Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Paul Kirk (D-Mass.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I) are the most progressive senators in 2009 while Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) set the standard in the House, according to the ProgressivePunch.org database.

In the Senate, ProgressivePunch.org showed Franken, Kirk and Reed with 100% scores on crucial votes. Kirk was appointed (9/24/09) to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) until a special election set for 1/19/10. Others in the Senate’s top 15 were Sherrod Brown (OH) and Dick Durbin (IL) both at 98.39%; Sheldon Whitehouse (RI, 98.31%); Benjamin Cardin (MD), Edward Kaufman (DE), John Kerry (MA), Frank Lautenberg (NJ) and Bob Menendez (NJ), all at 96.77%; Roland Burris (IL), Christopher Dodd (CT) and Tom Harkin (IA) all at 96.72%; and Daniel Inouye and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), both at 95.08%.

ProgressivePunch.org provides a searchable database that scores how individual members of Congress voted from a progressive perspective. Using public data, ProgressivePunch.org identifies the seven most progressive senators and 40 most progressive reps and then computes the votes in which a majority of the progressives voted in opposition to a majority of the Republican caucus. It then compiles a “crucial vote” score that rates how legislators voted on bills and procedural measures that passed or failed by narrow margins. (Those are the scores used for this ranking.) DesMoinesDem, a poster at MyDD.com, noted (1/1), “You’d be surprised by how many Democrats have high Progressive Punch ratings overall but much lower crucial vote scores, indicating that ‘when the chips were down,’ these people were not reliable allies.”

Others scoring over the 90% on crucial votes were Charles Schumer (NY, 93.55%); Daniel Akaka (HI), Barbara Boxer (CA), Carl Levin (MI) and Jeff Merkley (OR) at 91.94%; Kirsten Gillibrand (NY, 91.8%); Dianne Feinstein (CA, 90.32%); and Patrick Leahy (VT) and Barbara Mikulski (MD), both at 90%.

Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who has been excoriated by progressives for holding out against health care reform, voted 83.87% progressive on key votes (and 89.12% overall), tying at 29th with Thomas Carper (D-DE), Robert Casey (D-PA), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Tom Udall (D-NM).

Least progressive Dem senators were Jon Tester (MT, 62.3%); Max Baucus (MT), Byron Dorgan and Claire McCaskill (MO), all at 59.68%; Robert Byrd (WV, 59.26%); Blanche Lincoln (AR, 58.06%); Arlen Specter (PA, 57.38%); Russell Feingold (WI, 56.45%); Evan Bayh (IN, 50%); and Ben Nelson (NE), least progressive Dem at 45.16%. (He voted 61.86% progressive overall, which also ranked him 60th.)

Supposed “moderate” Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine scored 25.81% and 22.58%, respectively. George Voinovich (OH, 18.64%), Thad Cochran (MS, 16.13%) and Richard Lugar (IN, 11.29%) were the only other Repubs in double figures and Lisa Murkowski (AK, 8.33%) and Kit Bond (MO, 8.2%), were the only other Repubs scoring better than 5%.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has a 92.61% lifetime progressive score, rated the only 100% score in the House in 2009. Others in the top 10 included Barbara Lee (CA-9, 98.46%); Raul Grijalva (AZ-7, 98.41%); Donna Edwards (MD-4), Jim McDermott (MA-3), Jim McGovern (MA-3) and John Olver (MA-1), all at 96.92%; Gwen Moore (WI-4) and Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) both at 95.38%; and Mazie Hirono (HI-2), Mike Honda (CA-15) and José Serrano (NY-16), all at 93.85%. Scoring at 90 or more were 31 Dems.

The least progressive Dems were Scott Murphy (NY-20, 24.07%); Jim Marshall (GA-8, 23.08%); Glenn Nye (VA-2, 23.08%); Walt Minnick (ID-1, 21.54); Harry Mitchell (AZ-5, 21.54%); Charles Melancon (LA-3, 20.31%); Bobby Bright (AL-2, 20%); Dan Boren (OK-2, 18.46); Gene Taylor (MS-4, 15.87%); and Travis Childers (MS-1, 13.85), but in fairness all but Murphy, Nye and Mitchell represent Republican districts.

Republicans who scored better than Childers were Ron Paul (TX-14, 22.22%), Timothy Johnson (IL-15, 16.92%), Parker Griffith (AL-5, 15.38%, who was elected as a Dem and only switched at the end of the session) and Michael Castle (DE, 13.85%). Forty Republicans scored zeros out of 169 Republicans who scored less than 10%. Nine Republicans scored 10 or better.

Among the Republicans representing strong Democratic districts are Castle, Dave Reichert (WA-8, 7.81%), Mark Kirk (IL-10, 9.38%), Joseph Cao (La-2, 9.52%) and Jim Gerlach (PA-6, 4.84%).

ProgressivePunch.org does not publish the roll-call votes it used to compile the scores, but it hopes to do so when it catches up with a programming backlog. “The percentage of votes which qualify [for the overall score] using this algorithm remains remarkably constant from one Congress to another, about half of all votes cast,” the website said.

ProgressivePunch.org was founded by Joshua Grossman, a social entrepreneur in Berkeley, Calif., but the percentages calculated on the site do not necessarily correlate with Grossman’s positions.

The database also does not give credit for lonely principled stands, such as Rep. Barbara Lee’s sole vote against the war in Afghanistan, the website noted, “because not enough Progressives rallied around her flag (no pun intended). One other thing that no voting index can measure is intensity of support/leadership.”

FORMER BUSH AIDES SCARED TO CREDIT OBAMA. After former Vice President Dick Cheney condemned President Obama for “trying to pretend we’re not at war” with terrorists (12/30), Peter Baker wrote a lengthy article in the New York Times Magazine (1/4) on “Obama’s War Over Terror.” In it, Baker reported, “A half-dozen former senior Bush officials involved in counterterrorism told me before the Christmas Day incident that for the most part, they were comfortable with Obama’s policies, although they were reluctant to say so on the record. Some worried they would draw the ire of Cheney’s circle if they did, while others calculated that calling attention to the similarities to Bush would only make it harder for Obama to stay the course. And they generally resent Obama’s anti-Bush rhetoric and are unwilling to give him political cover by defending him.”

Matt Yglesias commented at ThinkProgress.org (1/4), “It’s really staggering what this says about the ethical caliber of the people we’re talking about. These are the toughest issues out there. Obama is, they think, doing the right thing. But some of them don’t want to say he’s doing the right thing because that might make Dick Cheney mad and they’re timid, gutless careerists? And others don’t want to say he’s doing the right thing because their feelings are hurt that a Democrat said bad things about his grossly unpopular Republican predecessor? For this they’re going to undermine support for policies that they themselves believe are keeping the country safe?”

GOP VULNERABLE TOO. After Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who both faced tough re-election contests, announced that would retire, media pundits jumped on what they saw as evidence of Democratic problems — particularly as Dems also face problems re-electing Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Harry Reid in Nevada, interim Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado and retaining open seats in Delaware and Illinois, as well as Pennsylvania, where Sen. Arlen Specter faces a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestak, with the winner expected to face former Rep. Pat Toomey (R).

Dorgan’s retirement is the biggest blow. Since 1992, he has been a progressive populist stalwart who pushed for a windfall profits tax on oil companies, importation of prescription drugs from Canada and limiting farm payments to family farms, among other things. Although he remains personally popular, he faced a likely challenge from even more popular Republican Gov. Jim Hoeven.

Dodd’s retirement actually is good news for Dems. Polls showed him trailing Republicans challengers. He had alienated Connecticut voters when he moved to Iowa during his presidential campaign. Then he came under criticism as Senate Banking chairman during the Wall Street bailout. But popular state Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal (D), a progressive who has been waiting years for a Senate vacancy, sports sizeable leads in polls against those same Repubs. The only drawback is that he won’t be available in 2012 to challenge erratic Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).

But Eric Kleefeld noted at TalkingPointsMemo.com (1/6) that Dems are in good positions to take open seats now held by Republicans in Missouri, Ohio, New Hampshire, Florida and Kentucky and are expected to be competitive in unseating Republican Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and David Vitter (La.).

In Missouri, where Sen. Kit Bond (R) is retiring, polls show a close race between Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), daughter of late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan, and Rep. Roy Blunt (R), former House GOP whip and father of former Gov. Matt Blunt.

In Ohio, where Sen. George Voinovich (R) is retiring, recent polls have given former Rep. Rob Portman (R) a narrow advantage over Dems, including Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, but with high undecideds.

In New Hampshire, where Sen. Judd Gregg (R) is retiring, two-term Rep. Paul Hodes is the presumptive Dem nominee, and while recent polls give former state Atty. Gen. Kelly Ayotte (R) a lead, undecideds are high.

In North Carolina, first-term Sen. Richard Burr (R) is running below 50% in recent polls against unknown Dems.

In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist, a relatively moderate Repub, is battling right-winger Marco Rubio in the GOP primary for the seat given up by Sen. Mel Martinez (R), now held by interim Sen. George LeMieux (R). Polls show Crist and Rubio leading Rep. Kendrick Meek, the leading Dem, but Kleefeld noted that Dems could have a chance if the primary is sufficiently messy and if Dems are well-organized for the general election.

In Louisiana, where Sen. David Vitter (R) was implicated in a prostitution scandal, early polls show him leading conservative Dem Rep. Charlie Melancon, but under 50%.

In Kentucky, where Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is retiring, GOP candidates include Secretary of State Trey Grayson and conservative activist Rand Paul while Dem candidates include Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Atty. Gen. Jack Conway. A recent poll gave the GOP a clear advantage, but the candidates are still largely unknown and none had 50%.

Kleefeld added, “To be clear, I am not predicting that the Republicans will lose all of these seats, or even necessarily any of them. Some of them are clearly longer shots than others for the Democrats. The point is that no firm prediction can be made about what is going to happen this November, and both parties have a lot to lose, or a lot to gain.”

OBAMA PLANS BANK ‘FEE’. President Obama is expected to propose a fee on banks to recoup some of the cost taxpayers incurred in the bailout, Politico.com reported (1/11). The fee, which will be included in the president’s budget in February, will not be a “financial transactions tax” on derivatives trades or the like, nor is it a tax on bonuses that, in the opinion of the administration, would be too easily avoided.

While losses from the $700 bln bailout fund are estimated to run as high as $120 bln, the New York Times reported (1/11) that lobbyists for bankers were taken by surprise by reports of a bank tax. Big banks are reporting record profits and paying out huge bonuses, the Times noted, but Edward L. Yingling, president of the American Bankers Association, said any new tax would be “a hit on banks that will decrease their ability to lend.” But House Banking Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said the president was required to seek recovery of any losses under the law that created the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The 27-nation European Union called for a global transactions tax in December. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said a tax on trades of complicated derivatives and other financial instruments could put American companies at a competitive disadvantage.

Britain and France also have proposed heavy taxes on financial executives’ bonuses. Last March the House on a 328-93 vote approved a 90% tax on executive bonuses by companies that owe the US at least $5 bln in bailout loans but the bill, HR 1586, has gone nowhere in the Senate.

Any fee that the president proposes is likely to exempt smaller banks, an official told the Times. “Those that caused this train wreck ought to be the ones to pay to clean up the mess,” said Stephen J. Verdier, executive vice president at the Independent Community Bankers of America. “The community bankers are every bit as much the victims as the average taxpayer in all this, so any tax ought to be devised with those principles in mind.”

The Washington Post discussed Obama’s suggestion to impose a tax on banks and including a brief mention of financial transactions taxes. Proposals for a 0.25% tax on the sale of stocks and other financial instruments have been introduced in Congress by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). The tax would raise more than $100 bln a year.

While many academics have advocated such a tax, including Lawrence Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, in 1989, the Post noted, “Treasury officials oppose the idea. They warn that banks would try to impose the fee on their customers, shifting the cost partly to the broader economy. A range of legislators and economists share this view, arguing that such a tax would punish small investors and increase the cost of financial services. “

Economist Dean Baker, at Prospect.org (1/12) noted, “Actually, most estimates show the volume of trading declining sharply in response to the tax, so that much less money would be spent on brokers’ fees and other trading costs. This means that the total amount of money spent on trading of stock, bonds, options, credit default swaps and other financial instruments (including the tax) is likely to change little as a result of the tax. Therefore, there would be little in the way of higher costs to pass on to the rest of the economy.”

BIPARTISAN BUDGET DREAM. Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, have renewed efforts to form a special commission to propose a solution to reduce the national debt. Both senators say that if significant change is not made, financial disaster is just beyond the horizon.

“We’re literally going to pass on to our children a country they can’t afford,” Gregg told National Public Radio (1/12). “Their standard of living is going to go down dramatically, the tax burden will go up dramatically, the benefits for senior citizens who are retired will be adjusted dramatically if we allow ourselves to go over this cliff.”

Conrad and Gregg propose an 18-member task force made up of 16 members of Congress (eight from each party) and two from the White House, including the Treasury secretary. If 14 of the 18 members agreed on a proposal, it would go to the House and Senate for a vote, but 60% approval would be needed to pass it.

The last time the federal budget was balanced was during the Clinton administration, after a Democratic Congress in 1993 approved a budget that increased taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans over the unanimous opposition of Republicans in Congress, who predicted that it would ruin the economy. Instead, the economy boomed and Clinton left office in 2001 with four years of surpluses, including a record $236 bln in 2000 and $128 bln in 2001, the Congressional Budget Office reported. Then George W. Bush started a series of tax cuts for the wealthy. Since then the federal budget scored eight years of red ink, including a record $1.2 tln deficit for fiscal 2009, Bush’s last budget.

MOVE YOUR MONEY. Arianna Huffington has joined Rob Johnson of the Economic Policy Initiative at the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute, to lead an effort to get people to move their money out of big banks and into smaller community banks where they can help stimulate the local economy.

Over a pre-Christmas dinner, Huffington and Johnson met with political strategist Alexis McGill, filmmaker/author Eugene Jarecki and Nick Penniman of the HuffPost Investigative Fund to talk about the huge, growing chasm between the fortunes of Wall Street banks and Main Street banks, and what concrete steps individuals could take to help create a better financial system. “Before long, the conversation turned practical, and with some help from friends in the world of bank analysis, a video and website were produced devoted to a simple idea: Move Your Money,” Huffington and Johnson wrote at HuffingtonPost.com (12/29/09).

“The big banks on Wall Street, propped up by taxpayer money and government guarantees, have had a record year, making record profits while returning to the highly leveraged activities that brought our economy to the brink of disaster. In a slap in the face to taxpayers, they have also cut back on the money they are lending, even though the need to get credit flowing again was one of the main points used in selling the public the bank bailout. But since April, JP Morgan/Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo — all of which took billions in taxpayer money — have cut lending to businesses by $100 billion.

“Meanwhile, America’s Main Street community banks — the vast majority of which avoided the banquet of greed and corruption that created the toxic economic swamp we are still fighting to get ourselves out of — are struggling. Many of them have closed down (or been taken over by the FDIC) over the last 12 months. The government policy of protecting the Too Big and Politically Connected to Fail is badly hurting the small banks, which are having a much harder time competing in the financial marketplace. As a result, a system which was already dangerously concentrated at the top has only become more so.”

With the help of Institutional Risk Analytics, they created a website at MoveYourMoney.info to help people find stable community banks, as rated by the FDIC, in their zip code.

“The idea is simple: If enough people who have money in one of the Big Six banks (the four we mentioned earlier, plus Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) move it into smaller, more local, more traditional community banks, then collectively we, the people, will have taken a big step toward re-rigging the financial system so it becomes again the productive, stable engine for growth it’s meant to be. It’s neither Left nor Right — it’s populism at its best. Consider it a withdrawal tax on the big banks for the negative service they provide by consistently ignoring the public interest. It’s time for Americans to move their money out of these reckless behemoths. And you don’t have to worry, there is zero risk: deposit insurance is just as good at small banks — and unlike the big banks they don’t provide the toxic dividend of derivatives trading in a heads-they-win, tails-we-lose fashion.”

The bank database does not include credit unions, which do not disclose financial data in the same way as FDIC-insured banks, but most credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Administration (ncua.gov). MoveYourMoney.info is working on coming up with a comparable list of credit union ratings. Go to CULookup.com to find local credit unions you are eligible to join.

GRUMPS ARE MORE ALERT. People in a negative mood are more critical of, and pay more attention to, their surroundings than happier people, who are more likely to believe anything they are told, according to a study published in Australasian Science (November-December). “Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking, paying greater attention to the external world,” Joseph P. Forgas, a professor of social psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia, wrote in the study.

Abby Ellin reported in the New York Times (12/31/09) that psychologists and others who try to study happiness scientifically often focus on the connection between positive thinking and better health. In the September 2007 issue of the journal Cancer, Dr. David Spiegel at Stanford University School of Medicine reported his efforts to replicate the findings of a 1989 study in which he had found that women with metastatic breast cancer who were assigned to a support group lived an average 18 months longer than those who did not get such support. But in his updated research, Dr. Spiegel found that although group therapy may help women cope with their illness better, positive thinking did not significantly prolong their lives.

Barbara Ehrenreich, who was urged to think positively after receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer several years ago, wrote a book, Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Postive Thinking Has Undermined America. She was surprised by how many readers shared her visceral resistance to that mantra. She created a forum at barbaraehrenreich.comfor people to vent about positive thinking, and many have. “I get so many people saying ‘thank you,’ people who go back to work after their mother has died and are told, ‘What’s the matter?’” she said. Likewise, there are “corporate victims who have been critics or driven out of jobs for being ‘too negative.’”

Ehrenreich told Ellin she believes that negative thinking is just as delusional as unquestioned positive thinking. She hopes to see a day when corporate employees “walk out when the motivational speakers start talking,” she said. “It’s all about control and money.” Her goal? To encourage realism, “trying to see the world not colored by our wishes or fears, but by reality.”

UNRELIABLE SOURCES. Umar Abdulmutallab, the “underpants bomber,” was widely reported to have been traveling on a one-way ticket to Detroit, but that report, which was originally sourced to anonymous US officials on Christmas Day, was never substantiated and now appears to be wrong, Justin Elliott of TalkingPointsMemo.com noted (1/11). The Nigerian government reported 12/28 that the bomber purchased a round-trip ticket to Detroit, with a 1/8 return. Elliott earlier had documented how a false claim from ABC News that two of the al Qaeda leaders behind the airliner attack had been released from Guantanamo was picked up by numerous media outlets, members of Congress and countless bloggers. Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon.com (1/12) that government claims about “top al Qaeda fighters” killed by US air strikes “turn out to be untrue far more often than not.” At least two of the three Top Terrorists claimed to have been killed by recent air strikes in Yemen — and possibly all three — are now believed to be alive.

Greenwald said all the deceitful reports are the byproduct of granting anonymity to people and then repeating what they claim as fact. “It’s exactly the same process that caused our leading media outlets to tell Americans about Iraq’s massive WMD program and al Qaeda connections; Jessica Lynch’s heroic firefight with inhumane Iraqi devils and her ‘rescue’ by our Marines; Pat Tillman’s death at the hands of al Qaeda monsters; and government tests that ‘confirmed’ the presence of bentonite in the anthrax used to attack the US, which meant it was likely that Saddam was behind the attacks.” All were later proven wrong.

Now Bill Clinton is taking flak for supposedly having belittled Barack Obama during the presidential primary campaign by telling Ted Kennedy something like, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.” But Greg Sargent noted at The Plum Line (1/11) that Clinton may have not said what was reported by Mark Halperin and John Heileman in *Game Change*. It turns out the conversation was recounted later by Kennedy to a friend, paraphrased and relayed by an anonymous source. “This really illustrates the perils of this approach to sourcing, particularly in the current media environment,” Sargent commented. “And at bottom, it’s just absurd that this has provoked so much discussion, with little to no media figures also noting how tenuous and insubstantial the claim itself really is.”

DEM GAFFE, GOP SHAME. Game Change also had an unsourced partial quote from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that he believed the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama, a “light-skinned” African American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Reid didn’t challenge the remark, which apparently was “off the record,” but he apologized to Obama, who accepted. But Republicans called on Reid to resign, complaining that there was a double standard in forgiving Reid after former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott was forced to quit his leadership post in 2002 after he said the country would have been better off if it had elected Dixiecrat segregationist Strom Thurmond president in 1948.

Joan Walsh wrote at Salon.com (1/11): “One guy is talking, perhaps inelegantly, about why he’s whole-heartedly supporting our first black president; the other is wishing the country had elected a racist. That’s exactly the same thing!”

FOX, TIME WARNER AGREE TO RAISE RATES. Regrets, we’ve had a few. But we really regret that Time Warner Cable reached an agreement with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox TV network (1/1) that prevented a New Year’s Day blackout of 14 Fox-owned broadcast stations and six Fox-owned cable channels from 13 mln Time Warner subscribers. Fox wanted $1 per cable subscriber each month for the signal it broadcasts for free. Neither side disclosed the agreement terms, but CBS reportedly received 50 cents per Time Warner subscriber after a similar showdown last year.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate subcommittee governing communication, technology and the Internet, raised concerns about the effectiveness of a 1992 cable law that allows broadcasters to seek compensation from cable and satellite operators for their signals but prevents cable systems from switching to other network affiliates. “I will reach out to both parties, the FCC, and consumer advocates to assess lessons learned from this dispute and what, if any, changes to law are necessary,” Kerry said in a statement.

GOP WILL RUN ON HEALTH REFORM REPEAL: Newt Gingrich said (12/27) that he’s sure every Republican in 2010 and 2012 will run on a pledge to repeal Health Care Reform. And though he was less definitive, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said close to the same thing, Josh Marshall noted (12/28). “Now given the relative unpopularity of the bill at this moment (which I strongly suspect will change) and its extreme unpopularity among partisan Republicans, that’s not a very surprising statement. What’s interesting to me, though, is that Democrats started saying last week that they plan to run on the same platform — namely, that if you vote for Republicans they’ll repeal Health Care Reform.”

Gingrich claimed that much of the Senate bill does not go into effect until 2013 or 2014, “except on the tax increase side.”

In fact, the Senate bill would make several improvements for working families immediately. It would eliminate exclusions of coverage for children with pre-existing medical conditions (and for all Americans in 2014). It would reduce the “donut hole” in Medicare drug benefits. It would provide tax credits of up to 35% of insurance costs for small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable. It would put annual limits on benefits and prohibit insurance companies from imposing lifetime limits on benefits. It would provide funding for community health centers, rural health care providers and training programs for physicians and other health professionals.

The Senate bill would increase the Medicare payroll tax rate for people who earn more than $200,000 from 1.45% to 2.35% — a negligible amount for people making that kind of money. Unions are opposed to the Senate bill’s 40% tax on the portion of employer-sponsored health insurance that exceeds $8,500 a year for individuals and $23,000 for families, effective in 2013. The threshold for taxation would be indexed for the Consumer Price Index (though not necessarily health care inflation). The average cost of a family health insurance policy in 2009 was $13,375, but labor officials oppose the excise tax because unions have negotiated more generous insurance benefits in lieu of pay raises. They estimate that 20% to 25% of union members’ insurance plans would be hit by the tax, even if union members would not directly pay the tax.

Instead of taxing insurance benefits, the House proposed a 5.4% surtax on individuals who make more than $500,000 a year.

Under the Senate bill, people would not be required to have insurance until 2014, when the tax for not having insurance would be $95 or 0.5% of an individual’s income. But most working people would get federal subsidies to buy insurance, so that tax would hit the relatively few middle-class families who choose to remain uninsured.

After the health reform bill is passed, assuming it is close to the Senate version, Democrats could follow up with a bill to remove the penalty for remaining uninsured as long as there is no public option and replace the 40% tax on high-priced insurance plans with the 5.4% surtax on individuals who make more than $500,000 a year, as the House proposed. If Republicans were serious about these points, they could join progressive Democrats to fix it. But they won’t.

A CBS poll (1/11) finds that Obama’s approval rating on health care has dipped to 36%. But only 24% approve of congressional Republicans on health care and less than one-third of respondents think the proposed health reform goes too far, with clear majorities saying the bill is “about right” or “does not go far enough” in covering Americans, controlling costs and regulating health insurance companies.

SPECTER: GOP OBSTRUCTION STARTED EARLY: It’s no big surprise, but Eric Kleefeld noted at TPM (12/28) that during his appearance on Fox News Sunday (12/27), Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), dishing on his past as a Republican, said the GOP plotted early to stop any bipartisan cooperation with President Obama, and to instead look towards the 2012 election. Republicans are now complaining about the lack of bipartisanship, but Specter said, “before the ink was dry on the oath of office — and I know this, because I was in the caucus — the Republicans were already plotting ways to beat President Obama in 2012.”

Specter also noted that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), one of those complaining about the lack of bipartisanship, was the “author of the famous statement that this is going to be President Obama’s ‘Waterloo,’ that this ought to be used to break the president.”

DeMint replied that he never wanted to break the president, but Jed Lewison of DailyKos.com noted (12/28, with clips) that on 7/17/09, DeMint said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this [health care reform], it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”

CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS ‘JUST MAKE THESE THINGS UP.’ The British *Daily Mail* ran a report (1/11) with the headline, “Could we be in for 30 years of global COOLING?” The piece told readers, “According to the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, the warming of the Earth since 1900 is due to natural oceanic cycles, and not man-made greenhouse gases.” It led Fox News to report, “30 Years of Global Cooling Are Coming, Leading Scientist Says.”

Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com (1/12) noted “two small problems.” First, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said no such thing. The director of the NSIDC said, “This is completely false. NSIDC has never made such a statement and we were never contacted by anyone from the Daily Mail.” Second, the Fox News report cites the research of IPCC scientist Mojib Latif, one of the world’s leading climate modelers. The story completely mischaracterizes his work, and gets the story largely backwards.

Latif told Dr. Joseph Romm at climateprogress.org (1/11): “I don’t know what to do. They just make these things up.”

Benen commented, “Yes, they do. And as long as there are news consumers who prefer the alternative universe these outlets provide, they’ll keep making these things up.”

R.I. LEGE OVERRIDES ELECTORAL REFORM VETOES. Rhode Island State Senate and House of Representatives voted (1/5) to override gubernatorial vetoes of electoral reform legislation, enacting measures allowing voter pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds and mandating popular elections to fill all US Senate vacancies, FairVote.org noted.

Youth pre-registration measures have gained enormous ground all across the country, with new legislation recently passed in several states. In 2009, FairVote worked closely with Democracy North Carolina to build a bipartisan legislative majority in support of pre-registration for 16-year-olds in that state, which also included a significant civics education component. Also in 2009, with the signature of Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California enacted a 17-year-old pre-registration measure — an effort led by the New America Foundation. The District of Columbia recently passed sweeping election reform legislation which included pre-registration measures. In 2008, FairVote helped bring about pre-registration legislation in Florida that was supported by both a Republican governor and Republican legislative majority.

FairVote this year supported legislation in Rhode Island introduced by Rep. Christopher Fierro (D) and Sen. Paul Jabour (D) mandating special elections for the filling of vacated US Senate seats (S 0201/H 5094), the need for which became alarmingly apparent in the wake of controversies and scandals surrounding governor-appointed senators after the 2008 election. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), are sponsoring a constitutional amendment mandating Senate vacancy elections.

The city council of Oakland, Calif., voted to implement instant runoff voting for their November 2010 mayoral and council elections, sparked by the New America Foundation and an impressive community movement. Oakland’s move may well lead other Alameda County cities to enact IRV this year.

Minnesota’s Saint Cloud State University released a survey on Minneapolis’ first elections for mayor, city council and other offices using instant runoff voting last November. It found that 65% of voters want to keep IRV, a whopping 95% found it easy to use and there was only one voter error in ranking first choices in the entire election. A North Carolina State University survey reported similarly positive results from the recent IRV election in Hendersonville, N.C.

The Democratic National Committee’s “Change Commission” has recommended starting presidential nomination contests later in the year and requiring so-called “superdelegates” to vote in proportion to the popular vote outcome in their respective states.

CHINA LEASES TEXAS RADIO. A Chinese news agency has leased time from a Galveston, Texas, radio station to broadcast China-focused news. State-owned Chinese Radio International started the English-language broadcast on KGBC-AM 1540 (1/2). The Houston Chronicle reported (1/6) that CRI has broadcast on stations in the US since 1992, usually by buying one- or two-hour chucks of airtime on local stations. KGBC, which is Galveston’s only radio station, would be the first station in the US to broadcast CRI programming 24 hours a day.

Jim Woo, Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Texas secretary, welcomed CRI as another source of information about China for second- and third-generation Chinese who primarily speak English, the Chronicle reported. There are substantial numbers of Chinese in Galveston, Texas City and Clear Lake.

Station owner Gabriel Arango, president of Siga Broadcasting Corp., which owns five other Texas radio stations, told the Chronicle he had signed a letter of intent for a 5-year lease with a California broadcaster. Arango said he tried several music formats before letting his son take over as manager and make an unsuccessful effort to attract advertising with a local format. “Could the people of Galveston not care about Chinese news?” Arango asked. “That may be true, but apparently they didn’t like Galveston news either.”

Station manager Julian Arango told the Galveston Daily News (1/5) that ad revenues weren’t forthcoming as businesses struggled to recover from the September 2008 flooding caused by Hurricane Ike.

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 1, 2010


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