The New York Times
found at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/opinion/sunday/barack-obama-for-president.html?smid=fb-share
October 27, 2012

Barack Obama for Re-Election

The economy is slowly recovering from the 2008 meltdown, and the country could suffer another recession if the wrong policies take hold. The United States is embroiled in unstable regions that could easily explode into full-blown disaster. An ideological assault from the right has started to undermine the vital health reform law passed in 2010. Those forces are eroding women’s access to health care, and their right to control their lives. Nearly 50 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, all Americans’ rights are cheapened by the right wing’s determination to deny marriage benefits to a selected group of us. Astonishingly, even the very right to vote is being challenged.

That is the context for the Nov. 6 election, and as stark as it is, the choice is just as clear.

President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth. He has formed sensible budget policies that are not dedicated to protecting the powerful, and has worked to save the social safety net to protect the powerless. Mr. Obama has impressive achievements despite the implacable wall of refusal erected by Congressional Republicans so intent on stopping him that they risked pushing the nation into depression, held its credit rating hostage, and hobbled economic recovery.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has gotten this far with a guile that allows him to say whatever he thinks an audience wants to hear. But he has tied himself to the ultraconservative forces that control the Republican Party and embraced their policies, including reckless budget cuts and 30-year-old, discredited trickle-down ideas. Voters may still be confused about Mr. Romney’s true identity, but they know the Republican Party, and a Romney administration would reflect its agenda. Mr. Romney’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate says volumes about that.

We have criticized individual policy choices that Mr. Obama has made over the last four years, and have been impatient with his unwillingness to throw himself into the political fight. But he has shaken off the hesitancy that cost him the first debate, and he approaches the election clearly ready for the partisan battles that would follow his victory.

We are confident he would challenge the Republicans in the “fiscal cliff” battle even if it meant calling their bluff, letting the Bush tax cuts expire and forcing them to confront the budget sequester they created. Electing Mr. Romney would eliminate any hope of deficit reduction that included increased revenues.

In the poisonous atmosphere of this campaign, it may be easy to overlook Mr. Obama’s many important achievements, including carrying out the economic stimulus, saving the auto industry, improving fuel efficiency standards, and making two very fine Supreme Court appointments.

Health Care

Mr. Obama has achieved the most sweeping health care reforms since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. The reform law takes a big step toward universal health coverage, a final piece in the social contract.

It was astonishing that Mr. Obama and the Democrats in Congress were able to get a bill past the Republican opposition. But the Republicans’ propagandistic distortions of the new law helped them wrest back control of the House, and they are determined now to repeal the law.

That would eliminate the many benefits the reform has already brought: allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents’ policies; lower drug costs for people on Medicare who are heavy users of prescription drugs; free immunizations, mammograms and contraceptives; a ban on lifetime limits on insurance payments. Insurance companies cannot deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2014, insurers must accept all applicants. Once fully in effect, the new law would start to control health care costs.

Mr. Romney has no plan for covering the uninsured beyond his callous assumption that they will use emergency rooms. He wants to use voucher programs to shift more Medicare costs to beneficiaries and block grants to shift more Medicaid costs to the states.

The Economy

Mr. Obama prevented another Great Depression. The economy was cratering when he took office in January 2009. By that June it was growing, and it has been ever since (although at a rate that disappoints everyone), thanks in large part to interventions Mr. Obama championed, like the $840 billion stimulus bill. Republicans say it failed, but it created and preserved 2.5 million jobs and prevented unemployment from reaching 12 percent. Poverty would have been much worse without the billions spent on Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits.

Last year, Mr. Obama introduced a jobs plan that included spending on school renovations, repair projects for roads and bridges, aid to states, and more. It was stymied by Republicans. Contrary to Mr. Romney’s claims, Mr. Obama has done good things for small businesses — like pushing through more tax write-offs for new equipment and temporary tax cuts for hiring the unemployed.

The Dodd-Frank financial regulation was an important milestone. It is still a work in progress, but it established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, initiated reform of the derivatives market, and imposed higher capital requirements for banks. Mr. Romney wants to repeal it.

If re-elected, Mr. Obama would be in position to shape the “grand bargain” that could finally combine stimulus like the jobs bill with long-term deficit reduction that includes letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire. Stimulus should come first, and deficit reduction as the economy strengthens. Mr. Obama has not been as aggressive as we would have liked in addressing the housing crisis, but he has increased efforts in refinancing and loan modifications.

Mr. Romney’s economic plan, as much as we know about it, is regressive, relying on big tax cuts and deregulation. That kind of plan was not the answer after the financial crisis, and it will not create broad prosperity.

Foreign Affairs

Mr. Obama and his administration have been resolute in attacking Al Qaeda’s leadership, including the killing of Osama bin Laden. He has ended the war in Iraq. Mr. Romney, however, has said he would have insisted on leaving thousands of American soldiers there. He has surrounded himself with Bush administration neocons who helped to engineer the Iraq war, and adopted their militaristic talk in a way that makes a Romney administration’s foreign policies a frightening prospect.

Mr. Obama negotiated a much tougher regime of multilateral economic sanctions on Iran. Mr. Romney likes to say the president was ineffective on Iran, but at the final debate he agreed with Mr. Obama’s policies. Mr. Obama deserves credit for his handling of the Arab Spring. The killing goes on in Syria, but the administration is working to identify and support moderate insurgent forces there. At the last debate, Mr. Romney talked about funneling arms through Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which are funneling arms to jihadist groups.

Mr. Obama gathered international backing for airstrikes during the Libyan uprising, and kept American military forces in a background role. It was smart policy.

In the broadest terms, he introduced a measure of military restraint after the Bush years and helped repair America’s badly damaged reputation in many countries from the low levels to which it had sunk by 2008.

The Supreme Court

The future of the nation’s highest court hangs in the balance in this election — and along with it, reproductive freedom for American women and voting rights for all, to name just two issues. Whoever is president after the election will make at least one appointment to the court, and many more to federal appeals courts and district courts.

Mr. Obama, who appointed the impressive Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, understands how severely damaging conservative activism has been in areas like campaign spending. He would appoint justices and judges who understand that landmarks of equality like the Voting Rights Act must be defended against the steady attack from the right.

Mr. Romney’s campaign Web site says he will “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito,” among the most conservative justices in the past 75 years. There is no doubt that he would appoint justices who would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Civil Rights

The extraordinary fact of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election did not usher in a new post-racial era. In fact, the steady undercurrent of racism in national politics is truly disturbing. Mr. Obama, however, has reversed Bush administration policies that chipped away at minorities’ voting rights and has fought laws, like the ones in Arizona, that seek to turn undocumented immigrants into a class of criminals.

The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence, under the Obama administration’s leadership. There are still big hurdles to equality to be brought down, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the outrageous federal law that undermines the rights of gay men and lesbians, even in states that recognize those rights.

Though it took Mr. Obama some time to do it, he overcame his hesitation about same-sex marriage and declared his support. That support has helped spur marriage-equality movements around the country. His Justice Department has also stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act against constitutional challenges.

Mr. Romney opposes same-sex marriage and supports the federal act, which not only denies federal benefits and recognition to same-sex couples but allows states to ignore marriages made in other states. His campaign declared that Mr. Romney would not object if states also banned adoption by same-sex couples and restricted their rights to hospital visitation and other privileges.

Mr. Romney has been careful to avoid the efforts of some Republicans to criminalize abortion even in the case of women who had been raped, including by family members. He says he is not opposed to contraception, but he has promised to deny federal money to Planned Parenthood, on which millions of women depend for family planning.

For these and many other reasons, we enthusiastically endorse President Barack Obama for a second term, and express the hope that his victory will be accompanied by a new Congress willing to work for policies that Americans need.

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The New York Times
found at :  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/22/opinion/voter-harassment-circa-2012.html?_r=0

September 21, 2012

Voter Harassment, Circa 2012

This is how voter intimidation worked in 1966: White teenagers in Americus, Ga., harassed black citizens in line to vote, and the police refused to intervene. Black plantation workers in Mississippi had to vote in plantation stores, overseen by their bosses. Black voters in Choctaw County, Ala., had to hand their ballots directly to white election officials for inspection.

This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.

The thing that’s different from the days of overt discrimination is the phony pretext of combating voter fraud. Voter identity fraud is all but nonexistent, but the assertion that it might exist is used as an excuse to reduce the political rights of minorities, the poor, students, older Americans and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.

In The Times on Monday, Stephanie Saul described how the plan works. True the Vote grew out of a Tea Party group in Texas, the King Street Patriots, with the assistance of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers that works to elect conservative Republicans. It has developed its own software to check voter registration lists against driver’s license and property records. Those kinds of database matches are notoriously unreliable because names and addresses are often slightly different in various databases, but the group uses this technique to challenge more voters.

In 2009 and 2010, for example, the group focused on the Houston Congressional district represented by Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat. After poring over the records for five months, True the Vote came up with a list of 500 names it considered suspicious and challenged them with election authorities. Officials put these voters on “suspense,” requiring additional proof of address, but in most cases voters had simply changed addresses. That didn’t stop the group from sending dozens of white “poll watchers” to precincts in the district during the 2010 elections, deliberately creating friction with black voters.

On the day of the recall election of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the group used inaccurate lists to slow down student voting at Lawrence University in Appleton with intrusive identity checks. Three election “observers,” including one from True the Vote, were so disruptive that a clerk gave them two warnings, but the ploy was effective: many students gave up waiting in line and didn’t vote.

True the Vote, now active in 30 states, hopes to train hundreds of thousands of poll watchers to make the experience of voting like “driving and seeing the police following you,” as one of the group’s leaders put it. (Not surprisingly, the group is also active in the voter ID movement, with similar goals.) These activities “present a real danger to the fair administration of elections and to the fundamental freedom to vote,” as a recent report by Common Cause and Demos put it.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits intimidation or interference in the act of voting, but the penalties are fairly light. Many states have tougher laws, but they won’t work unless law enforcement officials use them to crack down on the illegal activities — handed down from Jim Crow days — of True the Vote and similar groups.

 

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The Bain Way: Let the States Pick Up the Tab on National Debt?

Thursday, 13 September 2012 00:00 By Dina Rasor, Truthout | News Analysis
Here’s how government could be run “The Bain Way”: Strip the assets of 50 companies (states) by selling off parks and universities, raiding pension funds and privatizing prisons to pay off debts and favored lobbyists. Why didn’t Lincoln think of this?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has touted his business acumen as one of his biggest assets to solving America’s economic problems. He even mused that perhaps you should not be able to run for president until you had a couple of years of running a business under your belt.

Romney has had one major business experience – founding and running a private equity firm called Bain Capital, something very different than his father, who ran a car company. In the past several weeks there have been two detailed investigative stories on how he ran his private equity firm, and there has been much discussion in the media on how he ran his business differently than others: It has been dubbed, “The Bain Way.”

I know that he believes that he can structure the American tax and regulation codes in a way to help small and large American businesses bloom, and then just get out of the way and watch the economy grow. But that isn’t the main thing that he will have to deal with immediately if he gets into office in January.

He will be facing the problem of making a “grand bargain” debt deal with the Congress on what to do about the federal government deficit and its long-term debt. Right now, as pointed out by Bill Clinton, Romney’s debt plans “arithmetic” is not adding up using the old Washington ways, so he may have to fall back on his business acumen.

So how would he use that hard-earned knowledge in private equity to get us out of this mess? I have some suggestions using The Bain Way and the assets of the United States – and I do mean states. But first we have to learn, through these two investigative reports, how The Bain Way made Mr. Romney and his investors very rich.

Continue reading here

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Labor Day 2012 and the Election of 2012

Robert Reich, Thursday, August 30, 2012 found at robertreich.org

The most troubling economic trend facing America this Labor Day weekend is the increasing concentration of income, wealth, and political power at the very top – among a handful of extraordinarily wealthy people – and the steady decline of the great American middle class.

Inequality in America is at record levels. The 400 richest Americans now have more wealth than the bottom 150 million of us put together.

Republicans claim the rich are job creators. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to create jobs, businesses need customers. But the rich spend only a small fraction of what they earn. They park most of it wherever around the world they can get the highest return.

The real job creators are the vast middle class, whose spending drives the economy and creates jobs.

But as the middle class’s share of total income continues to drop, it cannot spend as much as before. Nor can most Americans borrow as they did before the crash of 2008 — borrowing that temporarily masked their declining purchasing power.

As a result, businesses are reluctant to hire. This is the main reason why the recovery has been so anemic.

As wealth and income rise to the top, moreover, so does political power. The rich are able to entrench themselves by lowering their taxes, gaining special tax breaks (such as the “carried interest” loophole allowing private equity and hedge fund managers to treat their incomes as capital gains), and ensuring a steady flow of corporate welfare to their businesses (special breaks for oil and gas, big agriculture, big insurance, Big Pharma, and, of course, Wall Street).

All of this squeezes public budgets, corrupts government, and undermines our democracy. The issue isn’t the size of our government; it’s who our government is for. It has become less responsive to the needs of most citizens and more to the demands of a comparative few.

The Republican response – as we saw dramatically articulated this past week in Tampa – is to further reduce taxes on the rich, defund programs for the poor, fight unions, allow the median wage to continue to fall, and oppose any limits on campaign contributions or spending.

It does not take a great deal of brainpower to understand this strategy will lead to an even more lopsided economy, more entrenched wealth, and more corrupt democracy.

The question of the moment is whether next week President Obama will make a bold and powerful rejoinder. If he and the Democratic Party stand for anything, it must be to reverse this disastrous trend.

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Former Gov. Charlie Crist: Here’s why I’m backing Barack Obama

By Charlie Crist, Special to the Tampa BayTimes
Published Sunday, August 26, 2012

http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/former-gov-charlie-crist-heres-why-im-backing-barack-obama/1247631#

I’ve studied, admired and gotten to know a lot of leaders in my life. Across Florida, in Washington and around the country, I’ve watched the failure of those who favor extreme rhetoric over sensible compromise, and I’ve seen how those who never lose sight of solutions sow the greatest successes.

As America prepares to pick our president for the next four years — and as Florida prepares once again to play a decisive role — I’m confident that President Barack Obama is the right leader for our state and the nation. I applaud and share his vision of a future built by a strong and confident middle class in an economy that gives us the opportunity to reap prosperity through hard work and personal responsibility. It is a vision of the future proven right by our history.

We often remind ourselves to learn the lessons of the past, lest we risk repeating its mistakes. Yet nearly as often, our short-term memory fails us. Many have already forgotten how deep and daunting our shared crisis was in the winter of 2009, as President Obama was inaugurated. It was no ordinary challenge, and the president served as the nation’s calm through a historically turbulent storm.

The president’s response was swift, smart and farsighted. He kept his compass pointed due north and relentlessly focused on saving jobs, creating more and helping the many who felt trapped beneath the house of cards that had collapsed upon them.

He knew we had to get people back to work as quickly as possible — but he also knew that the value of a recovery lies in its durability. Short-term healing had to be paired with an economy that would stay healthy over the long run. And he knew that happens best by investing in the right places.

President Obama invested in our children’s schools because he believes a good education is a necessity, not a luxury, if we’re going to create an economy built to last. He supported more than 400,000 K-12 teachers’ jobs, and he is making college more affordable and making student loans, like the ones he took out, easier to pay back.

He invested in our runways, railways and roads. President Obama knows a reliable infrastructure that helps move people to work and helps businesses move goods to market is a foundation of growth.

And the president invested in our retirement security by strengthening Medicare. The $716 billion in savings his opponents decry today extended the life of the program by nearly a decade and are making sure taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted in excessive payments to insurance companies or fraud and abuse. His opponents would end the Medicare guarantee by creating a voucher that would raise seniors’ costs by thousands of dollars and bankrupt the program.

We have more work to do, more investments to make and more waste to cut. But only one candidate in this race has proven a willingness to navigate a realistic path to prosperity.

As Republicans gather in Tampa to nominate Mitt Romney, Americans can expect to hear tales of how President Obama has failed to work with their party or turn the economy around.

But an element of their party has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people. Look no further than the inclusion of the Akin amendment in the Republican Party platform, which bans abortion, even for rape victims.

The truth is that the party has failed to demonstrate the kind of leadership or seriousness voters deserve.

Pundits looking to reduce something as big as a statewide election to a single photograph have blamed the result of my 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate on my greeting of President Obama. I didn’t stand with our president because of what it could mean politically; I did it because uniting to recover from the worst financial crisis of our lifetimes was more important than party affiliation. I stood with our nation’s leader because it was right for my state.

President Obama has a strong record of doing what is best for America and Florida, and he built it by spending more time worrying about what his decisions would mean for the people than for his political fortunes. That’s what makes him the right leader for our times, and that’s why I’m proud to stand with him today.

Charlie Crist is the former Republican governor of Florida and previously was elected as a state senator, education commissioner and attorney general. He currently is registered as no party affiliation. Crist wrote this column exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

Yes, Mr. Ryan, I’m from Iowa

The Republican V.P. rudely dismissed me when I asked him whether he planned to cut Medicare

By Cherie Mortice     (Credit: (AP/Carolyn Kaster))

Attention, Congressman Ryan: I am one of the women you said must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin because we did not sit back quietly, respectfully, and smile and say nothing while you lied to us during your first solo stump speech as a vice-presidential candidate at the Iowa State Fair earlier this week. Actually, I am from Iowa. I grew up here.  My parents are from here. I have taught school here, in Des Moines, for 40 years.

I asked you if you were going to cut Medicare.  You didn’t answer. The truth is, Congressman, I already know the answer. I know what’s in the budget you wrote, that your fellow Republicans in Congress voted for, and that your running mate, Gov. Romney, supports. I know it ends Medicare as we know it today and turns it into a voucher program that raises seniors’ costs by thousands of dollars a year and throws us on the mercy of private insurers.

And I assure you, Congressman, what I did, what those other Iowans did that day, wasn’t easy for those of us raised to be “Iowa nice.” From a young age I learned to behave in the way you alluded to, to be extremely friendly and to always assume the best of people.  Over the years I’ve sat very patiently, listening to politicians, watching them dodge questions or distort answers or really just abuse the facts and I never said anything because it wouldn’t be nice, it’s not Iowa nice.

But I’m 63 years old now, I’m retired, and I’ve seen the impact of that silence.  I’ve seen who really pays the price for silence and it is the poor and the middle class.  I have seen the big picture – how corporate greed erodes democracy and factories take over farms. I’ve seen it all up-close and personal too, every day, for 24 years, teaching middle school in a district that serves low-income families. I have seen kids come to school in the dead of winter with no socks and kept my classroom stocked with food to make sure these kids had a fighting chance to learn when they made it, by themselves, with no one to set the alarm and no one to drive them through the snow, to school against the odds. I’ve seen their parents struggle to get off drugs and wait months, years even, for a spot in a treatment program that would give them a fighting chance to be the parents they truly want to be.

So you understand, Congressman Ryan, and Governor Romney, that when I hear you tell a crowd that you want to “help the middle class to prosper,” by cutting off the lifelines these young people need to survive – food stamps, Medicaid, public education and, yes, drug treatment, it makes my blood boil. It sends that Iowa nice thing right out the window.

I get just as angry when you talk about broadly shared prosperity, as if that’s something you believe in, when you have written and voted for plans that slash taxes on millionaires and corporations and do nothing at all for my 86-year-old aunt, whose groceries I buy half the time, because she lives on $1,400 a month, mostly from Social Security, and pays $785 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.

There’s so much more, Congressman Ryan, and Governor Romney, that makes me forget my upbringing – at least the part of my upbringing that tells me to sit back, grin and bear it, and let you lie to me and destroy people’s lives and then maybe, at most, grouse about it quietly in private.  Or maybe I’m not forgetting my upbringing at all, come to think of it. Maybe I’m remembering well the lessons of generations of hardworking Iowans who value community, fairness, opportunity and kindness in the face of a mean-spirited policy of greed.   A little of that Iowa nice has turned from Iowa nice, to Iowa sad, to Iowa angry and finally, to Iowa strong.

Cherie Mortice is a retired schoolteacher and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) Action Fund member from Des Moines, Iowa.

found at :   http://www.salon.com/2012/08/15/ryans_policies_arent_iowa_nice/

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Romney and Ryan’s disdain for the working class

By , Published: August 13- The Washington Post

Found at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/romney-and-ryan-are-overlooking-the-underclass/2012/08/13/63e917ea-e579-11e1-8f62-58260e3940a0_story.html

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate underscores the central question posed by this campaign: Should cold selfishness become the template for our society, or do we still believe in community?

Romney wanted the election to be seen as a referendum on the success or failure of President Obama’s economic policies. Instead, he has revealed that the campaign is really a choice between two starkly different philosophies. One could be summed up as: “We’re all in this together.” The other: “I’ve got mine.”

This is not about free enterprise, and it’s not about personal liberty; those fundamental principles are unquestioned. But for at least the past 100 years, we have understood capitalism and freedom to exist within a larger context — a complicated, real-world, human context. Some people begin life at a disadvantage, and it’s in the national interest to open doors of opportunity for them. Some people make mistakes, and it’s in the national interest to create second chances. Some people are too young, too old or too infirm to care for themselves, and it’s in the national interest to secure their welfare.

This sense of the balance between individualism and community fueled the American Century. Romney and Ryan apparently don’t believe in it.

It is well known that Ryan, at least for most of his career, has been enamored of the ideas of Ayn Rand, the novelist (“Atlas Shrugged,” “The Fountainhead”) whose interminable books tout self-interest as the highest, noblest human calling and equate capitalist success with moral virtue. Ryan now disavows Rand’s worldview, primarily because she was an atheist, but he lavishly praised her ideas as recently as 2009.

What about Romney? While he has never pledged allegiance to the Cult of Rand, his view of society seems basically the same.

At least three times in recent days, as part of his response to President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” peroration, Romney has told campaign audiences variations of the following: “When a young person makes the honor roll, I know he took a school bus to get to the school, but I don’t give the bus driver credit for the honor roll.”

When he delivered that line in Manassas on Saturday with Ryan in tow, Romney drew wild applause. He went on to say that a person who gets a promotion and raise at work, and who commutes to the office by car, doesn’t owe anything to the clerk at the motor vehicles department who processes driver’s licenses.

What I hear Romney saying, and I suspect many others will also hear, is that the little people don’t contribute and don’t count.

I don’t know whether Romney’s sons ever rode the bus to school. I do know that for most parents, it matters greatly who picks up their children in the morning and drops them off in the afternoon.

It may not be the driver’s job to help with algebra homework, but he or she bears enormous responsibility for safely handling the most precious cargo imaginable. A good bus driver gets to know the children, maintains order and discipline, deals with harassment and bullying. Romney may not realize it, but a good driver plays an important role in ensuring a child’s physical and emotional well-being — and may, in fact, be the first adult to whom the child proudly displays a report card with all A’s.

School bus drivers don’t make a lot of money. Nor, for that matter, do the clerks who help keep unqualified drivers and unsafe vehicles off the streets. But these workers are not mere cogs in a machine designed to service those who make more money. They are part of a community.

The same is true of teachers, police officers, firefighters and others whom Romney and Ryan dismiss as minions of “big government” rather than public servants.

And what do the Republicans offer their supposed heroes, the entrepreneurs who start small businesses? The few who succeed wildly would be rewarded with tax cuts so huge that they, like Romney, might one day have a dressage horse competing in the Olympics. Most of those who just manage to scrape by, or whose businesses fail, could look forward to only as much health care in their senior years as they are able to afford, and not one bit more.

This is a campaign Democrats should relish. The United States became the world’s dominant economic, political and military power by recognizing that we are all in this together. School bus drivers, too.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

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Off and Out With Mitt Romney

By PAUL KRUGMAN – Published: July 5, 2012- The New York Times
In a better America, Mitt Romney would be running for president on the strength of his major achievement as governor of Massachusetts: a health reform that was identical in all important respects to the health reform enacted by President Obama. By the way, the Massachusetts reform is working pretty well and has overwhelming popular support.
In reality, however, Mr. Romney is doing no such thing, bitterly denouncing the Supreme Court for upholding the constitutionality of his own health care plan. His case for becoming president relies, instead, on his claim that, having been a successful businessman, he knows how to create jobs.

This, in turn, means that however much the Romney campaign may wish otherwise, the nature of that business career is fair game. How did Mr. Romney make all that money? Was it in ways suggesting that what was good for Bain Capital, the private equity firm that made him rich, would also be good for America?

And the answer is no.

The truth is that even if Mr. Romney had been a classic captain of industry, a present-day Andrew Carnegie, his career wouldn’t have prepared him to manage the economy. A country is not a company (despite globalization, America still sells 86 percent of what it makes to itself), and the tools of macroeconomic policy — interest rates, tax rates, spending programs — have no counterparts on a corporate organization chart. Did I mention that Herbert Hoover actually was a great businessman in the classic mold?

In any case, however, Mr. Romney wasn’t that kind of businessman. Bain didn’t build businesses; it bought and sold them. Sometimes its takeovers led to new hiring; often they led to layoffs, wage cuts and lost benefits. On some occasions, Bain made a profit even as its takeover target was driven out of business. None of this sounds like the kind of record that should reassure American workers looking for an economic savior.

And then there’s the business about outsourcing.

Two weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that Bain had invested in companies whose specialty was helping other companies move jobs overseas. The Romney campaign went ballistic, demanding — unsuccessfully — that The Post retract the report on the basis of an unconvincing “fact sheet” consisting largely of executive testimonials.

What was more interesting was the campaign’s insistence that The Post had misled readers by failing to distinguish between “offshoring” — moving jobs abroad — and “outsourcing,” which simply means having an external contractor perform services that could have been performed in-house.

Now, if the Romney campaign really believed in its own alleged free-market principles, it would have defended the right of corporations to do whatever maximizes their profits, even if that means shipping jobs overseas. Instead, however, the campaign effectively conceded that offshoring is bad but insisted that outsourcing is O.K. as long as the contractor is another American firm.

That is, however, a very dubious assertion.

Consider one of Mr. Romney’s most famous remarks: “Corporations are people, my friend.” When the audience jeered, he elaborated: “Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets.” This is undoubtedly true, once you take into account the pockets of, say, partners at Bain Capital (who, I hasten to add, are, indeed, people). But one of the main points of outsourcing is to ensure that as little as possible of what corporations earn goes into the pockets of the people who actually work for those corporations.

Why, for example, do many large companies now outsource cleaning and security to outside contractors? Surely the answer is, in large part, that outside contractors can hire cheap labor that isn’t represented by the union and can’t participate in the company health and retirement plans. And, sure enough, recent academic research finds that outsourced janitors and guards receive substantially lower wages and worse benefits than their in-house counterparts.

Just to be clear, outsourcing is only one source of the huge disconnect between a tiny elite and ordinary American workers, a disconnect that has been growing for more than 30 years. And Bain, in turn, was only one player in the growth of outsourcing. So Mitt Romney didn’t personally, single-handedly, destroy the middle-class society we used to have. He was, however, an enthusiastic and very well remunerated participant in the process of destruction; if Bain got involved with your company, one way or another, the odds were pretty good that even if your job survived you ended up with lower pay and diminished benefits.

In short, what was good for Bain Capital definitely wasn’t good for America. And, as I said at the beginning, the Obama campaign has every right to point that out.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 6, 2012, on page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Off and Out With Mitt Romney.

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Why the Economy Can’t Get Out of First Gear

Wednesday, 13 June 2012 09:05 By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog | Op-Ed
http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/9761-why-the-economy-cant-get-out-of-first-gear
Rarely in history has the cause of a major economic problem been so clear yet have so few been willing to see it.The major reason this recovery has been so anemic is not Europe’s debt crisis. It’s not Japan’s tsumami. It’s not Wall Street’s continuing excesses. It’s not, as right-wing economists tell us, because taxes are too high on corporations and the rich, and safety nets are too generous to the needy. It’s not even, as some liberals contend, because the Obama administration hasn’t spent enough on a temporary Keynesian stimulus.The answer is in front of our faces. It’s because American consumers, whose spending is 70 percent of economic activity, don’t have the dough to buy enough to boost the economy – and they can no longer borrow like they could before the crash of 2008.If you have any doubt, just take a look at the Survey of Consumer Finances, released Monday by the Federal Reserve. Median family income was $49,600 in 2007. By 2010 it was $45,800 – a drop of 7.7%.All of the gains from economic growth have been going to the richest 1 percent – who, because they’re so rich, spend no more than half what they take in.Can I say this any more simply? The earnings of the great American middle class fueled the great American expansion for three decades after World War II. Their relative lack of earnings in more recent years set us up for the great American bust.Starting around 1980, globalization and automation began exerting downward pressure on median wages. Employers began busting unions in order to make more profits. And increasingly deregulated financial markets began taking over the real economy.The result was slower wage growth for most households. Women surged into paid work in order to prop up family incomes – which helped for a time. But the median wage kept flattening, and then, after 2001, began to decline.Households tried to keep up by going deeply into debt, using the rising values of their homes as collateral. This also helped – for a time. But then the housing bubble popped.The Fed’s latest report shows how loud that pop was. Between 2007 and 2010 (the latest data available) American families’ median net worth fell almost 40 percent – down to levels last seen in 1992. The typical family’s wealth is their home, not their stock portfolio – and housing values have dropped by a third since 2006.Families have also become less confident about how much income they can expect in the future. In 2010, over 35% of American families said they did not “have a good idea of what their income would be for the next year.” That’s up from 31.4% in 2007.But because their incomes and their net worth have both dropped, families are saving less. The proportion of families that said they had saved in the preceding year fell from 56.4% in 2007 to 52% in 2010, the lowest level since the Fed began collecting that information in 1992.Bottom line: The American economy is still struggling because the vast American middle class can’t spend more to get it out of first gear.What to do? There’s no simple answer in the short term except to hope we stay in first gear and don’t slide backwards.Over the longer term the answer is to make sure the middle class gets far more of the gains from economic growth.How? We might learn something from history. During the 1920s, income concentrated at the top. By 1928, the top 1 percent was raking in an astounding 23.94 percent of the total (close to the 23.5 percent the top 1 percent got in 2007) according to analyses of tax records by my colleague Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty. At that point the bubble popped and we fell into the Great Depression.But then came the Wagner Act, requiring employers to bargain in good faith with organized labor. Social Security and unemployment insurance. The Works Projects Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. A national minimum wage. And to contain Wall Street: The Securities Act and Glass-Steagall Act.

In 1941 America went to war – a vast mobilization that employed every able-bodied adult American, and put money in their pockets. And after the war, the GI Bill, sending millions of returning veterans to college. A vast expansion of public higher education. And huge infrastructure investments, such as the National Defense Highway Act. Taxes on the rich remained at least 70 percent until 1981.

The result: By 1957, the top 1 percent of Americans raked in only 10.1 percent of total income. Most of the rest went to a growing middle class – whose members fueled the greatest economic boom in the history of the world.

Get it? We won’t get out of first gear until the middle class regains the bargaining power it had in the first three decades after World War II to claim a much larger share of the gains from productivity growth.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/romneys-distortions-about-obama-do-us-a-disservice/2012/05/28/gJQA9JuTxU_story.html


 

Romney’s pants on fire

By , Published: May 28

There are those who tell the truth. There are those who distort the truth. And then there’s Mitt Romney.

Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere.

Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.

“Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history,” Romney claims on his campaign Web site. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.

An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news Web site owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that “there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.”

Quite the contrary: Spending has increased at a yearly rate of only 1.4 percent during Obama’s tenure, even if you include some stimulus spending (in the 2009 fiscal year) that technically should be attributed to President George W. Bush. This is by far the smallest — I repeat, smallest — increase in spending of any recent president. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker concluded the spending increase figure should have been 3.3 percent.)

In Bush’s first term, by contrast, federal spending increased at an annual rate of 7.3 percent; in his second term, the annual rise averaged 8.1 percent. Reagan comes next, in terms of profligacy, followed by George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and finally Obama, the thriftiest of them all.

The MarketWatch analysis was re-analyzed by the nonpartisan watchdogs at Politifact who found it “Mostly True” — adding the qualifier because some of the restraint in spending under Obama “was fueled by demands from congressional Republicans.” Duly noted, and if Romney wants to claim credit for the GOP, he’s free to do so. But he’s not free to say that “federal spending has accelerated” under Obama, because any way you look at it, that’s a lie.

Another example: Obama “went around the Middle East and apologized for America,” Romney said in March. “You know, instead of apologizing for America he should have stood up and said that as the president of the United States we all take credit for the greatness of this country.” That’s two lies for the price of one. Obama did not, in fact, go around the Middle East, or anywhere else, apologizing for America. And he did, on many occasions, trumpet American greatness and exceptionalism.

Romney offers few specifics, but the conservative Heritage Foundation published a list of “Barack Obama’s Top 10 Apologies” — not one of which is an apology at all.

One alleged instance is a speech Obama gave to the Turkish parliament in 2009, in which he said the United States “is still working through some of our own darker periods in our history . . . [and] still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans.” If the folks at Heritage and at the Romney campaign don’t know that this is a simple statement of fact, they really ought to get out more.

Romney does single out the following Obama statement from a 2009 interview: “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Romney says this acknowledgment — that others might have as much national pride as we do — means Obama doesn’t really believe in American exceptionalism at all.

But in the same interview, Obama went on to say he was “enormously proud of my country and its role and history in the world,” and to tout U.S. economic and military might as well as the nation’s “exceptional” democratic values. So he should be accused of chest-thumping, not groveling.

I could go on and on, from Romney’s laughable charge that Obama is guilty of “appeasement” (ask Osama bin Laden) to claims of his job-creating prowess at Bain Capital. He seems to believe voters are too dumb to discover what the facts really are — or too jaded to care.

On both counts, I disagree.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com

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Mitt Romney Budget Cuts Would Have Severe Consequences

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/22/mitt-romney-budget-cuts_n_1443743.html

ANDREW TAYLOR   04/22/12 09:59 AM ET   – Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — Reducing government deficits Mitt Romney’s way would mean less money for health care for the poor and disabled and big cuts to nuts-and-bolts functions such as food inspection, border security and education.

Romney also promises budget increases for the Pentagon, above those sought by some GOP defense hawks, meaning that the rest of the government would have to shrink even more. Nonmilitary programs would incur still larger cuts than those called for in the tightfisted GOP budget that the House passed last month.

Differences over the government’s budget and spiraling deficits are among the starkest that separate Republican Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama. Obama’s budget generally avoids risk, with minimal cuts to rapidly growing health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid while socking wealthier people with tax increases. It’s all part of an effort to close trillion-dollar-plus deficits.

Romney, by contrast, proposes broad cuts in government spending, possibly overpromising on reductions that even a Congress stuffed with conservatives might find hard to deliver.

His campaign materials give relatively few specifics, other than a pledge to bring total government spending down to 20 percent of the U.S. economy by the end of a first term in 2016. That is roughly in line with where it was during Republican George W. Bush’s presidency.

Estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office put current government spending at $3.6 trillion, or about 23.5 percent of the gross domestic product this year, slipping to 21.8 percent by 2016.

The math can get fuzzy. But the Romney campaign says it needs to come up with $500 billion in cuts in 2016, the target year. Overall, Romney promises to shrink the government by about one-seventh when compared against the size of the economy.

The GOP front-runner suggests raising the Social Security retirement age and reducing cost-of-living increases for better-off retirees.

He generally endorses a plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to gradually transform Medicare from a program that directly pays hospital and doctor bills into vouchers for subsidizing future beneficiaries in buying health insurance.

Because Romney promises to protect current Social Security and Medicare recipients from cuts, he cannot get much savings from those programs by 2016. Combined, they are projected to make up about 44 percent of the budget that year. Interest costs, which cannot be touched, would make up an additional 9 percent of the budget, while Romney promises to add almost $100 billion to the Pentagon budget that year, based on his pledge that military spending reach 4 percent of GDP.

So what’s left to cut?

_MEDICAID: The program now provides health care for about 50 million mostly poor and disabled people, including nursing home care for 7 of 10 patients nationwide. Obama’s health care law sharply would sharply boost Medicaid enrollment to cover more people above the poverty line, a move that Romney promises to repeal.

Like House Republicans, Romney promises to transform Medicaid into block grants for states and shed federal supervision of it. He would cap the program’s annual growth to inflation plus a percentage point. His campaign says the approach would unshackle states to innovate and, by the end of a decade, cut costs by more than $200 billion a year.

Advocates for the poor say the inevitable result will be that millions of people will be bounced from the program. An Urban Institute study last year estimated that Ryan’s cuts would force between 14 million and 27 million people off of Medicaid by 2021. Romney’s budget would make deeper cuts.

_DOMESTIC AGENCY BUDGETS: If Social Security is mostly off the table and current Medicare beneficiaries are protected, domestic Cabinet agency budgets would take a major hit in ways that could fundamentally alter government. The future growth of those discretionary programs funded through annual appropriations bills was already cut greatly in last year’s deal to raise the government’s borrowing limit.

At issue are these programs, just to name a few: health research; NASA; transportation; homeland security; education; food inspection; housing and heating subsidies for the poor; food aid for pregnant women; the FBI; grants to local governments; national parks; and veterans’ health care.

Romney promises to immediately cut them by 5 percent. But they would have to be cut more than 20 percent to meet his overall budget goals, assuming veterans’ health care is exempted. It’s almost unthinkable that lawmakers would go along with cuts of such magnitude for air traffic control and food inspection or to agencies like NASA, the FBI, Border Patrol and the Centers for Disease Control.

“It’s just not sustainable,” said GOP lobbyist Jim Dyer, a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee. “What do you want to do with the national parks? Which ones do you want to close? …The only way it adds up is if you go after the big, popular stuff, and nobody talks about that now.”

Among the few specific cuts listed in Romney’s campaign literature are proposals to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition, eliminate federal family planning money, privatize the money-losing Amtrak system and trim foreign aid.

_OTHER BENEFIT PROGRAMS: Like Ryan’s budget, the Romney plan would also cut benefit programs other than Social Security and Medicare. They include food stamps, school lunches, crop subsidies, Supplemental Security Income for very poor seniors and disabled people, unemployment insurance, veterans’ pensions and refundable tax credits to the working poor.

Based on the Romney materials, it’s impossible to project the size of the cuts to such programs. Suffice it to say, they would be controversial.

“There’s good reason why Ryan’s budget and the Romney budget don’t have details,” said Jim Horney, a budget analyst with the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy priorities think tank. “If people knew what it would actually have to be done to accomplish what they’re saying should be done, it’s hard to imagine there would be widespread support for it.”

 

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An appalling lesson in ethics and the Ga. Legislature

http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2012/03/31/an-appalling-lesson-in-ethics-and-the-ga-legislature/

12:45 pm March 31, 2012, by Jay Bookman

In the last two hours of the very last day of the 2012 Georgia General Assembly, with scores of proposed bills flying back and forth between the House and Senate, a handful of powerful state legislators tried to take advantage of the confusion. The conspiracy they launched demonstrates just how contemptuous they have become of the people whom they were elected to serve.

The goal of their little plot was to further weaken Georgia’s already lax ethics laws. Had it succeeded, it would have prevented voters from learning the identities of elected officials who had failed to meet deadlines established in state law for filing ethics disclosure and campaign finance statements. It also would have allowed fines levied against legislators for violating those laws to simply disappear, without payment and without anyone even learning they had existed.

And believe or not, the means by which legislative leaders attempted to accomplish that deed was more sordid than the deed itself.

We begin with House Bill 875, a harmless little piece of legislation meant to ensure that the Department of Natural Resources did not have to release personal data of applicants for hunting and fishing licenses, such as Social Security numbers and drivers’ license photos.

However, in what now looks to have been a well-orchestrated scheme, this innocuous little bill was passed in slightly different versions in the House and Senate. That forced the appointment of a six-member conference committee — three from each chamber — to work out the differences.

In hindsight, the membership of that conference committee should have signaled trouble, because it was oddly high-powered for such a little bill.

In the Senate, it comprised Don Balfour of Snellville, the powerful chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a prominent foe of ethics reform. John Bulloch of Ochlocknee and Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga, also members of the Rules Committee and influential legislators in their own right, were also appointed.

In the House, Ethics Committee Chairman Joe Wilkinson of Sandy Springs was named to the conference committee on HB 875, along with David Knight of Griffin and Tom McCall of Elberton.

Meeting in private in the last hours of the session, those six legislators agreed to dramatically revise HB 875 by adding the ethics-related language outlined above. They knew that such provisions would be highly controversial, but they were counting on the fact that in the last hectic hours of a session, members were much too busy to read the piles of legislation flying across their desks.

Under such circumstances, legislators casting votes are forced to rely on assurances from their colleagues that the bills coming before them are worthy of support. It is an act of faith and trust, and in this case, that faith and trust was betrayed.

After the conference committee concluded its work, Bulloch went to the Senate chamber, told his fellow senators that a deal had been worked out on little ol’ HB 875 and urged their support. It passed overwhelmingly by a vote of 46-4, but a look at the four “no” votes suggest that word of the bill’s true intent had already begun to leak out.

One of the four “no” votes was Josh McKoon, a freshman Republican from Columbus who had angered his party leadership by daring to sponsor ethics-reform legislation. Another was Democrat Jason Carter of Decatur, who earlier in the evening had tried and failed to force a floor vote on legislation imposing a $100 limit on gifts from lobbyists. The third was Democrat Gloria Butler, secretary of the Senate Ethics Committee; the fourth was Mike Crane, a freshman Republican from Newnan.

With time ticking down in the session, the bill now moved to the House, where it was introduced to legislators with no mention of its revised content. By then, however, AJC reporters and others had caught wind of the changes made to the bill. As House members began to vote, word was spreading. Alarmed legislators who had initially voted “yes” on the bill quickly began changing those votes to “no”, and in the end the bill was defeated by a vote of 25 to 143.

Wilkinson, the House Ethics Committee chairman, later tried to defend the rejected language, calling opposition to it “disgraceful.” As he saw it, the public has no right to know when legislators miss legal deadlines for filing ethics forms.

“Why should [a politician’s] name be up there if he didn’t do anything wrong?” he said.

That is wrong on so many levels. First, it is wrong as a matter of process. If the only way to enact your “good idea” is by smuggling it into unrelated legislation at the last minute, then maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t really such a good idea.

Second, let’s think about what really happened here. In the past, Wilkinson has defended Georgia’s ethics laws by stressing the importance of disclosure. If legislators and lobbyists disclose everything as required by law, he has argued, we don’t really need laws against gifts and conflicts of interest, etc. The voters will have all the information they need to discipline their elected officials.

In reality, however, some legislators are going years without filing required disclosure forms; they also aren’t paying the required fines, because the state ethics commission lacks the resources and gumption to take action. As a result, the only remaining incentive to encourage legislators to file disclosure by the legal deadline is public exposure if they do not.

Last week, Wilkinson and other tried to reduce public disclosure about legislators’ failure to publicly disclose, and they tried to do it without full disclosure. That is not open government.

That is, to borrow Wilkinson’s word, “disgraceful.”

– Jay Bookman

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Wall Street Greed Fueling High Gas Prices
By Bernie Sanders, Special to CNN
updated 1:05 PM EST, Tue February 28, 2012
Editor’s note: Bernie Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives and is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history.

(CNN) – Gas prices approaching $4 a gallon on average are causing severe economic pain for millions of Americans. Pump prices spiked 5% in the past month alone. Crude oil prices stood at $108 on Friday, up from only double digits at the beginning of the month.

What’s the cause? Forget what you may have read about the laws of supply and demand. Oil and gas prices have almost nothing to do with economic fundamentals. According to the Energy Information Administration, the supply of oil and gasoline is higher today than it was three years ago, when the national average for a gallon of gasoline was just $1.90. Meanwhile, the demand for oil in the U.S. is at its lowest level since April of 1997.

Is Big Oil to blame? Sure. Partly. Big oil companies have been gouging consumers for years. They have made almost $1 trillion in profits over the past decade, in part thanks to ridiculous federal subsidies and tax loopholes. I have proposed legislation to end those pointless giveaways to some of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the history of the world.

But there’s another reason for the wild rise in gas prices. The culprit is Wall Street. Speculators are raking in profits by gambling in the loosely regulated commodity markets for gas and oil.  Continued – Click here

 

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Freedom of and From Religion
Published on Thursday, February 16, 2012 by Common Dreams
by Bill Moyers

 

The president did something agile and wise the other day. And something quite important to the health of our politics. He reached up and snuffed out what some folks wanted to make into a cosmic battle between good and evil. No, said the president, we’re not going to turn the argument over contraception into Armageddon, this is an honest difference between Americans, and I’ll not see it escalated into a holy war. So instead of the government requiring Catholic hospitals and other faith-based institutions to provide employees with health coverage involving contraceptives, the insurance companies will offer that coverage, and offer it free.

The Catholic bishops had cast the president’s intended policy as an infringement on their religious freedom; they hold birth control to be a mortal sin, and were incensed that the government might coerce them to treat it otherwise. The president in effect said: No quarrel there; no one’s going to force you to violate your doctrine. But Catholics are also Americans, and if an individual Catholic worker wants coverage, she should have access to it — just like any other American citizen. Under the new plan, she will. She can go directly to the insurer, and the religious institution is off the hook.

When the president announced his new plan, the bishops were caught flat-footed. It was so … so reasonable. In fact, leaders of several large, Catholic organizations have now said yes to the idea. But the bishops have since regrouped, and are now opposing any mandate to provide contraceptives even if their institutions are not required to pay for them. And for their own reasons, Republican leaders in Congress have weighed in on the bishops’ side. They’re demanding, and will get, a vote in the Senate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, says:

“The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion. It’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it, right there in the very First Amendment to our Constitution. And the government doesn’t get to decide for religious people what their religious beliefs are. They get to decide that.”

But here’s what Republicans don’t get, or won’t tell you.  Continued here

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OP-ED COLUMNIST

Romney Isn’t Concerned

By 
Published: February 2, 2012 , New York Times

If you’re an American down on your luck, Mitt Romney has a message for you: He doesn’t feel your pain. Earlier this week, Mr. Romney told a startled CNN interviewer, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.

Faced with criticism, the candidate has claimed that he didn’t mean what he seemed to mean, and that his words were taken out of context. But he quite clearly did mean what he said. And the more context you give to his statement, the worse it gets.

Continued here

 

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Why New Photo ID Laws Mean Some Won’t Vote

by , January 28, 2012 – NPR

The argument over whether voters should have to present photo identification at the polls usually splits along party lines. Republicans who favor the requirement say it prevents ballot fraud. Democrats and election rights groups who oppose it say it is meant to suppress turnout.

And people of all political stripes wonder what all the fuss is about.

Most Americans are accustomed to whipping out photo IDs at work, the bank or even their own apartment buildings. And their driver’s license — perhaps the most common form of government-issued photo ID — has become just as indispensable.

“I get that all the time: ‘What’s the big deal? I just got my driver’s license renewed, it took like five seconds,’ ” says Larry Norden, acting director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which opposes these laws. “Frankly, that’s why these laws have been so successful, because 89 percent of the population does have photo IDs.”

That leaves another 3.2 million Americans who don’t possess a government-issued picture ID, according to a recent study co-authored by Norden.

continue here

 

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Byron Dorgan on Making Banks Play by the Rules

Sunday 29 January 2012
by: Bill Moyers, Moyers & Co. | Interview and Video

Bill Moyers talks with former Senator Byron Dorgan about making sure big banks play by rules that protect consumers from financial calamity, and how those big banks continue to leverage power and influence to avoid responsibility while maximizing profits. Dorgan was a nearly-lone voice in Congress in 1999 when he predicted economic calamity following a repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and its protective measures. But given the economic meltdown nearly 10 years later, it turned out to be one of the most prescient speeches in American political history.

“If you were to rank big mistakes in the history of this country,” Dorgan tells Moyers, “that was one of the bigger ones, because it has set back this country in a very significant way and caused so much heartbreak and heartache, and a near total collapse of the American economy. ”

Dorgan also talks about the economic impact on people at the lower ends of the income ladder, and the weaknesses of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which he felt compelled to sign.

“It does some good things and moves us in the right direction.” Dorgan tells Moyers, “But it’s timid.”

TRANSCRIPT

January 27, 2012
Byron Dorgan on Making Banks Play by the Rules

BILL MOYERS: John Reed and many others say they were taken by surprise when the country’s biggest financial institutions went bust in 2008. But it wasn’t as if they hadn’t been warned.

SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: (Speaking on Senate Floor) I believe that when this legislation is enacted…

BILL MOYERS: Remember Byron Dorgan? He sounded the alarm about the dangers of striking down Glass-Steagall. But his concerns were dismissed by Wall Street, by the Clinton White House and most of his own colleagues in Congress. But on the day of the vote, the Senator from North Dakota gave one of the most prescient speeches in our political history.

Continue here

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Some cold water on overheated birther-mania

7:44 am January 27, 2012, by Jay Bookman, AJC

Having done a little more research into the legal process, I want to try to clear up any confusion about yesterday’s birther hearing before we move on. And yes, we will move on quickly.

Under state law, Deputy Chief Judge Michael Malihi’s job was to gather the evidence in the case through the hearing process and then issue a recommendation on whether Barack Obama’s name should remain on the Georgia ballot. His role in the process was to serve as a fact-finder rather than final arbiter.

According to the birther movement,  Malihi told their lawyers during pre-hearing conference that he would enter a “default judgment” against Obama for refusing to appear and for refusing to even send lawyers to participate in the hearing, and that he would in fact recommend Obama’s removal.

Continued here

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OP-ED COLUMNIST

Jobs, Jobs and Cars

By 
Published: January 26, 2012 , New York Times

Mitch Daniels, the former Bush budget director who is now Indiana’s governor, made the Republicans’ reply to President Obama’s State of the Union address. His performance was, well, boring. But he did say something thought-provoking — and I mean that in the worst way.

For Mr. Daniels tried to wrap his party in the mantle of the late Steve Jobs, whom he portrayed as a great job creator — which is one thing that Jobs definitely wasn’t. And if we ask why Apple has created so few American jobs, we get an insight into what is wrong with the ideology dominating much of our politics.

Mr. Daniels first berated the president for his “constant disparagement of people in business,” which happens to be a complete fabrication. Mr. Obama has never done anything of the sort. He went on: “The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.”

Clearly, Mr. Daniels doesn’t have much of a future in the humor business. But, more to the point, anyone who reads The New York Times knows that his assertion about job creation was completely false: Apple employs very few people in this country.

Continue here

 

Newsweek via The Daily Beast

Andrew Sullivan: How Obama’s Long Game Will Outsmart His Critics

The right calls him a socialist, the left says he sucks up to Wall Street, and independents think he’s a wimp. Andrew Sullivan on how the president may just end up outsmarting them all.

by Andrew Sullivan  | January 16, 201212:00 AM EST

You hear it everywhere. Democrats are disappointed in the president. Independents have soured even more. Republicans have worked themselves up into an apocalyptic fervor. And, yes, this is not exactly unusual.

A president in the last year of his first term will always get attacked mercilessly by his partisan opponents, and also, often, by the feistier members of his base. And when unemployment is at remarkably high levels, and with the national debt setting records, the criticism will—and should be—even fiercer. But this time, with this president, something different has happened. It’s not that I don’t understand the critiques of Barack Obama from the enraged right and the demoralized left. It’s that I don’t even recognize their description of Obama’s first term in any way. The attacks from both the right and the left on the man and his policies aren’t out of bounds. They’re simply—empirically—wrong.

A caveat: I write this as an unabashed supporter of Obama from early 2007 on. I did so not as a liberal, but as a conservative-minded independent appalled by the Bush administration’s record of war, debt, spending, and torture. I did not expect, or want, a messiah. I have one already, thank you very much. And there have been many times when I have disagreed with decisions Obama has made—to drop the Bowles-Simpson debt commission, to ignore the war crimes of the recent past, and to launch a war in Libya without Congress’s sanction, to cite three. But given the enormity of what he inherited, and given what he explicitly promised, it remains simply a fact that Obama has delivered in a way that the unhinged right and purist left have yet to understand or absorb. Their short-term outbursts have missed Obama’s long game—and why his reelection remains, in my view, as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008.

Continue here

 

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New York Times
January 14, 2012

What They Don’t Want to Talk About

Ever since Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry started criticizing Mitt Romney’s actions at Bain Capital — and talking about the thousands of people laid off as a result of Bain’s investments — party leaders have essentially told them to shut up. That response is a pretty good indication of how deeply party elders fear the issue of economic inequality in the campaign to come.

“What the hell are you doing, Newt?” Rudolph Giuliani asked Thursday on Fox News. “This is what Saul Alinsky taught Barack Obama, and what you’re saying is part of the reason we’re in so much trouble right now.”

Mr. Giuliani has one thing right: Republicans are indeed in growing trouble as more voters begin to realize how much the party’s policies — dismantling regulations, slashing taxes for the rich, weakening unions — have contributed to inequality and the yawning distance between the middle class and the top end.

The more President Obama talks about narrowing that gap, the more his popularity ratings have risen while those of Congress plummet. Two-thirds of Americans now say there is a strong conflict between the rich and the poor, according to a Pew survey released last week, making it the greatest source of tension in American society.

Continued here

 

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Mitt Romney and our overdue debate about capitalism

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: January 11, 2012 in The Washington Post

Thanks to Mitt Romney and such well-known socialist intellectuals as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, the United States is about to have the big debate on the nature of modern capitalism that should have started back in 2008. The focus will be on whether some kinds of capitalism are bad for the system as a whole.

Continue here

 

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Published on Thursday, January 12, 2012 by Moyers & Company

Is This Land Made for You and Me?

Over the next few weeks, on the air and on our new website,  BillMoyers.com, we’ll be talking a lot about “winner-take-all” politics and how economic inequality – the vast gap between the rich and everyone else– isn’t the result of market forces and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” It has been deliberately, politically engineered.

But first, as they used to say on radio, a musical interlude. The traveling medicine show known as the race for the Republican presidential nomination has moved on from Iowa and New Hampshire, and all eyes are now on South Carolina.  Well, not exactly all.  At the moment, our eyes are fixed on some big news from the great state of Oklahoma, home of the legendary American folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated later this year.

Woody saw the ravages of the Dust Bowl and the Depression firsthand; his own family came unraveled in the worst hard times.  And he wrote tough yet lyrical stories about the men and women who struggled to survive, enduring the indignity of living life at the bone, with nothing to eat and no place to sleep.  He traveled from town to town, hitchhiking and stealing rides in railroad boxcars, singing his songs for spare change or a ham sandwich.  What professional success he had during his own lifetime, singing in concerts and on the radio, was often undone by politics and the restless urge to keep moving on. “So long, it’s been good to know you,” he sang, and off he would go.

What he wrote and sang about caused the oil potentates and preachers who ran Oklahoma to consider him radical and disreputable. For many years he was the state’s prodigal son, but times change, and that’s the big news.  Woody Guthrie has been rediscovered, even though Oklahoma’s more conservative than ever – one of the reddest of our red states with a governor who’s a favorite of the Tea Party.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation has bought Guthrie’s archives – his manuscripts, letters and journals. A center is being built in Tulsa that will make them available to scholars and visitors from all over the world.

Among its treasures is the original, handwritten copy of this song, Woody Guthrie’s most famous – This Land Is Your Land. The song extols the beauty of the country Guthrie traveled across again and again; its endless skyways and golden valleys, the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts. Yet his eye was clear, unclouded, and unobstructed by sentimentality, for he also wrote in its lyrics:

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

“Is this land made for you and me?” A mighty good question.  The biggest domestic story of our time is the collapse of the middle class, a sharp increase in the poor, and the huge transfer of wealth to the already rich.

In an era of gross inequality there’s both irony and relevance in Woody Guthrie’s song.  That “ribbon of highway” he made famous?  It’s faded and fraying in disrepair, the nation’s infrastructure of roads and bridges, once one of our glories, now a shambles because fixing them would require spending money, raising taxes, and pulling together.

This land is mostly owned not by you and me but by the winner-take-all super rich who have bought up open spaces, built mega-mansions, turned vast acres into private vistas, and distanced themselves as far as they can from the common lot of working people – the people Woody wrote and sang about.

True, Barack Obama asked Bruce Springsteen and Woody Guthrie’s longtime friend Pete Seeger to sing This Land is Your Land at that big, pre-inaugural concert the Sunday before he was sworn in. And sing they did, in the spirit of hope and change that President Obama had spun as the heart of his campaign rhetoric.

Today, whatever was real about that spirit has been bludgeoned by severe economic hardship for everyday Americans and by the cynical expedience of politicians  who wear the red-white-and-blue in their lapels and  sing “America the Beautiful” while serving the interests of  crony capitalists stuffing SuperPACs with millions of dollars harvested from the gross inequality destroying us from within.

But maybe – just maybe – the news that Woody Guthrie, once a pariah in his home state, has become a local hero is the harbinger of things to come, and that all the people who still believe this land is our land will begin to take it back.

© 2012 Bill Moyers Media
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Bain, Barack and Jobs

January 5, 2012, New York Times

America’s recovery from recession has been so slow that it mostly doesn’t seem like a recovery at all, especially on the jobs front. So, in a better world, President Obama would face a challenger offering a serious critique of his job-creation policies, and proposing a serious alternative.

Instead, he’ll almost surely face Mitt Romney.

Mr. Romney claims that Mr. Obama has been a job destroyer, while he was a job-creating businessman. For example, he told Fox News: “This is a president who lost more jobs during his tenure than any president since Hoover. This is two million jobs that he lost as president.” He went on to declare, of his time at the private equity firm Bain Capital, “I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.”

But his claims about the Obama record border on dishonesty, and his claims about his own record are well across that border.

Start with the Obama record. It’s true that 1.9 million fewer Americans have jobs now than when Mr. Obama took office. But the president inherited an economy in free fall, and can’t be held responsible for job losses during his first few months, before any of his own policies had time to take effect. So how much of that Obama job loss took place in, say, the first half of 2009?

The answer is: more than all of it. The economy lost 3.1 million jobs between January 2009 and June 2009 and has since gained 1.2 million jobs. That’s not enough, but it’s nothing like Mr. Romney’s portrait of job destruction.Click here to continue

 

 

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Tax hikes on working people OK; tax hike on the rich not OK

8:11 am December 2, 2011, by Jay Bookman, Atlanta Journal

found at:  http://blogs.ajc.com/jay-bookman-blog/2011/12/02/tax-hikes-on-working-people-ok-tax-hike-on-the-rich-not-ok/

Yesterday, most Senate Republicans voted against a Democratic proposal to extend and expand a reduction in the payroll tax. (The cut, due to expire at the end of the month, would put roughly $1,500 a year into the paycheck of 160 million working Americans next year.) Thanks to GOP opposition, a bill to extend the cut was defeated by a vote of 51-49, meaning it failed to meet the artificial 60-vote margin imposed in that body these days. (One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted for it).

OK, you say. That’s not surprising. It was a Democratic plan, so of course Republicans voted against it. However, a majority of those Senate Republicans then turned around and also voted against their own party’s proposal to extend the payroll tax, killing it 20-78. (That plan was funded in part by cutting food stamps and unemployment benefits.)

You may recall that according to Republicans, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires was an absolute necessity. In fact, failing to extend that tax cut for the rich would have amounted to a tax increase and was thus verboten. At least, that was the ruling of Grover Norquist, the unelected Washington lobbyist to whom most Republicans have outsourced such determinations.

So, that leads to a question:

Why is failing to extend a temporary tax cut to millionaires considered a tax increase, while failing to extend a temporary tax cut for working people is somehow NOT a tax increase? Why is one unacceptable, and the other unacceptable?

What a silly silly question. Because Grover Norquist told them so, that’s why. As Norquist told reporters after a closed-door session with House Republicans Thursday, “For the president to run around and say not continuing a temporary tax cut is an increase is inaccurate.”

And that’s that.

House Speaker John Boehner, asked whether the tax increase on working Americans would hurt the recovery, demonstrated a rare moment of humility. “I’m not an economist,” he said. “I don’t know what impact it’s going to have on the economy.” That was odd coming from a man who has never previously shied away from bold proclamations about the economic impact of various proposals.

That’s OK though. If Boehner isn’t an economist, other people are. Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, predicts that a failure to extend the tax cut would result in a decline of real GDP growth “by nearly a percentage point and about one million jobs lost by the end of 2012.” According to The Washington Post, “Goldman Sachs economic forecaster Alec Phillips estimated that allowing the payroll tax cut to expire would reduce growth by as much as two-thirds of a percentage point in early 2012. Macroeconomic Advisers estimates that it would reduce GDP growth by 0.5 percent and cost the economy 400,000 jobs by the fourth quarter.”

According to economists, a payroll tax cut has a much more positive impact on the economy than a similar size cut in taxes for the rich. Average working Americans, given an additional $1,500, will spend it, adding much-needed demand to the economy. More affluent Americans, given a tax cut, will tend to sock it away somewhere, adding to the trillions of dollars in capital already sitting on the sidelines in this economy.

But again, since that’s not how Pope Grover I sees it, I guess it doesn’t matter. This is his country, and we just happen to live here.

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Found on CommonDreams.org

Published on Saturday, October 22, 2011 by the Associated Press

Government: Rich Getting Richer, More People Poor

by Tom Raum

 

WASHINGTON — Fifty percent of U.S. workers earned less than $26,364 last year, reflecting a growing income gap between the nation’s rich and poor, the government reported yesterday.

There were fewer jobs, and overall pay was trending down – except for the nation’s wealthiest. The number of people making $1 million or more soared by over 18 percent from 2009, the Social Security Administration said, citing payroll data based on W-2 forms submitted by employers to the Internal Revenue Service.

Despite population growth, the number of Americans with jobs fell again last year, with total employment of just under 150.4 million – down from 150.9 million in 2009 and 155.4 million in 2008. In all, there were 5.2 million fewer jobs than in 2007, when the deep recession began, according to the IRS data.

The figures are just one more indication of the toll that the worst downturn since the Great Depression has taken on the U.S. economy. They were published as demonstrations rage on Wall Street and in cities across the nation protesting a widening income gulf between average wage earners and the nation’s wealthiest.

The unemployment rate remains stuck at 9.1 percent, with more than 14 million out of work and 11 million other discouraged people who have stopped looking for work or are stuck in part-time jobs. Since 1980, roughly 5 percent of annual national income has shifted from the middle calls to the nation’s richest households, according to the Census Bureau.

While the average U.S income last year was $39,959, the mean income – the figure where half earn more and half earn less – was much lower, $26,364. This disparity reflects the fact that “the distribution of workers by wage level is highly skewed,” according to Social Security.

Median compensation last year was just 66 percent of the average income, compared with nearly 72 percent in 1980.

Online:
Social Security Administration: http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/netcomp.cgi?year2010

© 2011 Associated Press
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http://www.nytimes.com/
October 6, 2011
Confronting the Malefactors
By

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began three weeks ago, most news organizations were derisive if they deigned to mention the events at all. For example, nine days into the protests, National Public Radio had provided no coverage whatsoever.

It is, therefore, a testament to the passion of those involved that the protests not only continued but grew, eventually becoming too big to ignore. With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.

Continued here

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The  following is as relevent in October 2011 as it was when it was first printed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution  in October 2010.

By Cynthia Tucker

One of the odd facets of a strange political season has been conservatives’ insistence that the government shouldn’t lend assistance to struggling Americans who are out of work.

Despite a brutal labor market, with five unemployed workers for every job opening, Republicans and their tea party allies have opposed extending unemployment benefits.

Sharron Angle, a Nevada tea partier running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has said the government needs to be out of the unemployment business.

“People don’t want to be unemployed. They want to have real, full-time and permanent jobs with a future. That’s what they want,” she said recently.

Angle is right about that. Despite the claims of so many in Congress that extending unemployment benefits tends to make people lazy and less inclined to look for work, most jobless workers want nothing better than a paying job.

They crave the financial security and sense of self-worth that come from work.

But what are workers to do when they find that employers refuse to hire those without jobs? What happens when one of the burdens that the jobless must bear is a stigma that comes with unemployment?

Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Dan Chapman found that several employers are openly discriminating against the jobless, insisting they will only interview applicants who already have jobs.

In Monday’s AJC, Chapman wrote about companies posting job openings with warnings such as this:

“IF YOU HAVE NOT WORKED SINCE 2009, DO NOT APPLY!”

That’s not a new phenomenon. When I was just entering the labor force, my parents told me, “It’s easier to find a job when you have a job” and “Don’t quit a job until you have another.”

That folk wisdom suggests that employers tend to look askance at applicants who seem unreliable, irresponsible or hard to please. If you’re jobless in a good economy, a manager might consider you a risk.

But what about a roiling economy that shuts down entire businesses or lays waste to entire departments? Are you a poor prospect because you didn’t foresee the bankruptcy of your employer? Do hiring managers really believe that 15 million jobless Americans are without pay checks because they are all lacking in up-to-date skills or unwilling to go the extra mile?

I’d actually heard about this stigma against the jobless several months ago from a friend who works as a human resources manager for a technology firm. He told me that his firm was having trouble filling vacancies because the company didn’t want to hire anyone who was already out of work.

The attitude persists despite a tax break Congress provided earlier in the year to companies who hire the unemployed.

And it’s doubly hard for the older workers — who now constitute the biggest segment of the long-term unemployed. They’ve already found their resumes unanswered by employers looking for younger and cheaper workers not yet afflicted by the age-related ailments that tend to raise health care rates.

During the 1990s, a robust economy pushed the unemployment rate to below five percent — ensuring work for all who wanted it, pushing up wages and encouraging Congress to adopt welfare reform. There was less reason for a generous government safety net when private sector work was plentiful. But this is a very different era.

There is little more that President Obama and Congress can do to encourage companies to take a more realistic view of a difficult economic landscape.

If managers insist on painting the vast numbers of unemployed as losers, Congress has an added obligation to provide a reasonable safety net.

 

 

 

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