The Senate has passed and the House now will debate the “fast track” authorization that will permit the President to negotiate a secret trade deal and then drop it on the Congress for a yes or no vote.
No sooner had your intrepid reporter written out a plea that the issue of pharmaceutical costs be debated during House deliberations on the TPP than the news came that Representative Sander Levin, ranking D on the Ways and Means Committee, has raised exactly the same thing. Hurrah for Sandy! AJS and its partners have been bringing this issue to Congressional offices for over a year. There is a great fear that the secret trade deal will lock the U.S. into policies that make it impossible for us to fight back against confiscatory drug prices. The matter barely came up in the Senate.
You might want to read an extensive discussion of this issue done by Public Citizen that raises serious questions about how cost saving pharmaceutical policies can be implemented in the U.S. if the Trans Pacific Partnership is approved. It might be just as useful to refresh your memory about the extensive political donations made by the drug industry. A chronicle of these donations was provided in a study done by the Alliance for a Just Society.
Two Bush-appointed Republican judges in New Orleans declined to reverse an injunction by a lower court that prevents the Administration from implementing its executive policies on the deferral of deportations. An Obama-appointed judge dissented.
In spite of the politicization of this issue in the courts, the Justice Department attorneys have decided not to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. They want the lower courts actually to make a decision about the legality of the deferral policy rather than appeal the technical and procedural issues that underlie the injunction. This means that the case will drag along for another year and probably hit the Supreme Court just in time for the decision to be an issue in the 2016 election.
The Circuit Court has set a time for oral argument on the merits of the case for July 10.
The New York State Assembly has voted to establish a single-payer health care system. The program would be funded by a payroll tax paid 80% by employers and 20% by employees. The vote was 89 to 47. The bill might not have enough support in the Senate to move along this year, but they are off to a good start.
Privatized Medicaid Plans
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued important new regulations governing private insurance plans used in the Medicaid program.
Medicaid is supposed to be a state operated program but something like seventy-five percent of its business is outsourced to private insurance firms. In conservative states that initially balked at expanding Medicaid, privatization is being used as an apparently effective smoke screen to give political cover to governors who want to expand Medicaid while pretending not to do it.
The HHS rules impose medical loss ratio standards that require plans to spend at least 85% of premium on medical care. Provider networks would have to meet maximum distance standards, and some language access standards also are imposed.
These are proposed rules only. You can scan through the 635 pages at will. You may find that many of the standards need more strength and specificity. There is the usual comment period and final adoption yet to come. You can bet that the insurance industry and their privatization allies will try to prevent some of these standards from being imposed.
The Supreme Court will take up a case in which it will be asked to decide what “one person, one vote” really means. The case is Evenwel v Abbot. If you want to understand the nuances here check out the analysis written by Washington Post reporter Amber Phillips. If the Court decides to go with eligible voters rather than population a whole bunch of shifts will take place that favor older, whiter voters and Republican candidates.
Nebraska’s unicameral legislature voted 30 to 19 to override a gubernatorial veto and abolish the death penalty.
Rick Santorum, announced his candidacy. He won caucuses and primaries last time out before his radical focus on conservative social causes and Romney’s money overwhelmed him. This year he is taking a new approach. Everything is about jobs and the middle class. Big government and big corporations are the enemy. Very populist stuff and a bit different from the rest of the GOP pack.
Scott Walker has announced that he will not compete in the Florida Republican primary because Bush and Rubio have a competitive lock there. He did not mention that his strident anti-immigrant position might be a problem in a state where the Hispanic/Latino votes are one out of every seven.
Rand Paul may have stepped up the excitement in the R primaries by jumping on the war hawks in his own party for getting the U.S. into the Iraq mess and working to give weapons to anti-Assad rebels who turned into ISIS. He also scored some points by his prolonged speech in the Senate against the Patriot Act. He and Senator Ron Wyden led the fight against having the Act renewed. Surely this is tasty raw meat for Paul’s base.
Former New York Governor George Pataki announced that he was going to run for President. Ohio Governor John Kasich and Senator Lindsay Graham are up next.
The Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll held last weekend in Oklahoma City gave the early edge to Ben Carson who apparently had the good sense to flood the meeting by buying supper for a hundred of his supporters. Here are the results:
Who is Gilmore you might ask. Jim Gilmore is a former Virginia Governor. He ran before and has proven to be one of the most forgettable people ever to aspire to national office. But he wants to try again and, God love him, he might as well.
Anyone who thinks that we are overdoing it by making abusive behavior in the finance sector a regular feature of these pages should take a few moments to read a study just published by Notre Dame’s University Mendoza College of Business and Labaton Sucharow, a law firm that represents whistleblowers. They interviewed 1223 financial services professionals in the U.S. and the U.K. about ethical views. A surprisingly strong minority (47%) believes that their competitors engage in illegal or unethical behavior. Twenty-seven percent do not believe that the industry puts the interests of its clients first and a third believe that industry compensation structures put pressure on employees to violate either ethics or the law. Twenty-five percent of them would engage in insider trading if they could make $10 million and get away with it.
This is the bunch that wants to destroy Dodd-Frank, the post-financial industry crime spree legislation aimed as some of the worst klepto banking excesses. They believe that their industry should be free to do whatever it wants.
Just to underscore the point, a story is out this week indicating that the Securities and Exchange Commission has extracted a $55 million fine from Germany’s Deutsche Bank because the bank deliberately overvaluing its assets portfolio during the financial crisis.
If you are having trouble finding some good, fresh veggies at the beer, nicotine, and processed food store down on the corner, help may be on the way. The Los Angeles City Council included some funding in its budget for the Healthy Neighborhood Market Network. This program helps local stores offer healthier food. Maybe this will catch on in your town if you ask them. The Weekly is thinking that we should link sales of tomatoes and basil to lottery machines and cigarette licenses. Maybe prohibit the sale of Budweiser if garlic and potatoes are not available in the same store?
Late breaking news: A Texas Grand Jury has indicted David and Charles Koch for first degree manslaughter in the deaths of ten Dallas area residents who were killed in unprecedented flash floods in late May. Apparently prosecutors were able to show the jurors that the deaths were associated with a Koch led campaign to foster phony climate change denial studies and the millions in political donations that they have given to prevent any governmental response to the human causes of global warming. Former and present Texas Governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbot were named as unindicted co-conspirators.
OK we made up the indictment stuff as a way of asking you to contemplate how long we will tolerate this propaganda from a Koch-led industrial combine that is rated as the fourteenth most prolific polluter in the country.
Propaganda Techniques 101
Here’s an example of how the Republican propaganda machine works. A Republican political operative published an op-ed in the NY Times last week offering the suggestion that the Democrats have pulled too far to the left. The author is Peter Wehner who served in the last three Republican Administrations. His thesis is that ever since the Clinton Administration the D’s have pulled steadily to the left on gay marriage, immigration, welfare (huh), Keystone, and mass incarceration. Almost no mention of the Great Recession, income inequality, health care, mortgage fraud, personal debt, retirement insecurity, wage stagnation, joblessness, corporate crime, tax loopholes, or systemic racism. There are a whole bunch of folks who think that the Democratic politicians are stuck in the middle while the population has clamored for them to take progressive positions on these issues. But the R’s want you to think that you are being too leftish in order to lessen the contrast created by the Republican shift to the most radical right wing policies in living memory.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois has been indicted by a federal grand jury for various nefarious arrangements he made in an effort to cover up that he was paying $3.5 million to an unnamed person for an unspecified reason. Hastert became Speaker after Newt Gingrich got bounced when the Rs lost election ground following their unsuccessful impeachment of President Clinton. Just to help you speculate, the “misconduct” that Hassert was trying to cover up apparently goes back to his days as a high school wrestling coach.
Congress returns next week. The Senators actually are in Sunday to try to untangle the Patriot Act stuff before it expires.