Saturday, April 20, 2013

The E-Recyclers

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: There was ice in all the buckets this morning when I went out to feed and heavy frost on the fields, but it turned out to be a gorgeous day after all. I was able to spend most of it doing silly little chores that just need to be done—checking fences, washing feed sacks, running errands and taking a TV and computer monitor to town for the E-Recycling truck. I told my neighbor I’d take their stuff, so I had a pretty good load in my little Honda Insight. When I pulled up, the guys joked that my car would just barely fit in their crusher. Not my car! I consider it a classic, an antique hybrid. It’s kind of appalling how much stuff we buy and throw out, and neither my neighbor nor I are trendy folks. When I buy something and it breaks, I get it fixed if at all possible, so my car is a 2001 and this computer a 2004. Only have had one cell phone and all it does is make phone calls, but that’s been enough so far. Still, this year the microwave gave up and we had a vacuum cleaner that was just a lemon from the start. All the stuff the E-Recyclers collect goes to a giant crusher in St. Louis and gets broken down, the metals separated out and sold. Hope they make enough money to keep it all out of the landfill.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gun vote shows how money has corrupted our political system

By Marc Jampole

I have nothing to add to the millions of people who have expressed dismay and shock that the Senate could not pass a bill to increase background checks on gun buyers. As all the media except for maybe Fox News have reported, around 90% of all Americans supported increasing background checks. Yet the Senate couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster, and so the bill failed.

The Senators who voted against the bill all have one worry: If they voted in favor of what their constituents wanted, gun rights organizations such as the rabid National Rifle Association and even more rabid Gun Owners of America would give exorbitant amounts of money to their opponents.

While I’m certain that a few of the 45 Senators voting against better background checks are gun crazy, it was the potential loss of their job that made many if not most vote thumbs down.

Forget about integrity or ethics. What happened to doing what the people who elected you want you to do?

Many blame the rules of the Senate for the failure of a bill supported by virtually every American. But I blame it primarily on money.  It should be clear to most Americans by now that money plays too great a role in American politics and political campaigns.  Congress should act to overturn the decision in Citizen’s United and institute real campaign reform.

I would start by limiting the amount of money that can be spent on any candidate’s campaign by anyone—different limits for different campaigns. Negative ads against one candidate would count against the total for every other candidate in that particular race. If a candidate is mentioned positively in an issue ad, say on gun control or abortion, it would count towards his or her total; if mentioned negatively in an issue ad, the amount spent on the ad would count towards the totals of the other candidates. I would begin the count the day after the previous election so that the total would apply to four years worth of spending for a presidential candidate, six years for a candidate for the U.S. Senate and so forth. Included in the count would be all spending for a candidate, including traditional and online advertising, social media campaigns, travel, consultants, polling and public relations efforts.

The immediate objection is that candidates have no control over other groups. Opponents might nefariously spend out a candidate in the first year of a four-year presidential cycle.  That takes a quick fix: forbid third party groups from mentioning a candidate positively or neutrally in an ad or brochure without the candidate’s permission.

I would keep the limits very low. Based on reports that Obama and Romney spent a combined $2 billion waging the 2012 presidential campaign, I would set the limit at $100 million a candidate for president and scale it down from there. The low limit would encourage more candidates and more parties and not give such an extreme edge to wealthy candidates such as Romney.

My proposal is a pipe dream, of course. It might take a constitutional amendment and it certainly would have a tough row through Congress. The political industry comprising consultants, lawyers, PR and advertising agencies, polltakers, IT specialists, graphic designers, printers, actuaries, telemarketing firms and social media companies would be against it. But most importantly, the people behind the money currently being spent on campaigns—be it gun makers, investment banks, multinational manufacturers or right-wing free market free booters like the Koch brothers—would be against it because they would lose their big edge in their battle against the majority—the ability to buy elections.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tony Messenger Scorns Kurt the Curt

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Yesterday, I wrote about the discourteous Kurt Schaefer hiding behind his desk when constituents came in to ask him about his stance on the Medicaid bill. The story is more elaborate and more damning than I thought. The askers actually waited an hour in the hallway while the staff of His Curtness lied that he was not in. His Boorishness had scotch taped a barrier of yellow legal paper on the window of his office so people couldn’t see in, who does that? Other suits walked in and out of the inner chamber but the constituents had to stand outside and listen to lies. After an hour, somebody lifted a cell phone above the paper barrier and snapped pictures that showed the fool was in there. The capitol police came and stood, police-like, at his door. What was he afraid of? His voters? Turns out, he’s afraid of everything federal. That, at bottom, is his objection to Medicaid. Missouri went to war over that 150 years ago, defending states’ rights. Some of our citizens have been confused about the issue ever since. That’s the trouble with wars; they leave more confusion and anger than they solve. Among the laws this fellow disagrees with is a federal law requiring access to Conceal and Carry (CCW) licenses. The feds want to be able to compare CCW lists with the list of folks getting disability payments due to mental illness. Sounds reasonable to the ordinary person, since we don’t want weapons in the hands of mentally ill people. But Schaefer, along with House Speaker Tim Jones, have tried to whip the tea party gang into a frenzy. Today, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger wrote a scathing column which said, in part: “Schaefer and Jones are both lawyers, which means one of two things . . . They’re really bad lawyers or they know they’re lying for cynical political gain, and that must makes them horrible people.” Messenger speculates that these two guys “think the road to the Missouri attorney general’s office is paved with lies about mind control and microchips . . .” And, for Schaefer, capitol police and scotch tape.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kurt the Curt Schaefer Rides Again

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: If the book of 2013 Missouri is ever written, it will be a sad tale of the richies trying to keep social benefits from the poors. And that sad tale can never have a happy ending. Yesterday, more than one thousand people gathered at the capitol to lobby for Medicaid benefits for more Missouri families. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, asks that benefits be extended to folks at 138% of the poverty level. For a family of four, benefits would be available if they made $26,000 or less, which takes in a huge number of rural families that have no health insurance now. That money would save hospitals, create jobs and result in healthier youngsters. In other words, it would benefit the entire state. But many lawmakers, Republican ones, refuse to pass a bill to accept the Medicaid expansion. So busloads of people, ordinary citizens like you and me, including my friends from Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Grass Roots Organizing, Faith Voices United and many other groups, came to the capitol to visit their lawmakers. They were joined by hospital groups and health providers. Far right observers called these “special interest groups.” Many of the lawmakers, Rs and Ds, were positive. They realize that the federal money is going to go somewhere and it should go to help Missouri folks. Columbia’s Kurt Schaefer was not among the positive ones. In fact, he hid from the lobby groups, taping yellow legal pad paper on the window of his office and pretending to be out, at a meeting. Who does that? Somebody held a cell phone above the paper and snapped a photo of curt Kurt hiding behind his desk. Everyone was laughing. What a fool!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hoosier resolutions 5 and 27 sound like Missouri

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: I said I’d look further for traces of laws ensuring “modern farming practices” for corporations, and it didn’t take long to find 3 states with efforts for amendments similar to Missouri’s proposals. Last November, North Dakota, a state besieged with fracking and sky-high land prices, passed a “right to farm” amendment into the constitution. Its language is eerily like the proposal in Missouri, to wit: The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices. Again, we have the seriously vague words “modern,” “technology,” and the confusing phrase “no law shall be enacted…” So, in North Dakota, no county, township, parish, city or any governmental body will be able to pass a law or ordinance to protect themselves from chemicals, GMOs, CAFOs or any other kind of industrial farming scheme. North Dakota, one of our chief wheat-raising states, will not be able to refuse to plant untested (and untrusted) GMO wheat under this Constitutional clause. The same sort of language is being considered in Montana, another primary wheat-raising state, and in Indiana, one of the buckles on the corn belt. The Hoosier experience, summed up by Indiana’s, sounds just like Missouri. They say: "House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 27, identical pieces of legislation making their way through the two chambers, seek to amend the Indiana Constitution to prevent any legislative body from adopting any rules regulating farming . . . The amendment, apparently, would prevent any rules regulating large industrial agricultural businesses such as confined animal feeding operations. It would also prevent any laws that protect public health and private property rights for Hoosiers who are not farmers. Even zoning laws could be challenged." Indiana voters will decide whether to approve this amendment. Let’s see who spends the big bucks to get it passed.

Editorial: Dems Should Fear Left

It is useful for working people to know they cannot trust President Obama to protect Social Security and Medicare as he pursues a “Grand Bargain” with Republicans to further reduce the deficit while millions of Americans remain unemployed since the Wall Street financial collapse.

Obama’s budget (which also includes a lot of good proposals that doesn’t stand a chance in the Republican House) proposed cuts in Social Security if Republicans agree to general tax increases. The flaw is that the President, by showing he’s willing to talk about the “Chained Consumer Price Index” scheme that would reduce future cost-of-living increases for seniors and disabled veterans, validates the false Republican argument that Social Security obligations are part of the federal deficit problem. It is up to Democrats in Congress — particularly senators — to make it clear that Social Security is off limits in spending cuts.

The fact is that Social Security has accumulated more than $2.7 trillion in its trust fund through the payroll tax, but George W. Bush borrowed those savings to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because he wanted to cut taxes on the wealthy. Now the Republicans don’t want to pay the money back to Social Security, and Barack Obama has bought into the GOP argument that retired workers, who get an average of about $15,000 annually from Social Security, must sacrifice future cost-of-living increases to keep taxes on millionaire “job creators” low.

Obama hoped to score points with the economic terrorists in the Republican leadership by showing them he was willing to hammer his own Democratic base in the pursuit of a deal with the GOP. Democrats in Congress should take Obama’s lemon of a budget and make lemonade — and become heroes to their base — by standing up to the President and reminding him that you don’t negotiate with terrorists.

The resistance shouldn’t be a shock to the President. The Senate voted unanimously for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ resolution against chained CPI for Social Security as part of the Senate budget two weeks earlier. And 107 House Democrats — a majority of the caucus — have signed a letter circulated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus that affirmed opposition to chained CPI. (That leaves 93 House Dems, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, on the fence.)

Sanders (I-Vt.) noted that not even House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) touched Social Security in his austere budget outline last year. That means Obama owns the proposal to cut Social Security. “And I suspect that our Republican friends will make sure the American people understand that he owns it, and make sure the American people understand that any Democrat who supports cuts in Social Security and benefits for disabled vets will also be forced to own that,” Sanders said. “From a political point of view it is, to my mind, just a really dumb tactic. I don’t understand it.”

Sanders spoke at a rally in Washington April 9 with a handful of congressional Democrats, Social Security advocates and labor leaders who denounced the proposed Social Security cuts and presented the White House with petitions signed by 2.3 million Americans who reject the President’s proposal for “chained CPI.”

“We stand against any cuts in benefits in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” AFL-CIO policy director Damon Silvers said. “The chained CPI is Washington-speak for a benefit cut.”

Other groups that have joined the fight against the chained CPI include Social Security Works, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the National Organization for Women, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, the Campaign for America’s Future, and Progressive Democrats of America.

Democracy for America chair Jim Dean said Americans really are rising up in outspoken opposition to any cut in Social Security — but, especially, to a cut proposed by a Democratic president.

“Real Democrats don’t cut social security benefits, period, and it’s positively shameful that a Democratic President is leading the charge to do so,” Dean told John Nichols of The Nation. Any congressional Dem who votes to cut Social Security benefits “should be prepared to face the ire of the progressive base of the Democratic Party and the primary challenges that come along with it,” he said.

Later on April 9, when Sanders was a guest on Thom Hartmann’s radio show, a Minnesotan called in to tell them that when she called Michelle Bachmann’s office about the proposed cuts, an aide told the constituent that Bachman was fighting the cuts to Social Security that President Obama had proposed.

White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer had said the White House only supported the proposal on two conditions: one, as part of a balanced package that includes closure of tax loopholes and two, with protections for the most vulnerable. But all the Republicans heard was that Obama was open to cutting Social Security — and all seniors will hear is that Barack Obama’s chained CPI will cut their future Social Security benefits by more than $1,000 a year.

It’s little comfort that House Speaker John Boehner summarily rejected Obama’s budget because of the proposed tax increases.

As for its prospects in the Senate, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which has oversight of Social Security, said the chained CPI is “an unnecessary attack on a critical program that, by law, is unable to add to the deficit. ... If anything, the Social Security benefit should be increased, not cut. And we can readily do that while still strengthening the long-term solvency of Social Security through means which don’t harm the vast majority of beneficiaries.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid noted that the Senate already has passed a budget. “It’s a good budget,” Reid said, adding, “The President has his budget.”

Right-wing Teabaggers have scared the spit out of Republican incumbents in the past four years, to the point where even conservative stalwarts won’t admit to taking a call from the President of the United States. To do that, the Teabaggers had to make examples of a couple of old Republicans who, though conservative, were notorious for being willing to talk to the President. So they unseated Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in 2010 and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in 2012. Progressive Democrats might need to do something like that with a few congressional Democrats who would rather curry favor with conservative talk show hosts and high-dollar donors than look after their constituents’ interests. That’s why Democrats couldn’t scrounge up the votes to pass a “public option” as part of the Affordable Care Act and it’s also why the Democratic leadership won’t even talk about repealing the ban on Medicare negotiating for lower drug prices or removing the $113,700 cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax, or anything else that two-thirds of the voters want but Wall Street opposes.

Of course, Progressive Dems should do a better job of selecting challengers than the Teabaggers did with Richard Mourdock, the right-winger who took out Lugar in the primary last year but couldn’t beat Democrat Joe Donnelly in the general election. But the Teabaggers still control a US House that stands resolutely against tax increases for the wealthy and regulation of banks and corporations and the wingers also control a Senate minority that votes in lockstep to support filibusters to block any Obama initiative or nominee.

Democrats should insist on some standards for their members of Congress, and if they can’t stand up for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, they deserve to be replaced.

An American expatriate in France explained to Michael Moore in the 2007 documentary Sicko that France has the best health care in the world because “the government is afraid of their people.” Working people need to make Congress scared of crossing them.

In the US, over the past four years Republican leaders have convinced many of their unbalanced adherents that they need to stockpile semiautomatic assault weapons in case an insurrection is needed to oust Barack Obama. (And some Teabaggers are increasingly explicit about their paranoia.) But all that’s needed to unseat a government in these United States is an unruly electorate that starts looking after their own economic interests and stops believing they have lost their right to democracy. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2013
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Selections from the May 1, 2013 issue