Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Republican Hypocrite of the Week - Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) Slashed EPA Funding, Now Outraged It’s Not Doing More In His District

Republican Hypocrite of the Week - Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) Slashed EPA Funding, Now Outraged It’s Not Doing More In His District

Three months after voting to eliminate funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) now says he’s outraged that the EPA isn’t doing more to protect the health of residents in his district. Barletta is insisting that the agency pay special attention to an area in Pittson, PA, after one resident alleged that a tunnel near a Superfund site gave him cancer. The EPA held an open house and information session to address the concerns of residents in the area, but said it did not plan to conduct further testing. This outraged Barletta, who called their decision “unacceptable”:

On Wednesday, Barletta sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson asking the agency to perform additional testing in the Carroll/Mill Street neighborhood.[...]“Frankly, this is unacceptable. The EPA’s own Web site indicates that one of the agency’s primary reasons for existence is to ensure that ‘all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work.’”[...]

“I was surprised to hear an EPA official basically tell the residents of the Carroll/Mill neighborhood that they would not conduct soil and water testing to find answers. It is absolutely the EPA’s job, and I’m going to make sure that job is done. The residents are scared, and they deserve answers and peace of mind.”

That’s an ironic position for Barletta, considering how often he’s tried to prevent the EPA from doing its job. In February, Barletta voted with the rest of the Republican-controlled House for an amendment that slashed funding for the EPA. Republicans were retaliating against the agency for its efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), one of the authors of the amendment, said, “The era of EPA overstepping its authority by imposing over-burdensome and unnecessary regulations at the expense of American businesses is over.”

Barletta’s vote to gut funding for the EPA flew in the face of popular opinion in his own district. A survey by Public Policy Polling found that 70 percent of voters in Barletta’s 11th Congressional District opposed Barletta’s vote to block the EPA from setting limits for carbon dioxide pollution. Those opposed included 58 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans. Voters also opposed Barletta’s votes to “prevent the EPA from reducing arsenic, mercury and other toxic pollution from cement kilns, or from collecting any data about carbon and other pollutants.”

It’s pretty audacious to attack an agency for not doing enough mere months after attacking them for doing too much. Barletta should hope his constituents have short memories and forget his attempts to stop the EPA from upholding health standards that Republicans insisted were a “burden” to business.
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) is just an sad example of the lack of integrity and principles that is typical of today's crop of conservative Republicans. They say government doesn't work, than do everything in their power to make sure it does not work. There are some things individual Americans just cannot do on their own - clean up toxins in the local water supply, create a insurance program for retirees like Social Security or provide for national defense. Radical zealots like Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) just get up in the morning and hate things, until the wind shifts and decides he likes them. he, like most Republicans do not stand for anything and the way they govern proves that.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Republicans Think Destroying Medicare is the Beginning of 'Serious debate'

Republicans Think Destroying Medicare is the Beginning of 'Serious debate'

The NYT’s Joe Nocera, to his credit, doesn’t care much for the House Republican plan for Medicare, as shaped by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). But Nocera spent some time with Ryan this week and, alas, seems to have been taken in, at least a little, by the right-wing Wisconsinite’s charms.

[E]ven if Ryan’s solution is wrongheaded, he’s right that Medicare is headed for trouble. It might not be in nine years, but as health care costs continue to rise uncontrollably, and as baby boomers continue to age, Medicare will gobble up an ever larger percentage of the federal budget. […]

To put it another way, while the Democratic Party might be well served in trying to use the Ryan plan to bury their political opponents, the country itself is not. The debate we need is not about whether Medicare should be reformed, but how. […]

It would be nice if we could treat the Ryan plan not as an object of derision but as a launching off point for a serious debate.

I don’t doubt Nocera’s sincerity on this. His argument is clearly well-intentioned, and over the long term, demographic changes and escalating costs do pose fiscal challenges for Medicare.

But I desperately wish credible media voices recognized Ryan’s Republican plan for what it is: a fraudulent scam. Using this con job as “a launching off point for a serious debate” is comparable to using alchemy as a launching off point for a serious debate about chemistry, or astrology as a launching off point for a serious debate about space travel.

Kevin Drum put it this way the other day, “You need to get the policy right. You need to actually care about controlling healthcare costs. You need to actually care about delivery systems. You need to actually care about what works and what doesn’t. You need to actually care about the details. Paul Ryan doesn’t. He’s a right-wing ideologue with a single right-wing solution for everything. But he’s sociable and friendly, not a fire breather, so everyone figures he’s not one of the tea party nutjobs. This is a serious mistake.”

It’s a mistake, I’m afraid, Joe Nocera is making.

Paul Krugman recently explained, “Here’s an analogy: think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn’t do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream.”

Nocera wants to give Ryan credit for noticing problems with the bridge. But that’s not just overly generous, it’s also setting the bar for seriousness way too low.

Overall, there are two broad ways of scrutinizing the GOP’s Medicare privatization plan. The first is to emphasize its needless cruelty towards seniors, which is problematic for those who believe Medicare beneficiaries deserve better. He wants to shift costs onto seniors and use the “savings” for tax cuts, all while pretending to care about a non-existent debt crisis.

The other is to note that Paul Ryan’s numbers simply don’t add up, making his approach unworthy of serious consideration. The combination of the two points to a proposal worthy of the trash heap, not “serious debate.”

The question isn’t why the left would treat this scam as “an object of derision”; the question is why others aren’t doing the same.

As I post this Senate Conservative leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is threatening to let the economy spiral into another recession unless Democrats gut Medicare. That was the radical conservative movements gift to the nation for Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

One of The Biggest Republican Myths - Rich People Create Jobs

One of The Biggest Republican Myths - Rich People Create Jobs

You hear it again and again, variation after variation on a core message: if you tax rich people it kills jobs. You hear about "job-killing tax hikes," or that "taxing the rich hurts jobs," "taxes kill jobs," "taxes take money out of the economy, "if you tax the rich they won't be able to provide jobs." ... on and on it goes. So do we really depend on "the rich" to "create" jobs? Or do jobs get created when they fill a need?

Here is a recent typical example, Obama Touts Job-Killing Tax Plan, written by a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth:

Some people, in their pursuit of profit, benefit their fellow humans by creating new or better goods and services, and then by employing others. We call such people entrepreneurs and productive workers.

Others are parasites who suck the blood and energy away from the productive. Such people are most often found in government.

Perhaps the most vivid description of what happens to a society where the parasites become so numerous and powerful that they destroy their productive hosts is Ayn Rand's classic novel "Atlas Shrugged." ...

Producers and Parasites

The idea that there are producers and parasites as expressed in the example above has become a core philosophy of conservatives. They claim that wealthy people "produce" and are rich because they "produce." The rest of us are "parasites" who suck blood and energy from the productive rich, by taxing them. In this belief system, We the People are basically just "the help" who are otherwise in the way, and taxing the producers to pay for our "entitlements." We "take money" from the producers through taxes, which are "redistributed" to the parasites. They repeat the slogan, "Taxes are theft," and take the "money we earned" by "force" (i.e. government.)

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner echoes this core philosophy of "producers" and "parasites," saying yesterday:

"I believe raising taxes on the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to hire people is the wrong idea," he said. "For those people to give that money to the government...means it won't get reinvested in our economy at a time when we're trying to create jobs."

"The very people" who "hire people" shouldn't have to pay taxes because that money is then taken out of the productive economy and just given to the parasites -- "the help" -- meaning you and me...

So is it true? Do "they" create jobs? Do we "depend on" the wealthy to "create jobs?"

Demand Creates Jobs

I used to own a business and have been in senior positions at other businesses, and I know many others who have started and operated businesses of all sizes. I can tell you from direct experience that I tried very hard to employ the right number of people. What I mean by this is that when there were lots of customers I would add people to meet the demand. And when demand slacked off, I had to let people go.

If I had extra money I wouldn't just hire people to sit around and read the paper. And if I had more customers than I could handle that -- the revenue generated by meeting the additional demand from the extra customers -- is what would pay for employing more people to meet the demand. It is a pretty simple equation: you employ the right number of people to meet the demand your business has.

If you ask around, you will find that every business tries to employ the right number of people to meet the demand. Any business owner or manager will tell you that they hire based on need, not on how much they have in the bank. (Read more here, in last year's Businesses Do Not Create Jobs.)

Taxes make absolutely no difference in the hiring equation

In fact, paying taxes means you are already making money, which means you have already hired the right number of people. Taxes are based on subtracting your costs from your revenue, and if you have profits after you cover your costs, then you might be taxed. You don't even calculate your taxes until well after the hiring decision has been made. You don't lay people off to "cover" your taxes. And even if you did, it would lower your costs and you would have more profit, which means you would have more taxes ... except that laying someone off when you had demand would cause you to have less revenue ... and you see how ridiculous it is to associate taxes with hiring at all!

The Rich Do Not Create Jobs

Lots of regular people having money to spend is what creates jobs and businesses. That is the basic idea of demand-side economics and it works. In a consumer-driven economy designed to serve people, regular people with money in their pockets is what keeps everything going. And the equal opportunity of democracy with its reinvestment in infrastructure and education and the other fruits of democracy is fundamental to keeping a demand-side economy functioning.

When all the money goes to a few at the top everything breaks down. Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.

Democracy Creates Jobs

This idea that a few wealthy people -- the "producers" -- hand everything down to the rest of us -- "the parasites" -- is fundamentally at odds with the concept of democracy. In a democracy we all have an equal voice and an equal stake in how our society and our economy does. We do not "depend" on the good graces of a favored few for our livelihoods.

We all are supposed to have an equal opportunity, and equal rights. And there are things we are all entitled to -- "entitlements" -- that we get just because we were born here. But we all share in the responsibility to cover the costs of democracy -- with the rich having a greater responsibility than the rest of us because they receive the most benefit from it. This is why we have "progressive taxes" where the rates are supposed to go up as the income does.

Taxes Are The Lifeblood Of Democracy And The Prosperity That Democracy Produces

In a democracy the rich are supposed to pay more to cover things like building and maintaining the roads and schools because these are the things that enable their wealth. They actually do use the roads and schools more because the roads enable their businesses to prosper and the schools provide educated employees. But it isn't just that the rich use roads more, it is that everyone has a right to use roads and a right to transportation because we are a democracy and everyone has the same rights. And as a citizen in a democracy you have an obligation to pay your share for that.

A democracy is supposed have a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means to pay. We do this because those who get more from the system do so because the democratic system offers them that ability. Their wealth is because of our system and therefore they owe back to the system in proportion.
The average American should be giving themselves more credit. How much wealth would the rich have without the labor of the middle-class and working poor. How much wealth would the rich have if average working Americans did not buy the products which the rich advertise 24/7. Labor creates wealth, the wealthy just hold their hands out and collect the money when it comes in.

What is labor - nurses, construction workers. teachers, civil engineers, housewives, retail clerks, fire fighters, biologists, chemists, factory workers......

Friday, May 27, 2011

National Disgrace - Republicans Claim Health Care Reform Cut $500 Billion From Medicare

National Disgrace - Republicans Claim Health Care Reform Cut $500 Billion From Medicare

During the debate over Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to phase out Medicare, conservatives in the media have revived the misleading claim that the Affordable Care Act contained "$500 billion in Medicare cuts." In fact, the "cuts" will come through eliminating parts of Medicare "seen as ineffective or wasteful," and experts predict that the quality of care under Medicare will not be shortchanged.
Right-Wing Media Figures Claim Affordable Care Act "Cut" $500 Billion From Medicare

Limbaugh: Winner Of NY Special Election "Criticized Obama And The Democrats For $500 Billion In Medicare Cuts." From the May 25 edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: New York's 26th District is being portrayed here as the American people. And then Medicare reform, Paul Ryan's budget, was on the ballot. The winning candidate -- I'm going to get blue in the face saying this -- the winning candidate criticized Obama and the Democrats for $500 billion in Medicare cuts. The winning candidate. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/25/11]

...In Fact, Savings Come From Reducing Inefficiency; Experts Predict Quality Of Care Under Medicare Will Not Decline

FactCheck: Cost-Saving Provisions Are "Not A Slashing Of The Current Medicare Budget Or Benefits." According to FactCheck.org:

Whatever you want to call them, it's a $500 billion reduction in the growth of future spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the current Medicare budget or benefits. It's true that those who get their coverage through Medicare Advantage's private plans (about 22 percent of Medicare enrollees) would see fewer add-on benefits; the bill aims to reduce the heftier payments made by the government to Medicare Advantage plans, compared with regular fee-for-service Medicare. The Democrats' bill also boosts certain benefits: It makes preventive care free and closes the "doughnut hole," a current gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors. [FactCheck.org, 3/19/10]

PolitiFact: Reductions "Aimed At Eliminating Parts Of The Medicare Program Seen As Ineffective Or Wasteful." From PolitiFact.com:

Under the act, Congress voted to reduce $500 billion in projected Medicare spending over the next 10 years, not in one substantial chunk. The reductions are aimed at eliminating parts of the Medicare program seen as ineffective or wasteful. For example, the plan phases out payments to the Medicare Advantage program, an optional program set up under the George W. Bush administration, where seniors could opt to enroll in a private insurance program and the federal government would subsidize a portion of their premium. [PolitiFact.com, 5/10/11]

PolitiFact: CBO Says "Spending For Medicare Will Continue To Increase Over The Next Decade." From PolitiFact.com:

On the surface, it may seem that lawmakers voted to cut Medicare spending under the new health law, but they instead cut the rate of growth. As a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office notes, the amount of spending for Medicare will continue to increase over the next decade, from $499 billion in 2009 to $929 billion in 2020. [PolitiFact.com, 5/10/11]

PolitiFact: "Experts Say The Quality Of Care Should Not Be Shortchanged." From PolitiFact:

[E]ven though $500 billion in spending is being reduced, health care experts say the quality of care should not be shortchanged.

"Some (reforms) increase Medicare spending to improve benefits and coverage," said Tricia Neuman, vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, in a video on the foundation's website.

"Other provisions reduce the growth in Medicare spending to help the program operate more efficiently and help fund coverage expansions to the uninsured in the underlying health reform legislation," Neuman said. "Other provisions are designed to improve the delivery of care and quality of care." [PolitiFact.com, 5/10/11]

New England Journal Of Medicine: Affordable Care Act Eliminates "Substantial Overpayments" To Medicare Advantage Plans. From an article by Robert A. Berenson in The New England Journal of Medicine:

[T]he currently projected savings come from two main sources: reduced payments to private Medicare Advantage plans and reduced payment updates for hospitals and most other providers. A phased elimination of the substantial overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, which now enroll nearly 25% of Medicare beneficiaries, will produce an estimated $132 billion in savings over 10 years.


The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) has been calling for such fee reductions for years, to keep Medicare Advantage from undermining traditional Medicare.

The ACA also produces nearly $200 billion in savings by assuming that providers can improve their productivity as firms in other industries have done. On the basis of this presumed improvement, the law reduces Medicare's annual "market basket" updates for most types of providers -- a provision that has generated controversy. [The New England Journal of Medicine, 7/8/10]

FactCheck: Changes To Medicare Advantage Come With Extra Benefits For All Medicare Enrollees. According to FactCheck.org:

The CBO has estimated that the move would change the value of the extra benefits Medicare Advantage participants get, but they would not receive fewer benefits than the rest of seniors who aren't on the Advantage plans. The bill does add some extras for Medicare beneficiaries, eliminating copays and deductibles for preventive services, for example. [FactCheck.org, 12/2/09]
The right-wing conservative cabal of assclowns said to themselves - we cannot win this debate based on the facts. Gee, what to do. Answer, as usual they decided to overwhelm the public with patent falsehoods. The House of Representatives, which has a Republican majority, voted to end Medicare by way of the Paul Ryan(R-WI) plan. Senate Republicans, with the exception of four moderates, also voted to end Medicare. If Republicans had a majority in the Senate and a Republican president Americans would no longer have Medicare as of the votes they took within the last month. During the Bush era Republicans were the most arrogant, heartless, greedy and corrupt politicians this country has had since the Tea Pot Dome scandal. They have not changed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tim Pawlenty is the Perfect Republican Candidate for President

Tim Pawlenty is the Perfect Republican Candidate for President

"Truth" was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's buzzword Monday when he announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. He said he will tell the truth about hard choices facing the nation while others — President Barack Obama notably among them — do not.

A parsing of Pawlenty's opening-day statements shows they were not the whole truth.

Here is a sampling of his claims Monday and how they compare with the facts.


PAWLENTY: "The truth is, people getting paid by the taxpayers shouldn't get a better deal than the taxpayers themselves. That means freezing federal salaries, transitioning federal employee benefits, and downsizing the federal work force as it retires." — Campaign announcement.

THE FACTS: A federal pay freeze is already in effect. Obama proposed and Congress approved a two-year freeze on the pay of federal employees, exempting the armed forces, Congress and federal courts.


PAWLENTY: "ObamaCare is unconstitutional." — USA Today column.

THE FACTS: Obama's health care overhaul might be unconstitutional in Pawlenty's opinion, but it is not in fact unless the Supreme Court says so. Lower court rulings have been split.


PAWLENTY: "Barack Obama has consistently stood for higher taxes." — Campaign announcement.

THE FACTS: Obama's record shows more tax cutting than tax raising. The stimulus plan early in his presidency cut taxes broadly for the middle class and business, and more recently he won a substantial cut in Social Security taxes for a year. He also campaigned in support of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all except the wealthy, whose taxes he wanted to raise. In office, he accepted a deal from Republicans extending the tax cuts for all. As for tax increases, Obama won congressional approval to raise them on tobacco and tanning salons. The penalty for those who don't buy health insurance, once coverage is mandatory, is a form of taxation.


PAWLENTY: "For decades before I was elected, governors tried and failed to get Minnesota out of the top 10 highest-taxed states in the country. I actually did it." — Campaign announcement.

THE FACTS: Minnesota remains among the 10 worst states in its overall tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation. In its 2011 State Business Tax Climate Index, the anti-tax organization ranks Minnesota 43rd, making it the eighth worst state. The ranking slipped from 41st two years earlier. The index considers corporate, individual, sales, unemployment insurance and property taxes.


PAWLENTY: "I stood up to the teachers unions and established one of the first statewide performance pay systems in the country." — Campaign announcement.

THE FACTS: The system may be statewide, but it is voluntary and most school districts have not joined. Out of the 340 school districts and charter schools in the state, with 830,000 students, 104 districts and charter schools serving 254,592 students are currently enrolled in the performance-pay program.


PAWLENTY: "There's only four governors in the country that got an A grade from the tough-grading Cato Institute for fiscal management. I was one of them." — ABC's "Good Morning America."

THE FACTS: Cato may be a tough grader, but it is hardly objective. The institute holds staunch libertarian views, including a passion for smaller government, and graded governors in 2010 according to their success in cutting taxes and spending. Pawlenty tied for third with Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, behind South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, both Republicans.


PAWLENTY: "I could stand here and tell you that we can solve America's debt crisis and fix our economy without making any tough choices. But we've heard those kinds of empty promises before."

THE FACTS: Although politicians typically talk about the need for hard choices, Pawlenty actually does name several. He proposes to phase out ethanol and corporate subsidies, raise the Social Security retirement age for young workers and restrain cost of living increases for Social Security recipients who are wealthy.

Americans who liked George W. Bush, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and the most corrupt unpopular governor in the nation, Florida's Rick Scott, should love Pawlenty. Pawlenty is a serial liar, hates rights for workers, wants to cut education but give hugely profitable corporations yet more tax cuts, believes in Bush's supply-side economics, believes in cutting the kind of regulation that will protect America from another meltdown, has repeated every lie there is about Iraq and WMD. In other words Pawlenty is so high on the anti-American right-wing kool-aid it will be like its 2007 all over again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

NY Special Election Shows Republicans in Deep Trouble Over Plan to Gut Medicare

Special Election Shows Republicans in Deep Trouble Over Plan to Gut Medicare

Republicans are going to have plenty of questions about their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program tomorrow morning after Democrats romped to an improbable victory in a special election focused almost entirely on the issue.

Democrat Kathy Hochul lead 48-43 with over 83% of the votes counted and her victory looks to be a strong one -- the Associated Press called the race within an hour of the polls closing. Corwin underperformed in key GOP counties while Hochul's margins in Democratic areas were in line with the party's high water mark in the district from 2006, a wave year that swept the Republicans out of the majority in the House and Senate. The district is normally a safe seat for Republicans and few considered it vulnerable when Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned over topless photos he posted in a Craigslist personal.

Hochul's message focused relentlessly on the Paul Ryan budget, which she highlighted in ads, public statements, and debates at every opportunity. Her attacks on its cuts to Medicare benefits and its tax cuts for the wealthy proved impossible for Corwin to overcome, who tried her best to defend the GOP budget cuts before eventually giving in and falsely accusing Hochul of seeking similar cuts while muddying her own position on the plan.

National Democrats are giddy over the results, crowing that they'll use the same formula in swing districts across the country in 2012.

"We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare," DCCC chair Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in a statement. "Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare."

Republicans sought to spin the race beforehand as an exceptional situation due to the appearance of Tea Party independent Jack Davis, who was ironically the Democratic candidate in 2006. NRCC chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) repeated the claim on Tuesday night in a statement to reporters and added that past special elections had failed to prove predictive of the general election results.

"Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name," Sessions said. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010."

But Hochul appears to have won solidly even while Davis' support collapsed from his earlier polling numbers in the mid-twenties. With over 66% of the vote in, he took only 8% of the vote while Hochul's numbers were strong compared to past Democratic performances. Corwin and Republican-allied groups significantly outspent Democrats in the race, making her victory that much tougher.
Months ago, today and for the foreseeable future the conservative Republican plan is do everything they can to protect tax cuts for the wealthiest 5% of Americans, plus get even more tax cuts for them and America's most profitable corporations. If they have to gut Medicare to afford those cuts they are perfectly willing to do so.

Hannity Falsely Claims "No President" Before Obama "Has Ever Suggested" 1967 Israeli

Sean Hannity falsely claimed that "no president" before Obama "has ever suggested" that borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. In fact, Obama's comments are in line with those of President George W. Bush, who also supported a two-state plan based on pre-1967 borders.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Deep Un-American Flaws in Ayn Rand's Philosophy

Deep Flaws in Ayn Rand's Philosophy

The first error is the assertion that we humans, at least the best of us, are autonomous individuals who have no need for other human beings other than as useful tools. The second error is to perpetuate the libertarian idea that no social goal justifies “forcing” an individual to be a resource for others. In other words, taxation is theft from “producers” to benefit “parasites.” The third error is that markets are “free” in the sense of operating best without any rules or regulation.

Humans Are Social Creatures

It is easy to counter the argument that humans are autonomous, isolated entities with no need for relationships with other humans. To the contrary, we are, and always have been, social creatures, reliant on others for our lives, our development and our survival. When our species started to evolve in Africa, about 300,000 years ago, the world was filled with predators that had sharper teeth, stronger claws, could run faster and overall physically outmatch our tiny, hairy ancestors. The question is, how did our predecessors survive and procreate allowing me to write this essay and you to read it?

If we observe herds of, say, antelope today, we observe that predators go after the slowest and weakest member of the herd, who quickly becomes a meal. Antelopes survive because they procreate rapidly, and the loss of a single animal does not threaten the herd.

Humans, however, take considerably longer to bear a child, and that child requires considerable care over several years in order to survive. It is obvious that a pregnant female would, in the later stages of gestation, be the slowest member of the herd. Later her infant or toddler would also be slow and neither mother nor child would long survive without the support of a family or clan. Thus humans would not have survived as a species had they not been able to cooperate with each other and to form and maintain social groups. Humans had to evolve as social animals.

As social animals we needed (and still need) a way that allows us to function as productive members of a social group. Without such a method, the species will fail. This is true of all social species. For example, the social insects have specific complex chemicals that allow individual insects to function as productive members of a very coherent social group (beehive or ant colony). These chemicals are their operating methodology.

To function as a productive member of a human social group, we rely on six core values that bind human beings one to another. Based on our evolutionary development, all people, societies and organizations actually share the same set of core values. You can argue if these are the “real” core values, but these six appear to encompass what is necessary for the continuing existence of human social groups. Each of these can be thought of as being on a scale from positive to negative. Behavior at the positive end of the scale strengthens the social group; behavior at the negative end weakens, and eventually will destroy it.

Most of a member’s behavior must be at the positive end of the scale in order for him or her to be accepted and relied upon by others. Without such positive reliable behavior social groups must fail.


From prehistoric times until the present, human beings have had to find ways to cooperate and work together in order to survive. Today, much of this cooperative behavior is supported by public services. Consider our need for education from kindergarten through universities, a stable monetary system, laws that protect property, courts to adjudicate disputes, rules to provide an even playing field in markets, hospitals, roads, airports, bridges, defense from predators whether criminal or military, development costs for technological innovations such as the Internet and modern medicines, libraries, parks and clean beaches.

None of the goods provided through government come free. They must be paid for, and the fairest way we have found to pay these costs is to tax everyone at a “reasonable” rate. I realize there are great differences regarding what is “reasonable,”and that our existing tax system has many injustices, but that does not mean we can simply say no more taxes, or suggest as Rand does that taxation is theft. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

Rand puts forward the libertarian principle that no social purpose justifies forcing an individual to be a resource for another. In other words, taxation for the public good is wrong. There is no recognition that her heroes in Atlas Shrugged are rich and powerful and thus are able to dictate the terms on which others work for them; in other words they can “force” their workers to become a resource for them. Thus libertarianism has, at its core, a fundamental contradiction. Coercion by government is bad; but coercion by the rich and powerful “producers” is good.

The rich and powerful also rely on society for many of the goods of civilization, which are created through the cooperative efforts of all. Despite the arguments of Rand and the libertarians none of us can opt out of our need for society and its governing institutions.

Although most people agree that certain items such as airports, roads, bridges, armies, a legal system, must be socialized because no individual could buy these items due to cost and the requirement that their uses be shared, there is often disagreement as to what goods should be paid for by the public at large, socialized if you will, and what goods should be purchased by individuals in the market, e.g. privatized. Clearly many things are best handled in a market where individual buyers and sellers agree on goods and prices, for example, groceries, iPads, an automobile, the latest in fashion shoes or suits.

There is also a middle ground where sometimes we provide a good privately and sometimes publicly depending upon the area served, for example electric power. It is provided by shareholder owned, though heavily regulated utilities, as well as municipal utilities which, interestingly, are far less regulated.

We are still debating the best way to handle health care. We don’t even agree if everyone should have access to adequate health care. Most of our health care is provided through a market-like system that is largely controlled by insurance companies. If you are rich or well-insured, you get access to the best care the world can offer. If you lack money or insurance, you may get government supported Medicaid or emergency services at a public hospital. You are also more likely to die from a treatable illness.

The services that can only be provided by society as a whole, must be paid for. These payments are called taxes. They are not “theft” -- they are essential for our long-term survival.


Rand and other libertarians argue that markets are, and must be, “free.” Yet no market has ever existed without rules and referees, any more than you can have a football game without rules and referees. In the earliest markets in small, lightly populated villages, the rules were usually set by social custom. Someone who cheated would be ostracized, even exiled, if they did not pay back the person they had cheated and promise not to do it again.

As markets became larger and more regional, for example in the Middle Ages in Europe, guilds of tradesmen were organized to set rules regarding quality and prices. As the modern industrialized world emerged, a variety of abuses threatened its development. The muckrakers of the early 20th century exposed dreadful practices in food, meat-packing and patent medicines. Monopolies in railroads threatened the livelihoods of farmers and small towns. Other monopolies threatened competition and the market itself. Financial panics and depressions demonstrated the need to regulate banks and the stock market. Thus regulations at the state and federal level were instituted, not to destroy the markets but to make them viable and acceptable.

Granted, some of the rules were badly drawn; some gave special advantages to powerful interests; there was conflict among competing regulations and some of them were plain silly. None of this, however, negates the need for “rules of the road,” though ongoing reform is essential. Technical innovations, new knowledge, better ways of organizing production may require adjustments, but without regulation the thieves and thugs take over – witness the end of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Even what appears to be the most unregulated market today –street corner sales of heroin – has its own rules and regulations. These are largely informal, but the rules are strictly enforced, largely with guns. Violators face severe punishment, often death.

What This Means

Rand and her acolytes seem not to have looked at the human condition. Every business is a social system, and the values that bind humans together are necessary if the business is to thrive and prosper. Every community is a social system that requires humans to work together and cooperate.

Ultimately Randian libertarianism becomes what it is a reaction against. Rand hated communist collectivism in which everyone worked for and was directed by the state. In Rand's world we all become servants of the financial elites, the collectivism of power combined with corporatism.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hypocrisy of the Week - Six Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Republicans Are Wasting Your Taxes On

Hypocrisy of the Week - Six Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Republicans Are Wasting Your Taxes On

They rode into power on a wave of conservative populism, vowing to rein in spending, slash deficits (remember how the Tea Partiers swore they weren't focusing on those “wedge” social issues anymore?), and above all, restore our fealty to the Constitution, a document they claim to hold an almost religious reverence for.

Then, in a development as easy to predict as the sun rising in the east, they set themselves to passing outrageous legislation designed to appeal to their far-right base – much of it legislation that, on its face, is blatantly unconstitutional. And passing gimmicky, unconstitutional laws isn't free – under federal law, states can be ordered to pay the fees of the lawyers who bring winning civil rights suits against them, so they usually end up picking up the tab for both sides of the litigation when they lose.

Arizona has already spent $1.5 million defending SB 1070, the so-called "papers, please" law, but with several suits ongoing, that's just the beginning. According to the Arizona Capital Times, "more than 251 attorneys have worked on more than a half dozen lawsuits against the bill, and the federal courts hearing the cases have received more than 2,000 filings and 56 amicus briefs." Arizona may face a huge legal bill at the end of the road, but the good news for Governor Jan Brewer is that anti-immigration hardliners across the country have donated millions to a special fund to help defray the state's costs.

But that's not the case in South Dakota, which had raised less than $20,000 through the end of March for a similar fund to defend its latest abortion restrictions, according to the Rapid City Journal. The state's Attorney General estimated that defending the law could cost South Dakota up to $4.1 million if it loses, including $1.7 million in legal fees for Planned Parenthood. That's nothing new; according to RH Reality Check, "the state is still in the process of defending its last unconstitutional anti-abortion bill...The 2005 law, which is still being heard in the 8th circuit, has currently run up $1.7 million just in attorney’s fees for Planned Parenthood..."

The costs of violating citizens' rights can really add up. And yet, after promising to slash government spending, conservatives in a dozen state houses across the country are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court. In some cases, they believe they might get an activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn decades of precedent and support their laws, but in others they're simply prepared to waste millions of tax dollars to litigate wacky legislation that has zero chance of being upheld.

Here then are six seemingly unconstitutional state laws proposed or passed in recent months. You might want to don a tricorner hat while enjoying them.

1. Anti-Sharia Laws

According to Mother Jones, five states have banned “Sharia law” and another 11 (!) are “working on it.” Aside from the fact that, for the non-crazy among us, there is no discrete legal code known as Sharia law, the other problems with these measures are the establishment and free exercise clauses of the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.

There are various schools of Sharia, but all represent a code of personal conduct followed by Muslims. That makes it extra sticky to define a “Sharia organization,” as evidenced by a proposal in Tennessee that would have criminalized two or more Muslims joining together for prayers. After coming under ridicule in the national media, Adam Serwer reports that the bill's sponsors “altered” their proposal, “eliminating all references to sharia from the bill.” It is now, ostensibly, an “anti-terrorism” measure, which, according to Serwer, remains just as constitutionally sketchy.

For starters, the bill would authorize the Tennessee governor and attorney general to unilaterally designate purely domestic entities as "terrorist organizations," freezing their assets and criminalizing interaction with those groups as "material support for terrorism." Designated groups are offered no opportunity to challenge designations prior to them being made. Violent domestic groups such as the mob, the KKK, or the Aryan Nations are typically dealt with through the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. Tennessee already has its own RICO bill. The new Tennessee bill doesn't require criminal charges as part of designation. For that reason, not only is the bill unnecessary in terms of neutralizing genuine criminal activity--it raises serious First Amendment and due process issues.

2. Abortion Bills Conflicting with Roe

Less humorous are a spate of anti-abortion bills that fly in the face of the Supreme Court's longstanding view that the Constitution grants a “right to privacy” pertaining to such matters as abortion. These are not designed merely to pander to the base, but to restrict abortions to a degree that they become effectively impossible to obtain.

Those pushing the bills understand that the pro-choice community is rightly apprehensive of trying these cases before a Supreme Court with five conservative Catholic justices. So, they are designed to put their opponents in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation; they can accept ever greater limits on women's access to reproductive health services, or they can try their luck in front of the Supreme Court and risk seeing Roe v. Wade overturned altogether.

According to Roe, states can regulate – and even ban – abortions after “viability” (with exceptions for cases in which the mother's life is at risk), which the court has established at 23-24 weeks into a pregnancy. But last week, based on some awful junk science suggesting that non-sentient clumps of cells experience “fetal pain,” Minnesota's legislature banned abortions after 20 weeks. Democratic Governor Mark Dayton is expected to veto the measure, but similar bans have been passed in six other states, according to Melissa Harris-Perry.

3. Nullification Laws

We've seen truthers, birthers, deathers and then there are the tenthers, who believe that states can simply opt-out of any federal law that isn't explicitly included in the Constitution. They've used it to pass – or propose – laws opting out of everything from hate crimes legislation to health-care reform. Yes, they're partying like it's 1861!

The big problem here is that the Constitution grants the power to mediate conflicts between the states and the federal government to the Supreme Court, and on all of the issues tenthers are focused, the court has ruled that the federal laws are indeed the law of the land.

In a nutshell, the 10th Amendment reserves powers not spelled out in the Constitution to the states, but the "supremacy clause" in article 6 and the "necessary and proper" and commerce clauses in article 1 have been interpreted to give the federal government the power to regulate just about everything the tenthers don't like!

More detail can be found in this analysis by Ian Millhiser.

4. States Regulating Immigration

Again, the courts have long held, under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, that when a state law conflicts with a federal law, the former is, in the words of Justice John Paul Stevens writing for the majority in a 2008 case, “without effect.” The federal government has argued, and won, a whole slew of cases based on federal immigration laws trumping competing legislation passed by the states.

In fact, as I noted last year, the courts have held that the government has exclusive domain over immigration law dating back to the 1880s. The National Immigration Law Center summarized those early decisions like this:

In a series of cases in the late nineteenth century upholding provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Supreme Court described the federal immigration power in sweeping terms, as a plenary power not subject to normal judicial restraints. In subsequent decisions the Court has repeatedly confirmed Congress’s full and exclusive authority over immigration. State and local laws that attempt to regulate immigration violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and are therefore preempted by federal law.

Later, in the 1940 case Hines v. Davidowitz, the court struck down a Pennsylvania law that would have criminalized “aliens” who failed to carry state registration cards. The Supreme Court held that “Whatever power a State may have to restrict, limit, regulate and register aliens as a distinct group, is subject to the national legislative and treaty-making powers.” The justices found that the federal government had enacted “a comprehensive and integrated scheme for the regulation of aliens,” which “precludes the enforcement of state alien registration Acts such as that adopted by Pennsylvania.”

Arguably the most definitive decision came in the 1976 ruling in De Canas v. Bica. In that case, a California law that prohibited employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers was upheld by the court specifically because they found it was aimed not at regulating immigration, but at setting employment standards within the state. The case resulted in three tests to determine whether a local ordinance was preempted by federal law:

1. Constitutional preemption: Is the state or locality attempting to regulate immigration?

2. Field preemption: Did Congress intend to occupy the field and oust state or local power?

3. Conflict preemption: Does the state or local law stand as an obstacle to or conflict with federal law, making compliance with both the state and federal law impossible?

A state statute or local ordinance that fails any one of these three tests is unconstitutional, and therefore invalid. Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, is the subject of multiple suits costing the cash-strapped state millions to defend. SB 1070 explicitly states that the purpose of the law is to make “attrition through enforcement the public policy” of Arizona. “Attrition by enforcement” is the preferred policy of the xenophobic Tom Tancredo wing of the conservative movement, but it clearly contradicts federal immigration policy. Right-wing lawmakers tried and failed to make it the law of the land in 2005.

Florida, Georgia and Alabama are all considering copy-cat laws, according to the New York Times.

5. Don't Say This or That Laws

Guess what? Nowhere in the First Amendment does it say, you have the right to free speech, “except for those living in the deep South.”

Yet Florida's legislature has passed a law barring physicians from asking patients if there is a firearm present in their home. An earlier version of the bill, subtly called “Don't Ask,” would have made it a felony, but that was apparently too crazy even for Florida.

Not to be outdone, the Tennessee Senate passed a law this week that “would forbid public school teachers and students in grades kindergarten through eight from discussing the fact that some people are gay.” The “Don't Say 'Gay'” law prompted George Takei, of Star Trek fame, to offer his own name to be used as a proxy.

6. Financial 'Martial Law'

Also in the less funny category is Michigan governor Rick Snyder's “financial martial law” legislation, which allows him to appoint “emergency financial managers” authorized to take over local municipalities. It empowers them, among other things, to “reject, modify, or terminate one or more terms and conditions of an existing collective bargaining agreement.”

Typical war on unions stuff, yet as Think Progress noted, it's also pretty obviously unconstitutional:

There’s a pretty serious problem with this power grab, however — invoking it would violate the Constitution. The Constitution forbids state laws “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” This provision provides a robust limit on a state’s ability to dissolve contracts between the government and a private party. As the Supreme Court explained in United States Trust Co. v. New Jersey, state laws impairing such contracts must be “reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.”

The consequences of Snyder’s actions could be stark. If a state is free to break contracts whenever they feel like it, than no one will agree to do business with the state. Investors will refuse to buy the state’s bonds, and state contractors will demand all payments upfront out of fear that the state will accept their work and then tear up the contract requiring the workers to be paid. Creditors will charge the state enormous interest rates to secure against the risk that the state will just waive its hand and make its obligation to repay go away.

Bad, Costly, Ideologically Driven 'Governance'

As I've argued in the past, conservatives have come to use the word “unconstitutional” to mean any policy they don't like. One might argue that progressives have ceded that ground to them, but all of these issues speak to the beauty of that document, which places a hard limit on what ideologues can do when they get a little bit of power.

Of course, these are all pathetic exercises in “governance,” but, barring some very egregious judicial activism – not out of the question with this Supreme Court – these silly and dangerous laws will not stand.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America).
In the 2010 mid-term elections Republicans mainly campaigned on a platform to create jobs. No job creation can be found in their legislative agenda, but there are obviously lots of unconstitutional attacks on state and federal laws, and individual rights. After blowing up the economy from 2000 to 2008 conservatives swore they had learned their lesson. They would now be better guardians of the public's money. Now they're spending the public's money to pursue crazy legislation. So once again, conservatives have learned nothing. Possessed by their manic need to micromanage every personal freedom and keep power in the hands of the financial elite they have lost any shreds of decency and respect for Americans and American traditions of fairness and honor.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) Crazy or Really Wants to Destroy The American Middle-class

Is Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) Crazy or Really Wants to Destroy The American Middle-class

Several Congressional Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), have posited that failing to raise the debt ceiling — and thus forcing the U.S. to default on some of its obligations — would not be bad for the economy. “I don’t think it’s going to have an adverse impact on the economy for the days or weeks or perhaps even months that this would continue,” Toomey said.

These “default deniers” don’t believe that failing to raise the debt ceiling would have the negative consequences that most economic analysts say it will. Radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh even said yesterday that failing to raise the debt ceiling will improve the nation’s creditworthiness.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), though, believes that default would cause a “crisis.” But, as he told Politico, he actively wants it to happen anyway:

Nunes says the debt cap must be raised at some point but not necessarily before the point of default.

“By defaulting on the debt, in the short and long term, it could benefit us to go through a period of crisis that forces politicians to make decisions” on major policies that affect the budget, he told POLITICO.

The GOP has been playing chicken with the debt ceiling for months, but Nunes is now advocating outright default and all of the consequences such a default would bring. As Princeton Professor Alan Blinder noted in the Wall Street Journal this morning, the U.S. defaulting on its obligations could eventually “reignite the world financial crisis”:

Should it occur, the consequences could be severe. It might, for example, reignite the world financial crisis. Remember how rattled financial markets became last year when it looked like Greece might default? And that was just little Greece and the possibility of default. An actual default by the mightiest nation on Earth would be immeasurably more unsettling. Where, in such a case, would frightened investors run to hide? The U.S. dollar would be among the first casualties. If hot money were to flee what was once its safest haven, the dollar would sink and U.S. interest rates would rise. The latter could lead us back into recession.

There would also be lasting costs to the U.S. government in the form of higher interest rates…How much? Again, no one can know. But even if it’s as little as 10-20 basis points on the U.S. government’s average borrowing cost, that’s an additional $10 billion to $20 billion in interest expenses every year. Seems like an expensive way to score a political point

Bank of America analysts agreed, noting that not raising the debt ceiling “would likely push the U.S. into recession and drag down the stock market.”
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) like many of his proto-fascist friends on the far Right just believes defaulting will be a good thing. With bizarre assertions that it will force politicians to "think". Nunes and his party ran up the largest debt in US history and did nothing to rise revenue. A decision that will haunt America for decades. Was that the kind of thinking Nunes and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) have in mind.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is It True Nancy Pelosi(D-CA) Used Influence To Get Certain Businesses Obamacare Waivers?

Is It True Nancy Pelosi(D-CA) Used Influence To Get Certain Businesses ObamaCare Waivers?

Yesterday the latest DC right-wing rag posing as journalism, the Daily Caller printed a thinly-veiled accusation against Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, implying that she had used her influence to secure waivers of the Affordable Care Act for "fancy eateries, hip nightclubs and decadent hotels" in her district.

Republicans, of course, seized on the story, and Daily Caller followed up with a second story for their reaction. "It looks like ObamaCare’s backroom sweetheart deals didn’t end when it became law," Michael Steel, House Speaker John Boehner spokesman told the Daily Caller. Within hours, however, HuffPo's Sam Stein debunked the story.

WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) played no role in the process by which health care waivers were granted to a number of businesses in her district, according to the company that actually requested the waivers on behalf of its clients.

Flex-Plan Services, a third-party benefits administrator based in Bellevue, Wash., made the formal applications for waivers from President Barack Obama's health care law, said it founder, Hilarie Aitken.

"I don’t tend to vote Democratic, but I feel bad for Nancy Pelosi," Aitken told HuffPost. "She’s really being thrown under the bus here. It has nothing to do with her at all. This was just a political power play. The way that they are shaping this—that the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, [is behind] all these waivers being granted, and how could she do this—it’s all slanted and wrong....

In actuality, Aitken explained, the high percentage of waivers is the byproduct of local law rubbing against the new national legislation. In April 2008, San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring employers to spend a minimum amount per hour on health care for their employees who work in the city. In response, a number of eateries chose to set up Health Reimbursement Arrangements, which are essentially pools of funds set aside by employers to reimburse medical expenses paid by employees.

HRAs are serviced by a third-party administrator or plan service provider. They are also subject to the annual limit provision in the national health care law, which is set at $750,000 in 2011 before it is eliminated fully in 2014.

Like many self-insurance policies and union organizations, employers using HRAs have been applying for a waiver from this provision, arguing that application of the requirements would "completely eliminate the benefit" of setting up the HRA in the first place, Flex-Plan Services said. When they do so, they turn not to lawmakers like Pelosi or to the employers themselves, but to third-party administers like Aitken's company. (And, as she hinted, political donations by Flex-Plan have leaned Republican, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics.)

Once again, it appears that the facts have a liberal bias, but the Daily Caller isn't going to let facts get in the way of a good smear.
The Daily Caller is another right-wing conservative rag set up by sleaze-bag Tucker Carlson. Just what the nation needs another outlet for Republican lies. The whole idea behind these sites, radio and television programs is to overwhelm the masses with disinformation with the hope that some of it sticks. Why is lying an institutionalized part of the anti-American movement known as conservatism? Because they cannot win based on the facts.

Fox's "Straight News" Anchor Martha MacCallum Regularly Advocates GOP Positions

Fox News defends its credibility as a legitimate news outlet by claiming that there is a dividing line between its news and opinion programming. Purported "straight news" anchor Martha MacCallum, however, has a long record of echoing GOP talking points to advocate for conservative policies.
Fox is kind of joke in claiming they are a "news" organization. They can't even report on the weather without adding in some far Right conservative talking point.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Corrupt Republican of the Week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) Bails Out ‘American Dream’ Mall Boondoggle With $400 Million

Corrupt Republican of the Week New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) Bails Out ‘American Dream’ Mall Boondoggle With $400 Million

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has made a name for himself as a “strict fiscal conservative,” by slashing spending. The governor has championed budget cuts that eliminated hundreds of millons of dollars in education funding and is now taking aim at public workers, wanting to instate cutbacks that could almost quadruple health care costs for public workers.

Yet there appears to be one project that Christie does not mind subsidizing to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. For years, a group of developers have been building the Xanadu Meadowlands complex, a massive retail and entertainment complex — complete with indoor water park, skating rink, and 600-foot ski slope — that has been under construction for the past three governors. Yet despite $1.9 billion being spent on the project with little progress, Christie recently struck a deal with the company that built the Mall of America to rescue the project, at huge taxpayer expense.

Late last month, the deal was announced and Xanadu was renamed the American Dream @ Meadowlands. As a part of the deal, Christie will have the state up to $200 million in financing and will also forfeit a similar amount of sales tax revenue:

Though the Christie administration has criticized Xanadu, once calling it a “failed business model,” and the governor said he was uncomfortable getting the state involved in private development, the state would provide $180 million to $200 million in low-interest financing and forfeit a similar amount in future sales-tax revenue. The administration has argued that the project is too big and too far along to let it lie fallow.

“At a time when the governor has taken money from renewable energy and schools, he’s bailing out an ugly mall,” said the Sierra Club’s Jeff Tittel, who is critical of the deal. Christie has defended the investment, saying the mall will “become what it was envisioned to be: an extraordinary destination. It’s getting a makeover, a new name, a new image…and we’ll make sure the sales tax revenue comes back to make this a successful project, get our investment back with responsible partners that we can trust.”

Yet even if Christie does think the boondoggle project — which has been in endlessly in construction since 2003 — will actually pay off in the end, one has to wonder why he feels like the mall is a valuable investment for the state’s taxpayers, but not schools, hard-working middle class public employees, or women’s health or the Hudson Tunnel.
While it is not unusual for governors to favor certain business projects Christie's corruption and hypocrisy are blatant. The state of New Jersey cannot afford good education, cannot afford health care for those who keep the state's infrastructure up and running and cannot afford a tunnel project that would bring millions in state revenue - yet Christie can afford to finance some boondoggle mall project. Christie is sadi to be constantly called upon by the Republican National Committee to run for president. One can see why, he has the same kind of priorities George W. Bush had. Christie thinks with his gut or his bank account rather than his head and heart.

Jon Stewart to Bill O’Reilly: Fox News is a ‘selective outrage machine’. If the cultural issue is crude, but right-wing conservatives approve of the crudeness than it gets a pass. Republicans are not so much guardians of values as guardians of free speech for them and no one else.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Republicans Are Using The Great Recession As An Excuse to Assault Middle-class

Republicans Are Using The Great Recession As An Excuse to Assault Middle-class, State Budget Battles are about More than Cutting Deficits

Earlier this year, people across the country were riveted to the politics of Wisconsin. Claiming to address the state's budget crisis, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed eliminating the right of public workers to unionize. Wisconsin's citizens immediately took to the streets in massive protests — only to see the union-busting legislation pushed through by the state senate in a late-night surprise vote. Although Madison's capitol building is now cleared and most of the news teams have bolted, the issue of public unions is far from over in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, it has just begun for the rest of the country.

The dire budgetary situations many states find themselves in are real problems, and they require real solutions. But some state leaders are proposing "solutions" that are forcing social policy shifts and making political power plays that will do nothing to reduce deficits.

In Wisconsin, Walker proposed one such non-solution: revoking the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Citing an urgent need to compensate for Wisconsin's $140 million budget shortfall (which he helped create by handing enormous tax giveaways to corporations), Walker seized his opportunity to vilify and weaken his political opponents, ultimately to the benefit of the wealthy corporate interests that supported his campaign.

The governor completely blindsided Wisconsinites. Scott Walker didn't campaign on a platform of dissolving public unions. How could he have? Imagine, on the campaign trail, a politician telling the custodian at your child's school, the police officers and firefighters keeping your community safe, or the nurses at the county hospital that he or she, if elected the chief of all public workers in the state, doesn't value their right to earn a fair wage and work in a safe environment? Or campaigning on a plan to swiftly eliminate protections for that right without even achieving meaningful deficit relief? It's clear that such a proposal wouldn't have been warmly received at town-hall meetings.

A similar situation unfolded in Ohio, where teachers who were willing to make extensive concessions were nevertheless ignored in Gov. John Kasich's power grab. Michigan has imposed a full-scale assault on democracy by passing a law allowing Gov. Rick Snyder to declare any city or school system to be in a state of financial emergency. Snyder gets to install unelected, unaccountable managers with absolute control to eliminate contracts or privatize services at all state agencies and in any city he chooses.

One could hardly conceive of a more efficient way to transfer the public's resources into a few private hands.

What's going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Michigan serves as a prime example of the corporate elite's vision for America. The assaults on middle-class Americans are spreading rapidly. Similar union-busting schemes are underway in states across the country, including Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire, Idaho, Iowa, and Florida, with still more states likely to become targets.

The debate isn't about fiscal crises. It's about who holds the power in state government. It's about making the middle class pay for tax cuts for giant corporations, because giant corporations have more money to spend on lobbying and elections. But Americans understand that a person's political power shouldn't be proportionate to the size of his or her bank account.

Wisconsin's working families aren't alone in their demand to have a voice in the political process that affects them so significantly. The pro-corporate power plays in Ohio and Michigan also drew thousands of demonstrators. Efforts to recall both Walker and complicit GOP state legislators in Wisconsin are underway. A referendum on the union-busting legislation is in progress in Ohio. We're seeing strong pushback in Michigan as well.

As long as corporations and special interests have the ear of those in power, Americans will be at risk of having their rights trampled on for the benefit of wealthy elites. But as the patriots in the Midwest have shown, the American people will not stand idly by and just let it happen.

Michael B. Keegan is president of People For the American Way.
One of the biggest and most often told lies in US history is that conservative Republican are for small government and freedom. Whenever they have the power, at the state or federal level, they increase the power of government and diminish the power of individual Americans.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Texas Leads The Nation, Shows America What Smiley Faced Fascism Looks Like

Texas Leads The Nation, Shows America What Smiley Faced Fascism Looks Like

On the muggy afternoon of Tax Day, state Representative Mike Villarreal hurried into his House Ways and Means Committee meeting, running late. One of the few rising stars in the Texas Democratic Party, which was swamped in November by a Tea Party tsunami, the 39-year-old from San Antonio is known as that rarest of beasts at the Capitol: a thoughtful, progressive policy wonk. Even at the best of times, the Texas Legislature—which Molly Ivins aptly called “the national laboratory for bad government”—is a lonely and frustrating place for the likes of Villarreal. But this session, which kicked off in January with news of a $23 billion budget shortfall for the next biennium, has been downright mind-boggling.

Two weeks earlier, Villarreal and his Democratic colleagues had protested in vain as the House passed perhaps the most radical state budget bill in US history. The Tea Party–mad chamber voted to balance the ledger without raising revenues, axing $23 billion from current spending levels—about one-fourth of the state’s current spending, and some of the deepest cuts contemplated anywhere in the country. Spending cuts to public schools, already among the nation’s most poorly funded, could mean some 100,000 teacher layoffs, pre-K programs decimated and schools closed. Huge cuts to Medicaid could push an estimated 60,000 senior citizens out of their nursing homes. “We’re already as a state fiftieth in per capita spending,” said another young San Antonio Democrat, Representative Joaquin Castro. “So you’ve got to ask yourself…at what point is this budget akin to asking an anorexic person to lose more weight?” Hundreds of citizens gave impassioned testimony about the mental health and home healthcare programs, and the drug rehabilitation, juvenile justice and early education efforts that were about to be gutted. The situation was so dire that one conservative Republican came to ask for his taxes to be raised. David Walker, the county attorney in the conservative Houston suburbs of Montgomery County, testified that his county had just built a treatment center to divert mentally ill offenders from jail. “If there must be budget cuts, let’s not cut human beings,” he said. “My Lord Jesus tells me, ‘What you do unto the least of my brethren, you do unto me.’….If it means raising taxes, then raise mine first.” But no amount of logic or moral suasion could derail the government-shrinking train.

At Ways and Means, Villarreal walked into a more tranquil scene. An amiable chat was well under way between the committee members and lobbyists representing luxury yacht owners, who had come to discuss a tax break on boats selling for more than $250,000. This was urgently needed, the lobbyists were explaining, because Florida had recently undercut Texas’ tax rates on luxury vessels, and rich Texans were now docking there to save money. “I truly believe in my heart that Texas is a big boat territory,” said Jim Hedges of Lone Star Yacht Sales, “but because we haven’t been progressive in our laws most of the buyers of large vessels have chosen other places to keep these boats.”

“It doesn’t take much to get over $250,000 anymore,” a Republican from Wichita Falls said, empathizing with the yacht industry’s plight.

According to my Texas Observer colleague Forrest Wilder, who witnessed the proceedings, ominous murmurs began to circulate in the hearing room from members of the public who’d come to testify on other matters. Finally, Villarreal sorted out what was happening and said what was on all their minds: “So this bill is a tax break for mega-yacht owners? I feel like I just walked through the Twilight Zone.”

Villarreal mockingly grilled John Davis, the Houston Republican who’d proposed the yacht break. “Have you considered turning this into an omnibus bill, and including limousines and fur coats and other luxury items? Because you know, we haven’t cut education enough this session, and there apparently aren’t enough nursing homes on the verge [of closing]. What else can we do to bleed the state?”

* * *

It was a desperate cry for sanity in a session that, even by the standards of the Texas Capitol, was setting new standards for irresponsible governance. The madness began on January 10. On the day before thirty new right-wing Republican representatives were sworn in, the state comptroller announced the whoppingest budget shortfall in state history.

The fiscal crisis caught most Texans unawares. For the better part of a decade, they’d had their collective egos puffed up by BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, The Economist and CNBC proclaiming Texas as the economic miracle of the nation. Governor Rick Perry, a friend and disciple of Grover Norquist, had just won re-election by extolling the wonders wrought by tax-cutting, deregulation and the aggressive courting of jobs from higher-tax states like California, Michigan and Illinois. “There is still a land of opportunity, friends—it’s called Texas,” Perry said last year as he cruised to victory. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation….Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

In the ten years since George W. Bush swaggered away to Washington, Perry has been the chief mad scientist in Texas’ bad-government lab, seizing every opportunity to gut social spending, pander to the culture-warriors and enrich his high-rolling corporate sponsors. In 2003, with a conservative legislature feloniously purchased by Tom DeLay and associates, Perry led a revolution to deregulate, privatize and tort-reform nearly everything. “Texas is open for business,” his campaign happily proclaimed when the dust had settled.

Three years later, with the lawmakers deadlocked over a school finance plan that would somehow meet State Supreme Court standards, Perry engineered a massive “tax swap,” slashing property taxes and replacing them with a modest business tax that left the state with a $5 billion annual “structural deficit” going forward—and a handy excuse to keep cutting programs to make budgets balance.

This year, when the massive debt was announced, Perry’s right-wing allies could not contain their glee. “The bottom line is there are no excuses now,” exclaimed Republican Senator Dan Patrick, a talk-radio host and founder of the Tea Party Caucus. “It’s a perfect storm, in a positive way, for conservatism.” In his inaugural speech, David Dewhurst, three-term lieutenant governor, turned it into a cheer: “We pronounce the word C-R-I-S-I-S as ‘opportunity.’”

In pep talks to the House and Senate, Perry poked endless fun at worrywarts like Villarreal and Castro, calling them the “doom and gloom crowd.” Nobody was getting hurt by a little $23 billion spending reduction, he insisted. “As Texans, we will always take care of the least among our population,” the governor said. But just in case people got stirred up over the cuts, Perry quickly rolled out a series of sure-to-be-controversial “emergency items” to distract attention. In Texas, the governor can dictate the top-priority items for legislative sessions, the only measures that can be passed during the first sixty days of the 140-day sessions that take place every other year. Perry chose well: he called for outlawing nonexistent “sanctuary cities” and “voter fraud,” and requiring invasive sonogram procedures and twenty-four-hour waiting periods before abortions.

“Texas is going to shrink government until it fits in a woman’s uterus,” quipped Democratic Senator Leticia Van de Putte.

In Rick Perry’s Texas, problems with state government exist to be exploited, not solved. That’s what has turned Texas, during his record ten years in office, into a national beacon for antigovernment conservatives, a large-scale model village for Norquist economics. “Texas,” Paul Krugman wrote in January, “is where the modern conservative theory of budgeting—the belief that you should never raise taxes under any circumstances, that you can always balance the budget by cutting wasteful spending—has been implemented most completely.”

Praises for the Texas Model have been warbled by just about every leading advocate of tiny government. “Texas can serve as a pro-business, anti-waste model that could be replicated across the country,” Newt Gingrich wrote in the Financial Times. As the 2009 Texas Legislature galloped out of Austin, Fox News’s Neil Cavuto interviewed a triumphant Governor Perry, trumpeting Texas’ fiscal marvels. At the bottom of the screen, the scroll read: Texas Cuts Taxes; Still Balances Budget and Socks Away $9 Bil. Nobody spread the gospel more enthusiastically than Perry himself, who has traveled widely as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “We come here with a message of optimism,” he said at the Nasdaq’s closing bell in October 2009, “with word that there is still a place where jobs are welcome, where taxes are low, regulations are predictable and frivolous lawsuits a rare occurrence. That place is Texas.”

But while Perry has been building that “economic miracle,” he’s been sandbagging the state’s ability to provide decent social services or schools or healthcare—and crippling the economic future in the process. Under George W. Bush and most of his gubernatorial predecessors, Texas public schools were bad. Under Perry, they’re positively Mississippian. It makes little sense that for all of Texas’ abundant wealth and corporate bling, the state would rank thirty-eighth in per student spending, forty-fifth in SAT scores, third in teen pregnancies and dead last in the percentage of adults with high school diplomas. “Texas is setting a new standard by setting new lows,” says East Texas blogger Susan DuQuesnay Bankston.

Although the state, as Perry often reminds his listeners, has added far more jobs than any other state in recent years, it has also added far more minimum-wage jobs—no surprise, with companies relocating mostly to save taxes, not to find a skilled and educated workforce.

“If you wanted to destroy an enemy,” says former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby, a Democrat, “you would do exactly what the Republicans are doing to the State of Texas.”

The shortsightedness of the wholesale budget cuts isn’t limited to children’s healthcare access (where Texas ranks last) or schools. In the draft state budget, community mental health centers faced up to a 40 percent cut in funding. “These cuts are basically going to cost-shift onto the counties and cities and the hospital districts,” says Leon Evans, who runs San Antonio’s Center for Health Care Services. “These people will end up in jail or emergency rooms or homeless on the street. Why wouldn’t you fund a cost-effective treatment alternative to improve the public safety net and save taxpayers’ dollars? Why wouldn’t you do that?”

Partly, says Stuart Greenfield, former systems analyst for the Texas comptroller, it’s because so many Texans have drunk the Norquist Kool-Aid and believe government has no role to play. “All that is required, they think, is hard work and strong family values, and that government only interferes with one’s ability to achieve that.”

That mentality has made government-by-tax-cutting possible. But now, write Joe Wiesenthal and Gus Lubin in Business Insider, the recklessness of that approach has caught up with the Lone Star State. “Think of Texas as being like America’s Ireland,” they write. “Ireland was once praised as a model for economic growth: conservatives loved it for its pro-business, anti-tax, low-spending strategy, and hailed it as the way forward for all of Europe. Then it blew up.”

But the collapse of Texas’ illusory prosperity has not deterred the seventeen governors that Perry and the Republican Governors Association helped elect in November—including Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Scott of Florida—from taking their cues from Perry’s vaunted model. It’s especially handy as an excuse to gut labor laws, relax regulations and ax budgets. “If you look at the job creator over the last ten years, it’s been Texas,” Scott said shortly after his swearing-in. Walker, as he began his controversial governorship, joked with an audience of dairy businesses that he’d told Perry, “Look out, we’re coming after you.”

In his quest to replicate the Texas Model, Walker provoked a famously fierce backlash. Like Scott and Kasich, the governor of Wisconsin labors under a handicap Perry hasn’t faced: organized progressive and labor activists—and viable Democrats. Texas’ hell-raising liberal tradition disintegrated during the right-wing takeover that commenced in the 1990s. No Democrat has won a statewide office since 1994. With union members about as rare in Texas as PhDs, there was nobody to organize protests against the state’s dire budget cuts. Except for one large Save Texas Schools rally, which brought 11,000 to the Capitol in March, resistance has been scattered and ineffectual.

When Norquist paid Perry one of his frequent visits in March, he urged the governor to stand firm in the face of growing protests against drastic budget cuts. “Now is not the time to get wobbly,” he said outside a Dallas machine shop, while workers looked on quizzically. “Do more tort reform, more tax reduction, more spending restraint.”

Quoting “political philosopher Rahm Emanuel,” Norquist reminded Perry never to waste a crisis. “Sometimes the only way to get the bureaucracy to rethink what it’s doing is to tell them there’s a crisis,” he said. Perry nodded knowingly.

“I don’t think there is anything that is so important that [it] cannot be…reduced, or for that matter, eliminated,” Perry said, summing up his governing philosophy. The Texas Senate, feeling the heat from a growing outcry across the state, bucked the governor in April, passing a budget that outspent the radical House by $12 billion. (The differences will be worked out in conference committee, and probably in a special legislative session this summer.) The Senate’s budget still chopped $4 billion from public schools, $3 billion from Medicaid. But in the anti-tax climate of Texas, the senators sounded like they’d just proposed the New Deal. “This is a heroic effort,” said Republican Senator Kevin Eltife. “While this causes pain, it’s pain that’s bearable,” crowed Democrat Juan Hinojosa. Bearable pain versus unbearable pain: that’s what it’s come to in Texas.

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On Tax Day, while the “progressive” yacht bill was being considered, the state’s leading right-wing think tank celebrated its impending victory over government in exquisitely appropriate style: it launched the Laffer Center for Supply-Side Economics, in Austin. In a vast ballroom of the Four Seasons downtown, Governor Perry toasted Arthur Laffer, the discredited inventor of the Laffer Curve and voodoo economics. “Why do people even debate this anymore?” Perry said, throwing up his arms dramatically. “Why do you even debate supply-side economics anymore?”

After speaking in the hushed tones of a preacher imparting secret salvational wisdom, extolling the Texas Model—and mentioning the record budget shortfall only in passing—Perry insisted to his admiring audience, “I don’t try to sugarcoat what’s going on in this state. We’ve got our challenges.” He did not elaborate. Instead, his tone sharpened as he turned quickly to the real culprit for any problems existing in the Ayn Randian paradise that is Texas: “We have a federal government“—he spat out the word “government” with a contempt worthy of George Wallace—“that has created a monstrous debt. And there are men and women who daily make decisions about whether or not they are going to risk their capital, and because of the policies that Washington has put into place, they say, I don’t think so.” If only, as Perry and his admirers frequently say, the country would wise up and follow Texas’ lead en masse.

“At bottom, the struggle between national Republicans and Democrats is over whether the country will adopt a version of the Texas model, or of the Michigan, New York or California model,” Rich Lowry opined on the National Review website. “For policymakers wanting to restart the American jobs machine, forget the Alamo. Keep in mind the Texas model.”

Texas has long been as politically and culturally influential as California. If that’s not often recognized, it’s for a valid reason: the influence Texas exercises pulls other states backward. “People used to say that the future happens first in California,” Krugman writes, “but these days what happens in Texas is probably a better omen. And what we’re seeing right now is a future that doesn’t work.”

Not long ago, Bill Hobby, the former lieutenant governor, was marveling at the extremes to which the Texas Republicans have gone. “There’s an evil mutant gene in the Republican Party,” Hobby said. “I don’t know if there’s any cure for it. I guess you can only hope the disease runs its course before it kills the patient.” Or before it spreads too far.
What a great economic model. Texas and conservatives who worship that model (supply-side economics) reward wealth and punish the working class. No good schools means no getting ahead for yourself or your children. Without Medicaid families will have to pay to provide their grandparents nursing home costs. Something the rich can afford and the working class cannot. Texas also is one of the top states for violent crime. Studies have shown a direct link between low education ( Texas has a poor educational system and a large percentage of drop-outs) and high crime rates. This becomes a deeply embedded structural problem with each passing generation so Texas's high crime rate is here to stay. Texas does not fare well on per capita income. Most blue states like California have a higher per person income average.