Monday, February 22, 2010

Ron Paul wins CPAC straw poll; US Super-rich Get Five Times More Income Than In 1995

Shocked, and not shocked, by today's morning headlines. Ron Paul, the man with half-a-lick-o-sense, won the Conservative Political Action Committee's vote for President of the US 0f A. Ron Paul is my ally, although he doesn't know it. Paul is a capitalist libertarian. I am a socialist libertarian. The main difference between Ron Paul and me is that he believes in the fairy tale of a free market and I most definitely do not.

Markets are never free. They operate in tandem with governments. I agree that production that is not controlled by governments is better than production controlled by governments, in theory. But have you seen all the junk at the dollar store? People should have to take out a permit to manufacture and transoceanically ship those ugly figurines.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No on Prop 16, "Taxpayers Right to Vote"

by Deborah Lake

There they go again. Proposition 16 is yet another corporate power grab. This doozy of a proposition is funded primarily by Pacific Gas and Electric.

PG&E has spent millions of dollars in California to keep us from controlling our own public utilities. For example, "PG&E waged an unprecedented $10 million campaign against Proposition H that would have been difficult to counter in any election, but was especially daunting during a year with so many progressive issues on the ballot attracting time, resources, and volunteers." (1)

In the recent past, these utilities were closely regulated and accountable to citizens. Deregulation has turned them into unaccountable leeches on the public treasury who have millions to spend to deprive us of what remaining autonomy we retain.

Read this nonsense. It isn't even a cohesive argument about voting rights, but it's scary enough to make people believe that their rights are in danger because public entities, for which they voted, can act in their best interests and take back public services.

"Help protect your right to vote. Right now local governments in California can spend public money or incur public debt to take over private electric businesses without letting local voters have the final say in the decision. In tough economic times like these, voters deserve the right to have the final say about how our money is spent. Join us to protect the Taxpayers Right to Vote – Yes on 16." (2)

The accelerating trend toward privatizing public infrastructure should concern every citizen. In the short run, there always seems to be a savings, or a one-shot boost to budgets, when we turn a public service into a private service. In the long run, however, costs to citizens always increase. Moreover, our payments do not go to enrich our state treasury or keep state or county jobs, but rather go to enrich unaccountable players. These unaccountable players, once they get their hands on our public services, are never willing to return them to us without extracting vast sums of public money to do so. They can claim that we are "taking" their private property.

It's way past time to stop this dangerous and expensive game that our politicians are playing with our infrastructure. No on 16, and no on everything else that some giant corporation wants to do "for" us.



Fast-food breakfast sales decline as fewer head to work

The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years without Jobs

February 21, 2010
The New Poor
Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs

BUENA PARK, Calif. — Even as the American economy shows tentative signs of a rebound, the human toll of the recession continues to mount, with millions of Americans remaining out of work, out of savings and nearing the end of their unemployment benefits.

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

Yet the social safety net is already showing severe strains. Roughly 2.7 million jobless people will lose their unemployment check before the end of April unless Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to extend the payments, according to the Labor Department.

Here in Southern California, Jean Eisen has been without work since she lost her job selling beauty salon equipment more than two years ago. In the several months she has endured with neither a paycheck nor an unemployment check, she has relied on local food banks for her groceries.

She has learned to live without the prescription medications she is supposed to take for high blood pressure and cholesterol. She has become effusively religious — an unexpected turn for this onetime standup comic with X-rated material — finding in Christianity her only form of health insurance.

“I pray for healing,” says Ms. Eisen, 57. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got to go with what you know.”

Warm, outgoing and prone to the positive, Ms. Eisen has worked much of her life. Now, she is one of 6.3 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the largest number since the government began keeping track in 1948. That is more than double the toll in the next-worst period, in the early 1980s.

Men have suffered the largest numbers of job losses in this recession. But Ms. Eisen has the unfortunate distinction of being among a group — women from 45 to 64 years of age — whose long-term unemployment rate has grown rapidly.

In 1983, after a deep recession, women in that range made up only 7 percent of those who had been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Labor Department. Last year, they made up 14 percent.

Twice, Ms. Eisen exhausted her unemployment benefits before her check was restored by a federal extension. Last week, her check ran out again. She and her husband now settle their bills with only his $1,595 monthly disability check. The rent on their apartment is $1,380.

“We’re looking at the very real possibility of being homeless,” she said.

Every downturn pushes some people out of the middle class before the economy resumes expanding. Most recover. Many prosper. But some economists worry that this time could be different. An unusual constellation of forces — some embedded in the modern-day economy, others unique to this wrenching recession — might make it especially difficult for those out of work to find their way back to their middle-class lives.

Labor experts say the economy needs 100,000 new jobs a month just to absorb entrants to the labor force. With more than 15 million people officially jobless, even a vigorous recovery is likely to leave an enormous number out of work for years.

Some labor experts note that severe economic downturns are generally followed by powerful expansions, suggesting that aggressive hiring will soon resume. But doubts remain about whether such hiring can last long enough to absorb anywhere close to the millions of unemployed.

A New Scarcity of Jobs

Some labor experts say the basic functioning of the American economy has changed in ways that make jobs scarce — particularly for older, less-educated people like Ms. Eisen, who has only a high school diploma.

Large companies are increasingly owned by institutional investors who crave swift profits, a feat often achieved by cutting payroll. The declining influence of unions has made it easier for employers to shift work to part-time and temporary employees. Factory work and even white-collar jobs have moved in recent years to low-cost countries in Asia and Latin America. Automation has helped manufacturing cut 5.6 million jobs since 2000 — the sort of jobs that once provided lower-skilled workers with middle-class paychecks.

“American business is about maximizing shareholder value,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist at the research firm Decision Economics. “You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.”

During periods of American economic expansion in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the number of private-sector jobs increased about 3.5 percent a year, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by Lakshman Achuthan, managing director of the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a research firm. During expansions in the 1980s and ’90s, jobs grew just 2.4 percent annually. And during the last decade, job growth fell to 0.9 percent annually.

“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Mr. Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”

Before 1990, it took an average of 21 months for the economy to regain the jobs shed during a recession, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the National Employment Law Project and the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research group in Washington.

After the recessions in 1990 and in 2001, 31 and 46 months passed before employment returned to its previous peaks. The economy was growing, but companies remained conservative in their hiring.

Some 34 million people were hired into new and existing private-sector jobs in 2000, at the tail end of an expansion, according to Labor Department data. A year later, in the midst of recession, hiring had fallen off to 31.6 million. And as late as 2003, with the economy again growing, hiring in the private sector continued to slip, to 29.8 million.

It was a jobless recovery: Business was picking up, but it simply did not translate into more work. This time, hiring may be especially subdued, labor economists say.

Traditionally, three sectors have led the way out of recession: automobiles, home building and banking. But auto companies have been shrinking because strapped households have less buying power. Home building is limited by fears about a glut of foreclosed properties. Banking is expanding, but this seems largely a function of government support that is being withdrawn.

At the same time, the continued bite of the financial crisis has crimped the flow of money to small businesses and new ventures, which tend to be major sources of new jobs.

All of which helps explain why Ms. Eisen — who has never before struggled to find work — feels a familiar pain each time she scans job listings on her computer: There are positions in health care, most requiring experience she lacks. Office jobs demand familiarity with software she has never used. Jobs at fast food restaurants are mostly secured by young people and immigrants.

If, as Mr. Sinai expects, the economy again expands without adding many jobs, millions of people like Ms. Eisen will be dependent on an unemployment insurance already being severely tested.

“The system was ill prepared for the reality of long-term unemployment,” said Maurice Emsellem, a policy director for the National Employment Law Project. “Now, you add a severe recession, and you have created a crisis of historic proportions.”

Fewer Protections

Some poverty experts say the broader social safety net is not up to cushioning the impact of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Social services are less extensive than during the last period of double-digit unemployment, in the early 1980s.

On average, only two-thirds of unemployed people received state-provided unemployment checks last year, according to the Labor Department. The rest either exhausted their benefits, fell short of requirements or did not apply.

“You have very large sets of people who have no social protections,” said Randy Albelda, an economist at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “They are landing in this netherworld.”

When Ms. Eisen and her husband, Jeff, applied for food stamps, they were turned away for having too much monthly income. The cutoff was $1,570 a month — $25 less than her husband’s disability check.

Reforms in the mid-1990s imposed time limits on cash assistance for poor single mothers, a change predicated on the assumption that women would trade welfare checks for paychecks.

Yet as jobs have become harder to get, so has welfare: as of 2006, 44 states cut off anyone with a household income totaling 75 percent of the poverty level — then limited to $1,383 a month for a family of three — according to an analysis by Ms. Albelda.

“We have a work-based safety net without any work,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “People with more education and skills will probably figure something out once the economy picks up. It’s the ones with less education and skills: that’s the new poor.”

Here in Orange County, the expanse of suburbia stretching south from Los Angeles, long-term unemployment reaches even those who once had six-figure salaries. A center of the national mortgage industry, the area prospered in the real estate boom and suffered with the bust.

Until she was laid off two years ago, Janine Booth, 41, brought home roughly $10,000 a month in commissions from her job selling electronics to retailers. A single mother of three, she has been living lately on $2,000 a month in child support and about $450 a week in unemployment insurance — a stream of checks that ran out last week.

For Ms. Booth, work has been a constant since her teenage years, when she cleaned houses under pressure from her mother to earn pocket money. Today, Ms. Booth pays her $1,500 monthly mortgage with help from her mother, who is herself living off savings after being laid off.

“I don’t want to take money from her,” Ms. Booth said. “I just want to find a job.”

Ms. Booth, with a résumé full of well-paid sales jobs, seems the sort of person who would have little difficulty getting work. Yet two years of looking have yielded little but anxiety.

She sends out dozens of résumés a week and rarely hears back. She responds to online ads, only to learn they are seeking operators for telephone sex lines or people willing to send mysterious packages from their homes.

She spends weekdays in a classroom in Anaheim, in a state-financed training program that is supposed to land her a job in medical administration. Even if she does find a job, she will be lucky if it pays $15 an hour.

“What is going to happen?” she asked plaintively. “I worry about my kids. I just don’t want them to think I’m a failure.”

On a recent weekend, she was running errands with her 18-year-old son when they stopped at an A.T.M. and he saw her checking account balance: $50.

“He says, ‘Is that all you have?’ ” she recalled. “ ‘Are we going to be O.K.?’ ”

Yes, she replied — and not only for his benefit.

“I have to keep telling myself it’s going to be O.K.,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d go into a deep depression.”

Last week, she made up fliers advertising her eagerness to clean houses — the same activity that provided her with spending money in high school, and now the only way she sees fit to provide for her kids. She plans to place the fliers on porches in some other neighborhood.

“I don’t want to clean my neighbors’ houses,” she said. “I know I’m going to come out of this. There’s no way I’m going to be homeless and poverty-stricken. But I am scared. I have a lot of sleepless nights.”

For the Eisens, poverty is already here. In the two years Ms. Eisen has been without work, they have exhausted their savings of about $24,000. Their credit card balances have grown to $15,000.

“I don’t know how we’re still indoors,” she said.

Her 1994 Dodge Caravan broke down in January, leaving her to ask for rides to an employment center.

She does not have the money to move to a cheaper apartment.

“You have to have money for first and last month’s rent, and to open utility accounts,” she said.

What she has is personality and presence — two traits that used to seem enough. She narrates her life in a stream of self-deprecating wisecracks, her punch lines tinged with desperation.

“See that,” she said, spotting a man dressed as the Statue of Liberty. Standing on a sidewalk, he waved at passing cars with a sign advertising a tax preparation business. “That will be me next week. Do you think this guy ever thought he’d be doing this?”

And yet, she would gladly do this. She would do nearly anything.

“There are no bad jobs now,” she says. “Any job is a good job.”

She has applied everywhere she can think of — at offices, at gas stations. Nothing.

“I’m being seen as a person who is no longer viable,” she said. “I’m chalking it up to my age and my weight. Blame it on your most prominent insecurity.”

Two Incomes, Then None

Ms. Eisen grew up poor, in Flatbush in Brooklyn. Her father was in maintenance. Her mother worked part time at a company that made window blinds.

She married Jeff when she was 19, and they soon moved to California, where he had grown up. He worked in sales for a chemical company. They rented an apartment in Buena Park, a growing spread of houses filling out former orange groves. She stayed home and took care of their daughter.

“I never asked him how much he earned,” Ms. Eisen said. “I was of the mentality that the husband took care of everything. But we never wanted.”

By the early 1980s, gas and rent strained their finances. So she took a job as a quality assurance clerk at a factory that made aircraft parts. It paid $13.50 an hour and had health insurance.

When the company moved to Mexico in the early 1990s, Ms. Eisen quickly found a job at a travel agency. When online booking killed that business, she got the job at the beauty salon equipment company. It paid $13.25 an hour, with an annual bonus — enough for presents under the Christmas tree.

But six years ago, her husband took a fall at work and then succumbed to various ailments — diabetes, liver disease, high blood pressure — leaving him confined to the couch. Not until 2008 did he secure his disability check.

And now they find themselves in this desert of joblessness, her paycheck replaced by a $702 unemployment check every other week. She received 14 weeks of benefits after she lost her job, and then a seven-week extension.

For most of October through December 2008, she received nothing, as she waited for another extension. The checks came again, then ran out in September 2009. They were restored by an extension right before Christmas.

Their daughter has back problems and is living on disability checks, making the church their ultimate safety net.

“I never thought I’d be in the position where I had to go to a food bank,” Ms. Eisen said. But there she is, standing in the parking lot of the Calvary Chapel church, chatting with a half-dozen women, all waiting to enter the Bread of Life Food Pantry.

When her name is called, she steps into a windowless alcove, where a smiling woman hands her three bags of groceries: carrots, potatoes, bread, cheese and a hunk of frozen meat.

“Haven’t we got a lot to be thankful for?” Ms. Eisen asks.

For one thing, no pinto beans.

“I’ve got 10 bags of pinto beans,” she says. “And I have no clue how to cook a pinto bean.”

Local job listings are just as mysterious. On a bulletin board at the county-financed ProPath Business and Career Services Center, many are written in jargon hinting of accounting or computers.

“Nothing I’m qualified for,” Ms. Eisen says. “When you can’t define what it is, that’s a pretty good indication.”

Her counselor has a couple of possibilities — a cashier at a supermarket and a night desk job at a motel.

“I’ll e-mail them,” Ms. Eisen promises. “I’ll tell them what a shining example of humanity I am.”

We're Only Human...: The Science of Recovery

We're Only Human...: The Science of Recovery

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Economic ghost story

I have been driving up and down the length of California on Highway 5 since 1973, when my sister moved to Chico, CA. I have made well over 70 trips over the years. The lack of business in the stores and at the roadside merchants is dramatically noticeable. It's never been this bad in memory.

I have spent four days on the road between Sonoma and La Jolla and back over the last week. Over the last three days, on the way home, I was really struck by the absence of the usual commercial activity. I went into several stores and found myself the only customer, or just one of two. The clerks who served me were very attentive to my needs in a human fashion rather than a rote manner.

Yesterday, I left Tehachapi and started driving up the 5. I stopped in Bakersfield at a gas station that should have been swamped with holiday travelers on their way home. Again, lack of customers. I bought something and asked the clerk if he had noticed if business was slow. He looked right at me and said, "Yeah, it's like a desert," with a tinge of fear in his voice. I replied, "I think things are going to get a lot worse. Might be a good idea to hunker down." He said, "Yeah, I'm taking care of myself." I reached out and shook his hand and said, "Take care, brother." Further up the road at Santa Nella, the gas station on the right was devoid of customers when I pulled into town and 20 minutes later when I left, it was still empty.

Today, south of San Francisco, a store sported a banner saying "Emergency Salvation Sale." I fear for my state, and my country.

The other shoe is gonna drop soon, and drop hard. Have you started your vegetable garden yet?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Anatomy of the White House-PhRMA deal--another example of corporate control of our government

Please go to the link above for the video AND the full story.  The text only is below.

Paul Blumenthal

Posted: February 12, 2010 01:28 PM

The Legacy of Billy Tauzin: The White House-PhRMA Deal

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For more research like this, visit the Sunlight Foundation's blog.
More than a million spectators gathered before the Capitol on a frosty January afternoon to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, who promised in his campaign to change Washington's mercenary culture of lobbyists, special interest influence and backroom deals. But within a few months of being sworn in, the President and his top aides were sitting down with leaders from the pharmaceutical industry to hash out a deal that they thought would make health care reform possible.
Over the following months, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives met with top White House aides dozens of times to hammer out a deal that would secure industry support for the administration's health care reform agenda in exchange for the White House abandoning key elements of the president's promises to reform the pharmaceutical industry. They flooded Congress with campaign contributions, and hired dozens of former Capitol Hill insiders to push their case. How they did it--pieced together from news accounts, disclosure forms including lobbying reports and Federal Election Commission records, White House visitor logs and the schedule Sen. Max Baucus releases voluntarily--is a testament to how ingrained the grip of special interests remains in Washington.
In the 2008 campaign, Obama declared his intention to include all stakeholders as he sought to reform the nation's health care system, but also supported key Democratic health reform policies. Among these were several that targeted the pharmaceutical industry: Allowing re-importation of drugs from first world countries with lower drug prices and providing Medicare with negotiating authority over prescription drug prices in the recently enacted Part D program. These weren't just promises, Obama had already voted for both of them as a senator in 2007. (Roll Call Vote 132 and Roll Call Vote 150.)
Set to carry out this agenda were two Capitol Hill veterans, schooled in the monied Washington culture, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. Emanuel was a former fundraiser, Clinton administration official, investment banker and member of the Democratic leadership in Congress. Messina was the former campaign manager and chief of staff to the powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Both were known for their unparalleled legislative abilities.
Because of Obama's decision to develop a plan operating through the legislative process, members of Congress also played key roles. Early on, the pharmaceutical companies were told to deal directly with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Baucus would be the vehicle for the deal worked out behind the scenes by the White House and PhRMA.
Central to this effort was PhRMA president, CEO and top lobbyist Billy Tauzin, a longtime Democratic member of Congress who switched party affiliations after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994. By switching parties Tauzin was able to maintain his influence and even rose to be Chairman of the House Committee on Energy & Commerce. Tauzin became the poster child of Washington's mercenary culture. He crafted a bill to provide prescription drug access to Medicare recipients, one that provided major concessions to the pharmaceutical industry. Medicare would not be able to negotiate for lower prescription drug costs and reimportation of drugs from first world countries would not be allowed. A few months after the bill passed, Tauzin announced that he was retiring from Congress and would be taking a job helming PhRMA for a salary of $2 million.
Tauzin's job change became fodder for a campaign ad that then presidential candidate Barack Obama ran in the spring of 2008 simply titled "Billy." It featured the candidate, sleeves rolled up, talking to a salon of gasping Americans about the ways of Washington. "The pharmaceutical industry wrote into the prescription drug plan that Medicare could not negotiate with drug companies. And you know what, the chairman of the committee, who pushed the law through, went to work for the pharmaceutical industry making $2 million a year." The screen fades to black to inform the viewer that, "Barack Obama is the only candidate who refuses Washington lobbyist money," while the candidate continues his lecture, "Imagine that. That's an example of the same old game playing in Washington. You know, I don't want to learn how to play the game better, I want to put an end to the game playing."
Aiding PhRMA in their outreach to Congress would be a squadron of lobbyists to push their health care reform priorities. Over the course of 2009, the drug industry trade group spent over $28 million on in house and hired lobbyists. Aside from PhRMA's massive in-house lobbying operation, the trade group hired 48 outside lobbying firms. The total number of lobbyists working for PhRMA in 2009 reached 165. Some 137 of those 165 lobbyists representing PhRMA were former employees of either the legislative or executive branches. Of these dozens were former congressional staffers including two former chiefs of staff to Max Baucus.
According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, drug makers contributed huge sums to congressional campaign committees during the same period--from January to the end of October (4th quarter numbers are still being totaled), industry political action committees, employees and their family members flooded lawmakers with over $8 million. Those contributions tilted heavily to Democrats over Republicans by a 57 to 42 percent margin--the first time in any election cycle going back to 1990, the first year that the Center for Responsive Politics began tracking industry giving, that Democrats were so favored. Given their majorities on Capitol Hill, and the new President's intention to reform America's health care system, the new tilt was perhaps not surprising.
On March 5, the White House held a meeting with major health care industry leaders to try to bring them to the table and see what could be done to gain their support. In attendance were Billy Tauzin, president, CEO and top lobbyist for PhRMA, Pfizer CEO Jeff Kindler, America's Health Care Plans (AHIP) Chairman Karen Ignani, Tom Donohue of the Chamber of Commerce and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations' Risa Lavizzomourey. A day before the White House meeting Tauzin appeared on CNBC touting health care reform and promising to work closely with the Obama administration. In the interview he touted it as an "optimistic plan", acknowledging that the industry did have a few problems but was glad to have a chance to discuss these. Some were caught dumb-founded by this apparent change of heart on behalf of an industry long adverse to health care reforms.
On April 15, Jim Messina and Jon Selib, chief of staff to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, convened a meeting at the headquarters of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) with leaders of organized labor and health care groups, including PhRMA. At the meeting, the groups decided to form two nonprofit entities to promote reform efforts, Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care, that would be almost entirely funded by PhRMA. The two groups spent $24 million on their advertising campaigns; the contract to produce and place ads went to White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod's former firm, AKPD, which owed Axelrod $2 million.
In the next month, CEO's from pharmaceutical companies would meet with Baucus and administration officials at least four times. These talks preceded a major public event at the White House, one critical to its strategy to promote health care reform. On May 11, PhRMA and other trade industry groups pledged cost cutting measures to the White House that would save, they claimed, upwards of $2 trillion over the next decade. President Obama announced the deal in the State Dining Room, flanked by leaders of the various trade groups; the administration followed up with a media blitz in the press and on the White House Web site.
The next day, Healthy Economy Now's PhRMA funded ad campaign ran their first advertisement in support of the health care reform process calling for the government to finally "fix" the nation's health care cost problems. While many elements of the $2 trillion cost cutting pledge fell apart, the drug industry remained committed to the process in the hopes that they could ultimately win out and defeat the provisions they most feared in closed-door meetings with the White House.
The first occurred on June 2. White House visitor logs show PhRMA's top executives, including Tauzin, and industry CEOs met with Sarah Fenn from the White House Office of Health Care Reform. On the same day, the publicly available schedule of Senator Max Baucus shows Tauzin and the same industry CEOs met the Senate Finance Committee chairman. What ultimately resulted from these coordinated meetings would be revealed by Baucus on June 20.
In a press release featuring a statement by Tauzin, Baucus revealed that the pharmaceutical industry had accepted $80 billion in cost cutting measures to be included in the Senate Finance Committee version of the bill. According to news reports, Baucus initially proposed $100 billion in cost cutting measures, but the executives and lobbyists meeting on June 2 were able to win the lower figure.
The terms of the initial cost-cutting deal included $30 billion go directly towards closing the "donut hole" in Medicare prescription drug coverage. The "donut hole" is a term for the gap in coverage that occurs within the Medicare prescription drug coverage. For those purchasing prescription drugs through the Medicare program coverage cuts off at $2,700 spent and does not pick back up again until $6,154 is spent by the participant. The amount proposed in the deal, 50 percent coverage for drugs within the coverage gap, however, would not completely close the "donut hole."
In Baucus' press release, Tauzin is quoted as saying, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, working together, we can make this hope for a better tomorrow a reality today." This "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity also extended to the pharmaceutical industry's ability to blunt the long-term Democratic agenda of lowering prescription drug prices through Medicare negotiations, re-importation and quicker release of generics onto the market. After making such a grand statement of support through cost cutting proposals it was time for the pharmaceutical industry to finally force the White House and Democrats to take certain chips off the table.
Baucus proceeded with a plan to convene a bipartisan group in an effort to craft the bill desired by the White House. These participants included Democrats Kent Conrad and Jeff Bingaman and Republicans Chuck Grassley, Mike Enzi and Olympia Snowe. Baucus' decision and the need to solidify deals with groups like the pharmaceutical industry - which were reliant on Baucus producing a bill - slowed down the legislative process making it impossible for Congress to meet the White House's announced August recess deadline for passing health care reform.
Soon after, PhRMA's big guns and industry lobbyists paid the White House another visit on July 7 and this time met with Rahm Emanuel and Jim Messina (Baucus' chief of staff Jon Selib is also listed in White House visitor logs for this meeting). In August, The Huffington Post's Ryan Grim reported on an internal memo that was drafted at that meeting that outlined the policies that would not be allowed into any final version of health care reform. These included Medicare prescription drug negotiations, drug re-importation, and the lowering of prices for drugs available through Medicare Part D and Part B. The deal would be $80 billion in cost cutting and absolutely no more.
While the $80 billion deal was cut with Baucus' committee, other congressional committees continued to mark-up their own versions of health care reform without the knowledge that the White House was relying on Baucus to produce the final product. In the House of Representatives, the House Energy & Commerce Committee leveled a direct threat to the $80 billion deal. Energy & Commerce Chair Henry Waxman sought to include all of the provisions that PhRMA had gotten the White House and Baucus to cut out of the reform bill. These included drug reimportation, Medicare negotiating power and speedier release of generics to the market. According to previous analysis of the measures proposed by the committee, these measures would have totaled hundreds of billions in cost cuts, far exceeding the $80 billion cap agreed to by the White House, Baucus and PhRMA.
The cost cutting measures passed in the Energy & Commerce bill spooked the board of PhRMA, which included all of the CEOs involved in the deal-cutting meetings with the White House and Baucus. The board pressured Tauzin to go public with the deal to ensure that the White House would recognize it and not renege. On August 4, the Los Angeles Times, in an exclusive report, featured quotes from Tauzin claiming that a deal between the White House and PhRMA existed and that, as Tauzin put it, "The White House blessed it." Tom Hamburger wrote in the article, "For his part, Tauzin said he had not only received the White House pledge to forswear Medicare drug price bargaining, but also a separate promise not to pursue another proposal Obama supported during the campaign: importing cheaper drugs from Canada or Europe."
The White House's Jim Messina later confirmed Tauzin's claim, stating, "The president encouraged this approach ... He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform."
Democratic lawmakers were furious. Rep. Raul Grijalva, chairman of the Progressive Caucus, asked, "Are industry groups going to be the ones at the table who get the first big piece of the pie and we just fight over the crust?"
On September 7, Baucus' bill made a private circulation on the Hill; pharmaceutical industry cost-cutting did not exceed $80 billion. Five days later, the New York Times reported that PhRMA planned to spend up to $150 million in an advertising blitz in support of Baucus' bill. The Times noted that the ad spending "...would be a follow-up to the deal that drug makers struck in June with Mr. Baucus and the White House." On September 16, Baucus released the full text of his legislation to the public.
The White House, PhRMA and Baucus still had to fight a few battles to keep the deal intact. The key amendment targeting the PhRMA deal in committee mark-up came from Sen. Bill Nelson from Florida, which has one of the largest Medicare participant populations in the nation. The pull of constituent needs clearly put Bill Nelson into a position to push for further cost cutting in Medicare prescription drug pricing. His target: closing the "donut hole" completely.
Nelson claimed that his amendment would generate $106 billion in revenue, or from PhRMA's perspective increase their cost-cutting to $186 billion. That would be unacceptable to PhRMA, to Baucus, to the White House and to the pharmaceutical industry who had made the deal. Other Senate Democrats, Tom Carper and Robert Menendez voted with Republicans and Baucus on the committee to defeat the amendment. It is little surprise the Carper's Delaware is home to AstraZeneca and Menendez' New Jersey is home to Merck and Bristol-Myers-Squibb, all of which lobbied for the $80 billion cap.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the final bill, with the cap in place, on November 19. Debate began on Dec. 3, and with it come one more attempt by members to change the terms of the deal. Senator Byron Dorgan introduced an amendment that would allow for drug re-importation, but as the date for voting drew near, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) released a letter objecting to the proposal that echoed pharmaceutical industry talking points: " currently written, the resulting structure would be logistically challenging to implement and resource intensive. In addition, there are significant safety concerns." Dorgan's amendment was defeated with numerous Democrats previously in support of reimportation switching to "no" votes.
On Christmas Eve, the bill passed the Senate with the PhRMA deal fully intact.
New Year's Eve passed with no further action on health care reform. Public opinion regarding the health care reform bill had been slipping throughout 2009. It reached a fulcrum in the special election to replace the deceased senator Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts on January 19, 2010. Newly minted senator Scott Brown campaigned that he would be the senator to provide Republicans with the votes to filibuster the final health care reform bill. Democrats ran for cover. Despite having the largest majorities of any party since the 1970s, Democrats put the brakes on their agenda, particularly health care reform.
In the end, the pharmaceutical industry's support for health care reform would be left up in the air . After spending $100 million in advertising in support of legislation that Tauzin and key executives hoped would be a windfall for the pharmaceutical industry, the legislative process had flat-lined. In February, the board of PhRMA, split over the deal cut by Tauzin, pushed Tauzin to resign his post.
In an interview with Diane Sawyer, President Obama owed up to failures in the process of passing health care reform, "[T]he health care debate as it unfolded legitimately raised concerns not just among my opponents, but also amongst supporters that we just don't know what's going on ... And it's an ugly process and it looks like there are a bunch of back room deals."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

50 Italians chain themselves to cranes at US base under construction

This is footage from today in Vicenza, Italy, where 50 women and men entered the construction site of the proposed mammoth new US military base in a location called "Dal Molin".  They chained themselves to cranes and other machines.
The campaign we need to support:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Since She's Been Gone: O'Connor's Opinion of Citizen's United

By Tanya Roth on February 2, 2010 2:10 PM

Unless you have been spending the bulk of your time on the International Space Station lately, and even then, you have heard a great deal about the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling, overturning decades of legal precedent and the bulk of the McCain Feingold Act will, most agree, send cannon balls of corporate money whizzing at high speed toward the election process, with potentially devastating results.

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who stepped down from the bench in 2006 and who was a supporter of campaign finance reform, made her thoughts known on the subject this past week. She said that she hoped the ruling would not allow a landslide of corporate money to unduly effect elections, but feared it would.

According to ABC News, Justice O'Connor also highlighted another area of concern when speaking to an audience at Georgetown Law School. Her main worry, and one not often commented on, is the effect the new rules (or lack thereof) for corporate spending will have on the election of judges at all levels of sate courts. "This rise in judicial campaigning makes last week's opinion in Citizens United a problem for an independent judiciary," she said in her speech in Washington. O'Connor went on to note that nearly 80% of state judges face election at some point during their time on the bench.

Last year's case regarding the election of a West Virginia judge only reinforces Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's concerns. According to an ABC News investigation, mining executives spent millions of dollars on the election of a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court. The judge then presided over a case brought before him involving the same mining company. It came as no surprise when the same judge then cast the swing vote in favor of the mining company. That particular case, Caperton v. Massey, made its way to the High Court and was decided by a 5-4 majority, this time finding that the judge's refusal to recuse himself was seen to be, per the majority opinion, "an extraordinary situation where the Constitution requires recusal."

It is clear Justice O'Connor, among others, is concerned over how many more cases like Caperton will continue to spring up like mushrooms after the rain of corporate cash begins.

Related Resources:

* O'Connor Calls Citizens United Ruling 'A Problem' (ABC News)
* O'Connor Worries Corporate Cash Will Taint Judicial Elections (U.S. News & World Report)
* The Supreme Court Rejects a Limit on Corporate-Funded Campaign Speech (FindLaw's Writ)
* Hey Big Spender! Supreme Court Cuts Limits on Corp Campaign Spending (FindLaw)
* Caperton v. Massey (Brennan Center for Justice)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Supreme Court 5 And Their Magic Fact Appearing Cabinet

The Supreme Court 5 And Their Magic Fact Appearing Cabinet, Because Only The People Speaking Out Can Reverse The Dreadful Corporate Personhood Decision

From The Pen:

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This is the third in our series of lambasts against the various multitude of gross errors in the ruling by the Supreme Court 5 (Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, Scalia & Thomas) to turn corporations into super citizens. The first alert addressed their constructive treason in expressly empowering foreign corporations to speak in our elections, the second vivisected their haste and derelict abandonment of all prudent procedure.

Be sure to submit the two action pages on this issue from which we are just starting to build the movement and political will to repudiate the rogue Supreme Court 5.

Action Page: Corporations Are NOT The People

Action Page: Impeach The Supreme Court 5

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This third installment will demonstrate their ad hoc prestidigitation of findings of fact on which to ground the opinion. Again we will reference specific page citations to the actual opinion, together with our review of all the legal filings in this case, including the so-called "amicus" (friend of the court) third parties, and the transcript of the oral argument, itself telling in many ways.

We had already pointed out that Kennedy, writing for a skin's teeth of a majority, plowed ahead without sending the case back down to the lower court for the development of a factual record on the issue THEY wanted to rule on (in a predetermined and unprecedented way as it turns out). Instead he conjured facts out of thin hot air to justify his holding, and we will have to play detective somewhat to figure out where this factual garbage even came from.

Critical to Kennedy's justification for why corporations should for the first time be awarded the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to tilt the tables of our elections was the finding, as a matter of fact, that existing PAC (political action committee) alternatives were too BURDENSOME and suppressive of this magical new corporation free speech right to drown out the voice of actual citizens in our elections. (opinion pp. 21-22).

And as support for this sweeping and totalitarian assertion of factual reality, what source does Kennedy lean on?? Why, little more than his OWN DISSENT in the one of very Supreme Court cases (McConnell) this opinion revisits and overrules (so much for respect for stare decisis), where HE made that assertion in DEFIANCE of the majority ruling in that case. Again here, he just recites his personal grudge list of the cruel and unusual (in his opinion) filing requirements for PACs, absent any determination by any trier of fact (besides his absolute self) that these requirements are per se onerous.

Oh, but it gets worse. For you see, no actual party to this litigation made any such factual claim that we can find in the record on appeal. Instead, in this part of the opinion Kennedy is just essentially regurgitating verbatim the ARGUMENTS of one of the THIRD PARTY amicus briefs!! (opinion p. 22) What he did here was take the assertions of a non-party in a tangential filing, the ONLY one to make such arguments, totally after the fact of anything tried in the actual case, and he elevated those arguments to the pedestal status of a complete factual record from the court below.

How much more offensive to any sense of judicial fair play could it possibly get? The point of a TRIAL is to take testimony, to try factual assertions in the crucible of a fact finding court, to have a judge determine based on a full and fair record what facts are to be given weight, with both parties given an opportunity to present any relevant evidence. But in our new Supreme Court of the Five Kangaroos, they can sit as judge, jury and executioner of all facts without any such procedural fairness, and based on their OWN prejudicial predetermination.

To her credit, in oral argument Justice Sotomayor attempted to address the fact that the Court appeared to be bent on proceeding in the absence of an adequate factual record on the issue it purportedly was to decide (oral argument p 25, lines 12-22). Here was attorney Ted Olsen's response to her question.

"It is the government has the burden to prove the record that justifies telling someone that wants to make a 90-minute documentary about a candidate for president that they will go to jail if they broadcast it. The government has the obligation and the government had a long legislative record and plenty of opportunity to produce that record and it's their obligation to do so." (oral argument p. 25, line 25 - p. 26, line 7, and please take careful note of Olsen's unbelievably snaky reference to a "legislative" record, as contrasted with a FACTUAL record by trial in a lower court, and his inflammatory use of the word "jail").

Where did this guy get his law license ... out of a cereal box??
In the first place, the government was not the "plaintiff" (the one bringing the case) here. The government was not prosecuting a case here to put anybody in jail. The plaintiff in this case was so-called Citizens United, both on appeal and in the court below. In our system of justice the plaintiff is ALWAYS the one with the burden of proof, and where, as here, they ABANDONED the issue that the Supreme Court 5 raised from the dead by a wave of their unilateral godlike hand, there was NO requirement for the government to make a case to the contrary. Indeed, on the issues that WERE tried below, the government DID develop whatever factual record was necessary to win, even by the biased standards of this Supreme Court (opinion p. 10).

What kind of dishonest advocate would try to throw the obligation of proof back on the defendant so long after the fact of an issue waived?

And what kind of dishonest Supreme Court would try to pass off as justice such a short shrift of a factual record? Kennedy asserts in the opinion that it's really all OK because in one of the stare decisis cases (which they are REVERSING) there was a record of 100,000 pages on roughly the same issue (opinion p. 15), so they can rely on that, totally disregarding that THAT case ruled AGAINST Kennedy's zombie proposition. What has changed? Nothing has changed but an additional right wing drop kick ideologue on the court to vote to take the SAME facts and arrive at the diametrically contrary result many years later. 100,000 pages of record that went the other way against a new record in this case of ZERO pages. Some record!

It just so happens that Anthony M. Kennedy is the LAST person who should ever be allowed to make a finding of a fact about anything in the real world, let alone from the bench of the Supreme Court. Consider this pearl of cave dwelling mentality from his mouth in the oral argument, in defense of the admittedly ad hominem corporate hit piece about Hillary Clinton in this case.

"But, No. 1, the phenomenon of -- of television ads where we get information about scientific discovery and -- and environment and transportation issues from corporations who after all have patents because they know something, that -- that is different." (oral argument, p. 73, lines 5-10)

Oh sure, that's what corporations do all day long with their TV ads, finance educational and enlightening public service announcements. You mean like all those ads from defense contractors pitching their new missile system as being people friendly? If any court ever needed a factual record to tell them what is actually going on out here in the real world it surely must be this one.

But alas, at this point this alert is already quite long, and we have still only scratched the surface of the totally bogus findings of purported fact on which this outrageously heinous decision was based. So we will have to keep you in suspense until the next installment of the analysis of this shameful decision in ... the ongoing and tragic Saga of the Outlaw Supreme Court 5.

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And again, be sure to submit the two action pages on this issue from which we are just starting to build the movement and political will to repudiate the rogue Supreme Court 5, comprising Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy.

Action Page: Corporations Are NOT The People

Action Page: Impeach The Supreme Court 5

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