Wednesday, July 01, 2015

A gentle reminder to Greece, the Ex-Im Bank, et al.: If your deadline was June 30, you're now past your deadline


But alas, it's not enough for the merchants of austerity.

by Ken

June 30, marking as it does the end of the first half of the calendar year, is a popular demarcation point for all sorts of things -- the end of many organizations' fiscal year and the end point for all sorts of other agreements. And since we've grown accustomed lately to kicking off the DWT day with news of the mess in Greece, let's start by remembering that yesterday was the deadline for its big, big, big IMF loan payment, and since there was no relevant agreement, and no whisper of another bailout, we can say that Greece is now officially in default.

However, does that tell us what's happening, or what's going to happen? Well, no, though it seems fair to say that there aren't a lot of organizations or countries with official standing that seem inclined to stick up for Greece. Meanwhile, everyone can stake out whatever position they like in answer to these questions, since we're in territory now where we've never been before. In Greece attention is focused on the referendum still scheduled for Sunday, where Greeks get to vote yes or no on, well, something -- presumably accepting or rejecting terms for remaining in the Euro Zone, though nobody quite knows what, short of making that scheduled payment, could actually keep Greece in the Euro Zone.

Or, for that matter, what exactly would be the straw that breaks the back of whatever needs to get broken to once and for all bring about Greek exist from the Euro Zone, which some economists continue to say would, despite the massive short-term hardships likely to result, offer at least some hope of allowing Greece to escape the chokehold of the predator-creditor class.

Never mind that Illinois and Puerto Rico are eerily close to being in the same situation. Here's some of what the NYT is reporting this morning about Greece, where the banks remain closed [UPDATE: no! this is what everyone has been reporting, but it turns out that the government ordered 1000 bank branches around the country to reopen today, to massive lines -- "to help desperate pensioners without ATM cards cash up to 120 euros ($134) from their retirement checks," according to the AP], though that shouldn't stop rich Greeks from sucking out any funds they haven't already sucked out of the country. (Okay, we're actually going to take a look at the situations in Illinois and Puerto Rico later today.)
Tsipras Signals Greece May Accept Bailout Terms

By Suzanne Daley and Niki Kitsantonis
July 1, 2015 caption: "Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece gave an interview on Monday night in Athens."

ATHENS — The Greek government has indicated to its creditors that it is willing to accept many of the terms of a bailout package that it had earlier rejected, if they are part of a broader deal to address the country’s funding needs for the next two years, officials said on Wednesday.

The development raised the prospect of progress in resolving a financial crisis that has sent shudders through global markets and deeply strained European unity.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to the creditors — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other eurozone countries — Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said Greece was “prepared to accept” a deal set out publicly over the weekend by the creditors, with small modifications to some of the central points of contention on issues like pension cuts and tax increases. Mr. Tsipras linked Greece’s acceptance of the terms to a new package of bailout aid that would need to be negotiated.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, declined to answer questions about Greece at a news briefing on Wednesday.

But finance ministers from the countries using the euro were scheduled to confer later on Wednesday to continue discussions on Greece. They had turned aside a last-minute plea for help Tuesday night from Greece. However, they had suggested that there were grounds for optimism about progress in getting negotiations back on track before a referendum scheduled for Sunday in Greece on whether to accept the terms being sought by the creditors. . . .


June 30 is, of course, a popular deadline, so today is the day after for a whole bunch of things, including the Export-Import Bank, which you'll recall is a major Right-Wing Hate. As of today, its charter is officially kaput, and in right-wing circles that counts as a win of sorts. Here's how Carl Hulse explains it in this morning's NYT "First Draft":
Republicans Notch a Win, if Temporary, Over Export-Import Bank caption: "Representative Jeb Hensarling has prevented the House banking committee from producing legislation on the Ex-Im Bank."

Conservatives declared victory on Tuesday after preventing the charter of the Export-Import Bank from being renewed before a June 30 deadline. But it was a peculiar sort of Washington win.

None of the bank’s 420 employees were expected to be furloughed for now. The reason? It needs to keep track of the $112 billion in outstanding loans and guarantees intended to lift exports.

What it won’t be doing is accepting loan applications or moving ahead on any of those that had not been approved before the deadline.

Backers of the bank expect to win the charter’s renewal in the fall. Still, those who portrayed the bank as a case study in “crony capitalism” can savor success — however short-lived — because they successfully blocked an extension of the charter for the first time in 80 years.

Federal agencies are hard to shut down, and they often narrowly escape such brinkmanship. Aware of the coming push for renewal, conservatives called on the bank to begin liquidating its assets and for Republican leaders to do what they can to preserve the win.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Would Bobby Jindal Appoint Ted Cruz To The Supreme Court?


Senators think the Supreme Court needs some fixin'

I never wanted to be in the military. Mindless regimentation and homogenization have never been up my alley. But when the LGBT community started advocating for the right to serve, I was a supporter. Anyone who feels that that is the way they want to serve should have that right-- and should be admired for it. 

Marriage is another societal institution that has never had any allure for me. I embraced the gay aspects of not having to subject myself to institutions that make you just like everyone else in part so that I would never fall into that abyss. I hope you can guess that the "Castro clone" phase of gay "liberation" didn't thrill me either. I've written at some length about this topic before, and that's not where I'm headed today.

Like all gay people (except, it appears, Senator Jim Inhofe's "lots of friends in the gay community") and most Americans, I was thrilled when the Supreme Court handed down the decision that enshrined marriage equality as the law of the land. Republican politicians were less thrilled. Many have already been using it to demagogue and raise money and push their candidacies. The GOP presidential hopefuls have all pretty much condemned the decision, some with more hysteria than others. Piyush Jindal was first out of the box, with his suggestion to abolish the Supreme Court. But when the right-wing propaganda sheet National Review wanted a big-name rightist to rail about the decision, they plunged right to the bottom of the barrel and came up with, arguably, the most vicious homophobe in the 2016 GOP Clown Car.

Ted Cruz says he has some remedies for the Court's "lawlessness." He wrote about "justices violating their judicial oaths" and undermining "the very foundations of our representative form of government." Both the marriage decision and the Court's decision upholding the ACA, he wrote, "were judicial activism, plain and simple. Both were lawless."
That is unacceptable. On the substantive front, I have already introduced a constitutional amendment to preserve the authority of elected state legislatures to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and also legislation stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction over legal assaults on marriage. And the 2016 election has now been transformed into a referendum on Obamacare; in 2017, I believe, a Republican president will sign legislation finally repealing that disastrous law.

But there is a broader problem: The Court’s brazen action undermines its very legitimacy. As Justice Scalia powerfully explained,
Hubris is sometimes defined as o’erweening pride; and pride, we know, goeth before the fall. . . . With each decision of ours that takes from the People a question properly left to them-- with each decision that is unabashedly based not on law, but on the “reasoned judgment” of a bare majority of this Court-- we move one step closer to being reminded of our impotence.
This must stop. Liberty is in the balance.

...The Framers of our Constitution, despite their foresight and wisdom, did not anticipate judicial tyranny on this scale. The Constitution explicitly provides that justices “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour,” and this is a standard they are not remotely meeting. The Framers thought Congress’s “power of instituting impeachments,” as Alexander Hamilton argued in the Federalist Papers, would be an “important constitutional check” on the judicial branch and would provide “a complete security” against the justices’ “deliberate usurpations of the authority of the legislature.”

But the Framers underestimated the justices’ craving for legislative power, and they overestimated the Congress’s backbone to curb it. It was clear even before the end of the founding era that the threat of impeachment was, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “not even a scarecrow” to the justices. Today, the remedy of impeachment-- the only one provided under our Constitution to cure judicial tyranny-- is still no remedy at all. A Senate that cannot muster 51 votes to block an attorney-general nominee openly committed to continue an unprecedented course of executive-branch lawlessness can hardly be expected to muster the 67 votes needed to impeach an Anthony Kennedy.

The time has come, therefore, to recognize that the problem lies not with the lawless rulings of individual lawless justices, but with the lawlessness of the Court itself. The decisions that have deformed our constitutional order and have debased our culture are but symptoms of the disease of liberal judicial activism that has infected our judiciary. A remedy is needed that will restore health to the sick man in our constitutional system.

Rendering the justices directly accountable to the people would provide such a remedy. Twenty states have now adopted some form of judicial retention elections, and the experience of these states demonstrates that giving the people the regular, periodic power to pass judgment on the judgments of their judges strikes a proper balance between judicial independence and judicial accountability. It also restores respect for the rule of law to courts that have systematically imposed their personal moral values in the guise of constitutional rulings. The courts in these states have not been politicized by this check on their power, nor have judges been removed indiscriminately or wholesale. Americans are a patient, forgiving people. We do not pass judgment rashly.

...As a constitutional conservative, I do not make this proposal lightly. I began my career as a law clerk to Chief Justice William Rehnquist-- one of our nation’s greatest chief justices-- and I have spent over a decade litigating before the Supreme Court. I revere that institution, and have no doubt that Rehnquist would be heartbroken at what has befallen our highest court.

But, sadly, the Court’s hubris and thirst for power have reached unprecedented levels. And that calls for meaningful action, lest Congress be guilty of acquiescing to this assault on the rule of law.

And if Congress will not act, passing the constitutional amendments needed to correct this lawlessness, then the movement from the people for an Article V Convention of the States-- to propose the amendments directly-- will grow stronger and stronger.
Baby is upset because the Court, most of whose judges were appointed by right-wing Republican presidents, didn't rule the way he wanted it to. All through the Court's history, partisans with a bent toward authoritarianism have come up with schemes like Cruz's to replace an independent judiciary with a politically controllable one.

Luckily, not even Republicans seem to see Cruz as a viable presidential nominee. The Fox News poll of likely Republican voters (from last week) shows the fascist-oriented Cruz with a mere 4%, not even close to JEB!'s 15% or The Donald's 11%. Also ahead of Cruz are Ben Carson (10%), Scott Walker (9%), Rand Paul (9%), Marco Rubio (8%), Huckabee (6%). He is, however, preferred over Lindsey Graham, Piyush Jindal, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. Maybe if he writes more term papers like the silly one above... 


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Maine Gov. Paul LePage Conjures His Inner Terrorist


Benefit Cuts
(The Statue of Levity replacing the lamp for a placard sign)

link (h/t Amanda Terkel @ HuffPost)

by Noah

Maine Gov. Paul LePage isn't the only batcrap-crazy, nihilistic, sociopathic Republican governor in our country. There's Abbott (TX), Brownback (KS), Christie (NJ), Jindal (LA) and Walker (WI), just to name five. But when even a right-wing media outlet like Politico (founded by  former Reagan Chief of Staff Fred Ryan among others, and endorsed by the Bushes) suggests that LePage may be America's craziest governor . . . well, his chances of being Numero Uno on the wacko list are greatly enhanced. If for some reason one wanted to create a fetid blend of Louie Gohmert and Michele Bachmann, one would likely end up with Paul LePage.

Remember that name. For some reason LePage hasn't received the media coverage that others get, but this may be changing after reports of a LePage pronouncement last week that things might be better if a local cartoonist, George Danby of the Bangor Daily News, was killed.

The story goes that he said this to a local high school audience in answer to a question from Danby's teenage son. Swell guy, eh? How is LePage different from the Muslim terrorists that shot up the offices of Charlie Hebdo in France, killing five of the humor magazine's cartoonists? The answer is, of course, that George Danby is still alive and no one has shot up the offices of the Bangor Daily News, no matter how happy that would make one of the republican party's rising stars.

Has LePage apologized for his remark? Not as of this writing, and let's not hold our breath waiting. In fact, he has doubled down. On Thursday, the Maine Sun Journal reported that LePage said state lawmakers from the city of Lewiston, Maine, should be "rounded up and executed in the public square."

Ideally, LePage will be exposed before he kills someone more directly than his fellow governors. While the other lunatic governors kill people by denying health care or providing extra pollution to the local air and water, LePage has now expressed the more direct approach.

Think about this. Suppose a Muslim citizen said the same things as LePage, either publicly or in an e-mail intercepted by the Department of Homeland Security. Wouldn't that person be halfway to Gitmo by now? Instead, LePage is free to roam about the country, irresponsibly mouthing off.

When Pigs Fly

link (h/t Amanda Terkel @ HuffPost)

Even more frightening is that we have a lot of unstable people among us that hear what passes for a leader say such things and their reaction is to take it as some sort of permission or justification to act accordingly. It's not lost on me that LePage made his kill-the-cartoonist statement in front of a high school audience in a time where a month does not go by when we don't hear about a couple of unstable kids planning on shooting someone at their school. Is what LePage did any different from a terrorist website that offers suggestions of targets for murder and mayhem?

Two weeks ago Dylannn Roof, a young man who had bought into twisted ideas about minority people raping white women, in addition to the constant drumbeat about "black on white crime" that is the standard fare offered by white supremacy websites, republican talk radio and FOX News, shot up the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, killing nine African-Americans. He was under the impression that others he had listened to would follow his lead into a race war. FOX, along with republican leaders such as SC Sen. Lindsey Graham, initially tried to cover their tracks by presenting the event as simply yet another "attack on Christianity."

Years ago, the right, led by such republican leaders as Newt Gingrich, engaged in an incessant spew about bringing down big government and blowing up big government. An unstable man named Timothy McVeigh was listening. Ideally, no one is listening to Paul LePage. I'd like to think he isn't so far gone that he would take action himself. People like him rarely do, preferring that someone else act in their behalf. But for LePage to do what he has done reveals some serious, out-of-control anger issues.

In the meantime, some politicians and pundits are talking about impeaching LePage. But again, don't hold your breath. The only people who seem to do the impeachment thing are republicans, and you don't really see them impeaching one of their own, do you? Besides, although Democrats control the Maine House, Republicans control the Senate. There's also the fact that Maine voters have elected LePage to be their Governor twice. They must be very proud.

Perhaps the water and air up there are more polluted than any of us imagined.

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Guest Post: Oren Jacobson Reflects On Our First Black President


Oren Jacobson is the progressive who briefly put together a primary challenge to reactionary Chicago Blue Dog Dan Lipinski. After listening to President Obama's eulogy in Charleston last week he sent along this moving post:

Amazing (in his) Grace
By Oren Jacobson

After thirty heartfelt minutes, the greatest orator of our time-- and undoubtedly one of the most consequential Presidents in American history-- took Charleston’s Evangelical African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the country as a whole, to a crescendo. This crescendo was different than what we have come to expect from Barack Obama. It wasn’t his trademark soaring rhetoric that catapulted him toward the heavens this time. Rather, it was a long pause followed by the the man moving, unexpectedly, into song.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me...”

He barely got past the first two words when the congregation joined in, carrying him to the finish as he had carried them in their collective grief. The first Black president stood at the pulpit of this historic Black church, where the futures of nine black men and women were stolen by the hatred of an unapologetic white supremacist, and delivered a eulogy in his familiar baritone that drove home a message reflecting a characteristic emblematic of his presidency: grace.

When they called him a Muslim he handled it with class. When they demanded his birth certificate, he displayed humility. When he was called the “Food Stamp President,” an unquestionable racial dog whistle, he stayed the course on the high road. When they criticized him for bowing to a foreign leader, for being an apologist, a socialist, for being weak, for leading from behind, he kept his eyes steadfastly on the horizon.

Every president is attacked by his opponents for his policies, but this president has been relentlessly attacked for his policies and for who he is, from the outside in. Overtly racist attacks may not be acceptable in the public sphere in this day and age, but under the camouflage of language deeply rooted in racist ideology, the sentiment has been made clear.

He is a Muslim, a Kenyan, an anti-colonial socialist. He is not like us. Doesn’t share our American values. He is the Other.

He never got mad. He never reacted in anger. He kept his composure under circumstances that would cause most to quiver in rage. How else could this man not only end up in the White House but deal with the problems he has had to face and the vitriolic antagonism he has encountered from day one, whether based on policy, politics, or racial motivations, if it not for grace?

This stirring testament to the too soon lost attempted to heal the nation’s wounds, acknowledged our uncomfortable realities, challenged our egos, and charged us to keep moving towards a more perfect union. A man and a people-- well within their rights to cast dispersion fueled by righteous indignation, allow anger and frustration founded on the injustices of past and present to consume them, attack the people who assault them both figuratively and all too often literally with the same level of hatred-- walking gracefully down a path of reflection, prayer, and hope.

In spite of the centuries of oppression, in spite of a flag flying over capitals in this country with the symbol of a rebellion meant to maintain them in a permanent inhuman status, in spite of a criminal justice system with proven racial bias, in spite of widespread economic disparity, this congregation and our president formed a perfect display of all we should aspire to be. This moment was profound. It was a testament to the beliefs that have formed this nation: that we can overcome, that we can rise up in spite of circumstance, that we can build a better tomorrow no matter what burdens we carry today. It was Barack Obama at his best. It was leadership at it’s best. More importantly, it was America at it’s best.

In times of national tragedy it is common for our presidents to speak for us. This speech, by this man, in this moment, was among the most remarkable moments of American history. It capped off a week that can only be described as the best of his presidency-- a presidency that, despite being characterized as a travesty by the right and a let down by the left, has accomplished so much with such grace that we too often fail to recognize the scope.

16 million Americans have affordable health care because of this man. He saved the economy from the brink of disaster. He ended two wars. He repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He refused to prosecute DOMA. He passed Wall Street reform and major consumer protections. He protected Dreamers, and millions of others with executive orders.

He became the first President to support marriage equality and made it a touchstone of his second inaugural. He pushed through federal benefits for same-sex partners. He appointed more gay officials than any other president and the first transgendered cabinet official. He passed the Lilly Ledbetter act, expanded funding for the Violence Against Women Act, and appointed the first woman to lead the FED. He appointed two women to the Supreme Court (doubling the previous historical total) including the first Hispanic judge. He saved the auto-industry. He killed Osama Bin-Laden. He cut the deficit by more than half. He raised fuel efficiency standards, doubled federal investments in clean energy, negotiated a major climate deal with China, and has presided over the longest period of sustained private sector economic growth in American history.

Despite all of this, President Obama faces level of hatred fiercer than anything endured by his predecessors. Politics and policy may inspire discord, but one cannot honestly stand witness to such seething disdain and not recognize the racial roots in at least some of the attacks.

As I sat and watched him sing “I was once was lost, but now am found…” a lump built in my throat and tears welled in my eyes. I wondered out loud how people could see this man, hear this man, and still hate this man? To disagree with his politics I get. But to despise the man makes no sense.

What a beautiful representative of our country he, and his family, have been for us. We have changed for the better under his leadership. In that moment yesterday there is no doubt some of our national hope was restored. The hate will not stop. The attacks will continue. The disrespect will endure. But, it matters not. For President Barack Obama has been, and will continue to be, Amazing in his Grace.

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Grexit-- Not A Game Of Liar’s Poker, Either We All Win Or All Lose


Yesterday we asked if the bell is tolling for Greece or for the E.U. We should have waited and had all our questions answered. One of the big Wall Street firms sent out an investor advisory to their clients. The Dow was down 350 points Monday, nearly 2% so... some investors may be nervous, although Puerto Rico's debt problems are probably adding fuel to the Greek fire. And now you can read that advisory... without even being an investor.
As we indicated on Friday, the collapse of the weekend’s negotiations has resulted in the introduction of capital controls in Greece effective today. We did not predict that Greece’s government would call a referendum on 5 July as technically such a referendum does not make sense given that the current bailout programme expires on 30 June. Yet, the referendum will give the Greek government (Syriza-led or technical or any other), a powerful mandate to act and resolve Greece’s issues.

Greece will hold a referendum on 5 July to decide whether the government should accept the proposal made by “the Institutions” on 25 June, including VAT changes, pensions cuts etc. The actual question asked in the referendum is still subject to change, but we assume that the referendum will be a choice between saying YES or NO to tough reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors and there will be no explicit reference that voting in favour of reforms means staying in the euro zone, whereas saying NO to the reform package results in the introduction of the drachma. We would like to present our scenarios for that event:

1. Resuming the negotiations before 30 June and signing the sweeter deal for Greece

Some European leaders proposed the idea of resuming the negotiations immediately, but we consider that scenario the least likely given the lack of trust between the Syriza-led government and its EU partners. It would be extremely positive news for stock markets.

2. Referendum outcome: YES to the reforms

We believe it is likely that a “YES to the reforms” vote will gain an overwhelming majority, which may result in Greece staying in the euro zone, but it could also lead to uncontrolled Grexit. (Un)surprisingly, Greece’s government is officially against accepting the reform package. Initially, stock markets would react in relief, rally, but then other factors would have to be taken into account.

In our view the sequence of the events would be as follows:
ECB keeps the ELA support for Greek banks unchanged (€89bn for now) and effectively keeps Greece in the euro zone.
The Syriza-led government resigns (they were supporting the NO vote) and Greece faces a snap election; a technical government is also an option.
Resumption of negotiations with the new government.
Third bailout for Greece-- a compromise based on conditions similar to the previous one, with some debt relief options.
The risks of this scenario lie in the calendar. A new election in Greece, negotiation of a third bailout programme and then its approval by national parliaments-- this would all take time, whereas Greece does not have it. On 20 July Greece will have to repay its debt to the ECB and defaulting on those obligations could be dangerous as it would be extremely difficult for the ECB to justify the ELA lifeline for Greek banks in that case. As we indicated on Friday-- the music really stops for Greece when the ECB pulls the plug on the ELA. Then Grexit is the only option.

In case of YES to the reforms, it would be very volatile days ahead for stock markets as each milestone (e.g. snap election or each vote in national parliament) bears the risk that the whole process will collapse.

3. Referendum outcome: NO to reforms

We consider that such an outcome would lead to severe sell-off on stock markets, resembling the times of the Lehman Brothers collapse. In this case we would expect the following sequence of events:
The ECB stops supporting Greek banks via the ELA facility and Greece has to introduce a bank holiday (no withdrawals from ATMs).
Syriza stays in power, unpredictable geopolitical consequences (financial help from Russia?).
Grexit begins.
Greece defaults on its external obligations (IMF, ECB, ESM etc.).
Greece enters severe recession, while the European economic recovery slows (but no recession).
Introduction of IOUs for domestic obligations such as pensions or public sector salaries.
Dual-currency regime: euro cash is in circulation, IOUs are also in circulation, but are “traded” at a significant discount in everyday life (e.g. morning coffee for €1 or 4 IOUs) and then “bad money drives out good money”.
IOUs are converted into new drachma.
We believe that European banking and financial systems are not as exposed to the Grexit as in 2012. Foreign institutions have been reducing their exposure to Greece (and preparing Grexit contingency plans) since then. We think that the improving economies of Italy and Spain reduce the risk of bank runs in those countries. Moreover, European businesses (companies) are not very exposed to Greece (or they have been reducing their exposure for a long time) and Greece is a small economy if we take all of Europe into account; hence Grexit would not be something that could derail European recovery if the ECB ensures that this is an isolated case.

The ECB’s (and broader-- the public institutions’) exposure to Greece is a completely different story. The ECB would have to deal with a massive loss on Greece due to its €38bn Greek bonds holding, its €89bn ELA facility and unclear liabilities related to Greece in the Target2 system (Bank of Greece carried €107 liabilities in January 2015, now the amount is unknown).

How could the ECB handle the loss related to Greece given that the Eurosystem has combined reserves of just €86bn?The ECB can simply monetise it (=inflation) or ask for more capital from the governments (=new taxes).

If the ECB decides to monetise Greece's debts, this would result in higher CPI in Euroland (desirable to some extent), and pave the way for broad intervention on the financial market by the ECB in order to stabilise it. Now the ECB can buy bonds under the QE programme, but it can do more if necessary (remember Draghi's "whatever it takes"?). In our view, contagion risk in the euro zone is manageable and the common currency could remain, with just one less member in that case (Greece would use euro in a similar way to Kosovo or Montenegro).

About €195bn of Greek public debt is in ESM hands or tied up in bilateral loans with EU governments-- this money is lost in case of Grexit.

As Mr Juncker said: “This is not a game of liar’s poker, either we all win or all lose.”

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Monday, June 29, 2015

John Oliver and Stephen Colbert push back against the craziness of right-wingers mired in some other century


Like we pointed out yesterday, of the 34 conservative Democrats who voted with every House Republican against the Affordable Care Act, 31 were subsequently defeated or forced out of politics, many in the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse that decimated that Republican wing of the Democratic Party. Only 3 of the anti-Obamacare Democrats are still in the House-- Blue Dogs Collin Peterson (MN) and Dan Lipinksi (IL) and confused ConservaDem Stephen Lynch (MA)-- and Democrats have pretty much united around the efficacy of Obamacare as a step towards comprehensive health care in America.

But that isn't stopping the GOP. John Oliver, on his Last Week Tonight HBO show, documented just how wrong the GOP and their propaganda arms-- from Fox News to Dick Morris-- have been about the demise of Obamacare, which is now accepted by most Americans. Most Americans, in fact, tell pollsters that Republicans should just suck it up and move on. But their hate-filled, Foxified base isn't ready to move on from the Confederate flag, let alone from the idea of the neediest families among us getting subsidized health insurance. It feeds into the glorious grievance mentality of backward Southern racists-- on top of their flag problem and gays getting married and people taking climate change seriously... just about anything from the 21st century. 

Enjoy Oliver's video up top-- and Stephen Colbert's celebration of marriage equality here:

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In South Jersey, Boss George Norcross uses political muscle to advance "his" hospital


Since Boss George already controls the hospital, he doesn't
see why he shouldn't control the paramedic services too.

by Jersey Jim

Camden-based Democratic machine boss George E. Norcross III and his Christiecrats have been aiding and abetting the state’s disastrous Republican Governor, Chris Christie, in all sorts of political skullduggery. Back in 2011, pensions and benefits for state employees were gutted when the New Jersey Legislature passed Christie-backed “reform” legislation by 3-2 margins, in spite of the Democrats’ 3-2 majority in both the Senate and the Assembly. But one-third of the nominal Democrats in the Legislature voted with the GOP—almost all of them from South Jersey districts directly controlled by the Norcross machine. (The other few answer to Essex County machine boss Joe DiVincenzo, an ally of Norcross and Christie.)

More recently, DWT has reported how two Norcross operatives, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Cape May Sen. Jeff Van Drew (who is being recruited by the DCCC), secured the appointment of an utterly unqualified Van Drew ally to the state’s Pinelands Commission for the sole purpose of getting approval for a natural gas pipeline though the unique and environmentally sensitive Pinelands.

Now Norcross, who chairs the Cooper Health Board of Trustees, wants a monopoly on paramedic services for that hospital. Here’s a Newark Star-Ledger editorial published the day of the scheduled vote, last Thursday:
Vote no on this Norcross power grab
Star-Ledger Editorial, June 25, 2015

George Norcross, New Jersey's heavyweight political boss, is trying to seize control of paramedic services in Camden from a South Jersey hospital chain and give it to Cooper Health, the hospital he oversees.

With minimal discussion, the final vote is set for Thursday. Lawmakers in both houses should grow a backbone and vote no. This is a shameless power grab — classic machine politics, made possible by a lapdog Legislature.

While the bill doesn't explicitly mention Cooper, Norcross' fingerprints are all over it. This legislation would give any level one trauma center in the state first dibs on providing advanced life support and paramedic services, but Cooper University Hospital is the only one that doesn't provide them currently.

State law has set up a competitive process to award these services, and this legislative grab short-circuits that. Worse, the Norcross forces are rushing to cram this through the legislature without having made the case on the merits. How can the Legislature make this call without fully vetting the costs and benefits? They are responding to a directive from the back room. You can almost smell the cigar smoke.

Virtua Health, a hospital chain in suburban Camden County — and a longtime rival of Cooper — now provides the advanced life support services in and around Camden. It doesn't get paid for doing this and doesn't steer trauma patients to its own hospitals. Most patients already end up at Cooper.

Assemblyman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson, (D-Camden), the Norcross ally who sponsored this bill, argues that even though Virtua has an unblemished record, Cooper is better equipped to provide paramedic services, because its paramedics will provide follow-up care after patients are discharged. But why not have a visiting nurse program do that? Why paramedics?

At the last minute Wednesday, the Norcross team charged that Virtua's response time in Camden is poor. That is exactly the sort of question that needs scrutiny before any vote is cast.

Normally, there has to be a quantifiable reason for the state to make a change like this. Cooper's movement to take over both emergency medical and advanced life support services could cost taxpayers unnecessary money, by giving it $2.5 million in public dollars to equip itself to provide services that already exist.

This end run around the state's licensing process could create mischief on health policy more broadly. Who knows where it will end? What if a power broker wants a cardiac surgery center for another local hospital? If the Legislature micro-manges these things in Camden, then why not in Bergen?

The answer will be simple: George Norcross.
Despite the Star-Ledger's forceful appeal, the bill was passed by both the Senate and the Assembly on Thursday, and sent to Governor Christie for his signature. Considering how closely Christie and Sweeney work together, it’s hard to imagine Christie vetoing it. Just another example of corruption and cronyism, New Jersey-style.

This is just one more example of the corrupt Norcross machine at work—and just one more example of why we need a change.

The Norcross machine installed Boss George’s brother in New Jersey’s First Congressional District seat last year, after former Rep. Rob Andrews resigned to avoid ethics charges. Little Brother Donnie’s first vote last year, when he filled Andrews’ unexpired term, was in favor of Keystone XL. New Jersey can certainly do better.

And there is a better candidate for that seat. Alex Law, a young progressive, is running against Donald Norcross next year. If you'd like to help Alex replace Norcross, you can do that through the Blue America Act Blue page.

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Is The Bell Tolling For Greece? Or The E.U.?


Early this morning Joe Stiglitz launched a serial Twitter rundown on the crisis in Europe. When the stock markets opened in the U.S. a few minutes later, they opened down, and kept dropping: 137 points in the first 10 minutes, 240 points down the last time I looked. The crisis in Europe is, basically, another German takeover attempt of Greece, or, in Stiglitz's own words, "Europe's Attack on Greek Democracy."
The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend.

In terms of transforming a large primary deficit into a surplus, few countries have accomplished anything like what the Greeks have achieved in the last five years. And, though the cost in terms of human suffering has been extremely high, the Greek government’s recent proposals went a long way toward meeting its creditors’ demands.

We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there. It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors-- including German and French banks. Greece has gotten but a pittance, but it has paid a high price to preserve these countries’ banking systems. The IMF and the other “official” creditors do not need the money that is being demanded. Under a business-as-usual scenario, the money received would most likely just be lent out again to Greece.

But, again, it’s not about the money. It’s about using “deadlines” to force Greece to knuckle under, and to accept the unacceptable-- not only austerity measures, but other regressive and punitive policies.

But why would Europe do this? Why are European Union leaders resisting the referendum and refusing even to extend by a few days the June 30 deadline for Greece’s next payment to the IMF? Isn’t Europe all about democracy?

In January, Greece’s citizens voted for a government committed to ending austerity. If the government were simply fulfilling its campaign promises, it would already have rejected the proposal. But it wanted to give Greeks a chance to weigh in on this issue, so critical for their country’s future wellbeing.

That concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with the politics of the eurozone, which was never a very democratic project. Most of its members’ governments did not seek their people’s approval to turn over their monetary sovereignty to the ECB. When Sweden’s did, Swedes said no. They understood that unemployment would rise if the country’s monetary policy were set by a central bank that focused single-mindedly on inflation (and also that there would be insufficient attention to financial stability). The economy would suffer, because the economic model underlying the eurozone was predicated on power relationships that disadvantaged workers.

And, sure enough, what we are seeing now, 16 years after the eurozone institutionalized those relationships, is the antithesis of democracy: Many European leaders want to see the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government. After all, it is extremely inconvenient to have in Greece a government that is so opposed to the types of policies that have done so much to increase inequality in so many advanced countries, and that is so committed to curbing the unbridled power of wealth. They seem to believe that they can eventually bring down the Greek government by bullying it into accepting an agreement that contravenes its mandate.

It is hard to advise Greeks how to vote on July 5. Neither alternative-- approval or rejection of the troika’s terms-- will be easy, and both carry huge risks. A yes vote would mean depression almost without end. Perhaps a depleted country-- one that has sold off all of its assets, and whose bright young people have emigrated-- might finally get debt forgiveness; perhaps, having shriveled into a middle-income economy, Greece might finally be able to get assistance from the World Bank. All of this might happen in the next decade, or perhaps in the decade after that.

By contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands. Greeks might gain the opportunity to shape a future that, though perhaps not as prosperous as the past, is far more hopeful than the unconscionable torture of the present.

I know how I would vote.
So does Paul Krugman. I don't expect Greece to be debated as part of the American presidential campaign-- unless the stock market collapses again. But at least one candidate has weighed in. Bernie Sanders, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, wants the U.S. government to help insure that newly elected leaders in Greece have the support they need to end austerity programs that have caused widespread suffering to its citizens. In recent years the Greek economy has shrunk by one-quarter, unemployment is 25 percent, wages have been substantially cut, health care services have been devastated, and many are now living in dire poverty.

In February Sanders asked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen to provide assurances that American lending policies will not make the horrific economic situation in Greece even worse, saying:
The United States cannot stand idly by while the European Central Bank undermines the new democratically elected government of Greece, induces deflation and risks financial instability. President Barack Obama was right when he recently noted, with regard to Greece: "You cannot keep on squeezing countries that are in the midst of a depression. At some point, there has to be a growth strategy in order for them to pay off their debts to eliminate some of their deficits."
Predictably, Sanders and other progressives reacted strongly when the European Central Bank tried to pressure the new Greek government into accepting the austerity policies that the Greek people strongly rejected in the last election-- such as privatizing assets, cutting off electricity and undoing a minimum wage hike. (Here in the U.S. that austerity program is basically Paul Ryan's economic plan, a plan the Republican House has already voted to approve for us.) The continuation of austerity in Greece would have a devastating impact on the lives of people who are already suffering terribly.

Sanders also spoke about the political consequences of the new government in Greece not being able to carry out the program it was elected on, and noted that the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn finished in third place in the recent elections.
It would be a terrible mistake for the world to forget what happens when a democratically-elected government, as was the case in Germany in the 1920s, is unable to relieve the severe economic suffering of its people. We must remember that waiting in the wings should this recently elected Greek government fail is the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn party. We cannot allow fascism to come to power in a European country due to our unwillingness to reverse harmful austerity policies.


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At The Heart Of The Scandals Roiling The For-Profit Educational World: John Kline


Compliments of John Kline (R-MN)

Earlier today I spent some time on the phone speaking with Angie Craig, a candidate for Congress from southeast Minnesota, MN-02, which butts right up against St. Paul. The seat is currently occupied by one of the worst Members of Congress, John Kline. Behind Angie's progressive ideals and her determination to help government work for regular working families, I sensed a passion and a commitment to clean up the mess Kline is leaving in his wake, particularly to the nation's education system. Angie talked about it a lot, as we do here at DWT.

As chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, Kline has done more damage to the education system and to the lives of millions of young people than anyone else I can think of. An editorial in Thursday's NY Times never called out Kline by name, but there should be no doubt that the writer had John Kline firmly in mind when he wrote "Predatory Colleges Find Friends In Congress." Hold onto this while you read it: In the last election cycle, Kline raised $2,185,735 by mid-summer, most of it special interest money— and only 6% in small contributions. Kline’s single biggest source of cash is… the education industry— $284,499, more than double his second biggest contributor industry, the banksters. His single biggest donor last cycle was Apollo Education Group (University of Phoenix) for a nice $28,100. Other for-profit “universities,” which profit by ripping off their students, that contributed big bucks to Kline include ITT Educational Services, Globe University, Full Sail University (owned by TA Associates, a private equity firm), Herzing University, DeVry, Education Management Corp., Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, Capella Education and his pals at Corinthian Colleges, a real doozy of a criminal enterprise.
A Federal District Court judge in Washington on Tuesday upheld new Obama administration rules that will deny federal aid to career training programs that saddle students with crushing debt while giving them useless degrees in return.

The ruling strongly reaffirms the government’s authority to regulate these often-corrupt programs-- and comes at a time when federal and state investigations are uncovering fraud and misconduct by for-profit schools all over the country. Regrettably, however, Republicans in both houses are moving bills that would block the Obama administration from enforcing the rules.

The court ruling involved the administration’s “gainful employment” rules denying federal aid to programs that have historically burdened students with loans well beyond their capacity to repay. The rules were inspired by data showing that students in for-profit schools account for only about 12 percent of college enrollment, but nearly half of student loan defaults. Other data has shown that graduates of for-profit institutions are more likely than graduates of other institutions to carry debt of more than $40,000 when they leave school. Predatory schools are all the more problematic because they target veterans, minorities and the poor.

The rules cover about 5,500 career training programs, some of which award college degrees but most of which award certificates. To comply, a training program would have to show that, on average, the annual loan payments of its graduates amount to less than 8 percent of their total income, or less than 20 percent of their discretionary income, after the cost of basic necessities like food and housing.

A program that failed to satisfy these criteria for four straight years would lose federal funding. Funding would also be denied if, over two years of a three-year period, the average loan payments exceeded 12 percent of total earnings and more than 30 percent of discretionary earnings. Programs nearing these thresholds would have the further obligation of giving students and prospective students advance warning that they are at risk of losing their federal grants and loans-- and might need to find some other way to pay for college.

The rules cover both for-profit and nonprofit programs. But the Department of Education estimates that 99 percent of the 1,400 programs that would probably fail under the new standard are run by for-profit schools.

An association representing the schools challenged the new rules, arguing that the standards were capricious and that the only permissible measure of “gainful employment” is whether or not the student got a paying job-- any job. The judge was openly contemptuous of this argument.

Republican attempts to block the new rules are not sitting well with organizations that work on behalf of consumers, veterans and the poor. This spring, a coalition of these groups sent a letter reminding Congress that 37 state attorneys general are jointly investigating allegations of fraud in for-profit schools. Various investigations have already uncovered deceptive tactics; dismal graduation rates; false or inflated job placement rates; and dubious sales and admissions policies that target veterans and students of color.

At issue here is an industry that routinely exploits the country’s most vulnerable citizens and fleeces the federal student aid program at the same time. The administration’s effort to bring it under control deserves support, not legislative sabotage.
Kline, more than any other Member of Congress, carries water for this contemptible industry and their lobbyists. If Angie Craig beats him next year, she'll be providing a tremendous service not just to the folks in Minnesota but to the entire nation.

And let's not forget America's worst governor, Scott Walker, and what he's doing destroy Wisconsin public education system. Watch this:

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