Archives for: April 2011
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite, characterizes Ed Schultz calling Donald Trump a racist as a possible overstatement, then provides compelling evidence Schultz is right. Is it my imagination, or has Tommy been putting forth some excellent writing lately?
The real reason a top legal team dropped out of the anti-gay campaign is revealed by, um, well me actually.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST, tells us more of labor history with the story of the woman whose name became that of a national magazine and the man who became a lost soul, Mother Jones and Jimmy Hoffa.
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- A Maine cabinet member who was forced out after offending rural residents, African-Americans and Native Americans all in one day said Friday that some of the comments attributed to him were misconstrued and others he didn't even say.
The Republican plan to privatize Medicare by replacing it with a voucher system would reduce the skyrocketing cost of medical care. No other program has been able to accomplish this. And the most basic reason is very simple. Nobody shops around for a cheaper fire hose during a fire. When people get sick, they tend not to put a lot of priority on looking for the cheapest care. So medical costs have gone up for pretty much everyone. Seniors are hardest hit.
It is true that Obamacare would reduce medical costs. Some of it involves indisputable common sense steps: reducing run-away fraud, slashing paperwork, and forcing insurance companies to compete in regional groups with clear, standard, easier to understand information. There hasn't been that much corporate incentive to move into the modern world, and the medical industry has become a hybrid of advanced technology and 1930s structure. In fact the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office calculates a dramatic reduction in Federal deficits through Obamacare. The CBO does have reservations about whether Congress will actually follow through on some of the implementation of Affordable Care. Some conservatives have falsely claimed that these reservations mean the savings won't happen, but this is untrue.
Still, Republicans believe individual effort provides a better way. The GOP proposal passed by the House of Representatives will give seniors an incentive to shop around, even during medical emergencies, by substituting privatized vouchers for the current defined benefit system. Faced with supplementing medical care with their own finances, seniors would be motivated to look more carefully for cheaper medical treatment, or to forego it completely if costs get too far ahead of vouchers.
But Republicans are also planning on instituting another cost cutting measure. They intend to increase the age at which potential recipients can receive medical care. It would go up to age 67. This will give seniors an additional incentive to continue working in order to receive group coverage a little longer. Putting off retirement can also reduce payments of Social Security benefits, a double savings.
But those who are unable to continue working will be harder hit by medical expense. And the cost to employers can be expected to shoot up as group insurance coverage is applied to older employees. One careful estimate is that employers will pay about 16% more to insure the older pool, and that those workers who bite the bullet and retire anyway will pay 2 to 4 times more for each year without coverage. It's only 2 years difference, but it is a vulnerable time medically.
There is some logic to Republican efforts. The retirement age of 65 is traditional, but the origin is shrouded in myth. One story has it that ancient knights were thought to be unable to bear the weight of their armor when they approached age 65. Actual data seems to show that retirement was not a factor in working life until fairly recently in history. Railroads made age 70 the mandatory age in the 1930s. New York made judges retire at age 60 a few decades before that. The rise of income and a depression era desire to reduce the labor pool to give younger worker a better chance to find employment was a major impetus. Unemployment is nowhere near what it was in Depression days so, the reasoning goes, it is as good a time as any to nudge older folks into working a couple of years longer.
Republicans say they will not increase the age of retirement all at once. A few months a year rise in the age of eligibility for Medicare will happen over time, and eventually stop when eligibility gets to age 67. Further increases in age will depend on finances and conditions at the time. There are other priorities that must be weighed against medical needs of the elderly. Among the most controversial are federal subsidies for oil corporations and tax cuts for the extremely wealthy.
The accusation by Democrats that Republicans have no plan to reduce healthcare costs is not entirely true, at least in theory. Raising the age of eligibility and replacing the current system of health care for seniors with a reduced substitute voucher plan is thought to provide plenty of incentive for older Americans to reduce costs on their own.
The operative phrase here is "on their own."
I’ve come to New Hampshire today because I’m very concerned. I want to see the original long-form certificate of Donald Trump’s Republican registration.
- - Senator Rand Paul, (R-KY), April 28, 2011
It was a heartwarming story, and it was well received by the local civil rights group. Members of the NAACP in Douglas, GA had gathered for the annual Freedom Fund banquet. The guest of honor was an official of the US Department of Agriculture, the Director of Rural Development for the state of Georgia.
This was not your run of the mill thanks-for-inviting-me-let-me-boast-about-my-accomplishments sort of speech. The woman spoke about her upbringing as a young black child in the rural south. It was a tale of hardship and violence. Her father was murdered by a white farmer when she was a teenager. The murderer got away with it when an all white grand jury saw no reason for any charges. A little while later, a cross was burned on the family's front lawn. The murder of her father was not her only trauma. A relative was lynched by a group led by the local sheriff. The sheriff was not charged with murder, but rather for depriving his victim of his civil rights. A judge threw out the case, reasoning that there was insufficient proof that the sheriff intended specifically to violate civil rights laws. So, the judge's logic went, the sheriff likely had no civil rights on his mind at all. Case dismissed.
Such was the state of the law in much of the country in those days.
The woman talked of her resolve in the face of such violent racism. Even as a high school student, she became a bit of an activist, enrolling in what had been an all white high school. She worked hard on her education, graduating high school, then graduating college, then going on to earn a masters degree. But she kept coming back to Georgia, working to help besieged black farmers on the edge of losing everything, as officials worked just as hard to drive them out.
But it was the rest of her story that inspired the civil rights audience. Her struggles and sacrifices, the violence and deaths that had struck so near, had taken its toll. When she was confronted by a white farmer and his wife, a couple about to lose what they had, she was offended by the man's superior attitude. She did go as far as to find him a white attorney, "one of his own," she said, but left it at that. She had gone through the motions and done what her official duties required.
But her own racial attitudes bothered her. "That's when it was revealed to me that, y'all, it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white -- it is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it opened my eyes, 'cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hand, and felt okay, I've done my job." She finally decided that just doing her job wasn't enough.
She went back and accompanied the two, visiting the lawyer who by now was representing them. When she looked at the familiar dirty tricks that state officials were applying to this farm couple, when she saw how little the lawyer was doing for his fee, when she heard the lawyer suggest his clients were so old they should just give up and retire, she got good and mad. She no longer cared about race. She was not going to let this happen to them. In time, she was able to help the couple, and the farm was saved.
The story had the virtue of truth. It was also a morality play. It was a confession of prejudice, although perhaps mitigated by a history of oppressive hardship. It was a story of repentance, redemption through action. She had looked into her heart. She had given up her resentments in order to fight for a couple who needed her. Together they had triumphed.
The group laughed with her as she told of her foibles, then applauded her turnaround. It was an inspiring evening. The official's name was Shirley Sherrod, and she was about to become famous. Seriously famous.
Andrew Breitbart, a rightwing internet personality, and his cronies got hold of the story. A video of the event was severely altered to make it seem as if Sherrod was actually boasting about how she screwed over a white farm couple. The changed video made it appear the audience was applauding how she had gotten over, making those white farmers suffer. Revenge. Good for you, sister! Breitbart posted the distorted video on his website. Fox News took up the cry, continuously repeating Breitbart's falsehood and showing the false video on air.
She was, of course, fired from her position with the government. The national NAACP denounced her. After all, you can't argue with videotaped proof. When the full unaltered video eventually came out, and when the white farm couple appeared, indignantly defending her, things turned around. Truth overcame falsehood, after a fashion. Breitbart and Fox moved on to other targets.
Breitbart defended himself in an odd way. He shouldn't be blamed for the damage done to her. After all, she was not his real target. He was after the NAACP. She had just happened to be in the line of fire. Nobody should consider him responsible for mere collateral damage. "This was not about Shirley Sherrod. It's about the NAACP. This was about the NAACP attacking the Tea Party and this [video] is showing racism at an NAACP event. I did not ask for Shirley Sherrod to be fired. I did not ask for any repercussions for Shirley Sherrod."
Sherrod is now suing Breitbart. After consulting with lawyers, his defense has changed. The lawyers issued his new explanation. "From the truthful facts laid out in the excerpt, Breitbart drew a contrary conclusion about the meaning of what was said, as Americans with different beliefs and formative experiences often do when the topic is the endlessly arguable subject of race relations."
Endlessly arguable. Contrary conclusion.
The distorted video has become an "excerpt." The smear, the collateral damage, the falsehood itself, have all now been condensed to an innocent difference of views, "a contrary conclusion." Everyone has an opinion. Nothing to get upset about. You see, Andrew Breitbart just has an unusual interpretation of the truth, that's all. It often happens "when the topic is the endlessly arguable subject of race relations."
Yeah, race sure will do that for some folks.
Here's the Breitbart Video - now called the "Contrary Conclusion"
And here's unedited version, also known as the truth:
PORTSMOUTH, NH -- Donald Trump is "proud" of himself for, as he puts it, "getting the president to release his birth certificate." In the minutes before Trump landed in Portsmouth, NH, to begin a day of stumping, the White House released President Obama's long-form birth certificate, and Trump told the press he heard about it while flying to the airfield.
"Today I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish," Trump said, adding, "Our president has finally released a birth certificate."
However, he said he would have to check out the certificate himself and wondered why the president didn't do this "a long time ago."
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody. Now, let me just comment, first of all, on the fact that I can't get the networks to break in on all kinds of other discussions -- (laughter.) I was just back there listening to Chuck -- he was saying, it’s amazing that he’s not going to be talking about national security. I would not have the networks breaking in if I was talking about that, Chuck, and you know it.
QUESTION: Wrong channel. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: As many of you have been briefed, we provided additional information today about the site of my birth. Now, this issue has been going on for two, two and a half years now. I think it started during the campaign. And I have to say that over the last two and a half years I have watched with bemusement, I've been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going. We've had every official in Hawaii, Democrat and Republican, every news outlet that has investigated this, confirm that, yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital.
We've posted the certification that is given by the state of Hawaii on the Internet for everybody to see. People have provided affidavits that they, in fact, have seen this birth certificate. And yet this thing just keeps on going.
Now, normally I would not comment on something like this, because obviously there’s a lot of stuff swirling in the press on at any given day and I've got other things to do. But two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we're going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.
And so I just want to make a larger point here. We've got some enormous challenges out there. There are a lot of folks out there who are still looking for work. Everybody is still suffering under high gas prices. We're going to have to make a series of very difficult decisions about how we invest in our future but also get a hold of our deficit and our debt -- how do we do that in a balanced way.
And this is going to generate huge and serious debates, important debates. And there are going to be some fierce disagreements -- and that’s good. That’s how democracy is supposed to work. And I am confident that the American people and America’s political leaders can come together in a bipartisan way and solve these problems. We always have.
But we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.
We live in a serious time right now and we have the potential to deal with the issues that we confront in a way that will make our kids and our grandkids and our great grandkids proud. And I have every confidence that America in the 21st century is going to be able to come out on top just like we always have. But we’re going to have to get serious to do it.
I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them -- not on this.
Thanks very much, everybody.
For years the dirty little secret in Democratic political fundraising was a tax scam. Republicans knew about it but they wouldn't call the Democrats on it.
Here's how it worked. For a long, long time, the growing tax narrative among policy makers has been that tax breaks have to be given to corporate investors, because they create jobs. It's what made trickle down economics trickle. It's what made supply side slide. You get more funds into the hands of investors and the corporations they invest in, and employment just naturally would take off. Right now, profits are at the highest level since the financial crisis started three years ago. Profit levels are so high, the huge dent in corporate finances has pretty much disappeared. Disappeared, disappeared, disappeared. Ding dong the witch is dead.
Unemployment? Not so much. Still pretty high. On average, there are 6 qualified applicants for every job opening.
But the theory has been simple. Give investors a huge tax break, and they'll invest in jobs. President Reagan didn't start the tax-break-for-investment mania, but it accelerated on his watch. For working individuals, from janitors, secretaries, sales people and cubicle workers to top CEOs, those in the helicopter commuting set, the top tax rate is about 35%. President Obama wants to eventually increase it to 39% for the extremely wealthy, which would be a little less than it was under President Reagan. That makes both Presidents socialists.
But not all income is taxed that way. The top tax on investment return is 15%. That's pretty darn low. But the theory has been that this will produce jobs. Let working men and women take on the tax burden. They only use up those jobs.
Which brings us to the dirty little secret. It involves hedge funds. Ever heard of them? They are the exotic slice-and-dice-recombinant-mix-master-financial-gamble-from-college-calculus-Hell products that pretty much brought the economy to a grinding halt, threw millions of working people into unemployment lines, and came pretty close to putting all of us on the street selling apples to each other. Look, I know I've said the same thing before, but it's still true. These guys were at the center of the cyclone. Nobody paid any attention to the guys behind the curtain until we weren't in Kansas anymore, Toto.
But hedge fund managers were the one group of very wealthy top income earners who could be depended on to support Democratic candidates. Want to know why? It's because, in spite of the financial risk taking with other people's money, these guys are filled with the spirit of social responsibility, looking to make a better tomorrow today, that's why. Plus, they get one astonishing tax break.
It works like this. Say you buy an insurance policy. The sales rep gets a commission. Same if you buy a house. Or if you buy a helicopter for your daily commute. Some of these reps make a lot of money. In fact, at the top of the most successful sales organizations, the highest paid sales rep will have an income higher than the highest paid executive in that same company. And when the sales person who smiles gratefully, after persuading you of the profound wisdom of your purchase, that commission gets taxed progressively. The most successful commission earners get taxed at 35%. Over 39% under President Reagan.
All God's children get taxed on the same sliding scale. Well, except for investors, because they provide jobs.
And there is one other little exception. Any guesses? Come on, let's not always see the same hands. If you said hedge fund managers, you get to stay and clean the erasers. Hedge fund managers don't have to invest a dime to get the investment tax break. Unlike other commission earners, they get taxed a maximum of 15%, just like those who are really and truly putting their actual investment on the line. Hedge Fund managers at the top of their game make so much money that Donald Trump flies in just to wash their feet with his hair. Okay that last is just a wild rumor. But those extremely wealthy folks pay a smaller proportion for taxes than the assistants and secretaries who type up the investment agreements.
And who got them those astonishing breaks? I don't want to mention the actual name of the political party but the first letter in that name is DEMOCRATIC. Republicans said nothing. Nothing at all. You know why. They not only hate taxes, but hate everything with a T and an X except Texas. And maybe Trix cereal if they have kids.
All that changed after President Obama took office. He made a modest proposal. Tax those privileged hedge fund managers just like all those other wealthy corporate executives. And now, hedge fund managers contribute overwhelmingly to the GOP, as you can see from the chart thoughtfully and unwittingly provided by the Wall Street Journal. Here's how the Wall Street Journal sees the change: "Hedge-fund kings have feelings, too, and the president appears to have hurt them." Such is the level of contemporary journalistic analysis.
So here's a suggestion. Don't even bother ending the hedge fund loophole. If we're after fairness, just tax all income on the same sliding scale. If you make your money buying and selling security swaps, if you use other people's money, if you work in a sweatshop or a bakery, if you sit behind a desk or put rivets in bridges, or IF YOU INVEST, your income ought to be counted as income. Period. Pay your fair share and be done with it.
Thus endeth the hedge fund scandal.
BATON ROUGE -- Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, has filed legislation for the regular lawmaking session opening Monday that would ban all abortions in the state and subject the doctor who performs one to prosecution on charges of feticide.
Describing himself as "unapologetically pro-life," LaBruzzo said his House Bill 587 is designed to take on the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, that made abortion legal in the United States.
LaBruzzo's draft of the bill would also subject the woman who has the abortion to the crime of feticide, but he said Wednesday that his intention is not to make the woman a criminal.
GREENVILLE, Ohio —Speaker John Boehner won’t guarantee a vote on raising the debt limit, the latest threat in an increasingly high stakes game of chicken with the White House over whether Congress will inch closer to letting the nation default on its credit.
Boehner, in an interview with POLITICO here Monday, also demanded that President Barack Obama give in to Republican demands to slash spending and dramatically change “the way we spend the peoples’ money.”
A few weeks ago, the Obama administration's legal experts at the Department of Justice determined that the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, is unconstitutional. That meant not only that prohibiting gays from marrying is morally wrong, but that it is legally indefensible for one state to deny a gay marriage performed in another state. The legal argument comes in two parts. One is kind of technical. The other is really, really technical, esoteric to the point of becoming arcane.
The technical part is actually clear as crystal. The US Constitution has a provision that says arrangements made under the laws of one state have to be honored in all states. It's called the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Ever lie awake at night worrying about why so many companies are incorporated in Delaware? Yeah? Then you probably have problems that cannot completely be addressed here. But let's at least remove that one issue from the nocturnal meanderings of your restless mind. Delaware taxes corporations at such a low, low rate that establishing a corporation in those borders is very advantageous to profit making enterprises, even if they do no business at all in Delaware. In fact, it's a steal. Delaware makes a lot of money by engaging in what pastors call sheep stealing. Other states would grind their teeth in anger over it, if they had teeth. But there is nothing they can do about it. The Full Faith and Credit Clause would hit them between the eyes if they tried.
A few decades ago, several states made it against the law for interracial couples to marry, a legal status quo ante a plurality Republicans in Mississippi want us to return to. Before that sort of discrimination was outlawed by the feds, such states were compelled to respect interracial marriages between couples originally married in another state. "You can't do that in these parts," racists said. Interracial couples answered "Full Faith and Credit. So there." Racists said, "Huh?" then burned crosses and lynched some folks. But, hey, the law is the law. And federal troops can be pretty tough. So the arc of the moral universe was helped by the same Constitution that once protected slavery.
Fast forward to 2011, where the legal folks at the Justice Department told the Obama administration about Full Faith and Credit. They pointed out that it meant DOMA is unconstitutional. Technical, but real clear law.
The other argument, the Ethereal Cereal that obscurity eats for breakfast, holds that the definitions of "marriage" and "spouse" are problematic. Attorney General Holder issued a stirring declaration that will ring through all of American jurisprudence. "...given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny," and defining a spouse as a member of the opposite sex "fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional." Wow. Gay activists were joined by people of good will in celebrations and marches, as a new contrapuntal chant was joyfully sung:
"What do we want?"
"A more heightened standard of scrutiny!"
"When do we want it?"
In essence, Holder was telling us that you can't just deprive someone of a basic right without some compelling reason. And that reason had better be seriously compelling.
The Obama administration is obligated to decline to defend a law it has determined to be unconstitutional. But Congress can take on the defense itself. In fact, a lot of conservative groups demanded exactly that. The Southern Baptist Convention was typical, urging Congress to instruct "its own legal team to take up the administration’s vacated role in defense of DOMA in the federal courts."
Problem here is the argument was too hard for the Republican Leadership's own legal team to make. The most seriously compelling reasons are:
- It's tradition, and we cannot change tradition no matter who gets hurt.
- God told us to condemn gays right there in Leviticus, right next to where it says to kill disobedient kids.
It would take some extraordinary legal talent to make those arguments into compelling reasons to deny basic rights. The Republican legal team simply wasn't up to it. So they hired outside help. They didn't settle for big guns. They went with the Guns of Navarone in legal talent. The firm of King and Spalding is the mushroom cloud of legal representation, an international partnership operating in the US, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The Republican leadership hired them for a cool half million dollars. It was worth it. These pinstripes can argue that a house fly is actually a flying house and make it stick in court.
But yesterday, King and Spalding gave it up. They announced they just can't do it. The very best and brightest of shyster lawyers aren't up to it. They simply cannot make the necessary presentation in court.
Not without laughing out loud.