Daley Weekly: Austerity, Clarity and the Muddled East

Living the Dream

Well, I have been searching Craigslist for the perfect little place to park my camera gear while in Seattle. I just need a place for three months, furnished, with a deck so I can smoke and a kitchen so I can burn the toast while I am out on the deck. Found the perfect place. Got a written and signed lease and ignored the warning not to send money. Idiot. I am on the street again living out of a suitcase, out a couple of grand, and nearly penniless. But I do have health insurance to help cover the cost of my hypertension prescription.

What’s Next?

Everything that the Congress left hanging in the air when they left for their August recess is still hanging in the air. The Transportation Department lessened the emergency around the need for money for the Highway Trust fund by announcing that the fund was going to be just fine well into next year. And the Treasury Department thrust the Debt Lid back on the agenda by announcing that the U.S. borrowing limit would be reached as early as next month. Tea Baggers in Congress who apparently are willing to shut down the government rather than provide funding to Planned Parenthood may get their chance soon.

Refugees

The steady stream of refugees driven into Europe by violent conflicts in Iraq and Syria has become a river. Frightening scenes of the police beating back crowds, terrified children, and folks trapped in train stations are juxtaposed with efforts by other countries to deal with the fleeing masses. The U.S. just agreed to take in 10,000 and France, Germany, and England also are offering accommodation. But Hungary and Macedonia are not so open to all this. Perhaps they are waiting for Donald Trump to make the inevitable candidate visit overseas to establish his foreign policy credentials. While there, perhaps he’ll help the Hungarians design the border fence they are proposing and perhaps even convince the Syrians to pay for building it. (Whoever the Syrians might actually be these days.)

Iran

The Senate Democrats gave the President a major victory when they blocked Republican efforts to stop the nuclear deal with Iraq. They defeated the effort by refusing to give the 60 votes needed to proceed to debate on their measure reversing the deal. Big leadership kudos on this go the Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois who took charge of the effort to prevent a reversal of the agreement when Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada dithered and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the supposed next Democratic Leader, opposed it.

Muddle East

We thought that an essential bit of intelligibility about the situation in the Land of Perpetual Conflict had finally emerged when the U.S. apparently gave the Turks tacit approval to attack the Kurds, the most effective military force against ISIS. Another little bit of clarity came this week when a fellow known as Ayman al-Zawahiri – the post-Osama leader of Al Qaeda – attacked the top leader of ISIS for “sedition” because he had proclaimed himself Caliph. It must be good for us that these two are not joining forces and it certainly reduces the level of confusion.

ACA Enrollments

ACA enrollments reached 9.9 million by mid-year. Eighty-four percent of these were receiving subsidies.

Protecting Our Heritage

When the Heritage Foundation attacked the Obama Administration for incompetence over a cyber security breach at the Office of Personnel Management, they apparently did not realize that someone was hacking into their own web site and stealing personal information about their donors.

Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve seems poised to make some kind of an increase in interest rates, but cannot find the right time to do it. Just when everything looks peachy, China goes in the ditch or Greece decides it’s had enough and tries to rebel against austerity, or the jobs numbers are blah. I’m not sure I care. The stimulus that the Fed has given to the U.S. economy over the last few years has kept us from falling into the austerity trap, in spite of the very best efforts of some in Congress.

Klepto Bankers Beware

The U.S. Justice Department this week announced that it has a new policy – corporate officers will now be held personally culpable for criminal offenses committed by their companies. You will have noted to your chagrin the past practice of fining the company, but letting the criminal behavior of the people who work in the company go without prosecution. This is a critical step forward in efforts to stem the criminal behavior of multi-national financial institutions that have bilked investors and consumers out of billions, laundered trillions of dollars for the drug cartels, and manipulated currencies to bring themselves massive profits. I knew I liked that Etta who took over as Attorney General – at last, my love has come along.

The Boehner Suit

Remember that during one of last year’s interminable budget fights, Speaker John Boehner used the threat of bringing a lawsuit against the Administration over the ACA to quiet some of the dissent in his Caucus. Alas, this week a federal judge ruled that the House of Representatives does have standing to bring this suit. No telling where this might go, but it is yet another threat to subsidies under the ACA. The judge allowed the part of the suit that challenges the right of the Administration to fund the mandatory subsidies without having to get an appropriation directly from the Congress.

Presidential Stuff

The candidate lineup for the next Republican Debate is out and it includes some new faces – Carly Fiorina and Gov. John Kasich are now in, as are Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Interesting to note that Ben Carson has tied Donald Trump in a recent Iowa poll. We thought that that Trump has peaked out at just over 20 percent, but he seems to have reached 37 percent in a South Carolina poll.

Jeb Bush seems completely befuddled by the destruction of his Front Runner status. Befuddlement must be the state of a whole bunch of candidates over there – the plan went off the tracks.

Chris Christie is looking over his shoulder again because three leading executives of United Airlines have resigned as they are facing a criminal investigation centered on David Samson, Christie confidant and the former Chair of the New York, New Jersey Port Authority. The charge is that the airline established a special, money-losing flight route to accommodate Samson’s vacation travels while they were asking for major investments in the Port-operated Newark Airport.

Rick Perry’s second run for President is over. He was running out of money. Given that Perry barely made a dent in the polls, it won’t make much of a difference, big picture.

On the Dem’s side, Martin O’Malley also is cutting staff. Never a positive sign when you are already in a deep hole. No word on staff cuts from what’s his name from Virginia or from Lincoln Chaffee. No real sense that either of them actually have staff to cut. A week or so ago Conan O’Brien, the talk show host, decided to try to move Chaffee from zero to one percent in the polls. So far, Chaffee is still at zero.

Puerto Rico, My Heart’s Devotion

Looks like Puerto Rico may be about to sink back in the ocean – ocean of debt that is. Much like Greece, Puerto Rico is one of the victims of the great fraud induced Recession. Less growth plus fewer tourists equals bankruptcy. The hedge funds that own a whole bunch of Puerto Rican debt are suggesting that while states might be able to default on loans but not so a mere Territory. The hedgers are suggesting that the Puerto Ricans would be much more prosperous if they destroyed their economy by laying off a bunch of teachers, reducing health care benefits and cutting their minimum wage. But, the hedgers tell them, no restructuring of the debt.

This austerity prescription will lead to economic lassitude, just as it has everywhere else. The hedgers will lose their money anyway while imposing even further impoverishment on the Puerto Ricans. What is the point here?

We are waiting for some hedge fund manager to leap before the karaoke mike and inform us in song: “I feel petty, oh so petty.”

Medicaid Expansion

It looks as though Alaska’s Gov. Bill Walker may be going to pull it off. Remember, the legislature dithered around with his request to expand Medicaid so he decided to go ahead and do it anyway.

Naturally he got sued, but a judge just gave his plan the OK.

Schedule

It gives me spinal shudders and nervous twitches, but the Congress has returned and is set to be in D.C. for the next couple of months with the exception of the week of September 21 and the week of October 12.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

Remember to follow the Alliance for a Just Society on Facebook

Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/

Daley Weekly: Crazy Daze of Summer

President Stuff, Democrat

It is beginning to look like Joe Biden may be headed into the fray. The trends have to be tempting.  Many hope that Hillary will be the first woman President – she clearly has the values, experience, and ability to serve with distinction.  But she’s not lighting up the place, she’s dogged by the email glitch, and lacks her husband’s flair for this stuff.  Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren made juicy rumors over the weekend, via a two-hour meeting at the VP’s residence in D.C.

Bernie Sanders is doing really well. He actually has the corner on an understanding of the deepening inequality and corporate corruption that are savaging the national economy. Great crowds and exciting articulation. But there are questions about his ultimate electability when they start painting that name Socialist on him.

Martin O’Malley is not gaining any traction and candidates Chafee and what’s-his-name from Virginia are just hoping for the others to evaporate so that attention might turn to them. Run across any campaign workers for any of these folks lately?

So it’s got to be real tempting for Biden. Bloggers report he is talking with donors and sizing things up. My guess was expressed a couple of issues back when I heard that his dying son Beau had urged him to run. Pretty tough stuff for an emotional guy like Biden to resist.

And the R’s? This is Crazzazie

My friend Margarida has improved my vocabulary by exposing me to the critical literature about the Zombie Apocalypse and by describing the fringes as crazzazie and wackadoodle. I am reaching into this lexicon because I am at a loss for more traditional words to describe the Republican campaigns for the American Presidency.

I look at the R’s and roll my eyes. For their sake and for the sake of the Nation I don’t want them to nominate Trump. Even the R’s deserve better than this racist, sexist gasbag. But their candidates are so weak – none of them seem have an original thought. Their whole approach has been defined by Trump and they are stumped – they are captives of a bankrupt ideology and when Trump out-demagogues them, they are like deer in the headlights.

It is my deeply held predisposition that if the R’s nominate Trump they will prove beyond all possible debate that they haven’t got the guile God gave a Grape-Nut flake. But if the R’s are determined to nominate him, let’s get it on. The last century taught us how to look at racists with funny hair – we will not do it again.

Nice to See Paul

Sitting in my little corner of Serafina, a favorite restaurant in Seattle, I saw a man pass on the way out who I remembered with affection. Paul Kraabel was a Republican legislator when I first got into the political world of Washington state. I was sent to see him for some reason and, though my normal old leftish Democrat self, I was greeted with respect and he listened.

Tonight, his friends were helping him navigate his way out, he used a cane – but I caught him on the sidewalk and he knew who I was we were able to share a couple of recollections.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s I knew many Republicans like Paul who were open to talking, and solving problems, and being decent to others.

Oh how I miss them when I watch folks like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who act as though they came from the Seraphim, armed with the voice of God and equipped with the instrument of prejudice and the malice of the fanatic.

Oak Flat

Remember our depressing report a few weeks back about how the Senatorial aristocrats slipped a little provision into the Defense Reauthorization that gave over a sacred Apache place to mining? The billion tons of copper that apparently have deposited themselves under Arizona’s Oak Flat proved an irresistible attraction – Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake slipped a little provision into the Defense Authorization bill and handed it over to foreign mining interests.

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D), has introduced a bill to reverse this and to return the land to public ownership where it can be protected for the Apache. If you want to read more, start with H.R.  2811. You can help reverse this tragedy by writing your Congress people and asking them to help pass this bill.

Drug Costs

I cannot bear to have you miss the news about how your fellow Americans feel about the cost of prescription drugs.  Recent polling shows that this issue just jumped ahead of concerns about the Affordable Care Act.  Eighty-three percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and seventy- three percent believe that drug companies make too much profit. 

This news comes as reports filter out of negotiations over the Transpacific Partnership trade pact suggesting that the insistence of U. S. bargaining team on protections for the big drug companies is a main issue stymieing progress in the negotiations. We can only hope that our crack negotiating team loses this one.

El Niño

Looks like a hot, wet wind may be about to blow in from the sea. Meteorologists are predicting that the El Niño effect will be the warmest in decades, maybe a record. The California drought will become the California monsoon.

Marriage

Iowa Representative Steve King (R), the leader of the Congressional Xenophobia Caucus, apparently believes that the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage enables American’s to marry inanimate objects. Some wedded folks long ago realized that a court decision on this was unnecessary – their spouses already are inanimate objects.

ACA and Declines in the Uninsured

According to the latest Gallup Poll on the subject the rates of the uninsured continue to drop post-ACA.  The national uninsured rate fell from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent 2015. A bunch of states did even better than this, particularly those that both expanded Medicaid and instituted exchanges.

Latina Income Inequality

This should come as a surprise to few, but the wage gap for Hispanic women is way wider than it is for all women.  Researchers with the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, have done the math so those like me, who struggle with numbers, just have to glance across a series of simple charts to get the idea.

The gap between all women and men is bad enough – women get 78% of what the men get for the same work. Only in nursing and home health care are Hispanic women equally discriminated against when compared to all women – both get 75 percent of what men get.  But in retail and public service jobs pay for all women runs at 88 percent of the pay for men, while Hispanic women get only 50 percent. Other job categories do not show such extreme differences, but are troubling.

Amigas, something is up here and it is not good. ¿Is anyone else wondering what the figures might be for Somali or Samoan women, por ejemplo?

Sen͂or Presidente, tiar abaje este mura

Oozing xenophobia and narcissism from every pore, Donald Trump has oiled his way into an apparent lead in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary among Republicans.

Just to seal the deal, details of his plan for immigration reform have been announced. First, every undocumented immigrant gets sent home – deported at a cost of some $400 to $600 billion. A 2,000-mile long fence will be erected along the entire U.S./ Mexico border – built at the expense of the Mexican government. Then there is the proposal to amend the Constitution in order to remove the provision that makes all babies born on U.S. soil citizens automatically.

Anyone else feel a tremor of slavery revulsion when they hear the proposal to change the citizenship of babies born here? Is it possible that the 14th Amendment had to do with making former slaves and their children into citizens? Now the immigration loonies are talking about these children as “anchor babies” – children born here in order to anchor the prospects for future citizenship for their parents.

Not only is there no legal connection to citizenship for their parents, but they also are talking about folks like Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio whose citizenship is established by their birth.  Wow.

While we are in the process of un-anchoring the babies, we are also going to round up and deport all the 11 million-plus undocumented in the country. I don’t know how to be constrained about this stuff. This idea has eerie historical echoes. One has to hear the thud of the jackboots reverberating in the night streets.

And the great fence? Great fence projects have a way of turning into real big failures. I do not know if this edifice to idiocy will be visible from the moon, but one can see the Great Wall of China from there. The Mongols took over China, wall or not. Remember the Berlin Wall? How did that go? There recurs in my sleep a dream (or perhaps a nightmare) in which the ghost of Ronald Regan, a supporter of immigration reform, stands in Nogales or Mexicali, and says: “Mr. President, tear down this wall.”

Medicaid Politics

Asa Hutchinson, Governor of Arkansas, wants to change the wildly successful decision of his state to expand Medicaid. His state has seen the most dramatic decline on rates of the uninsured of any state in the nation. Not satisfied with success, Hutchinson has decided to try to get the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to permit Arkansas to imitate the successful negotiations of other wackadoodle governors and make the program worse by privatizing stuff and making the poor pay more.

Dear Governor Hutchinson:  The thing is working. Just walk away.

Apparently Pennsylvania’s John Kasich has been banned by the Koch boys from their events because of his support for expanding Medicaid.

Scott Walker and the ACA

Whenever I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act crowd explain its alternative, to “Obamacare,” I remember the presentation that my friend David West once made to a legislative committee. He was describing a plan offered by an insurance company that had a surgery benefit – but not anesthesia. David suggested that perhaps they might at least offer a bullet to bite and a bottle of bourbon.

Desperate to put a little passion into his campaign as poll numbers fall, Scott Walker has decided to lay out some specifics about what he would offer for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Turns out to be the usual tax cut gibberish that will force the needy back into the ranks of the uninsured. But there are specifics.

Perhaps the worst of the specifics is the idea that anyone could buy any health insurance product from any state. This passes and the insurance gang will soon be regulated by the domestic equivalent of the Cayman Island—i.e., no standards at all.

Conflict of Interest

So there is a big debate going on in D.C. over whether or not investment counselors should be required to act in the interest of the investors they counsel. Apparently some Republicans in Congress believe that steering you to waste a lot of time in a thinly veiled pyramid scheme is the sort of advice that your investment counselor should be able to give without concern or penalty.

Musical Chairs

Former Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes died last week. Stokes did many really fine things, but what I, the hopeless wonk, remember the most was the Heckler Report. Margaret Heckler was the Secretary of the then Department of Health Education and Welfare in 1984 and she directed an analysis of health disparities based on race. This was the first big national analysis of this important issue and it outlined patterns that persist into today.

Louis Stokes was the behind-the-scenes inspiration that caused this report to be written. Maybe we have not gotten much done as a response?  Maybe, with the news of Stokes’ death, how important it is to keep working on this issue?

Schedule

You are going to have to wait a couple of more weeks for the return of the Congress.  Summers can be so relaxing.

Daley Weekly: The Debate That Wasn’t

“Yes, it’s me and I’m late again!”

I know, I know, late again. Lots of travel and meetings and I got behind. But I have finally made my way into the Athenian Grill over near the Seattle Center to have a post-Republican debate supper. A chance to write out a thought, perhaps of a confessorial nature.

The Daley Weekly will be moving to Seattle for a few months to help fill an administrative lacunae. The quality of the Weekly, already debilitated by the deepest personal insecurity, youthless indiscretion, and the unchallenged predations of age, inevitably will suffer. I will do my best, but I will not be in all the right D.C. meetings for a while, yet will continue to produce a column nonetheless.

Please whisper absolvo te.

Economics

Job numbers are out. Some 215,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate holding at 5.3 percent. Not much excitement over a basically flat economy. The need to pump a little infrastructure in here could not be more obvious.

The Debate

Well, what did you think of the Republican debate?

The commentators are all agog over the entertainment value of the two Republican debates, but I have to admit that I was bored. No new ideas, no big wins – even though there clearly were some big losses.

Take-aways?

This was supposed to be the Trump Debate. Because of Trump’s style, one candidate’s camp suggested that preparing for this was like getting ready for a car race when everyone knows that one of the drivers is drunk. Apparently they sobered Trump up for this. Donald Trump, proved himself a completely empty shirt – zero content, absolute zero.

Even his entertainment value was subdued as he apparently decided to compete for Mr. Congeniality. So if not Trump, who?

A few of the debaters clearly are heading to the showers.

Rand Paul looked like he would rather be in Mesoamerica doing cataract surgery. And, God knows, wouldn’t everyone be better off if he were?

Let’s offer Ben Carson a University President’s job or something – he seems like a nice person struggling not to be – we can help bring him back to the world of the living.

The Ted Cruz used car salesman imitation has grown a little thin, but he stuck right to it.

Jeb Bush clearly has decided to place himself on the bubble – seems to be struggling with inner conflicts between Augustinian and Liberation Theology.

Otherwise, hard to tell. Rubio went for Young Mr. Sincerity and did OK. The governors and former governors seemed to hold up the best.

The early runner up debate may have given Carly Fiorina a chance to move into the center stage.

Overall, I think the R’s are in deep trouble.

Infrastructure

Senate Majority Leader McConnell did not get his three-year Highway Trust Fund bill passed in time to stare down the House and force them to accede. In the end, they passed the normal, temporary phony money fix-me-later-fix – on into December.

Here’s the problem. The House Majority, and apparently some Democrats in the Senate, want to do a bigger six-year deal that raises infrastructure funding via some horrifying ideas about international tax reform. The corporate tax avoiders, who pay little or nothing for the benefits of government, may be about to have their way with us yet again.

We all need to use the August recess to contact our Senators and to tell them that letting corporations who have held profits overseas and untaxed, should not be honored for this avoidance by letting them bring those profits back for a dime on the dollar.

Everyone also needs to keep putting in a word for improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Detention

We teased ourselves last week in order to frame a plea that the family detention centers for refugee mothers and children be closed. No sooner had we written about the failure of family detention than a federal judge in California issued an injunction directing the release of prisoners being held in these inhumane institutions.

Immigration

Just before Summer Break, the Senatorial trio of Vitter, McCain, and Flake marched out a bill designed to force cities to turn their police departments into border patrol agencies or lose federal money. Given cover by the Trump demagoguery and the murder committed by a hardened and often-deported undocumented felon, the House passed its version last week. Hard to tell whether or not either of these bills can get the 60 votes needed to proceed in the Senate, but the President has issued a veto warning.

To muddy things up a bit, California Senators Feinstein and Boxer announced the intention to craft a proposal that would require police departments to detain undocumented immigrants who are accused of crimes. Just what the details are remains unclear. Nevertheless, if they do this, it will break the solid front that the D’s need to protect against a veto override.

Medicare and Medicaid Turn 50

Just in time for the celebration comes the seminal analysis – Medicare has reduced hospitalization, death rates, and the cost of health care. The results are called “jaw dropping”. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and is based on an examination of the medical records of 68 million Americans over age 65. Why the right keeps attacking this program rather than propping it up or, rather, making it universally available, is a mystery that may never be solved.

As Alliance Executive Director LeeAnn Hall explains in her recent Huffington Post column, “Medicaid is much more than the country’s top health insurer. It’s also a key battleground for the future of our country.”

Infinite Gibberish

Bob Newhart once based a routine on the thesis that if we equip an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, eventually they will write the great books. As I inspect the now sixteen Republican candidates, I have begun to suspect that this is a null hypothesis.

Newhart is checking the infinite monkey results: “twzzz.lkrrrnttttyyy.” No, nothing there. “abababhabqb.” Hmm? Hey Jim, I think we’ve got something here! “To be or not to be, that is thegamaiqillpicffffc.”

I recall this whenever I see Republicans campaigning for President by trying to tap into economic populism. They start with appropriately grandiloquent anger about the moral depravity of income inequality and indignation about what the hucksters did to the personal economies of a whole generation. But when it comes to solutions, it turns into gibberish.

Here’s Sen. Ted Cruz: “The rich and powerful, those who walk the corridors of power, are getting fat and happy under the Obama economic agenda. (Sic) The top 1 percent, the millionaires and billionaires who the president loves to demagogue, they earn a higher share of our national income than any time since 1928.”

OK Mr. Occupy! But the remedy? On Cruz’s website you will see that his agenda is to repeal Obamacare, make it easier for corporations to pollute, shut down the Federal Government, and destroy the Medicare prescription drug program. thegamaiqillpicffffc.

Rand Paul worries over income inequality and recommends a flat tax system and repeal of taxes on capital gains – ideas that dramatically increase inequality.

How about Rick Perry trying to channel Elizabeth Warren?

“The American people see a rigged game,” he declares. “where insiders get rich, and the middle class pays the tab. There is something wrong when the Dow is near record highs, and businesses on Main Street can’t even get a loan. Since when did capitalism involve the elimination of risk for the biggest banks while regulations strangle our community banks?”

To his credit, Perry almost endorsed laws to wall off banking from speculative investment, but not quite. He then immediately came out for a tax cut for corporations and refused to support the idea that the big banks should be broken into smaller pieces.

To regulate vigorously or not to regulate vigorously that is thegamaiqillpicffffc.

We need a strong, effective central government to keep the avaricious from totally ripping us off. But these crypto-populists are merely being demagogic about the problem while spouting gibberish about the solution.

The Economic Consequences of the Austerity

A frustrated John Maynard Keynes left the Paris Peace Talks that followed WWI and wrote a book called The Economic Consequences of the Peace. My only partially read version of this slim volume sits on the shelf between Hesse’s Siddhartha and the Italian version of Machiavelli’s The Prince which I continue to think I am going to translate into English, if only I can find the time.

Written in 1919, Keynes’ book shows how the punitive Versailles Treaty is about to ruin the European economy, which it did.

Maybe, as a sign of solidarity with the Greeks, we could get folks to go on Amazon and mail copies of this to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who led the Europeans to impose a punitive debt settlement on the Greeks – debt they will never be able to repay because they have deliberately been denied any resources to stimulate their economy.

Whenever your maternal uncle suggests over his gin that the only way out of the Greek crisis is for the Greeks to abandon the young and old to penury and to force their economy into prolonged depression, you might pull out Keynes and begin reading passages aloud.

The People v. Austerity

We have our own example of politicians blundering into the austerity disaster. In spite of ample evidence that austerity ideology does not work, they persist in inflicting this superstition on their citizens. An analysis titled States That Cut Taxes Do So At Their Peril shows how state economies fare when the plan for everything is to cut taxes.

Here’s the conclusion: “The states have no good reasons to believe that tax cuts will bring the desired manna. Yet they continue to erode their tax bases in the name of business growth during an era in which few states can afford to cut critical services ranging from education to infrastructure repair. Some ideas live on and on, no matter how much evidence accumulates against them. States that follow them do so at their own peril.”

TPP

Late reports suggest that the countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty have not yet agreed on a deal. Let’s hope that one of the things hanging this up is other countries objecting to the pharmaceutical policies being pushed by the U.S. negotiators on behalf of the drug industry.

Those who have the queasy feeling that my harping on the impact this Treaty could have on your drug budget, might want to check out the blog in the Huffington Post authored by AARP and an executive from the generics industry. It condemns the leaked provisions of the U. S. position limiting the availability of less expensive generic medicines. The treaty may force countries to permit patents to be extended for a dozen years on drugs that might otherwise go generic more quickly.

This is only the latest wrinkle in the PhRMA driven treaty process that might eliminate any chance we have of negotiating better drug prices here in the U. S.

Criminalization

Lots of talk in the blogs and pronouncements from the likes of Speaker John Boehner and President Obama suggest that there might be some progress ahead on the over-incarceration of people of color. You can get armed with some facts via the Alliance for a Just Society website. As this debate plays out it might be good for all of us to school ourselves with some timely information on this issue from the Brennan Center for Justice: Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities In Jails.

Now that you are well informed gentle advocate, here will be your mission – you must help our politicians understand that they cannot solve this problem without digging right into the issue of race. And they cannot solve this problem through the usual compromise with the right wing where there is always some vicious, racist price for progress.

Voting Rights 50 Years Later

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there were the optimistic few who envisioned the right to vote as a major step in the work to end racism. But decades later we still have states that are still debating whether to fly the flag of a war lost 150 years ago over their state capitol.

“I can’t help wondering how jurisdictions that still wrap themselves in the rebel flag can be counted on to safeguard fair voting rights,” says LeeAnn Hall in another fine article.

Planned Parenthood

The Senate defeated, on a procedural vote, the effort to un-fund Planned Parenthood. The impetus for this latest attack on PP comes after anti-choice guerrillas taped folks in clinics discussing what to do with aborted tissue. Pretty grisly, and apparently highly edited. Reminds me of the attack on ACORN.

The Muddle East

Well, we meddled our way into an interesting new dynamic in the land of perpetual conflict. We talked the Turks into the fray and they promptly attacked the Kurds. Three months ago we loved the Kurds – the most effective military force against ISIS. How this new Turkish strategy works has been explained to me only by those who seem desperately bewildered, as am I. How does attacking Kurds help destroy ISIS? I am sure there is some real politic calculation about needing the Turks more than the Kurds, but it is immoral, duplicitous, and a mistake. Crusader-conquering Saladin was a Kurd.

Schedule

The Congress has, mercifully, departed the Capital for the remainder of August. However, they are heading your way now and available for questioning concerning whatever might be on your mind.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

Remember to follow the Alliance for a Just Society on Facebook

Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/

Daley Weekly: High Water, Low Ethics and Oak Flat Disaster

Highways

It looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is closing in on a three-year deal on the Highway Fund. Most of the destructive pay-for provisions that were in some earlier version have been pulled out and the package might get close to 70 votes. Given that the House passed an eight-month phony-money plan, it looks to me that this debate might just be over.

We reported last week about an effort by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) over in the House to do a big, six-year highway plan linked to some form of international tax reform. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with the quiet assent of some of the Democrats, had floated a terrible tax plan in order to try to bait Ryan and the R’s into a large infrastructure investment. McConnell simply slipped past them, cut his deal with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), got rid of some of the onerous pay-for gimmicks, and moved forward.

It will make no difference, but it might be fun speculate whether or not some might be having buyer’s remorse after watching Schumer, their anointed future leader, maneuver them into a horrible deal and get totally out strategized by McConnell.

Immigration

To the disgust of many and surprise of few, the House passed a bill designed to intervene in the cities that have become sanctuaries for immigrants. The demagoguery on this issue was led by Donald Trump – and the excuse provided by a hardened criminal who shot a woman in San Francisco. He had been repeatedly deported and had done time in prison. The legislation would withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities where they decline to turn their local police departments into immigration enforcement agencies.

The bill passed by a 241 to 179 margin. Six Dems voted for it and five Rs voted against it.

Detention

I know Gentle Reader that you will be surprised to learn that I hold the consecutive detention record for my high school. “You will come to detention until we tell you to quit.” Of course, they never did tell me to quit. If I hadn’t graduated I would still be there. So stuff about detention gets my attention.

During the last Bush administration the decision was made to establish some holding pens where undocumented mothers and their children would be detained together. They called them “family detention” centers. Sounds benign, doesn’t it? Family-oriented and all. Well the place down by Austin, Texas where they set this up actually was a damned mess. Kids in prison suits, without private toilets, sleeping under the lights and going without schooling.

The Obama Administration decided largely to abandon this approach, but when the wave of Central American refugee kids started arriving they re-opened a family detention center in New Mexico where refugee children are held for extensive periods of time for assessment of their asylum status and in preparation for deportation. They are kept there month after month.

I was detained for an hour a day in high school, but imagine being a kid locked in what is effectively a full time prison all day every day for months on end. Reports of the effect of this extensive incarceration on the children are heart rending.

Over a month ago, a delegation of Members of Congress led by Rep. Louis Gutierrez (D-IL), visited the facility and immediately called for its closure. In late June, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited and announced a policy that would free the detainees when they had established a cause for consideration of their asylum status.

The efforts to close these kinds of facilities should get a boost from a study done by the American Immigration Council outlining how humane approaches, including the provision of legal counsel, are just as effective as detention.

I wish the folks who wrote this report had been around when I needed them, but it is wonderful that they are with us now to show how we can effectively get rid of this inhumane system.

Racism

Presidential candidates among the D’s are getting their pant cuffs caught in their bike sprockets because they don’t get the very clear focus of the Black Lives Matter activists. Great story in the Washington Post about how they keep wanting to say “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.” What they are finding hard to deal with is the idea that racism is not something being inflicted on either whites or all lives. Racism is about blacks killed by the cops, and a lot of other stuff indeed.

The candidates are getting a hard schooling in this when they are being heckled and confronted by activists. As the candidates struggle to figure this out, all of us will be drawn into the dynamic. Racism has become an issue in the Presidential campaign.

Dust Off That Public Option

Big announcement that mega health insurance company Anthem is trying to buy the nearly as mega Cigna. If this deal goes through you can pretty much kiss off competition in a whole lot of insurance markets.

We’re gonna have to swim for it!

You had better get on with the trip to Venice that you have been putting off until next year.

There is a new report out about the increasing pace of global warming from a group of scientists led James Hansen, the NASA scientist who first helped put this issue on the national stage back in 1988.

This new study warns: “If the ocean continues to accumulate heat and increase melting of marine-terminating ice shelves of Antarctica and Greenland, a point will be reached at which it is impossible to avoid large scale ice sheet disintegration with sea level rise of at least several meters.”

Several meters is a whole hell of a lot higher than the more current assumption of a rise of a meter, which is trouble enough. The scientists also worry that the pace of change may be more rapid than previously thought.

Those who are weak swimmers are invited to master the art of walking on water. If you can do neither, Venice soon may be off your itinerary. They already have to put out risers so folks can pass across a flooded Piazza San Marco to get north a few canals to sample the fritto misto and buy gelato for the kids.

Oak Flat

We report here about Oak Flats on the chance that some of you may have missed the story in the New York Times about how Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a saint to many, engineered a corrupt fine print deal in the Defense Authorization Act that gave sacred Apache land over to a couple of foreign mining companies.

Oak Flats is located on land that was protected from mining under the Eisenhower Administration. For centuries the Apaches have used this land for acorn gathering and for coming of age ceremonies for girls. But there is a billion tons of copper under Oak Flats and the little McCain provision gives this area over to two mining firms from Australia and Britain in return for some other land they purchased in Arizona that is otherwise worthless and has no meaning for the Apaches. When they get done with it Oak Flats will be a two-mile wide toxic hole a thousand feet deep.

Phase Out Medicare

In spite of repeated warnings in these pages, Presidential candidate Jeb Bush continues to make ad lib policy remarks that raise serious questions about the direction he wants for the country.

Last week he suggested that we had to “phase out” Medicare. Huh? Yep. You can read theactual transcript of his remarks. Aids later clarified that he really means that the program has to be reformed, etc., etc. While those of us who rely on Medicare to ease our health care costs in our senior moments contemplate the meaning of these remarks, the Bush campaign might want to figure out how to keep its candidate from rambling into these positions that are sure to be topics of negative advertising should their guy get the nomination.

Clinton Email

Meanwhile the saga of Hillary Clinton’s email continues to plague her candidacy. The Inspector General for the State Department has turned the issue over to the Justice Department for the investigation of possible criminal charges associated with classified information.

Drugs

While the stories continue about the apparent attempt by the Obama Trade Representative to make it impossible for our government to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that an overwhelming percentage of the public want us to fight costs by doing exactly that. Eighty-seven percent want the government to be able to negotiate for cheaper drug prices.

Klepto Banking

The big banks just got a new rule that they are going to hate. They either have to increase their reserves or reduce their size. The rule comes via the Federal Reserve and flows from reforms adopted in the post economic collapse Dodd-Frank legislation. Let the screamin’ and yellin’ begin. OK, puns that have to be explained are not very good, but Janet Yellen chairs the Federal Reserve.

Tax Extenders

It looks as though Senate Majority Leader McConnell is having his way with a strategy aimed at getting all the juicy stuff done this year so that he can concentrate on getting a lot of campaign related stuff done next year, just prior to the elections.

For months there have been rumors and blogs about how the package of some 55 tax loopholes known as extenders would be a vehicle used to make permanent some big tax breaks for the corporate oligarchs. This week the Senate Finance Committee rolled out and passed a bill that is a simple, straight two-year extension of these loopholes. Nothing permanent. This will probably avoid a protracted fight over this stuff. It also eliminates a possible vehicle that many advocates were hoping to have in order to make improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Honesty About Agony

Mike, a professor of Lit down in Portland, writes to point out that I got a bit beyond my headlights with the agony metaphor in the last Weekly. He indicates that the word agonpreceded the introduction of a second character into Greek tragedy and was not at first associated with a heroine’s confrontation of her terrible fate. Our word for agony does however come from this source, so we were mostly right. I report on this to you because the Daley Weekly intends to set a high standard for itself. How can we be so bold as to suggest that the world is filled with liars and cheats if we are not ourselves clear about stuff?

Schedule

The Congress is around through the first week of August and then they depart for a month.

 

Daley Weekly: Don’t Be Fooled By Names – “Family Flexibility” is a Fail

Iran

Big debate starting in Congress over the nuclear pact negotiated between the U.S., Iran and the world’s nuclear powers, including China and Russia.

The conservatives don’t like it, but have proven hard pressed to figure out just why – they don’t trust the Iranians, or they don’t want them to get the money that will come with lifting sanctions, or the Israelis are upset, or the Saudis might try to get a bomb themselves. The central idea that Iran is not now able to make a bomb does not seem to be the issue.

Obama immediately vowed to veto any Congressional act that tried to undo the deal. It looks like he probably will hold enough votes to prevent an override. Watch the Congressional action turn to something that does not undo the deal, but lets them look like they are sticking a pencil in the President’s eye – something about what happens if the deal is broken, or what happens in ten years.

This debate will be all the rage in your nation’s Capital for the next few weeks, but it’s a big win for the President.

Farce Turns to Tragedy

The agon is the portion of the Greek Tragedy where the heroes and heroines confront their fate. It is the origin of our word agony. The Greek agony came last week when they submitted to austerity imposed largely at the insistence of the Germans in return for a bail out of their economy. Since there is no capacity to stimulate growth and no money to invest in the economy, this plan simply will not work.

The International Monetary Fund and the French seem to understand that it will not work and are trying to find another way, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is ailing from the austerity bug and apparently is intent on punishing the Greeks by inflicting the symptoms of this disease on them.

The Greeks actually are showing heroism in the face of some rough treatment by the rest of Europe – they have tried not to desert the European community.

Infrastructure

Remember the old saw comparing the legislative process to sausage making? Well we have a great example going now in the Congress over the need to put money in the Highway Trust Fund.

Last week we reported about a bad plan being offered by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Democrats have been reluctant to criticize this give away to the multi-national corporations because they are anxious to produce the largest possible amount of funding for the Trust and thus the maximum amount of economic stimulus. Schumer’s most important ally is Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) over in the House. Ryan wants to link infrastructure funding to the largest possible tax deal.

Nevertheless, these plans may not even be considered if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is successful in pushing a short-term fix for the infrastructure program. Since he doesn’t want to do the sensible thing and raise the gas tax, McConnell is scratching around for a way to pay for the program for a couple of years. How about using unspent mortgage relief money, or cutting federal employee retirement benefits, or by making it easier to deny Social Security benefits? No, we did not make any of these up, they are actually offered by various Republican sources.

Meanwhile, over in the House they cobbled together some more phony money deals and passed an extension of the fund until December. The Democrats had suggested that long term funding could come from closing corporate tax loopholes, but their plan was voted down.

We will know in a week or so whether the bad short-term McConnell plan will get through the Senate. If it doesn’t, watch out for the bad long-term Schumer plan to become the framework for a debate that could last until Christmas.

Walker

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker finally announced his candidacy for the Presidency. We have been breathless with expectation. He joins Governors Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie as examples of politicians who have adopted the austerity ideology and have driven their state’s economies into the ditch – all the while bragging about their records. Walker’s announcement prompted a series of stories about how poorly the state’s economy is doing compared to neighboring Minnesota.

Walker cut funding for education, attacked collective bargaining and civil service, and refused to expand Medicaid – among other things on the Koch Brother’s austerity agenda.

Wisconsin is rated thirty-fourth among the states in terms of job growth.

Meanwhile, next door in Minnesota where the Democrats increased taxes, expanded Medicaid and made investments in education, they are experiencing an economic boom, ranking fifth in the nation in economic growth.

Medicaid

It looks as though Alaska will join the growing group of Medicaid expansion states. After the Alaska Legislature failed to enact Independent Governor Bill Walker’s expansion proposal, he announced that he was going to go ahead and do it anyway.

Trumped Up Charges

In the last Daley Weekly we asked whether or not Trump had peaked. Lest you did not believe this to be a possibility, you might speculate about how Trump’s ridiculous attack on Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be seen by his base. Late in the week Trump gave all the R candidates something to react to when he claimed that Senator John McCain was not a war hero because he had been captured. Trump’s ego and mouth just got him in real trouble even with those who admire his racist remarks about Mexicans. If spending six years in a prison camp doesn’t pretty much give you a corner on the hero thing I don’t know what does. It will be interesting to see how Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has been kissing The Donald’s backside, deals with this one.

Let’s hope that the polls change enough to get Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) into the Republican Presidential Debate set for month’s end. He had the sense to go on national TV and denounce Donald Trump’s comments about Mexicans. Graham even went so far as to declare that if the Republicans did not reject this stuff they would lose both the election and the moral authority to govern the nation. I think that Graham’s war mongering has and would get us into more foreign sewers than we can possibly clean, but someone needs to be on the stage to speak against The Donald’s racist fulminations.

SHOP Exchanges

Apparently enrollments in the SHOP exchanges, which started last year, are dangerously low – a mere 10,700 employers have bought in, which equates to about 85,000 lives nationwide. Shops have experienced technology problems and a lack of competition. Employers complain about complications and cost. Small business tax credits are available to far too few businesses due to size limitations. Small businesses had looked to these markets as a way to expand health insurance coverage for their employees.

What’s in a Name?

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well maybe, maybe not. Some Republicans introduced a bill in the House called the “Working Families Flexibility Act.” The idea behind this act is to prevent employers from having to pay overtime for work beyond the forty-hour week. You could choose paid leave or comp time, but no overtime pay.

Remember how sacred the forty-hour week was a couple of months back when they were trying to change the ACA requirement that benefits go to employees who worked up to thirty hours? Anyway, this “flexibility” is an absolute crock and it is intended to cost you money and give the corporations another break.

Sorry to get all flowery here but it isn’t my fault. After all, it is Shakespeare who dreams up these metaphors. Here’s another one: “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”

Paid Sick Leave

Oregon joined California, Connecticut and Massachusetts in requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees.

Low Income Tax Credits

As the Republican Congress goes through its machinations over how to make the rich even richer, it is critical that the Minority Party use its power to make sure that the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit be made a part of the legislation. And merely renewing them won’t be enough. The hole in the EITC that excludes childless adults should be eliminated. The CTC should be indexed to inflation. When you discuss this whole matter with your friends and Members of Congress, you might want to school yourselves with some excellent information and framing supplied via a webinar given last week on these credits by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Coalition on Human Needs.

Criminalization

President Obama seems to be doubling down on efforts to reduce criminalization. He commuted the sentences of 46 low-level drug offenders and visited a federal pen. He is asking Congress to join with him to overhaul the criminal justice system and reduce the national prison population. He argues that this is an aspect of national life that is “particularly skewed by race and by wealth.”

Karl Marx wrote that religion is the opiate of the people. I think he got it bassackwards. It turns out that opiates are the religion of the people. Hence the failure of the so-called war on drugs. The drugs won. And now we are going to have to figure out how to free the POWs.

Contraception

Remember Hobby Lobby? This was the name of a case in which the Supreme Court threw a spear into the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that attempted to guarantee women access to cost-free contraception through health insurance. It looked as though the idea was pretty much meaningless for millions of women. The Administration has been trying to do what they call inside the D.C. Beltway “thread the needle” with an accommodation for religious institutions. They may have done it. The Little Sisters of the Poor were not happy and sued. They lost when a federal appeals court ruled that the plan does not impose a substantial burden on the nuns’ practice of their religion.

Schedule

Congress is pretty much in continuous session through the first week in August when they break for a month. August might be a good time to see if you can catch your local Congress member back home and to ask them whether or not they will work to break the Sequester that is strangling domestic spending and pressing a brake on an economy that needs to be stimulated.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

Remember to follow the Alliance for a Just Society on Facebook

Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/

Daley Weekly: Presidential Candidates Peak, Posture and Backpedal

Confederate Battle Flag

On Thursday South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed a law removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the Capitol grounds. It came down Friday morning. Could enacting Medicaid expansion be next? LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society raised the question in her Huffington Post column this week.

Trade

I listed the revival and passage of the Fast Track trade bill along with a group of pretty amazing developments in the previous Daley Weekly. Mike Courtly from SEIU wrote to chide me because it looked as though I was approving of the passage of damned thing. He has a point – even though the Weekly has been bashing TPP and Fast Track for over a year.

Just to put emphasis on the problem, we are distressed to report that a document brought to light through WikiLeaks shows that the Trade Representative’s Office has been talking out of both sides of its collective mouth when they assured a group of us that we had nothing to worry about when we raised questions with them about how the TPP would treat policies governing pharmaceuticals. The U.S. has been operating as a mouthpiece for the drug industry and advocating policies that not only would destroy New Zealand’s successful cost control programs, but also keep the U.S. Congress from doing the same.

Immigration

Libero Della Piana, the Alliance’s senior organizer, based in New York, sends along a note calling attention to a story in The Hill suggesting that the lower courts are likely to rule against the Administration’s executive actions to defer prosecution of over five million undocumented immigrants. The analysis points to the fact that two of the three judges already have made hostile rulings.

Iran

Apparently the Administration thinks it may have a deal on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Hard to tell, given the stream of unacceptable demands from the Supreme Ayatollah. If there is an agreement, expect everything in D.C. to focus on it for a few weeks as the R’s try to make the President look like a wimp and the President tries to explain why the thing actually will work. I would suggest that the whole D.C. process will grind to a halt, but they ground to a halt a couple of weeks ago when the Supreme Court validated the ACA subsidies.

Schumer Proposes Huge Tax Break for Corporations

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the number two in the Senate Democratic Leadership, proposed a tax plan that offers huge benefits to corporations that want to stick money overseas to avoid taxation. Schumer paired with Republican Sen. Bob Portman to suggest a plan that includes all the bad ideas that advocates for progressive taxation abhor.

While the proposal is short on details it appears to include movement toward a “territorial” system that will permit a further tax avoidance by profitable corporations. It makes permanent two of the most egregious tax loopholes called “active finance” and the Controlled Foreign Corporations “look through” rule. The first of these is the loophole that permitted General Electric to pay no U. S. taxes and the second lets companies stash funds in the Cayman Islands where they pay virtually no taxes on it.

The supposed plusses in the proposal are two: there is one sentence in the proposal mentioning the possibility of a minimum corporate tax and there is mention of “deemed repatriation” – a forced return of some profits to the U. S. where they would be taxed at pennies on the dollar. That’s it.

Perhaps the worst feature of the proposal is the creation of a “patent box” that would permit corporations to call investments “innovations” and stick them in a category where they are taxed at a lower rate. I am proposing that my ideas for frozen tomatoes and lead free pencils be stuck in this box so I can get a tax break. No problem.

This plan is horrifying and it is inexplicable why any Democrat would support it.

Infrastructure

The Highway Trust Fund is due to run out of gas on the July 31. A bipartisan bill to pay for $276 billion in infrastructure projects was introduced in the Senate without any plan for how to pay the tab. The disastrous Schumer/Portman tax proposal outlined above is apparently being suggested as a way of funding public works projects, but this thing actually loses money over the long haul. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that a gas tax increase was off the table and expressed skepticism about using “repatriated” funds. This is one of the so-called “must pass” pieces of legislation so look for them to cobble together some phony money and kick the problem out a few months.

Why We Needed a Public Option

Remember the public option debate during the passage of the Affordable Care Act? We wanted a publically run insurance option to compete with the health insurance oligopoly. Advocates warned that putting the insurance companies in the driver’s seat would lead to unacceptable premium increases. Here they come. Reports abound that the insurance companies are asking for double digit premium increases next year. The wimpy and toothless ACA rate review process will do nothing to stop the deluge. But wait! Market competition is going to take care of this, right? There also appear to be a spate of big insurance company mergers in the works.

States can probably do single payer plans under ACA Section 1332 waivers starting in 2017.

Presidential Stuff

The first Republican Presidential Debate is only a month away. Fox News, which is coordinating the event, has decided that only the top ten in the polls will be included. If they were to use the MSNBC polling (always a Fox favorite), here are the ten that would be in: Bush, Walker, Carson, Perry, Rubio, Trump, Christie, Huckabee, Paul, and Cruz. Not included would be Pataki, Fiorina, Graham, Jindal, Kasich, Santorum and whoever else announces by then.

Is Trump peaking too soon? Having spent way too many years working in political campaigns, I often have heard this question. I always thought it really meant that the candidate had peaked too low. Both may apply to Trump who strutted out his ego and braggadocio and immediately stepped in it with the entire Hispanic/Latino population by calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. His egomania will not let him back down and apologize so he has captured the admiration of the twenty percent of the electorate that will vote for anyone who can sneer real loud. This libeling of Mexicans propelled him into first or second place in polls nationally.

Jeb Bush and friends apparently have $114 million on hand for the campaign. He’s going to need it if he can’t guard his tongue. He told an interviewer that “people need to work longer hours” and then had to start walking the idea back when his aides realized that such an attitude would anger a whole bunch of folks who are more in need of a siesta than a longer work week.

Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, announced his candidacy as the person who tells it like it is and then immediately began feeding us a lot of malarkey about how good New Jersey is doing under his leadership. In fact, the New Jersey economy is in a shambles – third from the bottom in state job growth, falling incomes, high unemployment, eight bond rating downgrades since 2010, a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall. You can Google all of this up by yourself or just hit this link for easy access to the truth about Christie’s misleading remarks.

Bloggers report that the Clinton campaign is getting nervous about the big crowds Bernie Sanders is attracting – ten-thousand in Colorado, ditto in Wisconsin, 7,500 in Maine. Hillary still leads in most polls and pulled in an impressive $45 million since April. Bernie did pretty well on the donor front bringing in over $8 million and all of it from small donors.

Did you notice that former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb announced himself as a candidate for the Presidency on the Democratic side? He was a pretty unremarkable Senator. It is hard to figure why someone with so little charisma could expect to succeed in the great telegenic contest so we peeked at his web site. Still don’t know. At least he takes a poke at over-criminalization.

Has anyone seen Lincoln Chafee lately?

The Pot Calling the Kettle White

Ohio Congressman Steven King has defended Donald Trump’s racist remarks about Mexicans. Those of us who have noted King’s barrage of similar comments about immigrants are not very reassured by this pronouncement. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) also defended Trump. Nevertheless, Univision, NBC, Macy’s, Serta, ESPN, and NASCAR, all have severed their business ties with Trump. The fun one is the departure of Farouk Industries. These folks are into hair – hair products and salons. Trump will miss them for sure.

Appropriations

The appropriations process is underway in the Congress. We have been reporting that none of these bills are going to get to the Senate floor but it is perhaps useful to give you the character of one of them.

Here’s some detail about the Labor/HEW appropriation. You can get more detail by looking at the materials produced by the Minority Staff.

  • To set the tone, take a peek at the plan for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention program. Overall the program is cut by $87.8 million – an 81 percent cut to community programs that have been proven to work. But the “abstinence” program, which has been proven not to work, is given a 300 percent increase.
  • For emphasis, they also cut funding for family planning clinics by ten percent, a decision that is estimated to increase unintended pregnancies by over 82,000 next year.
  • They propose cutting $403 million out of the Community Health Centers appropriation. Health care access for 2.6 million will be eliminated. No problem, they can always go to the emergency room at two or three times the cost.
  • Pell Grants are kept at the current spending level, but they rescind the $300 million in savings needed to support the program next year.
  • Programs to help low income college students – Supplemental Opportunity Gants and Federal Work Study are cut a total of $69 million.
  • The already beleaguered Social Security Administration is cut another two percent.

Ok. You get the point. While there are slight increases in special education, early childhood education, and the National Institute of Health, the overall cuts are $15 billion or about ten percent. Funding to administer the Affordable Care Act is eliminated and there is a rider prohibiting the Department of Labor from processing rules prohibiting conflicts of interest among financial advisors.

The House version of this appropriations is perhaps even worse.

Deficit

To the shock of even seasoned observers, the austerity freaks have not been dancing in the streets over the news that the U.S. Deficit fell 14 percent in the first half of 2015. They want us to cut rather than grow our way out of the deficit brought to us by the Bush Administration and the Great Recession. What is good news for the nation actually is bad news for the deficit fulminators.

Musical Chairs

Florida Democrat Bill Nelson has made public his impending operation for prostate cancer. He says it will not keep him from running for reelection in 2016.

Schedule

The Congress will work right through the first week of August when they break for a month.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

Remember to follow the Alliance for a Just Society on Facebook

Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/

Daley Weekly: What a Week It Was!

I am growing old. Some days, after countless battles and, ultimately, more frustration than elation, it is hard to maintain the energy and keep up the hope that progress indeed will come. Then we have a week like the last one.

Courage in Charleston

The tone for the whole week was set earlier when the families of the nine victims of the racial terrorism in Charleston went to the shooter’s arraignment and talked about forgiveness. It was impossible not to be in awe at this courage and strength. Wow. I am pretty sure that I would not have been up to that. But they were up to it. They changed the whole discussion.

True, these killings were different from unarmed black men killed by the police. True, it is unclear where we are going – the re-modulated tone may not last.

But that act of forgiveness caused something to shift in South Carolina. Gov. Nikki Haley got the idea, and led a group of political leaders into a press conference where she gave an eloquent plea to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds. South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a black man and the third ranking Democrat in the U.S. House, was in tears.

And then the flag seemed to be coming down all over the place. True, bringing down the Confederate battle flag is more symbol than substance. But it points to a different kind of debate, one about what the Old South of slavery and resistance to civil rights might mean in our time.

Trade

The Senate passed fast track, giving Obama a big win – even though it came only through the work of the Republican Leadership and the President’s ability to turn a few Democrats his way. House Democrats subsequently gave up on blocking the legislation to help displaced workers, the tool they had used to slow down the fast track negotiation bill. So the authority came at a price, but it clearly strengthened the President’s power.

Disparate Impact

Thursday was a big day for the Supreme Court. They started by upholding a tool that has been used for decades to fight housing discrimination. They ruled that discrimination could be proven by the actual impact of an action, not merely by what its expressed intent might be. Civil rights advocates were worried that the Court had taken the case in order to weaken discrimination laws by reversing the “disparate impact” principle, but the Court upheld it instead.

King v. Burwell

Minutes later the Court dropped the other shoe. They rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that was designed to destroy the whole reform. The issue hinged on a poorly drafted provision of the Act that permitted ACA opponents to maintain that the crucial premium subsidies should not be made available except in the 16 states that operate their own health benefit exchanges. The Court, by a 6-to-3 vote, ruled that reading the whole Act made this argument essentially meaningless.

You might have heard the pundits talking about Chevron. This refers to a case that established the principle that the judiciary would give deference to interpretations adopted by the agencies charged with administering the laws. Lots of legal scholars felt that Chevron would decide this case. The subsidies actually are tax credits and the IRS has issued rules making them available in all exchanges, so Chevron just might apply. But, to the fascination of wonks everywhere, the opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts decided not to rely on Chevron. The Court decided to interpret the Act itself without any help from the IRS and concluded, based on the whole structure of the ACA, that subsidies should be available in all exchanges.

So who cares, Chevron or not? You do. If the R’s manage to elect an Administration that wants to destroy the ACA, they will not be able to do it by simply making the IRS change its rules on subsidies. They are going to have to get the interpretation of the Supreme Court reversed, which is not about to happen.

This strong ruling means that the Act will be implemented, in spite of the fulminations from the Right. But it does not mean that the fight is over. Even though the President was able to claim that this reform “is here to stay,” the Tea Baggers in Congress immediately announced their intention to press forward with efforts to repeal the entire ACA.

Omnia Vincit Amor

John Arthur was the love of Jim Obergefell’s life. When Ohio’s ban on same sex marriage prevented him from placing his name on John’s death certificate, Jim didn’t just slip away in sorrow – he sued. On Friday a deeply divided Supreme Court responded through an opinion written by Judge Anthony Kennedy, one of its conservative members:                

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Same sex marriage became the law of the nation.

Love conquers all.

Friday Afternoon in Charleston

On Friday afternoon President Obama put an exclamation point on the week with a speech eulogizing the nine victims of the violence in Charleston. He used the Christian idea of grace to animate a stunning sermon on race in America. Thousands gathered in hundred-degree heat in a basketball arena and overflowed onto the street. There was hope, and sorrow, prayer and song. President Obama made sure that they did not go away disappointed. He gave one of the most remarkable speeches ever given by a President.

“But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change – that’s how we lose our way again.

“It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.”

At the end he returned to the theme of grace: “If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace. Amazing grace.” And then, to the delight of his audience, he sang:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.”

If there is any chance that you have not seen this, you really must. Click on the little blue link up there and treat yourself to a few minutes of absolute brilliance. It will help you understand that the struggle is worth every ounce of energy that you put into it.

Medicaid Expansion

Can’t help but note that Senator Pinckney, the Reverend murdered in Charleston last week, was a big advocate for health care equality, including the expansion of Medicaid. As they take down the Confederate battle flags across the South, it might be useful for them to raise the Medicaid flag in its place. One of the horrible consequences of the racial divides in these states has been the outright refusal to extend medical care to millions of people of color that live there. Now that the ACA is firmly in place as the national health care system, getting on with implementing it for everyone might be a way for the Southern states to show that reconciliation has some real, tangible meaning.

Presidential Stuff

Virtually the entire field of Republican hopefuls sealed their fate last week as they fumbled around trying to figure out what to do with the affirmation of the ACA and the decision on marriage equality. Only Donald Trump managed to stay below the fray. He was busy trying to explain the bad fallout from his racist remarks about Mexicans. Trump is one of the owners of the Miss Universe contest, and Univision, the big Spanish language TV network, has pulled the plug on the pageant.

Starting to lose track of just who is now a candidate for President on the Republican side? It looks like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey will jump in Tuesday with Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin soon to follow. These two governors will be mimicking the leadership of Gov. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana, who has established the principle that chaos in one’s home state is a reason to recommend yourself to the nation. Ohio Gov. John Kasich will come dancing in soon.

It may be that the whole gaggle on the Right is just wasting their time anyway. Surely President Obama’s approval ratings are going to increase as the Supreme Court affirms his most cherished achievement. Surely the events of last week and the speech he gave Friday will solidify his position on the Left. This has got to ease the way forward for whoever the Democrats nominate.

What will the R’s have to campaign on? The culture wars are ending and they are in retreat. Watch for a whole lot of them, who could not pronounce Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a week ago, to suddenly become experts on the Iran negotiations.

On the D’s side, polls are showing that Bernie Sanders is gaining support. Hillary Clinton still has a clear lead but Sanders is within striking distance, but only in some states. But the effort to cut Sanders down has begun. Senator Claire McCaskill, D- Missouri, a Hillary supporter attacked Sanders as “extreme.” Things got a little muddled when she was asked to identify policies espoused by Sanders with which she disagrees. Social Security expansion seems to be one of them, but McCaskill has herself co-sponsored legislation with Sanders to expand Social Security. Hard to tell what she is worried about anyway – some polling shows Clinton leading her Democratic rivals by as much as 60 percent.

Apparently Joe Biden’s dying son Beau encouraged him to run for President. Wow. Pretty powerful stuff and Biden is a pretty emotional person.

Just say Ochi

Many foreign visitors to Greece get a little confused about the words yes and no. The Greek word for yes starts with the letter “n” and is pronounced neh. The word for no is ochi, which does little to clear up the confusion.

The Greeks are going to be using these words a lot this week as they head toward a yes-or-no referendum Sunday on whether or not to accept the austerity conditions that are being imposed on them by the European Community as a price for not defaulting on their debts.

Hard telling where this is heading. The anti-austerity government in Greece refused to accept the terms being insisted on by the other European governments and the Central Bank. There has been a run on Greek banks that has prompted the government to shut them down and to impose restrictions on moving cash out of the country.

Finding a way to stimulate the Greek economy in order to begin raising it out of this deep fiscal morass needs to be a part of any plan moving forward, but there seems as yet to be zero agreement with this on the part of Greek’s creditors. Instead the new plan seems to be more austerity – pension cuts and new taxes.

The European Community is prevented by a flawed ideology from rushing investment into Greece and the Iberian Peninsula in order to stimulate their economies and build employment to everyone’s benefit. There might also be a bit of Teutonic arrogance here, something certainly being felt by the Greeks.

I’m betting on ochi.

Debt

Greece is not the only place feeling a debt pinch. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico announced this week that it was probably going to have to default on its municipal bond debt.

Nepal is out of money. Efforts to respond to the terribly destructive earthquake have sucked the place clean.

Schedule

The Congress is gone through July 6 for the Independence Day holiday. They then work right through the first week of August when they break for a month.

Daley Weekly: Pope, President and Pompadour

Fast Track

Reading some of the leftish blogs, you might have thought it was all over and the President had been delivered a stinging defeat. If you thought it was all over, you did not read our note on this in the last Daley Weekly with the nuanced insight that we have come to expect from our readership. Yep, they simply passed an amended version of the fast track bill and sent it to the Senate. It’s a lose-lose situation with the negotiated-in-secret, unamendable treaty able to proceed and the bill to aid displaced workers doing the Limbo. It remains to be seen whether or not the Senators will pass this latest iteration, but it’s one more step toward the TPP deal.

The Sequester

The fight over whether or not to continue the automatic cuts to federal programs called “sequester” took an interesting turn Thursday when 45 Democratic Senators voted “no” on a “motion to proceed” for the Defense Appropriations bill. A motion to proceed is the first step needed to bring a bill to the Senate Floor and it takes 60 votes to pass.

Apparently the D’s have decided not to let any of the appropriations bills get to the Floor for debate unless they “break” sequester. If they can do this on the Defense bill, they can do it on all the others.

Since the R’s are determined to implement sequester cuts (and then some), particularly for domestic programs, the procedural move by the D’s is going to mean a standoff – in a couple of months we will have no money to operate the government.

Watch for the inevitable Continuing Resolution to keep things running for a while and then they will make some kind of deal to get by another year.

Paid Sick Days

With the help of our friends at Oregon Action, the Center for Intercultural Organizing, and the Oregon Main Street Alliance, the Oregon Legislature has passed paid sick days legislation and sent it to the Governor for a signature.

Taxes

Our Board Chair, Beverly DeLeonardis, gave me a timely little poke about providing more information regarding the Inheritance Tax and the Earned income Tax Credit. Here’s a slightly redacted version of what I sent her.

The House passed a complete repeal of the Inheritance Tax, but that is going nowhere in the Senate. It is way too overboard. If they get around to some broad scale tax reform then this issue will come back into play, but that’s unlikely any time soon.

The EITC and the Child Tax Credit will be active parts of the debate that will come to a head late this summer. There is going to be a big train wreck and then there will be an effort to fashion a compromise. It is difficult to tell whether this will come in association with some kind of infrastructure plan or in association with a package to extend tax loopholes.

The President is proposing to use money stashed overseas to fund infrastructure, but he wants to do it as a mandated and required return of profits to the U.S. This is known as “deemed repatriation.” The President has proposed that this requirement be set at a 14 percent tax rate on dollars that otherwise would be taxed at a rate of 35 percent. This is too low a rate to prevent corporations from continuing to stash profits overseas and therefore should be increased. But at least it is mandatory, not voluntary, and it might actually bring in some money.

The R’s want any kind of deemed repatriation to be associated with other tax changes for the multi-national corporations. This means danger to the overall U.S. tax base. The R’s inevitably will be pushing for tax breaks that benefit the multi-nationals and for a “territorial system” that permits corporations to do worldwide gaming of the tax codes.

They will have to make a deal. Will a renewal of the EITC or the CTC be a part of the deal?

Congress will also face the debate about renewing some 55 tax loopholes that they have needed to reenact every year because they expire annually. This package is known as the “extenders.” The R’s want to make a bunch of these permanent. Progressive tax advocates want to refuse to renew many of these permanently, especially the ones that comprise loopholes that permit multi-nationals to stash profits overseas.

At some point, there will be a crisis and some package of “extenders” will pass. Will the EITC and CTC be parts of this package?

So what should advocates be doing?

Ignore the Inheritance tax for the time being and concentrate on the EITC/CTC. We need to keep the EITC/CTC constantly in the view of decision makers, particularly Senators. The “ask” should be that they work to renew these credits at the earliest possible time – no tax bills that do not include the renewal of these credits should pass.

Financial Advice

How would you feel if you rolled your hard earned 401k money into an IRA at the urging of your financial advisor and found out that you were making less that you would have made if you had left it in a 401k? Not happy. But wait, there might be one more unhappiness awaiting you – it is likely that the roll over to the IRA benefited your financial advisor’s company because it now administers your new IRA and gets the fees. Furthermore the company had instructed your trusty advisor to peddle this thing to you. Not happy.

It is exactly the problem that the Department of Labor is trying to remedy with a rule. They want the financial advisors to have a fiduciary duty to act in your interest. Whoa, you mean they are not already required to act in my interest? Nope. And they apparently do not want to be required to act in your interest because they are getting the House of Representatives to stick a rider in an appropriations bill prohibiting the DOL from implementing such a rule. And by God they are doing it in the name of those same small businesses owners who are getting screwed by this practice. If you want to learn more, you might want to check out why Ron Rhodes, a professor at Western Kentucky University, calls the industry claims “hogwash.”

Uninsured

New report out from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggests that a whole lot of potential health insurance consumers are unaware that premium subsidies are available to help them purchase in Exchanges. Even if some subsidies do not survive the pending Supreme Court case King V. Burwell on subsidies, this report would suggest that a robust navigator and community outreach program is required in order to get everyone the aid they need. New enrollments start in November.

SEC Nominee

The five member Securities and Exchange Commission is supposedly evenly divided between the R’s and the D’s, with the sitting President able to tip the equilibrium by naming the Chair. Democrat Luis Aguilar’s term ran out this month and the President is considering who to nominate to succeed him. The Obama pick to be the SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, has turned into a disaster and the President’s choice should help redress a balance on behalf of consumers. That is why consumer advocates were alarmed to learn that one Keir Gumbs, a Wall Street insider who has represented the American Petroleum Institute before the SEC, had made the President’s short list for this position. How about a consumer voice instead, Mr. President?

ACA Subsidies Case

In a recent poll, 55 percent of the public indicated that the Supreme Court should not block the Affordable Care Act by ruling its subsidy system to be illegal. Thirty-eight percent thought it would be OK. There does not seem to be a cross-tab in the poll that would let us report how many of the respondents who want the Court to toast the ACA actually are getting subsidies themselves.

At last we are beginning to see the outlines of possible Republican responses to this important case. Typical among the R’s plans is legislation being proposed by Senator Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana) which provides that states that might lose subsidies under an unfavorable ruling would get the subsidy money, but would have to put it into Health Savings Accounts, not into buying insurance on the market.

This program not only is meaningless for the low-income consumer, it also puts everyone back into the unfettered insurance market where the inability to share risk across broad insurance pools makes everyone vulnerable. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an analysis about how this would spread fewer subsidy dollars over many more people and inevitably force millions back into the ranks of the uninsured.

Ora Pro Nobis

Pope Francis issued a big deal encyclical on global warming that tells the truth (a real shocker that) and points to human activity as a major cause.

Because this just might not fit in with the right wing dogma on the subject, we have been speculating about how some of the Republican presidential hopefuls will react, especially those who are Catholics.

Well, now we know. Jeb Bush has shown real leadership here. According to the Washington Post he said: “I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.” Bush then turned reflective about his religious beliefs: “I’m surprised that this is such an extraordinarily complicated thing … Maybe I’m not expressing myself. Am I missing something?”

Any chance Bush missed the Pope’s point completely? Is there a moral issue involved? Is it moral for us to let greed-driven polluters burn our farms into drought and flood our cities in tides and storm surges? Is there any chance that these issues are not purely economic? Are there moral problems with letting the rich, polluting nations cover the poor nations in soot and put their atolls under six inches of seawater?

“Thou shalt not choke thy neighbor with carcinogens” may not be in the Decalogue, but “Thou shalt not kill” most certainly is.

Trump Channels Thomas Hobbes

Donald Trump decided to get in the Presidential race. His main theme appears to be that we are beset with ubiquitous enemies both foreign and domestic, a sort of Hobbesian “war of each against all.” Trump described everything as combat. We need to “beat” them and he is just the person to flog the world into submission.

He gave an announcement speech with so much crap in it that it is difficult to know where to start, but the stuff about Mexico and immigration stood out as perhaps the most ridiculous:

“When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. But they’re killing us economically. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems … It’s true, and these are the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Aside for the general incoherence here, we have to ask just how are the Mexicans beating us economically? And by what process is Mexico “sending” immigrants into the U.S. This is pure race baiting.

But we have to disclose our personal view that the biggest problem with Trump is his hair. The ridiculous comb-over suggests a deep insecurity that has driven him into aggression and bombast as a cover for his flaws – a baldness-based version of the Napoleonic Complex.

The racism and the meanness and the anger show that Trump is morally and temperamentally unfit to be President. The quality of life under a Trump presidency would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” But he is going to give his Republican rivals convulsions.

Schedule

The House will not be in Session on Monday next but will be back in after that and through the end of the month.

Daley Weekly: TPP, Zombies and Straw Dust Make for a Mess

Fast Track

You will have seen headlines suggesting that the House of Representatives has dealt a setback to President Obama’s efforts to gain permission to negotiate the big Pacific trade deal. You will also see mention that the House voted 219 to 211 to give the President “fast track” authority. You will say, “what?” It is a procedural mess.

The trade package consists of three pieces: “fast track” to let the secret deal be negotiated; assistance to aid workers displaced because of the trade deal; and a Customs bill related to currency manipulation and enforcement issues. All of these are parts of a connected package passed by the Senate. The House divided the question and voted separately on each of these. What was defeated was the piece to provide benefits to displaced workers, not the piece to give the President “fast track” authority.

Speaker Boehner immediately moved to reconsider the worker assistance package because it is critical to getting concurrence in the Senate.

There had been heavy backroom bargaining in the U.S. House on the displaced worker legislation. At the urging of Minority Leader Pelosi, Speaker Boehner decided abandon the terrible idea to “pay for” worker benefits by nipping the payments to providers in the Medicare. The President himself went to the Hill Friday to help find enough Democratic votes for the package. In the end the package was rejected by a decisive bi-partisan vote.

If this is the policy that stands on contemporary trade policy it will be the worst of all possible worlds – a bad trade deal and no help for workers. Watch for a new deal on this next week when the House returns to try to figure out a way forward.

TPP and Drug Costs

The dangers of “fast track” were illustrated by a story published Thursday in the New York Times about how the U.S. Trade Representative has been negotiating a deal that would barter away the power of the U.S. government to rein in pharmaceutical costs. For over a year the Alliance and its allies have been lobbying Congress, the Trade Representative, and the Administration against this very possibility. The U.S. pays the highest drug prices in the world – they cost both consumers and the government a vast fortune. Many government programs are not permitted to negotiate for price breaks, even though public agencies buy drugs in huge volumes.

Our coalition, led by our friends at AFSCME and the AARP, has been assured repeatedly that we had nothing to worry about. We were being misled.

Thursday the New York Times reported information obtained through WikiLeaks that confirms that we were exactly right about what was in the U.S. bargaining position. It even confirms the argument made by your Daley Weekly reporter in repeated meetings with the Congress and the Administration – that the drug companies are out to screw not only the U.S. government, but also countries like New Zeeland where they pay the lowest drug prices in the world through the aggressive use of formularies.

We need New Zeeland like policies here but we will never get them if the drug companies’ written provisions are adopted as a part of the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Tax Reform

The U. S. corporations think they deserve a tax cut. They wrap this in the flag of “American Competitiveness” and argue that the rate of corporate taxation is too high here, even though the effective rate is about average for the industrial world. In spite of their lobbying efforts, it looks as though Congress is stuck and it’s improbable that anything more than some tax deal for infrastructure programs is likely to go anywhere.

So, just to change the debate, tax cutters have come up with a shiny new idea – let’s have a lower tax rate for “mobile income generated from intellectual property.” They are calling it an “innovation box.” Watch out for this one. I can think of a zillion bad ideas I could stick into this Pandora’s Box in the name of innovation. Let’s hope that the tarnish forms quickly on this little toy.

SEC Disclosure

For several years the Alliance for a Just Society and the Main Street Alliance have supported coalition efforts to bring attention to a power held by the Securities and Exchange Commission that could require the disclosure of political expenditures by public corporations. Our efforts with this coalition, led by Public Citizen, have helped put over a million comments on this issue before the SEC. Nothing has happened except that the present SEC Chair, Mary Jo White, withdrew rules on this issue from consideration.

Now the issue may be turning into a cause among Congressional Democrats. Last week Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pointed to this issue in a letter that included extensive criticism of Chair White. This week the R’s in the House Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee began processing a bill that, among other bad things, would specifically prohibit the SEC from developing the very kind of disclosure rules that we are encouraging the Commission to adopt. Representative Jose Serrano, ranking D (NY) on the Subcommittee, cited this provision as one of the main reasons why the Democrats would be opposing this bill.

In related developments, some advocacy groups now are circulating petitions calling on the President to sack Mary Jo White.

Immigration

A group of organizations have filed a class action lawsuit against the Border Patrol down in Tucson for operating detention facilities that are so filthy, overcrowded, cold, and ill-equipped that they violate the U.S. Constitution. The case is called Doe v. Johnson.

Just in case you don’t know how your Senator or Representative has been voting on important immigration issues in the Congress, the Alliance for Citizenship has developed a handy scorecard you can use and share.

Appropriations Hypocrisy

We reported last week that the Republican budget writers had decided to go ahead with implementation of the automatic budget cuts known as sequester, in spite of the widespread opposition to this plan in both parties. You all must have been enthralled by the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of the R’s when they decided to hold sequester for domestic programs, but slip a bunch of cash into the Defense Appropriation through an “off-budget” account for the overseas wars. On Thursday the House actually passed such a bill by a vote of 278 to 149. It slips a mere $40 billion into the overseas fund. Presidential veto to follow.

Presidential Stuff

Lots of straw in the Presidential winds these days.

The Republican Party in Iowa has decided to scrap its famous straw poll. Bush, Rubio, Huckabee, and Graham all had declined to participate. Perhaps they were afraid that Michelle Bachmann was again going to win this unofficial, early and inaccurate indicator of voter support. We were hoping to see the results of a race between Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Jim Gilmore, but alas it is not to be.

Hillary Clinton won a straw poll taken at the Wisconsin Democratic Party Convention last week, but she got only 49 percent. Bernie Sanders got 41 percent. We would report the breadth of support for Lincoln Chafee but have had trouble converting zero into a meaningful amount, even when using the metric system.

Marco Rubio has begun using a series of stories in the New York Times about his personal financial troubles as a method of raising money for his presidential campaign.

Jeb Bush wants to be the presumed front runner on the R side but is locked in at around ten percent support. He shook up his campaign and brought in a new manager. The manager is not the problem here.

Hillary and Jeb plan official announcements Saturday and Monday.

The Origin of Life

A story was out last week with the remarkable title “Researchers May Have Solved ‘Missing Link’ Mystery in Origin of Life.” I had a lot of trouble figuring it out, but you might have better luck. Lots of information about how RNA interacted to link up with amino acids in the big primordial chemical soup that your earth once was. The anti-evolution folks are going to have a field day with this and you can count on the pollution industry to latch onto the idea that a big chemical soup contained the origin of life.

Public Pensions

Last week we reported about an Illinois court ruling preventing that state from solving part of its fiscal crisis by cutting retirement benefits promised to state employees. They have a pension funding problem caused by repeated failures to fund the systems.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has just won a victory in court that means that New Jersey will be able to underfund its pension systems in order to get into the same mess that they have in Illinois. Even though Christie bragged a few years ago that he had solved the pension problem when signing a bill committing the state to fund the pensions, he now wants to renege and the courts said it was OK.

Aren’t these the folks who preach about the immorality of leaving debts for future generations?

Before you buy into the argument that state employee pensions are the cause of the fiscal woes being visited on several states who have systematically underfunded their systems, you might want to peek at a study done by an outfit known as Good Jobs First that compares pension obligations with the cost of tax breaks and loophole subsidies that the states hand out to big corporations. Turns out that if the states had funded the pension systems they would be better off because the supposed business-enticing loopholes didn’t produce much, but blew a big hole in the budget.

Money in Politics

The Arkansas Attorney General has approved title language that clears the way for a proposition to be placed on the statewide ballot calling for the overturn of the Citizens United decision that has flooded our democracy with dark money. If the proposition gets to the ballot and is approved, Arkansas will be the 27th state and the first state in the South to take such a position.

Zombie Economics

Being blissfully ignorant about most things that make up our pop-culture, your trusty Weekly reporter must make a confession.

These notes have reported consistently on Zombie economics, a phenomena that occurs when lots of campaign money causes politicians to lose all control over their brains and to decide that cutting taxes is the only way to develop public policy. Bad schools, provide a tax break. No child care, a tax break. No jobs, give a tax break to the rich. No food, cut the inheritance tax. Mindlessly hacking away at government becomes the only thing that these folks can do no matter how consistently the approach fails and no matter how harmful the results are to schools, health care, infrastructure, small businesses and the investments that undergird the civilization. This is the behavior of zombies, and I thought that it was based on the insidious influence of dark money.

During recent travels my friend Margarida made me aware of something called the Zombie Apocalypse. As I understand it, persistent pollution of the environment causes viruses to mutate into a disease that turns people into zombies whose only mission is to feast on other humans – thus leading to a more rapid breakdown of civilization than even the most rabid tax-cutters will be able to achieve.

I confess that I can see just how wrong I have been about this – a Koch pollution induced virus – what a clever approach. And I stupidly thought it was just money and a blind lust for power. I just didn’t know.

Klepto Banking

British regulators have fined Lloyds Banking Group $180 million for unfairly treating customers when they complained about improper sales of something they pedaled called “payment protection insurance.” The British Financial Conduct Authority, which levied the penalty, called it the largest retail fine ever.

Schedule

The Congress plans to be in Session until the 26th of June.

Daley Weekly: The Good News Just Keeps Getting Worse

Economics

In spite of an apparent contraction of the U.S. economy earlier in the year, there were 280,000 new jobs created last month – far exceeding expectations. Now if they could only solve that pesky debt problem in Greece, and if we could squish the efforts in the Congress to cut the hell out of everything – maybe a lot of folks will be able to afford to start paying off their student debt.

Patriot Act

After an extensive debate the Senate voted to send to the President a revision of the Patriot Act that limits the data collection to the telecommunications companies instead of the government. This was in spite of Senate Majority Leader McConnell’s repeated efforts to make changes. The debate was enlivened by Senator Rand Paul’s repeated objections and procedural delays.

Appropriations

The appropriations process is getting to be more like a demolition derby than what they call regular order around here.

The President and the Democrats are intent on breaking the sequester cuts for domestic programs, but the Republicans are only interested in cutting taxes and increasing defense spending. This means that appropriations bills are not going to get to the floor of the Senate.

Nevertheless, they are pushing a couple of appropriations bills out of committee each week, but none of them seem destined to make it through the Congress, let alone pass muster with the President. Why not? Well the R’s are pressing forward with a much discussed plan to implement the automatic sequester that was adopted a few years ago and that will lead to about a $10 billion cut in federal domestic spending.

At the same time, they are sneaking $98 billion in defense spending into an off budget war fund. Meanwhile, they seem intent on passing an unpaid tax cut for the corporations and the affluent on a weekly basis.

All this will mean that they reach September with no money to run the government.

Retirement

Lots of important things going on in the retirement world.

A new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security chronicles the depth of the growing retirement crisis. Their four key findings might not surprise anyone, but they are worth noting:

  • Retirement account ownership rates are closely correlated with income and wealth. More than 38 million working-age households (45 percent) do not own any retirement account assets.
  • The average working household has virtually no retirement savings.
  • The collective retirement savings gap among working households aged 25-64 ranges from $6.8 to $14 trillion, depending on the financial measure.
  • Public policy can play a critical role in putting all Americans on a path toward a secure retirement by strengthening Social Security, expanding access to low-cost, high quality retirement plans, and helping low-income workers and families save.

Nevertheless, the retirement gap is only likely to grow as the austerity gang works to cut rather than expand Social Security. Austerity advocates are likely to find new allies among conservative state governments who have neglected to fund their retirement obligations and now are, like many private companies, working to renege on the pension promises as people actually begin to retire.

The State of Illinois has for years avoided funding its pension system. Now they are having a crisis because public employees who worked for years for those pensions fought back against the State’s efforts to cut their benefits. After all, a deal is a deal, especially in the home state of Honest Abe.

The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with the employees, but the state claims that it is out of money and will either have to raise taxes or cut other programs in order to meet its pension obligations. If they had set aside the required amounts they would not have this problem, but they chose to spend the money on other things and to avoid adjusting tax revenues to meet their obligations.

Over in Pennsylvania they have a similar pension problem to the tune of $50 billion. Pennsylvania officials are talking about issuing $3 billion in bonds to fill some of the hole.

The Courts and the ACA

While you stand on one foot and then the other awaiting nervously the ruling by the Supreme Court on ACA subsidies, you might want to amuse yourself by following the other court challenge brought by Speaker John Boehner. That suit is now in the hands of a federal court in the District of Columbia. Among other things, this case contends that the Obama Administration rewrote the law when it delayed the employer mandate – a mandate that Boehner’s House has repeatedly tried to repeal.

Immigrant Health Care

The California State Senate has passed legislation that would provide health care coverage for some undocumented Californians. Under the bill, up to 240,000 immigrants under age 19 would be permitted to enroll in California’s Medicaid program, and other age groups could buy in exchanges

Medicaid Expansion

In spite of outgoing Governor Bobby Jindal’s best efforts, it looks as though Medicaid expansion might come to Louisiana after all. The recently passed state budget contains a funding mechanism that would permit the next governor to implement an expansion. Jindal is unable to veto the provision.

Meanwhile, over in Utah where they are having a debate about expansion, the Koch boys have begun a mail campaign thanking lawmakers for opposing the Governor’s effort to find a way to expand Medicaid. Pretty important to the Koch folks that they win this one, after having lost in Montana.

Presidential Stuff

The Democrats now have three candidates in addition to Hillary – Lincoln Chafee who served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and Independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

Looks like a big tent with these diverse partisan backgrounds, but they are all white folks. The campaigns could use some people of color in there. Now that Hillary’s inevitability is being challenged, maybe a couple of Latino women immigration lawyers and a Black business leader or two will jump in. After all, the Republicans are fielding up to twenty candidates and the D’s are only at four.

Speaking of inevitability, Hilary’s poll ratings have gone down since she became a candidate with overall approval at 49 percent and unfavorable at 45 percent. Jeb Bush’s ratings are, by the way, even worse. He finds himself in a dead heat with Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul.

Bernie Sanders had to spend some time explaining some pretty racy stuff he published in the ‘70s about rape and domination. When I see something like this I always assume that it came from someone’s opposition research team. You can bet that this isn’t the last thing that Sanders is going to have to explain – after all he has described himself as a socialist and you are going to see that word a lot. Nevertheless, Bernie seems to be drawing big and enthusiastic crowds in Ohio and New Hampshire.

O’Malley kicked things off with a speech that sounded like he was at an occupy rally. The spin reporters over at FOX reported that O’Malley had met with some Wall Street executives to try to raise money, but we have to assume that those meetings are over after O’Malley tried to channel Elizabeth Warren in his official announcement.

Hard to figure out what Lincoln Chafee thinks he is up to – he officially announced and took a poke at Hillary for her Iraq war vote. He had voted no on the war when he was a Republican in the Senate. He also came out in favor of the metric system – a position that we must assume has not been poll tested.

To the great excitement of those of us who enjoyed his last campaign, Rick Perry announced his candidacy for 2016.

Rumor has it that Donald Trump is going to announce.

Gonna be fun to watch this one!

ACA Enrollments

Even though there has been a dip in ACA enrollments, the system is on track to meet the Administration’s targets. About 10.2 million folks now are enrolled. This is down a bit from the 11.7 million in February, but up from the 6.3 million last year.

ACA Premiums

Maybe the reason for the drop in ACA enrollments is linked to cost. The Department of Health and Human Services has released information about their review of health insurance rate increases for next year. Many of the rates appear to be substantial. You can go to a website and take a peek for your state. Keep in mind that HHS only reviews rates if the requested increases are more than 10 percent. So when you look at your state, remember that even if your carrier is not listed on the site, they may be proposing an increase, but it didn’t hit the 10 percent threshold.

Republicans and the ACA

House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy has announced that the Republicans will not reveal their plans for the ACA until after the Supreme Court actually rules on the legality of subsidies. The Republicans have long promised to provide an alternative as they repeatedly process bills that aim to repeal the Act, but nothing ever shows up.

Perhaps the reason for the latest delay is that even Republican voters are beginning to realize that the ACA has not done them the harm they were told that they would suffer by the politicians. A recent Economist/UGOV poll shows that even though some 76 percent of Republicans predicted that their health care would worsen as a consequence of the ACA this number has now dropped to 36 percent – a full 40 percent shift. Fifty percent of Republicans now believe that their coverage has not been affected by the Act.

Political Donations and the SEC

Three previous members of the Securities and Exchange Commission have written to the Commission urging them to adopt regulations that require publicly traded companies to disclose political donations. They include a former Republican appointee Arthur Levitt.

Like many other progressives, Senator Elizabeth Warren had pressed for the confirmation of Mary Jo White as SEC Chair. Last week she wrote a 23-page letter to White criticizing her tenure in the office, including White’s refusal to process political disclosure regulations among other things.

Schedule

Congress is in until June 26 when they break for the Fourth of July.