Barack Obama’s deference to corporate interests in his reform initiatives, including the financial rescue of Wall Street, healthcare reform and financial reform, has confirmed “The End of New Deal Liberalism,” William Greider writes in The Nation (1/24). The “corporates” are mopping up after their Fifty-Year War against liberal governance. Beholden to corporate America for campaign contributions, Democrats cut deals with banks and businesses so the corporate interests would not veto progressive legislation. As usual, the whole article is worth reading, but in his conclusion Greider suggests three steps for progressives:

“First, develop a guerrilla sensibility that recognizes the weakness of the left. There’s no need to resign from electoral politics, but dedicated lefties should stake out a role of principled resistance. In the 1960s uncompromising right-wingers became known as ‘ankle biters’ in Republican ranks, insisting on what were considered impossible goals and opposing moderate and liberal party leaders, sometimes with hopeless candidates. ...

“Concretely, that may lead someone to run for city council or US senator. Or field principled opponents to challenge feckless Democrats in primaries (that’s what the Tea Party did to Republicans, with impressive results). Or activist agitators may simply reach out to young people and recruit kindred spirits for righteous work that requires long-term commitment.

“Second, people of liberal persuasion should ‘go back to school’ and learn the new economic realities. In my experience, many on the left do not really understand the internal dynamics of capitalism — why it is productive, why it does so much damage (many assumed government and politicians would do the hard thinking for them). We need a fundamental re-examination of capitalism and the relationship between the state and the private sphere. This will not be done by business-financed think tanks. We have to do it for ourselves.

“A century ago the populist rebellion organized farmer cooperatives, started dozens of newspapers and sent out lecturers to spread the word. Socialists and the labor movement did much the same. Modern Americans cannot depend on the Democratic Party or philanthropy to sponsor small-d democracy. We have to do it. But we have resources and modern tools — including the Internet — those earlier insurgents lacked.

“The New Deal order broke down for good reasons — the economic system changed, and government did not adjust to new realities or challenge the counterattack from the right in the 1970s. The structure of economic life has changed again — most dramatically by globalization — yet the government and political parties are largely clueless about how to deal with the destruction of manufacturing and the loss of millions of jobs. Government itself has been weakened in the process, but politicians are too intimidated to talk about restoring its powers. The public expresses another broad consensus on the need to confront ‘free trade’ and change it in the national interest — another instance of public opinion not seeming to count, since it opposes the corporate agenda.

“Reformers today face conditions similar to what the Populists and Progressives faced: monopoly capitalism, a labor movement suppressed with government’s direct assistance, Wall Street’s ‘money trust’ on top, the corporate state feeding off government while ignoring immoral social conditions. The working class, meanwhile, is regaining its identity, as millions are being dispossessed of middle-class status while millions of others struggle at the bottom. Working people are poised to become the new center of a reinvigorated democracy, though it is not clear at this stage whether they will side with the left or the right. Understanding all these forces can lead to the new governing agenda society desperately needs.

“Finally, left-liberals need to start listening and learning — talking up close to ordinary Americans, including people who are not obvious allies. We should look for viable connections with those who are alienated and unorganized, maybe even ideologically hostile. The Tea Party crowd got one big thing right: the political divide is not Republicans against Democrats but governing elites against the people. A similar division exists within business and banking, where the real hostages are the smaller, community-scale firms imperiled by the big boys getting the gravy from Washington. We have more in common with small-business owners and Tea Party insurgents than the top-down commentary suggests.

“Somewhere in all these activities, people can find fulfilling purpose again and gradually build a new politics. Don’t wait for Barack Obama to send instructions. And don’t count on necessarily making much difference, at least not right away. The music in democracy starts with people who take themselves seriously. They first discover they have changed themselves, then decide they can change others.”

WHITHER MSNBC? What to make of Keith Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC? Fans were suspicious when the ouster, announced by Olbermann in the closing minutes of his 1/21 show, came a few days after federal authorities approved Comcast’s purchase of NBC. NBC-Universal issued a brief statement, “MSNBC and Keith Olbermann have ended their contract. The last broadcast of ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’ will be this evening. MSNBC thanks Keith for his integral role in MSNBC’s success and we wish him well in his future endeavors.” The network apparently settled with Olbermann for the remaining two years of his contract.

For the record, Comcast, whose owners are known for their support of conservative Republicans, issued a press release denying any connection with the departure of the channel’s highest-rated host. The channel’s evening lineup remains solidly liberal: Lawrence O’Donnell, a more moderate liberal host, moved into Olbermann’s old 8 p.m. ET slot, followed by liberal policy wonk Rachel Maddow and progressive populist Ed Schultz jumped from 6 p.m. ET into prime time at 9 p.m. Cenk Uygur, another progressive MSNBC contributor and host of the web show The Young Turks, moved into Schultz’s old 6 p.m. ET slot.

Bill Carter and Brian Stelter reported in the New York Times (1/23) that MSNBC’s split came after years of tension. They described his brilliant but mercurial personality and a track record of attacking his superiors and early exits. An NBC News executive was quoted, “Give us a bit of credit for getting eight years out of him. That’s the longest he’s been anywhere.”

As Robert Parry wrote at ConsortiumNews.com (1/22), “Olbermann’s abrupt departure from MSNBC should be another wake-up call to American progressives about the fragile foothold that liberal-oriented fare has for only a few hours on one corporate cable network ... Now, with Olbermann’s permanent departure on Friday, the remainder of MSNBC’s liberal evening line-up ... must face the reality that any sustained friction with management could mean the bum’s rush for them, too.”

TPP’s view: Whether Olbermann jumped or was pushed is hard to divine, but Olbermann was owed $14 mln on his contract. He will be OK and MSNBC still is the only progressive spin among basic cable news channels. Comcast will be loath to mess with the progressive talk as long as it is profitable. But big corporations cannot be trusted to tell truth to power, so pay attention to “net neutrality” efforts to keep the Internet open. And support the independent newspaper/magazine of your choice.

SCORING POINTS ON SOCIAL SECURITY. Senate Democrats have talked about bringing up popular elements of the Affordable Care Act for votes in the Senate, putting Republicans on the spot on whether to keep provisions such as closing the “doughnut hole” in Medicare prescription drug coverage, or requiring insurance companies to cover children with pre-existing conditions, or allowing parents to keep their young adult children on their insurance. In response, Republicans have threatened to force votes on tax provisions of the health care bill, such as the provision that imposes an excise tax on medical device manufacturers.

Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (1/24), “Pit the excise tax on medical device manufacturers against ending pre-existing conditions for children? Or against the $250 prescription rebate for seniors? That’s a PR battle Dems should be happy to take on.”

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who delivered the official Republican response to Obama’s speech, proposes to gut Social Security, raise the retirement age, privatize a substantial part of it and turn Medicare into a voucher program in which voucher payments would not increase with inflation, which would leave seniors to pay the difference. His proposals for tax reform include an 8.5% national sales tax. His plan would raise taxes on 90% of Americans (but cuts them for the richest 10%) and still loses $2 tln in tax revenue over a decade due to the dramatic tax reductions for the wealthiest Americans.

Before the State of the Union address, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) engaged in a telephone press conference “prebuttal” to the expected response from Ryan (1/24).

“Let me begin by stating very clearly that I applaud the Republicans for choosing Congressman Paul Ryan,” Sanders said. “Up until this point, the GOP leadership has been vague about what federal programs they want to cut. On the other hand, Congressman Ryan has been very clear on this subject. ... Congressman Ryan introduced a budget plan that would privatize Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program; his plan would raise the retirement age to 70; and his plan would increase taxes on 90% of American taxpayers.”

Whitehouse focused on how Ryan’s plan would explode the income gap, already unprecedented in modern times in America by slashing taxes on capital gains and eliminating the estate tax. “The Ryan plan essentially relieves the richest Americans from any significant responsibility to pay for the support of their country,” he said. “If you eliminate the estate tax and you eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends, you are effectively eliminating taxation on the wealthiest individuals and families in this country. At the same time, for a lot of ordinary Americans, the taxes will go up because they will have lost progressive deductions and tax credits that help lower the taxes that they pay.”

IRS reported last year that the 400 highest-income earners in the country, with an average of $344 million in earnings, paid an actual tax rate averaging 16.6%. Working-class individuals hit a 16.6% tax rate when they reach $28,100 in income — and the Republicans propose to more tax cuts for the wealthy.

Both senators applauded news reports that Obama would not endorse the “catfood commission’s” recommendations on Social Security in the speech, and encouraged his leadership on protecting Social Security, perhaps a gentle way of encouraging the administration to take the lead on protecting the program.

“I look forward to the President showing strong leadership on critical issues,” Whitehouse said.

“As someone urging him to follow his campaign promises, I was very pleased to hear that the President will not endorse raising the retirement age or reducing Social Security benefits. For tens of millions of seniors and workers that is very welcome news,” said Sanders.

Separately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman issued a similar statement, emphasizing the GOP vision for America as embodied in the Ryan roadmap.

“In an unsettling development for America’s seniors, ending Social Security and Medicare is now the official position of the Republican Party. Republicans tapped Rep. Ryan, the architect of a plan to end Social Security and Medicare, to deliver their response to the President’s State of the Union, and his plan has been endorsed by the House Majority Leader and the top Republicans on the House and Senate budget committees.”

SENATE REFORM DEFLATES. Senate Democrats apparently have backed down on their push for filibuster reform. Three weeks after the start of the 112th Congress, the Senate still was officially in its first legislative day and had not adopted rules. It appeared that the only major change would be eliminating “secret” holds on bills and nominations, but Republicans still would be able to block legislation unless Dems can keep their 53 votes in line and muster at least seven GOP votes. That “cloture” rule, which requires a 60 votes to proceed, apparently will remain in effect until it is in the interest of Republicans to change it.

SUPREME COURT ’WINGERS SKIRT ETHICS RULES. Right-wing Supreme Court justices are no longer bothering to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest, Alex Pareene noted at Salon.com (1/24).

Justice Clarence Thomas had reported income from his wife, Virginia Thomas, on disclosure forms until 1996, but he did not report her income from the Heritage Foundation in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for 2003-2007. He checked a box labeled “none” where “spousal noninvestment income” would be disclosed. But Common Cause, which reviewed the foundation’s IRS records, found that Mrs. Thomas earned $686,589 from Heritage from 2003-2007. Justice Thomas also checked “none” in 2009, when his wife was president of Liberty Central, a political advocacy organization.

After the omissions were publicized (1/24), Thomas amended his disclosures to include details of his wife’s sources of income, including Heritage and Hillsdale College in Michigan, for which she ran a constitutional law center in Washington, D.C. Thomas did not include information about his wife’s work for Liberty Central. Politico.com reported that the group’s 2009 tax Form 990 reported $550,000 in contributions from undisclosed donors but no payments to Thomas or other officers in 2009. Thomas stepped down from her official role in November 2010.

Common Cause President Bob Edgar found his excuse “implausible.” “Justice Thomas sits on the highest court of the land, is called upon daily to understand and interpret the most complicated legal issues of our day and makes decisions that affect millions,” Edgar said in a press release at commoncause.org. “It is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form.” The press release added, “We also continue to be puzzled by omission of Liberty Central as Virginia Thomas’s most recent employer.”

Common Cause previously filed a letter requesting that the Justice Department investigate whether Justices Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have disqualified themselves from hearing the Citizens United campaign finance case last year after they reportedly attended a private meeting sponsored by Charles and David Koch, billionaire philanthropists who fund conservative causes.

In Citizens United case, the court ruled that corporate and union funds, such as those raised by Liberty Central, could be spent directly on election advertising.

The Koch brothers have been key supporters of the group Americans for Prosperity, which spent heavily in the 2010 midterm election and claims a nonprofit tax status that allows it to avoid disclosing its donors.

The Common Cause letter focused on a series of investigations conducted by ThinkProgress.org about the Court’s right flank — Justices Samuel Alito, Thomas and Scalia — and their relationship with the corporate right:

• In November, ThinkProgress interviewed Justice Alito as he entered the annual fundraising gala for the American Spectator, attended by then-RNC Chairman Michael Steele and top Republican donors. Alito told ThinkProgress that his attendance to the fundraiser was “not important.” However, as we noted, Alito was the main draw for donors when he headlined the same event in 2008. The American Spectator is a magazine, but in the ’90s, it served as a slush fund for wealthy donors to pay opponents of President Clinton, and recently, it organized a lobby group called the “Conservative Action Project” to orchestrate opposition to President Obama.

• In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Thomas was featured at the annual fundraiser for the Heritage Foundation — and sat at a table for donors with investment banker Thomas Saunders and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). After the Citizens United decision, Heritage created a new nonprofit called “Heritage Action” to run attack ads against Democrats.

• In 2009, while the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the Citizens United case, Justice Alito headlined a fundraiser for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) — the same corporate front that funded the rise of Republican dirty trickster James O’Keefe and anti-masturbation activist Christine O’Donnell. According to sponsorship levels for the event, Alito helped ISI raise $70,000 or more from law firms like Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor. ISI is run partially by lobbyist James Burnley, who also is on the board of FreedomWorks.

• Last year, Justice Thomas helped headline a fundraiser for the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobby group representing News Corp, Cox Media Group, and other media companies. The event raised hundreds of thousands for NAB’s charity from a host of corporate sponsors, including the US Chamber of Commerce, PhRMA, and CBS Corp.

Notably, litigants in the Citizens United decision were also attendees of the Koch meeting. The US Chamber of Commerce, which attended the Koch meeting, filed a Citizens United brief in support of unlimited corporate spending in elections. The Institute for Justice, founded by Charles Koch, and the Cato Institute, also founded by Charles Koch, filed briefs in support of overturning campaign finance laws. A number of the other groups filing briefs in the Citizens United decision, including the Center for Competitive Politics, are run by Koch meeting participants like Eric O’Keefe.

A Supreme Court justice lending a hand to a political fundraising event would be a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, if it wasn’t for the fact that the nine justices have exempted themselves from much of the ethical rules governing all other federal judges. Under the Code of Conduct, “a judge should not personally participate in fund-raising activities, solicit funds for any organization, or use or permit the use of the prestige of judicial office for that purpose,” except in certain very narrow circumstances that don’t apply to the Koch and Heritage fundraisers, Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (1/22).

TEXAS JOINS VOTER ID FRAUD. Texas Republicans moved to quickly enact a bill that requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID at polls. Gov. Rick Perry (R) declared it an “emergency” item, allowing legislators to fast-track the bill, despite complaints that vote fraud is exceedingly rare while the photo ID requirement would disenfranchise minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. Without hearing public testimony, the Senate was expected to take up the bill that allows exceptions only for those who are at least 70 years old in January 2012 and who have their voter registration card when they vote.

If the bill passes, Texas will join nine other states that require a photo ID -- Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma and South Dakota -- as well as 18 states that require a non-photo ID at the polls, Kay Steiger noted at Prospect.com (1/25). According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 12% of eligible voters nationwide don’t have a photo ID and the percentage is higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low income voters and students. “Many of these groups, of course, lean heavily Democratic,” Steiger noted. “... As if to drive home the point that these laws have less to do with preventing voter fraud and more to do with shaping the electorate, the Texas law contains an exemption for voters over 70 -- a demographic that skews decidedly to the right.”

Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman noted that other items Perry has designated “emergencies” include: banning state aid to “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities (although Perry ducked a question about which cities in Texas were sanctuary cities); requiring pre-abortion sonograms; and eminent domain. Also, he wants the Legislature to ask Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment to prevent the federal government from bailing out state governments like Texas, which received $6.4 bln from the federal Recovery Act to balance its budget in 2010.

Longtime political observer Paul Burka asked at TexasMonthly.com (1/23): “Is there another governor in the country, who, faced with a mammoth budget deficit, would offer no solutions, no suggestions for the survival of basic state services. while establishing priorities that are trivial by comparison. … I suspect that most governors, like 48 or 49 out of 50, would be embarrassed to fast-track such proposals when their state was facing a $27 bln budget deficit that is partly the result of the governor’s own policies, but nothing seems to be too blatantly political to embarrass Perry. And I think the reason no one really is wringing their hands over the governor’s upside-down priorities is that we long ago ceased to expect anything more.”

Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, proposed (1/23) that Texas legislators put a new motto on Texas license plates: “First in prisons, last in schools.” “As the Texas Legislature strips funding from virtually every education initiative and institution in the state from pre-kindergarten programs to public schools to the higher education system, perhaps now people will start to connect the dots. We’ve voted ourselves into a state of idiocy.”

And Perry is rumored to be considering running for president.

LEND ME YOUR EARMARKS. Justice Scalia addressed first-year conservative members of Congress at the invitation of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), founder of the House Tea Party Caucus (1/24). The event was closed to the press, but one of the questions involved the constitutionality of “earmarks” on appropriations, which direct how money should be spent. Scalia may have disappointed many of the teabaggers who have railed against earmarks when he told them it’s up to Congress to appropriate money. The judge reportedly noted that earmarks grew out of disagreements with how presidents were spending the Treasury.

“I think the fairest thing to say was he took it for granted they were constitutional,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) -- a constitutional scholar and one of a few Democrats in attendance. “I don't think there was any question. I can't see how you can make an argument that they're not Constitutional -- Congress is the appropriating body,” he told Brian Beutler of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Scalia surprised freshman tea-partiers as well as recently shellacked Democrats with his skepticism toward 10th Amendment remedies to federal interference. “He said ‘States rights? Fuhgeddaboudit!’” said freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), a self-described “tea-party guy” who came to Washington “to storm the gates.” Walsh mentioned a couple of other surprises, including Justice Scalia’s view that the line-item veto, desired by some conservatives, is unconstitutional.

Moreover, “stare decisis -- he’s okay with that,” Walsh said, using the Latin term for following legal precedent. Some conservatives believe the court should act more aggressively to overturn liberal precedents they disagree with.

Justice Scalia said stare decisis “is important, but it can’t be controlling,” said Nadler. The justice gave a three-factor test for overruling its own cases: the precedent must be wrong, never widely accepted, and unmanageable under legal standards, Nadler said.

Exhibit A of a case that meets those conditions, Justice Scalia said, was Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion upholding abortion rights, according to Nadler, who headed the House Constitution subcommittee when Democrats were in charge. He disagrees with many of Justice Scalia’s views, but concedes he’s “a good professor.”

There were concerns that Scalia’s visit was a symptom of the increasing polarization of the Court, but Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who also attended the seminar, told TPM’s Beutler the event was “incredibly useful, partly just to get the sense of Justice Scalia as an individual,” and he discussed “a couple of old cases where the Congress made mistakes, he felt, in its judgment. But they were not especially of a political nature. .... This was pretty dry, actually.”

BIG MAJORITY FAVORS CORPORATE REGS. Americans overwhelmingly think that corporate greed needs to be reined in to fix our economy, a poll conducted for DailyKos.com reported (1/25). Public Policy Polling found that 59% of registered voters surveyed called for reining in corporate practices, while only 33% said now is not the time to constrict corporations. The only groups that were corporation defenders were Republicans (54%) and Tea Partiers (57%), giving lie to the claim that teabaggers are a populist movement. But even among those groups, more than a third say greedy practices should be reined in.

Unfortunately, as Meteor Blades noted at DailyKos.com, “Such data will, of course, be less than a gnat’s bite to the US Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to overturn every newly passed financial regulation it possibly can. ... We can expect the hilariously named chamber ally, the Committee for Truth in Politics, to pour hundreds of millions into a campaign to get business out from under the boot heel of allegedly burdensome regulations. They’ll make the usual phony claim that their special interests represent the general interest. Their biggest target remains the best thing to emerge from the Great Recession, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. But if the CFPB didn’t exist they’d be after something else. Years ago it was ‘burdensome’ truth-in-lending, truth-in-advertising and food-labeling laws. It’s remarkable they aren’t fighting to make rear-view mirrors and turn-signals optional.

“The poll indicates that the American public doesn’t agree with this unfettered corporation approach. Potent data for any Democrat who cares to make use of them.”

U-TURN IN CRAZY TOWN: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) wrote in the *Yuma Sun* (1/21) that Democrats wanted to shatter the saucer that George Washington described as the Senate’s role in cooling legislation that comes out of the House. “Now, however, there’s an attempt by some Senate Democrats to change Senate rules so that it would be easier to ram through legislation – like ObamaCare – on purely partisan votes.”

But David Waldman noted at DailyKos.com (1/24) that in 2005 Kyl, as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, wrote, “One way that Senators can restore the Senate’s traditional understanding of its advice and consent responsibility is to employ the ‘constitutional option’ — an exercise of a Senate majority’s power under the Constitution to define Senate practices and procedures.

“This constitutional option is well grounded in the US Constitution and in Senate history. The Senate has always had, and repeatedly has exercised, the constitutional power to change the Senate’s procedures through a majority vote.” 

ELECTION NEWS: Former Sen. George Allen Jr. announced (1/24) that he will run in 2012 for the Senate seat he lost to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) in 2006. Among his right-wing talking points, Allen calls for less spending, a balanced-budget amendment, a line-item veto and repeal of health care reform. But that might not be good enough for teabaggers. High-profile right-winger Erick Erickson of RedState.com has endorsed tea-party challenger Jamie Radtke as the GOP candidate to challenge Webb. Erickson noted that Allen backed President George W. Bush’s proposals to increase spending, supported “No Child Left Behind,” supported Medicare drug subsidies and voted to expand the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include crimes based on sexual orientation.” As Arjun Jaikumar noted at DailyKos.com, “You’ve got to hand it to the Tea Party; you’re really staking out new territory when George Allen isn’t orthodox for you.”

The presidential race is expected to increase turnout, which could help Webb — if he decides to run for re-election. In 2006, exit polls showed that the first Allen/Web contest drew 3% more Republicans than Democrats, pollster Tom Jensen noted, but the 2008 presidential election drew 6% more Democrats than Republicans.

A grassroots group of bloggers and activists is trying to draft Keith Olbermann to run for the Senate seat Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is giving up. “Draft Olbermann for Senate” has set up facebook.com/DraftKeithOlbermann.

Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist, declared he will run as a Democrat against President Obama. At a press conference in Washington, he said he hoped to get Iowans to become a “democrat for a day” and participate in the caucuses simply by showing up, Catholic.org reported. “We will run ads on the Super Bowl 2012 that show dead babies, the victims of abortion,” he said. “We will, with the help of God, bring America face to face with the victims of Obama’s policies. This campaign is about human rights, ladies and gentlemen.”

BISHOPS BACK OFF HEALTH CARE REPEAL. US Catholic bishops will not join efforts to repeal the new health care law, even though they opposed the bill last year after concluding it permits federally funded abortions, Daniel Burke reported in National Catholic Reporter (1/20). Instead of pushing repeal, the bishops said in a letter to Congress, they will devote their energy “to correcting serious moral problems in the current law.”

The Obama administration says the new law and a related executive order the president signed last year maintain longstanding prohibitions on federal funding of abortion.

By not supporting House Republicans’ campaign to repeal the health care law, the bishops averted another clash with Catholic health care workers and nuns, who had bucked the hierarchy last year by publicly backing the bill.

In his farewell address as president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops last year, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago lamented the “wound to the church’s unity” caused by last year’s debate.

The Catholic Health Association and Network, a social justice lobby run by Catholic sisters, both said they continue to support the Affordable Care Act that was passed last year. Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Heath Association, said, “we believe many of the (bill’s) provisions to strengthen our health care system and expand access and coverage to millions of families are essential and should remain law.”

PUBLIC UNIONS HAVE FRIENDS ON WALL ST. Republicans have been floating the idea of allowing states to declare bankruptcy so that public union contracts can be forcibly renegotiated and pension plans can be rolled back in bankruptcy court. So when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) came out strongly against that plan, James Pethokoukis of Reuters saw Wall Street behind the abrupt change (1/25). After all, banks own a quarter-trillion bucks worth of state and local debt and Wall Street firms make a lot of money off the public pension system. The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm whose CEO, Steve Schwarzman, is a big Republican moneyman, but more than a third of its investors are public pensions and it put a press release out that concluded: “We at Blackstone are committed to helping public employees retire with confidence in the strength and reliability of their pensions.”

In the 2010 election cycle, Pethokoukis noted, Wall Street campaign contributions shifted to Republicans from Democrats. For instance, Goldman Sachs, via its PAC and employees, allocated 59% of political contributions to Republicans in 2010 against just 26% in 2008. “Republicans would love to cement their rekindled financial relationship with Wall Street heading into 2012 when they have a good chance of retaking the Senate,” he wrote.

THIS JUST IN: BUSH WHITE HOUSE ILLEGALLY POLITICKED. More than four years after the fact, the federal office charged with investigating improper political activity within the federal government finally found that George W. Bush’s White House Office of Political Affairs routinely violated the law by giving political briefings to political employees.

The Office of Special Counsel report, titled “Investigation of Political Activities by White House and Federal Agency Officials During the 2006 Midterm Elections,” finds that the electoral success of the Republican Party and possible strategies for achieving it often were on the agenda at some of 75 political briefings at 20 federal agencies from 2001 to 2007.

A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel told the *New York Times* (1/24) that because the administration officials had left office, it no longer has jurisdiction to file any charges. It also said that it had not made a formal referral to the Justice Department to ask it to pursue any possible charges.

The Obama administration recently announced it was terminating its own version of the Office of Political Affairs, as Obama moved his re-election campaign operation to Chicago, with the duties of the political office taken up by the Democratic National Committee.

Politico.com noted (1/24) that the investigation into the Bush White House political office appears to have been delayed and sidetracked by the stormy tenure of Scott Bloch, the former chief of the Office of Special Counsel.

Bloch was the focus of both FBI and congressional investigations into allegations of malfeasance, including his decision to hire private computer technicians to perform unusually thorough “wipes” of his work computer . He said he made the move because of computer viruses that had infected it, but investigators tried to determine whether Bloch wanted disk drives cleared to destroy evidence.

Last April, Bloch pleaded guilty to withholding information from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee’s inquiry into the matter, a misdemeanor. He was expected to be sentenced to probation and a fine last year, but the magistrate assigned to his case, Deborah Robinson, said she believed the violation might carry a mandatory one-month jail sentence, Politico.com reported. Bloch’s sentencing is now set for February.

BUDGET CUTS THREATEN ‘MAN CAVES.’ As Texas, like many other states, propose cuts to nursing homes, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, found an interesting way to make those cuts resonate with everyday voters: “Those guys who have their man-caves, where they go and watch the games, are probably going to find those converted into mother-in-law rooms now,” she said on KXAN-TV in Austin, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

ESTIMATE 1.4M 99ERS. There are 1.4 mln “very long-term unemployed” who have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer, the Congressional Research Service reported. Arthur Delaney noted at HuffingtonPost.com that 99 weeks is a milestone for the jobless because that is the limit for extended unemployment benefits in states with high unemployment. The 1.4 mln figure, calculated using the latest data available as of October, is much smaller than estimates that run as high as 7 mln.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is expected to reintroduce legislation to provide additional weeks of benefits, but more help for the jobless seems unlikely to pass a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The long-term unemployed, as opposed to very-long-term unemployed, are people who’ve been out of work for six months. As of December, 6.4 mln people, or 44.3% of the 14.5 mln total jobless, have been out of work for six months or longer.

The CRS report shows that very long-term unemployment is more likely to afflict older workers than younger ones. Of jobless workers older than 45, 10.7% have been unemployed for 99 weeks, compared to 6% of workers younger than 35. And 44.4% of the very long-term unemployed are older than 45.

Once long-term unemployment sets in, even a college degree is often of little help. Even though the national jobless rate for college graduates is just 4.8%, CRS says “unemployed workers at all educational levels were equally likely to have been looking for work for more than 99 weeks.”

As HuffPost has reported, job ads on Craigslist and other sites routinely insist that applicants must be currently employed, and older job applicants say age discrimination is rampant.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2011


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