarily exclude a class of persons from the benefit.  Proponents of the Hyde Amendment don’t even pretend that the exclusion of funding for most abortions is based on a legitimate neutral criterion (such as expense or medical necessity); its core purpose is to obstruct the exercise of a fundamental right.   The constitutional problems with this are obvious, and don’t require arguments different than those that have been advanced by Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, Alito et al. in different contexts.

HR #3 is based on the fundamental premise of the Hyde Amendment and its prohibition on taxpayer funding…However the consequences in th efuture will not just be confined to abortion rights, but the positive rights of anyone and everyone.  This could cover everything from contraceptive coverage to benefits for same sex couples to yes churches to anything the tax code plays a part in.

The other part of the bill would use the tax code to essentially eliminate abortion coverage from insruance provided by employers.  Employer provided insurance was left alone in the health care bill.  Millions and millions of American women would lose that coverage. The Guttmacher Institute has done a study on abortion and insurance.  Almost all employer coverage includes abortion and their show shows that it is used

http://www.guttmacher.org/medi…

The Guttmacher Institute’s federally supported study, which assessed levels of insurance coverage for a wide range of reproductive health services, found that 87% of typical employer-based insurance policies in 2002 covered medically necessary or appropriate abortions; the data can be found in Table 1 here.

Importantly, the 87% of plans that covered abortions did not include plans that offered abortion coverage only in very limited circumstances (such as rape and incest, or to protect the woman’s life). Only a very small number of respondents offered such limited coverage, and they were not included in the study’s findings.

The study queried all large insurers (those with at least 100,000 enrollees) and a random, nationally representative sample of small insurers.

Their study showed more utilization than earlier studies because they asked for more complete information from those who would have better access:

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 46% of covered workers had coverage for abortion; the data were released as part of Kaiser’s 2003 Annual Employer Health Benefits Survey. Another iteration of that survey, from 2010, found that three in 10 employers said they covered elective abortion, but the 2010 survey had a far higher rate of employers who could not or would not answer the question (71% in 2010 vs. 26% in 2003).

Differences between the Guttmacher and Kaiser studies

The Guttmacher study queried the medical directors of insurance companies and asked them about the typical insurance policy they wrote for employers. It might not account for the fact that some employers may purchase atypical plans, such as plans with high deductibles that may not cover a range of services, including abortion.

Kaiser directly queried employers’ human resources staff about their firm’s coverage, but many of them either could not or would not answer the question.

Guttmacher’s study asked about medically necessary or appropriate abortions. The 2003 Kaiser study asked about abortion coverage, unspecified, and the 2010 iteration asked about “elective” abortion; in either case, some employers may have answered “no” even if coverage were available for abortions in some circumstances.

Millions of women, and I mean millions would lose the ability to get an abortion. You can’t get one if you can’t afford to pay for one.  Lack of funds would not only affect the women, it would have negative effects on those who provide it and how safely it can be provided.

There is no need to overturn Roe if it can be done through a back door.  Like the frog slowly boiling in the water, these restricitions won’t drop like a decision from the Supreme Court.  Overturning Roe would be very mobilizing…too late, but motivating. However if abortion can’t be accessed,  it will leave the women of America in the same postion as blacks were in the South before the Voting Rights Act was passed.  Back then there was technically a constitutional right to vote, but the actual ability to access the polling booth was next to nil.  This bill would  do that to women.  

Next 2 post I will talk about the inflammatory rape provsion.  And I will elaborate the very dangerous and far reaching theory behind this bill about the fungibility of federal money. If in some fashion federal money allows you – either a person or even a state – to spend your private money – then the federal money has now has control over your own money.  Given that they argue that they can tell you in some way ot another what you can do with your non federal money – either private or state funds.  

As David Waldman, aka KagroX,  has very cogently said.

” Take the rape provisions out, and you’re left with a bill that paves the way for using the tax code to select every American’s health care options for them, direct from Washington.”

 

And it begins again… this time in the Senate

   “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

   – Mark Twain

As I settled in this afternoon awaiting a coming ice storm (the first of these just missed us last night) and curious about what’s going on in Egypt where around 2 million people were demonstrating today for Hosni Mubarak’s resignation (in a speech this afternoon he said he would not run for reelection and would be out of office by the Fall… as you might guess, this does not seem good enough for the demonstrators who want him out now) I wondered what was happening on C-Span 2.

I thought I’d watch the Senate debate the FAA Funding Bill and what do you think happened? Senate Republicans have attempted to repeal last year’s sweeping health care law via an amendment to a FAA funding, proposed by the beloved Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Not since the Earth’s creation some 6000+ years ago, when men and dinosaurs peaceably shared the world, have I heard such idiocy.

So, instead of solving the major problem of supporting and improving Airline regulations, we are listening to Republicans tell us that most Americans are opposed to the Health Care law (although recent polls indicate that an average of 80% of those Americans DON”T WANT IT REPEALED!) They are adamant that 50 million people who became covered due to parts of the Affordable Care Act should be dropped from coverage… and at the same time they will continue to waste our time and money with this kind of folderol. I thought Harry Reid was going to keep this crap off the floor.

I guess this is going to be Mitch’s strategy… no matter what bill is proposed, Mitch will see to it that an amendment to repeal Health Care will be included. And we will look on in disbelief. Maybe we need 2 million Americans to stand outside of Congress until Mitch and his pals decide to take an early vacation.

http://underthelobsterscope.wo…

Why Obama Was Never the Most Liberal Senator in the United States

By: Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

A common charge of Republicans during the 2008 presidential campaign was at Senator Barack Obama’s perceived liberalism. Republicans often stated that Mr. Obama was the most liberal senator in the United States, according to a ranking by the National Journal. The attack against Mr. Obama’s liberalism has continued during his time in office.

The ranking by the National Journal, however, seems to be flawed in several ways. Take the 2004 rankings, for instance. Guess who was ranked the most liberal Senator in 2004.

More below.

If you answered John Kerry, that’s right. The exact same claim was made against Mr. Kerry in 2004, based upon the exact same ranking. And check out how highly their Vice Presidential picks ranked: Senator Joe Biden was ranked the 3rd most liberal senator when he ran for Vice President, and Senator John Edwards was ranked the 4th most liberal senator during his campaign for the spot.

The high ranking of Mr. Edwards is particularly hard to believe. John Edwards, after all, represented North Carolina – certainly not the most liberal of states. He was elected senator with a less-than-five percent margin. Indeed, in the year before 2003 Mr. Edwards was ranked the 31st most liberal senator.

In reality, Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry were far from the most liberal senators in the United States. The reason they were ranked so is due to the many votes they missed while campaigning for president.

And there are certainly senators who are far more liberal than either Mr. Obama or Mr. Kerry. Take Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Sanders is not just your typical liberal – he’s actually a bona-fide socialist. Republicans often attack Mr. Obama as espousing socialism, attacks which the Obama administration usually responds are ridiculous. But Mr. Sanders actually is a socialist, and a proud one at that.

There are other quite liberal senators out there. It is hard to believe that either Mr. Obama was more liberal than Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, or Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Then there’s recently defeated Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, the only senator to vote against the initial Patriot Act.

There are about a dozen other Democratic senators who also were probably more liberal than Mr. Obama. Some of these are the people who hold the levers of power in the Democratic Party, like Senator Charles Schumer of New York or Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Others are lesser-known senators who come from very liberal states, like Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island or Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii.

This is not to say that Mr. Obama was a liberal senator. He was, as a liberal-minded man representing a liberal-minded state. But to believe the conservative claim that Mr. Obama was the most liberal senator would be to believe that he was more to the left than an actual socialist. And, despite what some conservatives might believe, Mr. Obama certainly hasn’t imposed socialism upon the United States

One last filibuster reform myth

Chris Bowers has a good, detailed write up on how the Senate rules reform fight happened.  It’s good reading for those interested in the tactical and strategy debates for how the netroots can most effectively bring about change and so forth.  Lots of good grist for that in there, including Chris himself backing away because he might be a liability and the impact of the pro-choice groups who came out quietly against reform behind the scenes.

The myth I would like to challenge is that the Republicans will necessarily kill the filibuster themselves on the first day of the next Congress if they take the majority in 2012.  Not very likely.

The Republicans know how useful the current rules are for them and would never give up such an advantage until they had to in order to win some bigger fight.  

The filibuster is not a knife that “cuts both ways” – or at least a knife that cuts both ways even close to equally.  Aside from the long history of the thing where it is almost always used in support of conservative aims (really, try to name an important conservative item filibustered by liberal Senators, I have to go back to Huey Long to even find a candidate worth discussing), the filibuster theoretically favours conservatives for two big reasons:

First that since conservatives tend to represent the interests of the wealthy and powerful, these interests are satisfied to have government do nothing as they have enough power already to go about their business of acquiring more power and wealth.  They will gladly accept government help when they can get it, but they don’t usually need it.  Mostly what the filibuster is good for is vetoing measures that would see government act to help the powerless which always comes at expense of the powerful.

Second is that most conservative priorities can already be passed under reconciliation rules, which circumvent the filibuster for “budget” items (like tax cuts).  There was a lot of discussion about what parts of the health care reform could or should have been passed under reconciliation.  The existence of that debate became obvious cover for conservadems to oppose using reconciliation for the public option or other liberal ideas for the bill, meanwhile Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were both passed using reconciliation.  

So even before we get to discussions of the gutlessness, cowardice or just plain believing in conservativism on the part of too many Democratic Senators we already have the filibuster as a loaded die before the players even reach the table.

The 2005 filibuster fight over judicial nominees tells us how this fight will really go:  Republicans will end the filibuster if necessary to get the things they want.  When they threatened to do so, enough Democrats backed down and gave them what they wanted so that it wasn’t necessary.  Even then they weren’t going to nuke the entire filibuster, but rather the artificial category of “judicial” filibusters they invented out of whole cloth so that they could preserve legislative filibusters which advantage them so much.

Of course it would have been much better for the Democrats if they had let the Republicans do this, since many many more of Obama’s lower court nominees would have been confirmed and Democrats wouldn’t have let down the netroots when they failed to filibuster Alito since no such thing would be possible.  In exchange, the same horrible Bush nominees that were confirmed would have been confirmed.  Zero downside, much upside.

Don’t get me wrong, if a bill repealing Social Security is on the table and the filibuster is the last obstacle to President Gingrich signing it, they’ll nuke it in a flash, but they won’t do it on the first day of Congress or any such thing.  They know they can use the nuclear option whenever needed and they know the “process” stories written about such an event will only be followed by a small fraction of the nation anyway.

Tell the Senate to confirm Andy Traver to head the ATF

A mid-week story in the NY Times after the Tucson massacre, “A Clamor for Gun Limits, but Few Expect Real Changes”, was not encouraging about congressional action:

Gun control advocates say they believe the shock of the attack has altered the political atmosphere, in no small part because one of the victims is a member of Congress.

“I really do believe that this time it could be different,” said Paul Helmke, executive director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Yet gun rights advocates and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Thursday that there was little chance the attack would produce significant new legislation or a change in a national culture that has long been accepting of guns.

But at the very least, Congress should be able to confirm Andrew Traver, President Obama’s nominee for the head the ATF, which has been without a director since 2006. You can help encourage them by signing a petition from Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) here.

Here’s what it says at the petition site:

America needs a top cop on illegal guns now

The mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona is yet another deadly reminder of what happens when dangerous people get their hands on guns.

Now more than ever, law enforcement officials need the full support of Congress and the public to crack down on deadly criminals.

But the one agency responsible for cracking down on illegal gun crime has gone without a Director for the last four years.

To keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the Senate must confirm President Obama’s nominee for ATF Director, Andrew Traver. As the head of the Chicago ATF office, Traver has proven that he’ll fight to keep our families safe.

Each day we wait, 34 Americans will lose their lives to gun violence.

Tell your Senators to stand up to the powerful gun lobby and confirm a top cop on illegal guns for America.

Traver has worked as a special agent with ATF for more than two decades, at various offices across the country, as well as ATF headquarters. He has served as the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Chicago Field office since 2004. He’s a Navy veteran who has been involved in veterans’ issues as the Chicago outreach coordinator for The Mission Continues, a veterans’ service organization.

The last director, Carl J. Truscott, was appointed in 2004, after which Congress moved to require Senate confirmation for the post. According to a Washington Post story from late October, “ATF’s oversight limited in face of gun lobby”, this opened the door for typical Senatorial obstructionism:

Next up for the ATF job was Michael J. Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney in Boston nominated by President George W. Bush. He was blocked by three senators who accused the ATF of being hostile to gun dealers: David Vitter (R-La.), Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho) and Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho). Craig, who has left office, was a member of the NRA’s board of directors throughout his tenure in the Senate.

They succeeded in keeping Sullivan in “acting” limbo until he resigned when Barack Obama took office…  

In August, sources in the ATF said Andy Traver, a special agent in charge of the ATF in Chicago, was being considered for the job. Gun-lobby representatives immediately said they would oppose his nomination because they thought he was too close to gun-control activists.

Oh heavens!  Traver might actually do his job! We can’t have that!

Sorry, gun manufacturers, but NO!  After the Tucson massacre, speedy approval of a new ATF head is the least we can do.

Sign the petititon.

Weekly Mulch: With D.C. in GOP Hands, Environmentalists Must ‘Fight Harder’

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues-that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most  moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a  path to a  sustainable energy future-and a green one, too-he should propose a  very  simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy  subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all-for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even  for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the   tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive  advantage  in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones  for fossil fuels,  are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in  Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places.  People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two  children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten  months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her  father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from  a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black  overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties,  all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the  decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle  for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of  times someone told me they got involved  because they heard Judy speak,  either at their university, at a rally,  or in a documentary.  Years ago  she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly  march” in Washington, DC.  In 2010,  that dream became a reality as  thousands marched on the White House for  Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s  remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of   The Media  Consortium.   It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of  articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The   Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network  of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he  has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea  partiers will go into  open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead  letter with nothing more  than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a  quick vote with no hearings  and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s  done it, after which he can  move on to other business he actually cares  about.

An opportunity?

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly argues that all this political theater around repealing the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for Democrats to remind the public about all the popular aspects of the bill that the GOP is trying to strip away.

Last weekend several key provisions of the ACA took effect, including help for middle income seniors who are running up against the prescription drug “donut hole.” Until last Saturday, their drugs were covered up to a relatively low threshold, then they were on their own until they spent enough on prescriptions for the catastrophic coverage to kick in again. Those seniors will be reluctant to give up their brand new 50% discount on drugs in the donut hole.

Another crack at turning eggs into persons

A Colorado ballot initiative to bestow full human rights on fertilized ova was resoundingly defeated for the second time in the last midterm elections. Attempts to reclassify fertilized ova as people are an attempt to ban abortion, stem cell research, and some forms of birth control. Patrick Caldwell of the American Independent reports that new egg-as-person campaigns are stirring in other states where activists hope to take advantage of new Republican majorities.

Personhood USA, the group behind the failed Colorado ballot initiatives, claims that there is “action” (of some description) on personhood legislation in 30 states. Caldwell says Florida may be the next battleground. Personhood USA needs 676,000 signatures to get their proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Right now, they have zero, but they promise a “big push” in 2011.

Ronald McDonald = Joe the Camel

In AlterNet, Kelle Louaillier calls for more regulation of fast food industry advertising to children. New research shows that children are being exposed to significantly more fast food ads than they were just a few years ago. Other studies demonstrate that children give higher marks to food products when they are paired with a cartoon character. Louaillier writes of her organization’s campaign to prevent fast food companies from using cartoons to market fast food to kids:

For our part, my organization launched a campaign in March to   convince McDonald’s to retire Ronald McDonald, its iconic advertising   character, and the suite of predatory marketing practices of which the   clown is at the heart. A study we commissioned by Lake Research Partners   found that more than half of those polled say they “favor stopping   corporations from using cartoons and other children’s characters to sell   harmful products to children.”

Local elected officials are joining the cause, too. Los Angeles   recently voted to make permanent a ban on the construction of new fast   food restaurants in parts of the city. San Francisco has limited toy   giveaway promotions to children’s meals that meet basic health criteria.   The idea is spreading to other cities.

2011 trendspotting: Baby food

The hot new snack trend for 2011 is mush, as Bonnie Azab Powell reports in Grist. In an attempt to burnish its portfolio of “healthier” snack options for kids Tropicana (a PepsiCo company) is introducing a new line of pureed fruit and vegetable slurries. The products, sold under the brand name Tropolis, feature ground up fruits and veggies, vitamin C, and fiber in a portable plastic pouch. These “drinkified snacks” or “snackified drinks” will be priced at $2.49 to $3.49 for a four-pack, making them more expensive than fresh fruit.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive   reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium.  It  is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for  a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on  Twitter. And for the best   progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care  and  immigration issues, check out The Audit,  The Mulch,   and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of  leading independent media outlets.

Senator John McCain’s Born Identity

Note: First an appearance on Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word on this topic, below my weekly column at AJE

What does he want? Revenge. For what? Being born.

This is the way famous gunslinger Doc Holliday answers equally famous lawman and good friend Wyatt Earp’s inquiry – in their depiction in the movie Tombstone – into why their sworn enemy, Johnny Ringo, is such a misanthrope.

Sadly, this description would be equally accurate in explaining the actions of another Arizona transplant filled with endless rage: Senator John McCain.

I first encountered the seething side of McCain when I was writing my 2008 book, The Real McCain, which was critical of him while pointing out a then-controversial fact, one no longer in dispute among those who lionised him back then. Namely, that the Led Zeppelin-groupie relationship he then enjoyed with many in the media was based on a faulty premise.

John McCain was not a maverick (which he has since admitted after long identifying with the title), but a man driven by a need to fight. To fight for his own redemption, to fight with those who dared disagree with him, and most particularly, to fight with anyone who had delivered him a perceived humiliation of any sort. Think Yosemite Sam on a bender, or Vladamir Putin in those half-naked martial arts pictures.

Sure, McCain was also motivated by the very same political expediency which drives too many politicos, as well as coveting an appearance on the Sunday morning talk circuit the way a twenty-something blonde does meeting Edward Pattinson, or marrying Hugh Hefner.

But the driving force for McCain has been pure vitriol and spite. When I first pointed out this inconvenient truth in my book, that many Republicans, including some willing to go on the record, were sure McCain was motivated by demons and not decency, I was criticised or dismissed in many quarters. Yet, it was obvious to me back then that his battles with fellow Republicans and Democrats had become personal, crusades for the eternally perturbed Abe Simpson stand-in.

I broke two stories in my book that spoke to McCain’s temperament, that he had physically assaulted a member of his own party after taunting him (Republican Representative Rick Renzi) and had called his wife a very not-safe-for-work term of non-endearment. In perhaps an emblematic McCain moment, during a policy meeting with a fellow Republican, McCain “called the guy a ‘sh-head.’ The senator demanded an apology. McCain stood up and said, ‘I apologise, but you’re still a sh-head.'”

There’s a reason the dude was nicknamed “McNasty” in high school.

So when others still saw McCain’s breaking from President Bush on taxes, healthcare, the environment and gun control in the early 2000s as a sign of “independence,” I tried to point out what I had learned: He was just doing it because he hated Bush for beating him in the primaries. And when others saw his loss to then-Senator Barack Obama and thought he’d work with Obama to display his maverickyness once Obama was sworn in, I warned that in all likelihood we’d see McCain once again do his best Judge Elihu Smails impression.

But even I couldn’t have expected how truly ridiculous he’s become.  As Deputy Political Director Michael McMurray of NBC News pointed out in a tweet just before Christmas, outside of Afghanistan, “the AZ senator didn’t support any major Obama WH policy in ’09-’10.” In fact, it has been much worse than that.

Bush’s tax cuts for top earners, immigration reform, a nuclear arms treaty and even a military suicide prevention bill were not worthy of McCain’s support during the last two weeks.  Not supporting a bill to prevent military suicides? Really? It’s almost like this particular Scrooge got a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Crazy while napping after an especially large portion of Quaker Oats.

As journalist David Corn recently pointed out, looking at McCain’s increasingly desperate attacks against repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy of allowing gays to serve in the military only if they were as vocal as a Buddhist Monk about who they really were, “…McCain practically threw a tantrum on the Senate floor, decrying ‘this bizarro world’ and denouncing senators in favour of repeal…Looking as if steam would shoot out of his ears at any moment, McCain went on to exclaim that ending DADT would endanger ‘the survival of our young men and women in the military.'”

Of course, as Corn also wrote, “Not only had McCain flip-flopped, he had become an angry crusader, seemingly full of rage at a policy initiative he once quasi-endorsed…It seemed more personal than policy — as in he really doesn’t fancy seeing a victory for President Obama, the fellow who prevented McCain from becoming BMOC.”

That is really the gist of it, and it’s at the heart of who McCain has been his entire time in Washington, whether most journalists have been willing to see it or not. He’s not a statesman, nor has he ever been. He’s a petulant bomb thrower. He’s Simon Cowell in a suit.

In fact, in a slightly alternative universe, it wouldn’t really be all that hard to imagine McCain standing on a Times Square street corner screaming at passersby that they all deserve to go to hell, or challenging random strangers to a fight to the death using sticks to determine who gets his clay marble collection.

But in this one, he was just elected to another 6-year Senate term. And that tells you a helluva lot about the predicament in which we currently find ourselves as a nation.

Follow Me On Twitter: @cliffschecter

Weekly Audit: GOP Plays Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

Weekly Pulse: GOP Plays Chicken with the Debt Ceiling

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is calling for a “big showdown” over the upcoming vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion from $13.9 trillion. The debt ceiling is simply the maximum amount the government can borrow.

 

Congress routinely raises the debt ceiling every year. It’s common sense: Since the government has already pledged to increase spending, Congress must authorize additional borrowing. (Remember that the government is now forced to borrow billions of extra dollars to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, which Republicans insisted on.) If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will be forced to default on its debts, with catastrophic consequences.

Why would default be catastrophic? The principle is the same for countries and consumers alike: If you have a good track record of paying your bills, lenders will lend you money at lower interest rates. If you don’t pay your bills on time, or default on your obligations altogether, lenders will demand higher interest rates.

Congressional Republicans say they oppose raising the debt ceiling because they favor fiscal responsibility. This kind of rhetoric is the height of recklessness. The interest on our debts is a big part of government spending. Even idle talk about defaults could spook some creditors into raising interest rates on U.S. debt and cost taxpayers dearly.

 

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly quotes Austan Goolsbee, chair of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, who says that congressional GOP members are flirting with the “the first default in history caused  purely by insanity.”

Making work pay (for real)

An astonishing 80% of full-time minimum wage workers can’t afford the necessities of life, according to new research by labor economist Jeannette Wicks-Lim of the Political Economy Research Institute, featured on the Real News Network.

 

Wicks-Lim argues for a two-part solution to the crisis of working poverty in America: i) raising the federal minimum wage to $12.30/hr from $7.50/hr; ii) Increasing the earned income tax credit to 40% of income. She estimates that these two policy changes would raise the income of a minimum wage worker from $15,000 to about $36,000 at a manageable cost to employers and taxpayers.

Her proposal is a revamp of President Bill Clinton’s attempt to “reform” welfare by cutting social service benefits and shifting government spending to tax credits. Currently, the Earned Income Tax Credit is a subsidy for the working poor that is designed to “make work pay”–i.e., if workers aren’t making enough in wages to secure a decent standard of living, the government provides an income subsidy to reward them for working.

However, if a decent standard of living remains out of reach for 80% of full-time minimum wage workers, Wicks-Lim argues that the minimum wage is too low and the subsidies are too modest to achieve the stated goal of making work pay.

Colorado minimum wage inches up

Speaking of minimum wage issues, Scot Kersgaard of the Colorado Independent reports that the minimum wage in the state ticked up from $7.25 an hour to $7.36 on January 1. The modest increase represents the annual adjustment for inflation. Every bit counts, but Colorado families are falling further behind. According to a new report by the Denver-based Bell Policy Center, 8.3% of working families in Colorado live below the federal poverty line, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Fully one-fourth of Colorado families do not earn enough to meet their basic needs, which requires an income approximately twice the FPL, according to the report.

Colorado is one of only 10 states that automatically adjust their minimum wages for inflation.

Wage theft epidemic

Unscrupulous employers are stealing untold millions of dollars from hardworking Americans, Dick Meister reports in AlterNet:

The cheating bosses don’t take the money directly from their employees.  No, nothing as obvious as that. The employers practice their thievery by  underpaying workers, sometimes by paying them less than the legal  minimum wage. Or they fail to pay employees extra for overtime work, or  even force them to work for nothing before or after their regular work  shifts or at other times. Some employers make illegal deductions from  employee wages. And some withhold the final paycheck due employees who  quit.

In New York City alone, an estimated $18 million worth of wages is stolen every week. Workers in the restaurant, construction, and retail sectors are at increased risk of wage theft. Wage thieves disproportionately target undocumented workers because they assume that these employees will be less likely to report the crime.

Debt collection from beyond the grave

The dead don’t tell tales, but they have been known to sign debt collection papers, Andy Kroll reports in Mother Jones. Martha Kunkle died in 1995, but her printed name and signature appear on paperwork filed by the debt collection agency Portfolio Recovery Associates as late as 2006 and 2007. The ruse was discovered and PRA, facing a fraud lawsuit, agreed in 2008 that the “Kunkle’s” documents couldn’t be used in court. That didn’t stop the agency from trying to use them again in 2009.

The attorney general of Missouri has announced that he will investigate whether any of Kunkle’s handiwork was used to support debt collection in his state. The attorney general of Minnesota is already investigating whether debt collectors have used fraudulent paperwork in court.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members  of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Filibuster reform landmine

There are two major benefits that would come from the Merkley-Udall Senate Rule reform proposal:

  1. Filibuster reform.  Biggest thing here is to shift the onus to maintain a filibuster onto the 41+ minority and away from the model of requiring 60 affirmative cloture votes to limit debate.  But also very significant here would be making the motion to proceed non-debatable and ending secret holds.  Much has been written about this, I think these are positive improvements and while I would rather just see the Senate move to actual overt majority rule, this is a significant improvement and would have led to a much better 2008-2010 for progressives.
  2. Majority changing the rules at all.  Like FDL, I think it would be very important for the Senate to pass changes to the Senate rules on a straight majority on the first day of the new Congress.  It remains one of the most baffling self-delusions that the Senate and most Americans accept the fiction that it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster or 67 to change the rules.  I have tried to make the point that the 2005 “nuclear option” fiasco proves that the majority can in fact rule the Senate if they so choose, but it is a tough slog.  Changing the rules on a straight majority would be a big step forward in forcing everyone to dispel this cherished fable of the “cooling saucer.”

So it is with significant trepidation that I read this item on Harry Reid negotiating potential rule changes with the Republicans.  The likely result of any such negotiation would be a symbolic but insufficiently substantial rule tweak that allows the Republicans to continue the substantive work of grinding government to a halt at whim, while allowing Reid and other Senate rule fablists traditionalists to maintain the polite fiction of the Senate as a “continuing body” and pass such meaningless rule changes on a 67 vote supermajority.

What other point can there be to such negotiations?  Republicans clearly can have no interest in limiting the filibuster as presently construed, and the only rule changes they will agree to in sufficient numbers to reach 67 would be ones that don’t do anything.  Hopefully I’m wrong and this is just some necessary step Reid had to take in order to placate other conservadems who like the comfortable myth of the supermajority Senate, and Reid can keep them on board with a majority imposed rule change by saying he tried to get Republicans on board, but the possibility of some kind of Gang-of-14 gentleman’s agreement is a real land mine to rule reform.

One hopeful sign against this is that benefit #2 above is actually high on Udall’s mind as a reason to do this:


Sen. Tom Udall, who’s been at the center of the efforts to convince the Senate to begin updating its rulebook with each new Congress, has argued that this knowledge will make both the majority and the minority act more responsibly in the future, as they’ll labor under the knowledge that misuse of the rules will mean reform of the rules.

So at least he’s less likely to be pawned off by some agreement that is sufficiently useless as to attract 67 votes.  Though, the piece on Reid from TPM quotes Udall saying he’s not privy to whatever Reid is discussing so they could just bypass him and Merkley.