Republicans slam brakes on voting rights bill

House Republican leaders are slamming the brakes on voting rights legislation, insisting that any movement on the issue go through a key Republican committee chairman who opposes the proposal.

House Democrats are pressing hard on GOP leaders to bring the new voter protections directly to the floor.

That would sidestep consideration in the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has rejected a bipartisan proposal to update the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) in the wake of a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of that law.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders say the bill must go through Judiciary. That position effectively kills the legislation, as Goodlatte, after staging a hearing on the issue in 2013, has maintained that a congressional response is unnecessary because the Court left intact other parts of the VRA ensuring voters are protected.

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Koch Rebranding

Over the weekend, at a political conference organized by the Koch Brothers where mega-donors and Republican presidential candidates rubbed elbows, Charles Koch compared his network’s influence over U.S. elections to past “freedom movements.”

“Look at the American revolution, the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the civil rights movement,” he said. “All of these struck a moral chord with the American people. They all sought to overcome an injustice. And we, too, are seeking to right injustices that are holding our country back.”

Koch also repeatedly cited his crusade for shrinking the government as a gift to the nation’s poor, as well as his organization’s criminal justice reform push.

Yet the Koch Brothers’ have a checkered record on civil rights, and continue to support policies that harm voters of color.

The brothers have long backed efforts to make all states demand a voter ID at the polls, a policy that disproportionately suppresses the voters of people of color, the elderly, students, and the poor — all demographics that tend to vote for Democrats.

The Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity has similarly fought tooth and nailagainst the expansion of Medicaid, which has most harmed African Americans who live in southern states.

The Kochs have also spent big in recent years to oppose raising the minimum wage — or having one at all — though a raise could lift millions of black and Latino workers out of poverty.

Additionally, the brothers’ past political summits have hosted speakers with explicitly racist views. Author Charles Murray — who has argued that African Americans and Latinos are genetically inferior to white people — was a celebrated keynote speaker at the Koch summit in 2014.

And though Koch Industries has received waves of positive press attention for their criminal justice reform, the network continues to back politicians known for doubling down on long sentences for non-violent drug crimes and expanding the use of private prisons.

This isn’t the first time the Koch empire has attempted to re-brand itself. Earlier this year, the brothers launched a media charm offensive in which they described themselves as economically conservative and socially liberal — despite spending tens of millions of dollars on campaigns to ban abortion and gay marriage, among other socially conservative causes.

(Excerpted from Think Progress 8/3/15)

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Obamacare Has Improved Access to Health Care

Jonathan Cohn points to new research suggesting that since Obamacare’s implementation, Americans have better access to health care.

“It’s one more reason to think Obamacare is not the fiasco that critics claim it to be.”

“In a new paper for the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group of scholars attempt to produce a before-and-after picture of the health care law’s implementation. To do so, they draw on three years of data from Gallup’s ongoing ‘well-being index’ survey.”

The researchers “adjusted the responses for variables like unemployment, in an attempt to isolate the effects of the health care law from other factors, such as the recovering economy. The researchers also looked specifically at the trends — in other words, whether access to care was getting worse before the health care law’s implementation, and, if so, whether that deterioration stopped.”

“Every trend had been getting worse — and then, with the health law’s full implementation, either stopped getting worse or started getting better. Lead author Benjamin Sommers … said the difference amounted to 11 million more adults saying they can afford their health care and 6.8 million reporting they were in good health.”

“The ACA’s first 2 open enrollment periods were associated with significantly improved trends in self-reported coverage, access to primary care and medications, affordability, and health.

(Excerpted from Wonkwire 7/29/15)

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Wealth Bubble Distorts Views of the Poor

Washington Post: A new study in Psychological Science “confirms, that the rich and poor have skewed views about each other — and that, as a result, the rich may be less likely to support programs for the poor.”

“The wealthy, surrounded by other wealthy people, generally believed the U.S. population was wealthier than it actually is. It’s easy to imagine why they might make this mistake: If you look around you and see few poor people — on the street, in your child’s classroom, at the grocery store — you may think poverty is pretty rare.”

“The communities we see immediately around us, the authors argue, shape our sense of how rich America is. And those perceptions, in turn, can influence how we feel about government policies for the poor. In this study, wealthier people who overestimated the extent of wealth in the U.S. were also more likely to perceive the economy as fair and more likely to oppose redistribution policies.”

“This finding is particularly worrisome given that economic segregation is worsening in America.”

(Excerpted from Wonkwire 7/29/15)

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Missouri’s cruel treatment of undocumented students

This year, the Missouri Legislature passed numerous punitive bills. In each case, language was carefully crafted to eliminate educational options for students who have been approved under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Two of those bills (SB224 and HB3) combine to effectively price undocumented students out of higher education. SB224 states that undocumented students will not qualify for the A+ scholarship program.

In HB3 (the higher education budget bill) language was inserted in the preamble that states that Missouri public colleges and universities must charge undocumented (including DACA) students the highest possible rate of tuition — whether that’s out-of-state or international. The bill further asserts that they’re not eligible for any institutional scholarships and threatens the universities’ budget allocation if they don’t comply. Some say it’s unconstitutional to attempt to legislate via the state budget. I am not a legal scholar, but I have seen first-hand how punitive legislation affects real people.

It’s the end of July. Some students have no idea that this punitive legislation affects them. International rates can be three times higher than in-state rates at some Missouri institutions. Some institutions have notified their students but many have not. Some responded to a phone survey I conducted by indicating that they have no intention to notify students.

On July 11, Gov, Nixon traveled to Kansas City to attend the conference of National Council of La Raza, the largest civil rights group for Latinos. While at this conference, he announced his veto of SB224, claiming that it is immoral and bad for the state to penalize students who have worked hard and followed the rules. He received a standing ovation. People from all over the country attend NCLR and may not have been as in tune with the extent of Missouri’s punitive policies, but I know what this really means.

Although the governor vetoed this bill, the veto session begins in September, well after school has started. If his veto is overridden, students will experience a spike in their tuition that they may not anticipate and probably cannot sustain. This, again, is wrong. While the governor was receiving a standing ovation, many of us worried that students’ dreams will be crushed in the aftermath of bad politics.

)(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 7/29/15)

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Birth control, sex education prevent abortions better than gotcha videos

Serious opponents of abortion should be lined up to support birth control clinics. They should sponsor sex education programs. They should help mothers find work so they can feed and educate their children.

They shouldn’t be using hidden cameras to obtain secret video of doctors who work for Planned Parenthood discussing the distribution of fetal tissue and body parts with people who have misrepresented themselves. Those tactics are more about gotcha politics and about defunding a nonprofit organization that provides services to women and poor people than they are about helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies.

As the late Dr. Alan Guttmacher, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a leader in the International Planned Parenthood Federation, wrote after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, “those who oppose and those who favor legalization of abortion share a common goal — the elimination of all abortion,” through better, safer, cheaper contraception.

In private, many — if not most — medical professionals are not necessarily delicate about describing medical procedures. It is clear from watching the videos that the doctors do not know they are being videotaped and are talking frankly with people who claimed to be fetal tissue buyers.

What’s murky is that the public can’t tell from the videos exactly what is being discussed. David Daleiden, founder of the California-based Center for Medical Progress, is a well-known anti-abortion activist who has previously used undercover sting operations and heavily edited videotape to try to discredit Planned Parenthood.

His group says the first video shows the organization’s plan to “sell baby parts,” and the second shows the doctor “haggling over baby-part pricing.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, disagrees with that interpretation. She said the videos are part of a “smear” campaign and were heavily edited to distort and take out of context the talks that were underway.

For too many Americans, whatever description a person believes will depend on which echo chamber he or she listens to, and what a person believes about abortion, women’s health care and when life begins.

What’s indisputable is that the videos are about politics, not about helping women prevent unwanted pregnancies. Planned Parenthood inflames at least two political passions — opposition to abortion and opposition to government programs for the poor. As long as Republicans keep the organization under attack, the party appeals to some elements and antagonizes others.

Misinformation doesn’t stop with doctored videos, either. In 2011, then-Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said on the floor of the Senate that abortion constitutes “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”

When Planned Parenthood countered that abortions make up less than 3 percent of its services, a staff member for the senator said that Mr. Kyl’s comment “was not intended to be a factual statement.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 7/28/15)

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State income tax cuts: Still a bad idea

In the extreme versions that thrived through the early Reagan Administration years, supply-siders argued tax cuts would pay for themselves by increasing growth substantially. After decades in which lower tax rates generated less revenue rather than more, today’s supply-siders usually make more the modest claim that tax cuts will spur growth that makes up for part of the revenue losses. However, some proponents still can’t help themselves and lapse into the more hyperbolic claims.

But the record is clear that tax cuts have not boosted growth. When growth is (appropriately) measured from peak to peak of the business cycle, the vaunted Reagan tax cuts in the early 1980s produced a period of average growth. Indeed, research by Martin Feldstein, President Reagan’s former chief economist, and Doug Elmendorf, the former Congressional Budget Office Director, concluded that the 1981 tax cuts had virtually no net impact on growth.

Virtually no one claims the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts stimulated growth. Despite cuts in tax rates on ordinary income, capital gains, dividends, and estates, economic growth remained sluggish between 2001 and the beginning of the Great Recession in late-2007. The growth that did occur, however, is generally attributed to the Fed’s easy money policy.

Tax rates as determinants of growth fare no better in cross-country comparisons. Research by Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics), Emmanuel Saez (UC-Berkeley), and Stefanie Stantcheva (MIT) found no relationship between how a country changed its top marginal tax rate and how rapidly it grew between 1960 and 2010. For example, the United States cut its top rate by over 40 percentage points and grew just over 2 percent annually per capita. Germany and Denmark, which barely changed their top rates at all, experienced about the same growth rate.

The story is much the same when total tax burdens are compared. Over the 1970-2012 period, taxes as a share of GDP were 7 percentage points higher in the rest of the OECD countries (32 percent) than in the United States (25 percent). Yet, per capita annual growth was virtually identical in the rest of the OECD (1.80 percent) compared to the United States alone.

So, there is no reason to believe that tax cuts are an elixir for economic growth. There’s another problem here as well. As Piketty and company note, with or without the elusive supply-side effect, high-end tax cuts have exacerbated income inequality.

In the 1990s, six states cut taxes by more than ten percent, mostly by enacting significant personal income tax cuts. However, only the tax-cut states that were boosted by the financial boom rose faster than average. Between 2001 and 2007, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island cut personal income taxes. Only New Mexico and Oklahoma, which benefited from oil and gas trends, experienced net gains in their employment share over an extended period.

The most widely-reported recent state income tax cut occurred in Kansas in 2012. Gov. Sam Brownback argued it would be “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” The tax cuts did not produce the hoped-for growth, though, and more revenue was lost than originally anticipated. Fiscal year 2014 revenues were $700 million lower than FY 2013 — $330 million less than expected – during a period in which most of the American economy was picking up steam. Put in context, these numbers are pretty significant: $330 million represents more than 5 percent of Kansas’ government spending from general funds. Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s reduced Kansas’ credit rating, and the state failed to keep up with the region’s pace of job growth.

At the core of supply-side economics is Art Laffer’s back-of-the napkin curve illustrating the obvious reality that, at some point, higher tax rates will lead to lower revenues as well as fewer jobs and slower growth. But this does not imply there are many real-world examples of tax rates so high that cutting them would have much impact on jobs or growth. That concept has been amply demonstrated at the national level, where tax cuts have eroded revenue without discernable effect on economic activity.

The states have no good reasons to believe that tax cuts will bring the desired manna. Yet they continue to erode their tax bases in the name of business growth during an era in which few states can afford to cut critical services ranging from education to infrastructure repair. Some ideas live on and on, no matter how much evidence accumulates against them. States that follow them do so at their own peril.

(Excerpted from Brookings 7/28/15)

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The Disappearing Entitlements Crisis

A few years back elite policy discourse in the United States was totally dominated by the supposed entitlements crisis. Serious people all assured each other that history’s greatest menace was the threat posed by the unstoppable growth of Medicaremedicaidandsocialsecurity, which could only be tamed by dismantling the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, while of course cutting top marginal tax rates.

A few of us argued, however, not just that it was foolish to worry about long-run budget issues in a time of depression and zero interest rates, but that the long run fiscal problems weren’t really that intractable. I used to say that all we needed were death panels and sales taxes — that if we got serious about cost control on health care, the rise in entitlement spending due to an aging population would shrink to a level that could be covered by moderate increases in revenue, meaning that no fundamental dismantling of the welfare state was necessary.

Sure enough, health spending began moderating after the passage of the ACA — and as Bruce Webb points out, if you believe the reports of the Social Security and Medicare trustees, we’re basically already there.

In 2009 the Trustees projected a gigantic rise in Medicare spending, which was obviously unsupportable (although Social Security never looked like a big problem).

But in the most recent report most of that projected rise has gone away.


The view from 2015
The view from 2015Credit

Bear in mind that the current US budget deficit is below the level at which the debt/GDP ratio can be stabilized, in other words poses no problem. Looking forward, population aging will expand that deficit by a few percent of GDP, but that’s well within the range that could be closed with moderate tax hikes, cuts in pointless military spending, etc.. Nor is there a big rush: nothing terrible will happen if we don’t immediately decide how we’ll pay for projected benefits in the year 2050.

The truth is that there never was an entitlements crisis. But now there isn’t even an excuse for pretending that such a crisis exists. I know that a large part of the commentariat is professionally and personally invested in fiscal crisis rhetoric — admitting that it’s no longer relevant would suggest that they have, all along, been silly rather than Serious. But next time you see someone solemnly intoning that we must destroy Medicare to save it, remember that there is no there there.

(Excerpted from Krugman Blog, New York Times 7/26/15)

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Trump Is the Poison His Party Concocted

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.

It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

Consider Trump’s swipe against McCain’s military service, and by extension all veterans who have been involved in the fog of combat. Republicans were apoplectic at Trump’s claim that McCain was no war hero.

“All of our veterans, particularly P.O.W.s, deserve our respect and admiration,” said Jeb Bush. The Republican National Committee was quick to lay down a similar principle, saying, “There is no place in our country for comments that disparage those who have served honorably.”

No place except a presidential campaign, that being the 2004 attempt to destroy the honorable Vietnam service of candidate John Kerry. Where was Bush’s “respect and admiration” when his brother was benefiting from a multimillion-dollar smear of a Navy veteran with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart?

The racism toward Mexicans that Trump has stirred up has been swooshing around the basement of the Republican Party for some time. Representative Steve King of Iowa did Trump one better in 2013 when he said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Did this make King a pariah? Not judging by the number of presidential candidates who showed up at his Iowa Freedom Summit in January, there to curry his favor. Among them was Rick Perry, the former Texas governor. This week Perry called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demagogy, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if followed.”

Using the X-ray vision of his new glasses, Perry has correctly diagnosed the problem, and forecast the outcome. But that toxic mix has been just the tonic for his party for years, including Perry’s suggestion that Texas might have to secede. President Obama was barely into his first months in office when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” at him in a joint session of Congress. For hurling that insult, Wilson was widely praised in conservative media circles.

Trump also stoked the humiliating lie about President Obama’s citizenship. He began that crusade, he claimed, because so many Republicans still believe it, and have encouraged him to keep it alive.

(Excerpted from Egan New York Times 7/24/15)

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A Clinton Story Fraught With Inaccuracies: How It Happened and What Next?

The story certainly seemed like a blockbuster: A criminal investigation of Hillary Rodham Clinton by the Justice Department was being sought by two federal inspectors general over her email practices while secretary of state.

It’s hard to imagine a much more significant political story at this moment, given that she is the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

The story – a Times exclusive — appeared high on the home page and the mobile app late Thursday and on Friday and then was displayed with a three-column headline on the front page in Friday’s paper. The online headline read “Criminal Inquiry Sought in Hillary Clinton’s Use of Email,” very similar to the one in print.

But aspects of it began to unravel soon after it first went online. The first major change was this: It wasn’t really Mrs. Clinton directly who was the focus of the request for an investigation. It was more general: whether government information was handled improperly in connection with her use of a personal email account.

Much later, The Times backed off the startling characterization of a “criminal inquiry,” instead calling it something far tamer sounding: it was a “security” referral.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning – when a final correction appeared in print – the inaccuracies and changes in the story were handled as they came along, with little explanation to readers, other than routine corrections. The first change I mentioned above was written into the story for hours without a correction or any notice of the change, which was substantive.

And the evolving story, which began to include a new development, simply replaced the older version. That development was that several instances of classified information had been found in Mrs. Clinton’s personal email – although, in fairness, it’s doubtful whether the information was marked as classified when she sent or received those emails. Eventually, a number of corrections were appended to the online story, before appearing in print in the usual way – in small notices on Page A2.

But you can’t put stories like this back in the bottle – they ripple through the entire news system.

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/27/15)

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The right has never abandoned its dream of killing Medicare

Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well.

But the right has never abandoned its dream of killing the program. So it’s really no surprise that Jeb Bush recently declared that while he wants to let those already on Medicare keep their benefits, “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others.”

ctually, before I get to Mr. Bush’s argument, I guess I need to acknowledge that a Bush spokesman claims that the candidate wasn’t actually calling for an end to Medicare, he was just talking about things like raising the age of eligibility. There are two things to say about this claim. First, it’s clearly false: in context, Mr. Bush was obviously talking about converting Medicare into a voucher system, along the lines proposed by Paul Ryan.

And second, while raising the Medicare age has long been a favorite idea of Washington’s Very Serious People, a couple of years ago the Congressional Budget Office did a careful study and discovered that it would hardly save any money. That is, at this point raising the Medicare age is a zombie idea, which should have been killed by analysis and evidence, but is still out there eating some people’s brains.

The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.

What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.

The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.

Still, conservatives scoffed at the cost-control measures included in the Affordable Care Act, insisting that nothing short of privatization would work.

And then a funny thing happened: the act’s passage was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.

Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.

Meanwhile, what the rest of us need to know is that Medicare at 50 still looks very good. It needs to keep working on costs, it will need some additional resources, but it looks eminently sustainable. The only real threat it faces is that of attack by right-wing zombies.

(Excerpted from Krugman New York Times 7/27/15)

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The Campaign of Deception Against Planned Parenthood

A hidden-camera video released last week purported to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells tissue from aborted fetuses. It shows nothing of the sort. But it is the latest in a series of unrelenting attacks on Planned Parenthood, which offers health care services to millions of people every year. The politicians howling to defund Planned Parenthood care nothing about the truth here, being perfectly willing to undermine women’s reproductive rights any way they can.

After the first video’s release, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky pledged to “introduce an amendment to pending Senate legislation to immediately strip every dollar of Planned Parenthood funding.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called for defunding and for “an investigation of Planned Parenthood’s activities regarding the sale and transfer of aborted body parts.” The House Energy and Commerce Committee is undertaking an investigation, and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana have ordered investigations in their states.

The full video of the lunch meeting, over two hours long and released by the Center for Medical Progress after complaints by Planned Parenthood, shows something very different from what these critics claim. Clearly, the shorter version was edited to eliminate statements by Dr. Nucatola explaining that Planned Parenthood does not profit from tissue donation, which requires the clear consent of the patient. Planned Parenthood affiliates only accept money — between $30 and $100 per specimen, according to Dr. Nucatola — to cover costs associated with collecting and transporting the tissue. “This is not something with any revenue stream that affiliates are looking at,” she said. Under federal law, facilities may be reimbursed for costs associated with fetal tissue donation, like transportation and storage.

According to a letter sent by Roger Evans, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the video is a result of a yearslong campaign of deception. The head of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden, created a fake company called Biomax Procurement Services almost three years ago for the purpose of tricking Planned Parenthood employees, the letter alleges, even setting up exhibits at Planned Parenthood’s national conferences. The letter also says Biomax offered a Planned Parenthood affiliate $1,600 for a fetal liver and thymus, presumably to trap the affiliate in the act of accepting a high payment for fetal tissue. The affiliate declined.

Anti-abortion groups have long pushed to defund Planned Parenthood, even though no federal money is used to provide abortions. But that hasn’t stopped their efforts to shut down the clinics, which provide services like contraception, cancer screening and other tests.

The Center for Medical Progress video campaign is a dishonest attempt to make legal, voluntary and potentially lifesaving tissue donations appear nefarious and illegal. Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/22/15)

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Hottest June on record globally

“Last month was the hottest June on record globally, setting yet another in a string of temperature records, federal scientists said. A Monday report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also concluded that land and water surface temperatures each hit a new record in June, and the first half of 2015 was also the hottest on record.”

“The average temperature across all of the world’s land and ocean surfaces in June was 61.48 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest since federal records began in 1880.”

“June is the third month this year to break its monthly record, after March and May, NOAA said in its report.”

(Excerpted from The Hill 7/20/15)

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Hiding these deadly defects with near impunity is what the industry has succeeded in doing,”

The push to impose criminal penalties on auto executives who fail to disclose deadly automobile defects hit another roadblock last week when a Senate committee voted down such a proposal.

Lawmakers and safety advocates who were pushing to institute criminal penalties for such behavior expressed dismay as that and a series of other auto safety reforms — including barring used-car dealers from selling vehicles with unrepaired recalls — also failed to proceed.

“Hiding these deadly defects with near impunity is what the industry has succeeded in doing,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who introduced several provisions that were voted down.

But despite the attention on Capitol Hill, new legislation has largely gone nowhere, as automakers’ lobbyists flexed their muscles to keep new regulations and penalties from moving forward — a task made easier for the lobbyists by the switch to a Republican-controlled Senate in January.

The transportation funding bill is the last viable chance for the current Congress to pass auto safety reform, aides on both sides say. As a result, lawmakers vied during the meeting to attach auto safety provisions to it — a common tactic for passing legislation that had otherwise stalled.

But one after another, Democratic senators’ proposals were defeated. The exception was a measure to ban rental companies from renting cars with unrepaired safety recalls. Still, a similar proposal to prevent used-car dealers from doing the same failed on a party-line vote. (The committee’s chairman, John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said that banning used-car dealers from selling recalled cars “could have unintended consequences,” like complicating trade-ins.)

As for making it a specific crime to knowingly conceal information on safety defects, that, too, failed. The auto industry resisted what it said was “criminalizing the business of manufacturing” in a document that auto lobbyists circulated to lawmakers before Wednesday’s meeting. (The lack of criminal statutes has complicated efforts by federal prosecutors to bring charges against individual employees at General Motors over the cover-up of faulty ignition switches.)

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/20/15)

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Missouri Bucks Nationwide Trend on Immigrant Tuition

Just one month before classes start, dozens, and possibly hundreds of Missouri college students are suddenly finding out their tuition is about to more than double because of a rule change passed by Missouri lawmakers.

The new rule says public colleges and universities must charge so-called DACA students the highest rate of tuition available — either the out-of-state or the international rate.

DACA students are those who are brought to the U.S. as young children and are undocumented through no fault of their own. They are legally allowed to stay in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The new rule is a victory for certain lawmakers who’ve been fighting for years to make it harder for undocumented students to attend college.

House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, called the rule change an issue of fairness. He said undocumented students shouldn’t be eligible for the same benefits as legal residents.

But a number of college leaders, including University of Missouri-Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, oppose the new rule.

“I personally believe human capital shouldn’t be wasted,” Loftin said. “We value every person we have here at the university.”

Before the rule change, DACA students in Missouri were eligible to receive scholarships. Those who graduated from high school had the added benefit of paying in-state tuition once enrolled in a state college.

But language inserted in the state’s budget bill forbids public colleges and universities from extending those benefits to DACA students.

The rule change is an issue of wording. Previously, schools were forbidden to offer benefits to students who had an “unlawful presence” in the U.S. But because DACA students are legally protected from deportation, that language didn’t apply.

This year, Missouri’s Legislature tweaked the wording to say “unlawful immigration status,” — a change that recognizes DACA students as being here legally but not having permanent resident status.

At least that’s how the state’s institutions are interpreting the bill. Others, including Gov. Jay Nixon, argue that because the language referring to DACA students was written into the introduction but not the meat of the bill, the language is not legally binding.

Nevertheless, students throughout the state began receiving letters this month informing them that they would no longer be eligible for the tuition relief many were counting on.

What this means is that we don’t value or support individuals who made the mistake of being born somewhere else,” said Faith Sandler, executive director of the nonprofit Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis.

She added that the new rule does little more than attempt to snuff out the potential of people who could be contributing members of society.

There are roughly 1,200 DACA students living in Missouri. It’s unclear how many are in college or planning to attend.

Vanessa Crawford Aragón, executive director of Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, said the new policy is particularly bad because it doesn’t affect enough people to have a large impact on the state, but it’s life-changing for the ones who are affected.

“Discrimination,” she said, “is the only reason to implement this policy.”
(Excerpted from Governing 7/15/15)

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Raising wages has a positive effect on employment

Until the Card-Krueger study, most economists, myself included, assumed that raising the minimum wage would have a clear negative effect on employment. But they found, if anything, a positive effect. Their result has since been confirmed using data from many episodes. There’s just no evidence that raising the minimum wage costs jobs, at least when the starting point is as low as it is in modern America.

How can this be? There are several answers, but the most important is probably that the market for labor isn’t like the market for, say, wheat, because workers are people. And because they’re people, there are important benefits, even to the employer, from paying them more: better morale, lower turnover, increased productivity. These benefits largely offset the direct effect of higher labor costs, so that raising the minimum wage needn’t cost jobs after all.

The direct takeaway from this intellectual revolution is, of course, that we should raise minimum wages. But there are broader implications, too: Once you take what we’ve learned from minimum-wage studies seriously, you realize that they’re not relevant just to the lowest-paid workers.

For employers always face a trade-off between low-wage and higher-wage strategies — between, say, the traditional Walmart model of paying as little as possible and accepting high turnover and low morale, and the Costco model of higher pay and benefits leading to a more stable work force. And there’s every reason to believe that public policy can, in a variety of ways — including making it easier for workers to organize — encourage more firms to choose the good-wage strategy.

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/17/15)

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Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry – The nuclear agreement highlights the limits of American power—something the president’s opponents won’t accept.

“When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. … Accepting that American power is limited means prioritizing. It means making concessions to regimes and organizations you don’t like in order to put more pressure on the ones you fear most. … It is precisely this recognition that makes the Iran deal so infuriating to Obama’s critics. It codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past.”
(Excepted from The Atlantic).

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Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years

Tugboats tow the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound 05 April 1989

Tugboats tow the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound 5 April 1989. Exxon became aware of climate change as early as 1981, according to a newly discovered email. Photograph: Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images


ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.

The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago – factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.

“When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions,” Bernstein wrote.

The email was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.

“What it shows is that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation,” the director of the institute, Alyssa Bernstein (no relation), told the Guardian.

“One thing that occurs to me is the behavior of the tobacco companies denying the connection between smoking and lung cancer for the sake of profits, but this is an order of magnitude greater moral offence, in my opinion, because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilisation, not to be melodramatic.”

(Excerpted from The Guardian 7//15)

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Rand Paul’s Fake Flat Tax

Every four years, Republican candidates for the White House denounce the federal tax system — often advocating replacing it with a supposedly more equitable single tax rate — and this year is no exception. Senator Rand Paul has already come up with a flat-tax reform plan, and it shows clearly, once again, that this is a fundamentally flawed idea.

Mr. Paul has pledged to “blow up the tax code” by replacing all federal taxes with a flat 14.5 percent tax on personal and corporate income — except, that is, when his plan exempts income from taxation altogether by retaining popular write-offs. Mr. Paul proposes to continue deductions for mortgage interest and charitable donations, which would gut the supposed simplicity of a flat tax.

The Paul plan, like the flat-tax plans from previous campaigns, would fail to raise enough revenue to finance a modern government. Estimates by the conservative Tax Foundation found that it would reduce revenue to the Treasury by $1 trillion to $3 trillion over a decade. Citizens for Tax Justice, a more liberal advocacy group, estimates a 10-year loss of $15 trillion. Arguments about the proper role of government aside, a population and an economy that are growing in size and complexity cannot thrive with a shrinking government.

The Paul plan also fails the basic test of progressivity. It promises a big tax cut for everyone, but analyses show it would be a big tax cut for high earners and businesses and basically a wash for everyone else. And that’s being generous. If Mr. Paul were to cut federal spending to offset the plan’s revenue loss, as he has promised to do, middle-class and lower-income Americans would be much worse off, because programs that benefit them would have to be reduced or ended. Contenders for the chopping block would include Social Security, health care, education and environmental protection.

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/11/15)

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Psychologists Shielded U.S. Torture Program

The Central Intelligence Agency’s health professionals repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program, but their protests were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program, according to a new report.

The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

The report, completed this month, concludes that some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies, while several prominent outside psychologists took actions that aided the C.I.A.’s interrogation program and helped protect it from growing dissent inside the agency.

The association’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public,” the report said.

Two former presidents of the psychological association were on a C.I.A. advisory committee, the report found. One of them gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program, it said.

The association’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke, coordinated the group’s public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said, and then received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators while he was working at the association, without the knowledge of the association’s board.

(Excerpted from New York Times 7/11/15)

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