Posts tagged with 'Iowa'

Weekly Audit: Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing–The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism

Posted Mar 29, 2011 @ 11:37 am by
Filed under: Economy     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flickr, The 2-BeloBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fashionable pundits like to say that the Republican Party has shifted its focus from “social conservatism” (e.g., banning abortion, shoving gays back in the closet, teaching school children that humans and dinosaurs once walked the earth hand-in-claw) to fiscal conservatism (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, slashing social programs). But is that really true? Tim Murphy of Mother Jones argues that the old culture war issues never really went away. Rather, the Republicans have simply rephrased their social agenda in fiscal terms.

For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is quite upfront about the fact that he hates Planned Parenthood because the group is the nation’s leading abortion provider. Yet, he seeks to de-fund the Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X Family Planning Program in the name of balancing the budget. Never mind that the federal money only goes toward birth control, not abortion, and research shows that every dollar spent on birth control saves $4 in Medicaid costs alone.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly surveys the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls in Iowa and agrees that reports of the death of the culture war have been greatly exaggerated.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That’s just not what these right-wing activists — the ones who’ll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses — are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, “I haven’t been asked too much about fiscal issues.”

Budget cuts

Sarah Babbage writes in TAPPED that Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress seem poised to grant an additional $20 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011, in addition to the $10 billion in cuts they’ve already pledged for this fiscal year. Babbage notes that, after weeks of negotiations, we’re right back to the $30 billion in cuts the GOP initially demanded. She warns that these cuts will have a trivial impact on the $1.6 trillion deficit, but they could have a devastating effect on the fragile economy.

Taxes for thee, but not GE

General Electric raked in $14.2 billion in profits last year, $5.1 billion of which came from the United States, yet the company paid $0 in U.S. income tax, Tara Lohan notes in AlterNet. Despite its healthy bottom line, and its sweet tax situation, GE is asking 15,000 unionized U.S. workers to make major concessions at the bargaining table. GE wants union members to give up defined benefit pension programs in exchange for defined contribution programs.

As we discussed last week in The Audit, defined benefit plans guarantee that a retiree will get a set percentage of her working salary for the rest of her life; defined contribution plans pay the worker a share of the revenue from a pool of investments. As the fine print always says, investments can decrease in value. So, if the stock market crashes the day before you retire, you’re out of luck.

Generation Debt

Higher education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a better standard of living, but with unemployment hovering around 10%, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs to pay their student loans. Aliya Karim argues in Campus Progress that the government should compel colleges and universities to be more transparent about the realities of student loan debt:

The government should require colleges to provide information about graduation rates, college costs, and financial aid packages on college websites, enrollment forms, and guidebooks. This information should be easy to find and understand. Without such information available to them, students may not be aware that their future college has a graduation rate lower than 20 percent or that its graduates face close to $30,000 in debt.

The government has a lot of leverage over public and private schools because so much student debt is guaranteed by taxpayers. Greater transparency will enable students to make more informed choices, and give colleges with low graduation rates a greater incentive to clean up their act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

War On Unions Goes Viral, Wisconsin is Patient Zero

Posted Mar 11, 2011 @ 1:40 pm by
Filed under: Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

In a shocking move, Republicans in the Wisconsin state Senate convened in the Capitol on Wednesday night to pass a union-busting bill without a quorum. The bill passed the State Assembly on Thursday afternoon, and Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law this morning. The Democratic state senators have returned from exile. Now, activists are shifting their attention to recall campaigns, court challenges, and even a general strike.

Madison Firefighters Union President Joe Conway was in the Capitol on Wednesday night to witness what he called “a criminal act by the Republicans” and “game changer for everyone.” Conway called for a general public strike.

John Nichols of the Nation describes the procedural move the Republicans used to pass the bill without a quorum, on what he calls “one of the most remarkable days in American political history”:

After weeks of intense debate inside and outside the Capitol, and at a point when most Wisconsinites thought a compromise was in the offering, Republican legislative leaders suddenly announced that they would pass the most draconian components of Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill – including a move to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

At this point, the 14 Senate Democrats were still in exile in Illinois, attempting to deny the Republicans the quorum they needed to pass the bill. Under Wisconsin law, the state Senate only needs a quorum to pass non-fiscal legislation. So, the Republicans ostensibly stripped out all the fiscal language from the bill and passed it hastily, without hearings or debate, in the dead of night.

Budgetary hypocrisy

Micah Uetricht and George Warner of Campus Progress call this “non-fiscal” dodge the height of hypocrisy. For weeks, Walker has justified stripping unions of their bargaining rights as a measure needed to balance the budget. The bill clearly affects the state’s budget, arguably making it a fiscal bill in disguise, and possibly opening the door to a court challenge. If it is a financial bill after all, then the state Senate didn’t have the power to pass it without a quorum.

Uetricht and Warner also note that the South Central Federation of Labor, the labor council that represents unions in the Madison area, with a combined membership of 45,000 workers, voted in February to begin preparations for a general strike.

The Progressive‘s Matthew Rothschild, who was at the Capitol, estimates that 15,000 people converged there as word spread that the bill had been passed. Cries of “General Strike!” rang out in the Capitol on Wednesday night.

As I reported in Working In These Times, the Senate Republicans may have violated Wisconsin’s strict open meetings law, which requires 24 hours’ notice for meetings, unless there’s some kind of emergency that prevents organizers from getting the word out earlier, in which case, a minimum of 2 hours’ notice is still required. The Senate was in emergency session, but nobody is claiming that there was any kind of real-life emergency that prevented the Republicans from notifying the public in a timely manner.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones notes that the bill would allow the state to fire public employees who join a strike, walk-out, sit-in, or make a coordinated effort to call in sick.

Here’s more news from Wisconsin:

  • In a special comment on GritTV, host Laura Flanders asks if it’s time for the first U.S. general strike since 1909.
  • Peter Rothberg of the Nation asks whether the time has come for a general strike.
  • David Moberg of Working In These Times explores the history, and possible future, of general strikes in America.
  • Jessica Pieklo of Care2 writes about Madison as a birthplace of the labor movement.
  • Jeff Leys of Truthout argues that the Madison could once again become the crucible for a powerful progressive movement.
  • Public News Service argues that Walker’s government is staging a power grab at the expense of local control, a value Republicans supposedly hold dear.
  • State Rep. Kelda Hellen Roys tells The UpTake that last night’s vote was illegal because the original bill wasn’t even drafted when it was voted on.
  • At TAPPED, Pima Levy argues that the strategy that Republicans in Wisconsin used to pass the bill was similar to that used by federal Democrats to pass the Affordable Care Act. After the U.S. Senate Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority, they passed a “budget neutral” version of the bill, which bypassed the filibuster. She predicts that the Wisconsin GOP will face a significant backlash.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state waging war on the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Ohio’s Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature are poised to restrict the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public servants. Michigan seems poised to pass a “hostile takeover” bill that would give the Republican governor unchecked power to declare cities bankrupt and appoint a manager who could cancel union contracts. In Indiana, state House Democrats are boycotting the legislature in an attempt to derail anti-union legislation.

Michigan

Michigan’s Republican-controlled state senate passed and sent back to the state house a “hostile takeover” bill that would give the governor the power to declare cities insolvent and appoint a city manager, who in turn, could cancel collective bargaining agreements and sell off city property without anyone else’s approval, Adele Stan notes in AlterNet. Hundreds of pro-union demonstrators rallied in the state capital of Lansing on Tuesday to protest the measure.

Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan Messanger that the bill is on the fast track to passage, despite raising serious constitutional questions about the limits of executive power. “This is a takeover by the right wing and it’s an assault on democracy like I’ve never seen,“ Michigan State AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney said.

Indiana

Republicans in Indiana have had their sights set on public sector unions since they took the General Assembly in 2010. Huge crowds gathered in Indianapolis on Thursday in support of union rights. This was the 18th day of uninterrupted union protests outside the state House. Police estimated a turnout of 8,000. Democratic lawmakers, who had fled the state to prevent the passage of an anti-collective bargaining bill, said they had no plans to return.

Ohio

About 3,200 people gathered at the Statehouse in Ohio to protest a bill that would severely limit the collective bargaining rights of some 350,000 public workers including teachers, firefighters, and police. Democrats say they will fight to recall the bill if it is signed into law. Mark Miller of Change.org summarizes the key provisions of the bill, SB 5, which recently passed the state Senate. Ohio Democrats are trying to stall the progress of the legislation by demanding public hearings. Unlike their counterparts in Indiana and Wisconsin, they don’t have enough seats to deny the Republicans a quorum by leaving the state.

The public sector is the last bastion of high union density in the United States because public sector workers have historically been protected from the kind of union-busting tactics that are routine in the private sector. If the public sector unions are destroyed, the U.S. labor movement will die with them. The very future of the middle class is at stake.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Follow us on Twitter.  For the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: White House Takes Offensive Against Health Care Repeal

Posted Jan 19, 2011 @ 12:03 pm by
Filed under: Health Care     Bookmark and Share

Creative Commons, Flicker, anolobbBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

This week, House Republicans will hold a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill is expected to pass the House, where the GOP holds a majority, but stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the meantime, the symbolic vote is giving both Republicans and Democrats a pretext to publicly rehash their views on the legislation.

At AlterNet, Faiz Shakir and colleagues point out that repealing health care reform would cost the federal government an additional $320 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. The authors also note that despite Republican campaign promises to “repeal and replace” the law, their bill contains no replacement plan. Health care reform protects Americans with preexisting conditions from some forms discrimination by insurers. At least half of all Americans under the age of 65 could be construed as having a preexisting condition. No wonder only 1 in 4 Americans support repeal, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on Monday.

Perhaps that explains, as Paul Waldman reports at TAPPED, why the White House is vigorously defending health care reform. The Obama administration is making full use of the aforementioned statistics from The Department Health and Human Services on the percentage of Americans who have preexisting conditions:

As the House prepares to vote on the “Repeal the Puppy-Strangling Job-Vivisecting O-Commie-Care Act,” or whatever they’re now calling it, the White House and its allies actually seem to have their act together when it comes to fighting this war for public opinion. The latest is an analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services on just how many people have pre-existing conditions, and thus will be protected from denials of health insurance when the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect in 2014

Republicans are fuming that Democrats are “politicizing” a policy debate by bringing up the uncomfortable fact that, if the GOP’s repeal plan became law, millions of people could lose their health insurance. As Waldman points out, the high incidence of preexisting conditions is an argument for a universal mandate. It’s impossible to insure people with known health problems at an affordable cost unless they share the risk with healthier policy-holders. Hence the need for a mandate.

Anti-choice at the end of life

In The Nation, Ann Neumann explains how anti-choice leaders fought to re-eliminate free end-of-life counseling for seniors under Medicare. The provision was taken out of the health care reform bill but briefly reinstated by Department of Health and Social Services before being rescinded again by HHS amid false allegations by anti-choice groups, including The Family Research Council, that the government was promulgating euthanasia for the elderly.

As seen on TV

The Kansas-based anti-choice group Operation Rescue is lashing out at the Iowa Board of Medicine for dismissing their complaint against Dr. Linda Haskell, Lynda Waddington reports in The Iowa Independent. Dr. Haskell attracted the ire of anti-choicers for using telemedicine to help doctors provide abortion care. The board investigated Operation Rescue’s allegations, which it cannot discuss or even acknowledge, but found no basis for sanctions against Haskell. Iowa medical authorities said they were still deliberating about the rules for telemedicine in general.

Salon retracts RFK vaccine story

Online news magazine Salon.com has retracted a 2005 article by Robert Kennedy, Jr. alleging a link between childhood vaccines and autism, Kristina Chew reports at Care2. The article leaned heavily on now discredited research by Dr. Andrew Wakefield. His research had been discredited for some time, but only recently did an investigative journalist reveal that Wakefield skewed his data as part of an elaborate scam to profit from a lawsuit against vaccine makers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: Rotten Eggs, Drowsy Doctors, and Expensive Insurance

Posted Sep 8, 2010 @ 12:21 pm by
Filed under: Health Care, Uncategorized     Bookmark and Share

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tainted egg shell game

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club is pushing state regulators to investigate two factory farms and a feed mill linked to this summer’s massive recall of salmonella-tainted eggs, Lynda Waddington reports in the Iowa Independent. The Sierra Club sent a strongly-worded letter to Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller urging him to investigate Wright County Egg, Hillandale Farms and the Quality Egg LLC feed mill. All three firms were linked to the salmonella outbreak that sickened an estimated 1200 people; and all three firms are linked to agro-baron Austin “Jack” DeCoster.

Tom Philpott of Grist calls DeCoster a “habitual” environmental offender and “one of the most reviled names in industrial agriculture.” In 1996, the Department of Labor fined DeCoster Eggs $3.6 million for what the then-Secretary of Labor described as “running an agricultural sweatshop” and “treating its employees like animals.” Over the years, DeCoster enterprises racked up additional fines in other states. A previous Attorney General of Iowa dubbed DeCoster a habitual offender for water pollution. In 2002, five female employees at the DeCoster’s Wright County egg operation alleged that their supervisors had raped them and threatened to kill them if they reported the crime. The company paid $1.5 million to settle the lawsuit. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: EPA, Clean Air Act Facing Opposition

Posted Jan 15, 2010 @ 12:00 pm by
Filed under: Sustain     Bookmark and Share

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Climate change legislation is off the table for now, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is still working to regulate greenhouse gasses. The organization is up against strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is heading the charge, with the assistance of Bush-era EPA officials, now lobbyists with clients in the energy industry.

The EPA and the Clean Air Act

In April 2009, the EPA found that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gasses pose a hazard to public health. This finding obligated the EPA to regulate these pollutants under the Clean Air Act, a responsibility the Bush administration fought to avoid. The power the agency now has to limit carbon emissions extends far beyond its usual scope, and the EPA’s decisions will have a lasting impact on environmental regulation in this country. As the agency moves to act, everyone from Sen. Murkowski to the state of California is protesting the changes. Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones reports:

“The California Energy Commission last month sent a letter to the EPA asking it to slow down on implementation of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions….The CEC argues that phasing them in too fast could hurt efforts in the state to expand use of low-carbon energy.”

Opponents in Congress are taking action to shut down the EPA’s attempts to curb greenhouse gasses, Sheppard writes. Both Sen. Murkowski and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) have filed bills that would delay or stop the EPA’s regulatory process.

Attempting to ‘gut the Clean Air Act’

Grist’s Miles Grant is also keeping a close watch on opponents of the regulation.

“At first it seemed like simply one bad idea from Sen. Lisa Murkowski,” he writes. “But now we know the real story—a tangled web of public officials, polluter lobbyists, and efforts to gut the Clean Air Act.”

It emerged this week that Murkowski had help in drafting her bill from EPA administrators from the Bush administration, as first reported by the Washington Post. These former officials now work in Washington as lobbyists and represent clients like Duke Energy and the Alliance of Food Associations on climate change matters.

“Every day it seems we’re learning more,” says Miles. “More about the revolving door between the Bush administration and polluter lobbyists; more about their influence with senators and their staffers; and more about who’s really pulling the strings on efforts to block climate action—Big Oil’s MVP, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK).”

Even the American Farm Bureau Federation…

Another opponent, as Care2 notes, is the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the country’s largest farm group. The organization approved a special resolution during its four-day convention on Sunday. The resolution supports legislation like Murkowski’s or Pomeroy’s that would “suspend the EPA’s authority to regulator greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.”

During a speech, AFBF president Bob Stallman said that American farmers and ranchers “must aggressively respond to extremists” and “misguided, activist-driven regulation.”

“The days of their elitist power grabs are over,” he said.

More opportunities to improve climate policy

The EPA’s new power is not the only opportunity that the Obama administration has to improve U.S. climate policy. David Roberts, also reporting for Grist, writes about $2.3 billion in new tax credits for clean energy manufacturing companies, announced last Friday.

“There were 183 projects selected out of some 500 applications; one-third were from small businesses; around 30% are expected to be completed this year. The winners are spread across 43 states,” Roberts reports.

Roberts calls it “better than usual industrial policy.” The credits are meant to give a boost to the new green energy economy.

But Roberts warns, “It’s also absurd that clean energy industries still depend on capricious, short-term extensions of tax credits. … Obama has called on Congress to cough up $5 billion a year for these credits, but how enduring will yearly appropriations be the next time Congress changes hands?”

Iowa and the biodiesel tax credit

The answer likely depends on how much support these projects get from the representatives of states that will benefit from the tax credits. In Iowa, for instance, the state’s three Democratic Representatives have asked the House leadership to prioritized a 2010 renewal of the biodiesel tax credit, as Lynda Waddington reports for the Iowa Independent.

“If members of the U.S. Senate do not act on last year’s program extension, however, it might be a moot point,” Waddington writes. The renewal has gotten stalled in the Senate, where both Iowa Senators are blaming the opposite party for delays.

From policy to people

When politicians jockey over regulations and renewals, climate change work in Washington can seem very abstract. But people like John Henrikson, a forester who’s committed to farming 150 acres of trees in sustainable ways, help ground lofty policy ideas down in reality.

“Henrikson’s approach embodies a new way of thinking about our relationship with forests. For years he has been processing his own trees into trim and molding, sold through a broad network of local businesses,” reports Ian Hanna for Yes! Magazine. “Five years ago he got his forest certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards, a global system for eco-labeling sustainably managed forests and the products derived from them. And, most recently, he’s developed a project to sell rights to the carbon sequestered on his property.”

Without strong policy coming out Washington, it’s harder for entrepreneurs like Henrikson to make green business a reality. If legislators like Sen. Murkowski and groups like the AFBF don’t block them, the EPA’s new rules are going to begin coming out in March. There’s a major action to combat global warming that the U.S. can take before then, though—for example, we could officially commit to our promise to reduce emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. The deadline for registering climate pledges under the new Copenhagen Accord is the end of this month.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.