Tea Party Republicans are alienating veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with their proposals to cut the Veterans Administration, Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said.

Sullivan noted that George W. Bush in 2003 lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, then didn’t have enough doctors to take care of the casualties. Now Tea Party Republicans are proposing cuts to the VA. Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn.) proposed to cut $4.5 bln from the VA before backing off after the outcry from veterans’ organizations. “It doesn’t get any more vicious,” Sullivan told Austin-area Yellow Dog Democrats (3/12). “They didn’t go for the fat. They didn’t go for the waste. They went straight for the vital organs, the meat and sinew.”

Tea Party Republicans also proposed to cut housing vouchers for homeless veterans. “I can’t think of anything more cruel than to stop helping homeless veterans,” Sullivan said. House Republicans cut legal aid for disabled and wounded veterans.

Sullivan noted that US military has sustained 1.2 mln casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since 1990. It will cost $1 tln to treat them in addition to the trillions spent on fighting the wars. And with one in three soldiers coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder and 20% with brain injuries, the return of National Guard and Reserve units after deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan has placed a burden on their home communities.

A majority of veterans under 65 years voted Democratic in 2008, contrary to conventional wisdom, Sullivan said. (Officers tend to vote Republican.) The Obama administration has repaid that support, allowing 250,000 Vietnam veterans to get benefits linked to Agent Orange exposure after 40 years. Obama also has streamlined access to benefits for 250,000 veterans claiming post-traumatic stress disorder. Obama and the Democratic Congress nearly doubled the budget for the Veterans Administration, from $70 bln in 2006 to $132 bln in 2012. And the Democratic Congress in 2010 passed a new GI Bill for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war. But now that the Republicans are in charge of the House, veterans advocates face hurdles in keeping those appropriations.

NYT TO DIGERATI: REPORTING COSTS MONEY. David Carr, in the Media Decoder blog at NYTimes.com (3/20) noted that the New York Times’ plan to charge frequent users of its website was met with derision at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, where talk of charging for access to news on the Web is treated as heresy. “It is an article of faith among the digitally inclined that only losers pay for – or try to charge for – content,” Carr wrote. “After all, the Web was built on collaboration, open networks and a friction-free flow of information. And The Times’s attempt – however considered, however nuanced – is an offense against that theology. And that’s what it is: a theology. One need only read many of the bloggers and commentators in the wake of the announcement to see that what The Times is being accused of is not greed, but heresy.”

Carr quoted Steve Buttry, speaking for much of the digerati: “Every bit of corporate energy, time and creativity that has gone into this feeble plan is a diversion from the energy, time and creativity that genuine innovation require.”

Carr added, “But here’s the problem with religion, even the digitally charged variety: it provides succor, but not sustenance. For example, Mr. Buttry works for TBD.com, a bold experiment in covering Washington, D.C., in Web-only ways. TBD.com recently laid off much of its news staff and curtailed its mission because high-quality content is expensive and the losses piled up almost immediately. I say that not to tease — I want to see sites like TBD.com flourish — but to point out that alternatives to the paid model don’t seem to be producing a lot of reliable, durable journalism.”

Carr also noted that while he was at SXSW, cable TV during the day was dominated by rants that the world was melting down, principally in Japan, but each morning he would wake up to reporting (acessible on his iPad) that described in detail what was actually known, not feared, about the nuclear crisis. “People, real actual people, went and reported that information, some of it at personal peril and certainly at gigantic institutional expense. So The Times is turning toward its customers to bear some of the cost. The Times is hardly alone: AFP, Reuters, The Associated Press, Dow Jones, the BBC and NPR are all part of a muscular journalistic ecosystem. But it seems an odd time to argue against a business initiative that aims at keeping boots on the ground during a time of global upheaval.”

KUCINICH CALLS FOR OBAMA IMPEACHMENT. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) said President Obama should be impeached for ordering air strikes against Libya without congressional approval. Politico reported (3/19) that Kucinich called for impeachment in a conference call with other Democrats concerned about the Libyan action, but “got no support from anyone else on the call,” said another Democrat.

Kucinich is correct, of course, that committing combat troops overseas without congressional approval is unconstitutional, but TalkingPointsMemo.com noted that presidents have initiated many military conflicts without congressional approval since World War II, including President Clinton’s air assault on the Milosevic regime in Serbia in 1999, President Bush’s intervention in Somalia in 1992 and President Reagan’s own attack on Qaddafi in 1986. The 1973 War Powers Act — passed in reaction to the Vietnam War and mostly ignored by presidents since then — requires the president to inform Congress that he is committing US forces abroad within 48 hours and to request approval within 60 days. Politico.com noted that Kucinich also wanted to bring articles of impeachment against then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq, but he was blocked by Democratic leaders.

Matt Yglesias wrote at ThinkProgress.org (3/20) that “while the trend toward undeclared military incursions is often described as a kind of presidential “power grab,” it’s much more accurately described as a congressional abdication of responsibility.” Congress still holds the purse strings and can restrain presidential authority, but in practice it tends not to because it’s easier to let the president make the move and take responsibility for it. “Handling Libya this way means that those members of Congress who want to go on cable and complain about the president’s conduct are free to do so, but those who don’t want to talk about Libya can say nothing or stay vague. Nobody’s forced to take a vote that may look bad in retrospect, and nobody in Congress needs to take responsibility for the success or failure of the mission. If things work out well in Libya, John McCain will say he presciently urged the White House to act. If things work out poorly in Libya, McCain will say he consistently criticized the White House’s fecklessness.”

Jon Stewart of Comedy Central had one of the best lines after noting that politicians have recently been saying that America is broke: “You can’t simultaneously fire teachers and Tomahawk missiles.” (The first day carried a price tag of well over $100 million in missiles alone, NationalJournal.com reported 3/21.)

Meanwhile, the air strikes are popular. CNN/Opinion Research poll (3/21) shows that 70% of Americans support the establishment of a no-fly zone in Libya. But only 27% of Republicans approved of how Obama is handling Libya despite the fact that they are more likely than Dems and independents to support the military strikes.

BECK IS DOUBLE MAD AT OBAMA OVER LIBYA. Glenn Beck may have set a new record for crazy, as he said on his Fox News show (3/18), “If I would have told you a year ago that France would lead — that France would be the one that says, ‘You know what? I’m tired of waiting around. We’ll send our planes, and we’ll bomb.’ And America would say, [crying noise]. Would you have believed that a year ago?”

Then, exactly 20 seconds later, MediaMatters.org noted, Beck said: “America is involved in the third front. If I would have told you four weeks ago that America may now be involved in a war — in a third war in a third Muslim country in the Middle East, would you have believed me? I believe I did say words similar to that right over there, that it would sweep, destabilize, and drag us all down. We’re in a third war, a third front. God help us all if it all boils over in Libya.”

WHITE HOUSE MUM ON SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM. The White House is keeping out of congressional negotiations on Social Security reform until after key legislators in both the House and Senate unveil their plans to reduce projected long-term deficits, Brian Beutler reported at TalkingPointsMemo.com (3/21). Republicans want Obama to put forth his own plan, but the White House wants “to keep Obama’s powder dry while Republicans struggle to reduce deficits without increasing revenues in any meaningful way,” Beutler wrote. Some of Obama’s advisers — particularly Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — believe a bipartisan deal on Social Security would result in economic benefits, but his advisers agree that it would be foolish for Obama to speak up now.

Meanwhile, 64 senators signed a letter (3/18) drafted by Sens. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) asking Obama to support comprehensive deficit reduction, which struck Ezra Klein of WashingtonPost.com as a little odd. “If the 64 senators who signed this letter wanted to write and vote for a bill, that’d be a pretty ‘strong signal,’” Klein wrote (3/21). “But for 64 senators to instead write letters about how someone else should be making affirmative noises about deficit reduction, well, read closely, that’s a signal of a very different kind. The reality is that the White House can’t write the bill on Congress’s behalf. It can’t pass the bill through Congress. And it can’t kill the bill Congress pases if the bill has a veto-proof majority. Obama could be doing more to move public opinion, but on this issue, the empowered actor is the legislative branch, not the executive branch. And the legislative branch should begin acting like it.”

PUBLIC PREFERS MILITARY CUTS OVER HEALTH OR RETIREMENT TRIMS. A Reuters/Ipsos poll (3/9) found 51% of Americans support reducing defense spending, and only 28% want to cut Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor. A mere 18% support cuts in the Social Security retirement program, Reuters reported.

The Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs, known as “entitlements,” and defense spending together account for about two-thirds of the $3.7 tln federal budget, but they are not a major part of the debate in Congress over spending cuts.

Christopher Hellman, a military spending analyst with the progressive think tank the National Priorities Project, wrote in an article for TomDispatch (3/1) that the $558 bln Pentagon budget and the $118 bln for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan is only the start of military costs. Add nuclear weapons maintenance, terrorism-related operational costs, homeland security, intelligence, veterans programs and other peacekeeping and counterterrorism expenses and military pensions, plus interest on the debt, and military costs run to $1.22 tln. (And there are still more unknown costs.) To put that number in perspective, the US national security budget is equivalent to the 15th largest economy in the world, between Canada and Indonesia.

PAWLENTY BRIDGES GOP CAMPAIGN. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), whose main claim to fame was presiding over the 8/1/07 collapse of a bridge across the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities that killed 13 people, after he opposed road and bridge infrastructure improvements, became the first “major” Republican to set up an exploratory campaign for president (3/21).

UNION MEMBERS PULL MONEY FROM UNION-BASHING BANK. A Madison branch of Wisconsin’s M&I Bank closed down (3/10) when union members protesting the bank executives’ support of union-bashing Gov. Scott Walker (R) threatened to pull their money out.

Several protesters went inside the bank and closed their accounts, displaying checks that totaled $192,000 withdrawn, Joe Conway Jr., president of Local 311 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, told the Wisconsin State Journal.

Sara Schmitz, a spokeswoman for M&I in Milwaukee, said in an e-mail to the State Journal the bank shut its doors “under the advisement of the Madison Police Department and due to the significant number of protesters surrounding the Capitol.” Schmitz declined to comment about any withdrawals, but demonstrations were reported at other M&I branches around the state.

James Palmer, the executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he is encouraging his members to engage in “voluntary consumer activism” against companies that do not support collective bargaining for public-sector employees.

The Nation noted that Communications Workers of America, together with Jobs With Justice and other progressive groups, is spearheading a week of action focused around 4/4 — the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. — with rallies and teach-ins in hundreds of cities. JWJ has been active for months in many states, including Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Maine and Indiana, confronting the array of legislative threats facing not only unions but women, gays, immigrants and all working people. By making these links — and focusing protesters’ ire on specific political and corporate targets — the organizers aim to build the diverse movement needed to fend off the multipronged right-wing assault.

On 4/5, dozens of college campuses—perhaps hundreds—will hold teach-ins on “Debt, Austerity and How People Are Fighting Back,” with a national teach-in led by Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West live-streamed from Judson Memorial Church in New York City (see fightbackteachin.org for more information).

MICHIGAN VOTERS REGRET CHOICE. If Michigan voters could do it over, they would pick Democrat Virg Bernero as governor over Rick Snyder (R), who trounced Bernero by 18 points last November but would lose by 2 points (47-45) in a rematch, Public Policy Polling found (3/22). Like neighboring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Snyder surprised the state with his unpopular proposal to strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, as well as his “financial emergency” bill giving the governor the power to dissolve local governments, dismiss elected officials, void public workers’ contracts, privatize public services and seize and sell public assets. He also cut corporate taxes 86% while increasing taxes on working families and cutting school budgets.

Filmmaker Michael Moore, who helped organize a 3/16 protest, said Snyder ran as a pragmatic, anti-Tea Party Republican but “once elected, yanked off his nice-guy mask to reveal that he is in fact a multimillionaire hell-bent on destroying our state and turning it over to his buddies from Wall Street.”

Michigan residents are considering petitions to recall Snyder and his legislative allies, which could occur as soon as July. They also could petition for a constitutional amendment protecting workers’ rights. It would require over 300,000 signatures.

OHIO VOTERS’ ALSO HAVE REMORSE. Ohio voters aren’t happy with Gov. John Kasich (R). Public Policy Polling found that Kasich had a 35% approval rating and 54% disapproval. In a rematch, 55% say they’d vote to re-elect Gov. Ted Strickland (D) while 40% would vote for Kasich, who beat Strickland by 2 points last November. There is no recall procedure for elected officials in Ohio, but a referendum may be called on SB 5, the Ohio bill stripping collective bargaining rights. The survey found 51% have a favorable opinion of labor unions and 54% would vote to repeal SB 5.

LABOR WELCOMES AT&T, T-MOBILE MERGER. The announcement that AT&T is buying T-Mobile USA has raised concerns that it could reduce competition, but it also could benefit both consumers and employees, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, as the deal offers tens of thousands of T-Mobile employees the opportunity to benefit from pro-worker policies of AT&T, the only unionized US wireless company.

The acquisition also promises to increase broadband speed in the US, particularly in rural counties, Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen said. As part of the deal, AT&T is committing to build out its broadband network to nearly every part of the US within six years. Both AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM technology so there will be the immediate benefit of shared spectrum. 

FAIR-WEATHER FAMILY PLANNERS. Three Republican senators say they are opposed to a House Republican plan to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the woman’s health service provider. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Susan Collins (ME) and Scott Brown (MA) expressed support for an appropriations compromise that funds family planning and contraception services (abortion funding already is under a longstanding prohibition). But Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com noted (3/22) that all three voted in support of the House Republican proposal when it reached the Senate floor (3/9). The three Republicans who voted against the House plan — Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Lee (UT) and Rand Paul (KY) did so because they felt the cuts didn’t go far enough.

HOUSE AG SAYS CUT FOOD STAMPS, SAVE CROP SUBSIDIES. The House Agriculture Committee endorsed a letter to Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) arguing that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), which helps low-income Americans buy food, would make a better target for cuts than subsidies to farmers.

The move comes as food prices are rising — the Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise 3% to 4% this year — making it harder for the 18% of Americans who get food stamps to stretch their existing benefits, even as farmers profit from the tightening market. Critics across the political spectrum have called agricultural subsidies wasteful and unnecessary, and they question the logic of maintaining them as lawmakers hunt for budget cuts.

“Conspicuously missing from the list of mandatory spending cuts the Agriculture Committee has made or is proposing to make are commodity subsidies, and specifically the $4.9 bln in direct payments that are automatically paid out each year regardless of whether a person farms,” said Jake Caldwell, the director of agricultural policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Tim Fernholz reported at NationalJournal.com (3/21). “It is shortsighted of the Committee to suggest cuts to SNAP, particularly as food prices are on the rise, Americans are spending more than 10% of their household budget on food, and more people are enrolled in the food stamp program than ever before,” Caldwell said.

Pat Garofalo of ThinkProgress.org noted (3/21) that 61% of the subsidies that the US provides for agriculture go to just 10% of recipients. And 90% of ag subsidies go toward the production of just five crops — corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton. “Most of that 90% went to the large farming corporations,” said Annie Shattuck of the Institute for Food & Development Policy. “Much of those commodities were not used for food, but for animal feed and industrial applications.”

IOWA MULLS GUNS FOR SCHIZOS. The Republican-led Iowa state House is considering a bill that would allow Iowans to carry a concealed weapon without a license, background check or any training. The bill is known as “Alaska carry,” or the “Alaska bill,” because Alaska was one of the first states in the country to implement it.

In a “snafu” on the House floor (3/10), House Speaker Pro Tem Jeff Kaufmann (R) was caught privately acknowledging the danger of the bill while speaking near a microphone he thought was off, but was in fact turned on:

Rep. Steve Lukan (R): “The Alaska bill – what’s the Alaska bill? [...]”

Kaufmann: “The crazy, give-a-handgun-to-a-schizophrenic bill.”

Aide off camera: “His microphone is on.” [Microphone goes dead.]

FEWER SHOTS IN THE ARM. Among the $61 bln in spending cuts the House approved, Suzy Khimm noted at MotherJones.com (3/21), is $156 mln chopped from the Centers for Disease Control’s funding for immunization and respiratory diseases. That likely would mean less support for state and local immunization programs, less ability to evaluate which vaccines are working and less education of the public about recommended vaccines for children, teenagers and other susceptible populations, she wrote. Public health advocates warned that the cuts could result in more outbreaks that endanger public health at a major cost to taxpayers.

FARMERS CALL FOR BILL OF RIGHTS. National Farmers Union delegates supported a proposed Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule at the group’s 109th annual convention in San Antonio, Texas. “The proposed GIPSA rule is a Farmer and Rancher Bill of Rights,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “We have seen a rapid decline in the number of beef and hog operations in the United States. Since 1980, more than 500,000 beef cattle operations have been lost. During that same period, we have seen a ten-fold decline in the number of hog operations, from 660,000 to 67,000. Clearly something must be done, and the proposed rule is a big step in the right direction.”

“Secretary [Tom] Vilsack should push forward with full implementation of the GIPSA rule to return protections to producers from the misuse of market power and consolidation of the beef, pork and poultry industries,” said Johnson. “The US Department of Agriculture and US Departments of Justice held five listening sessions across the country in 2010 to examine the issues of concentration and competition in agriculture. Now is the time to act on those findings.”

Delegates also asked for a provision that would require USDA to calculate the percent of the market held by the top four companies in the major meat sectors. They also called on USDA to recognize that many livestock buyers have multiple independent livestock operator clients and should be treated differently than the buyers representing major packers.

TAXES ‘OFF THE TABLE’ IN DEFICIT TALKS? Republican leaders in the House and Senate will not agree to tax increases to help reduce the deficit, as Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform has obtained their no-tax pledges, TheHill.com reported (3/22). “I’ve talked to the Senate leadership and House leadership. They’re not voting on tax increases and they know that,” Norquist told The Hill. Norquist said he has received the same promise from Sens. Tom Coburn (OK), Mike Crapo (ID) and Saxby Chambliss (GA), who are negotiating a deficit reduction package with Democrats. Crapo, Chambliss and Coburn have said they hope to simplify the tax code, broaden the base and lower individual and corporate tax rates.

Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (3/22), “if Norquist is telling the truth, and the entirety of the Republican Party has ruled out any and all efforts to increase revenue, the ‘grand bargain’ is dead, the most popular deficit reduction ideas have been wholly rejected by the GOP, and the prospects of a larger bipartisan deal on fiscal issues is now impossible.”

STATE CUTS WIPE OUT FEDERAL STIMULUS. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently suggested the very idea of government stimulus has, to his mind, been discredited. “If government spending would stimulate the economy, we’d be in the middle of a boom,” he said. But Steve Benen of WashingtonMonthly.com noted (3/22) that nearly every dollar in federal stimulus spending was counteracted by comparable cuts in state and local government spending.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (cbpp.org) reported that state and local governments have eliminated 450,000 jobs since August 2008, federal data show, and state budget cuts have cost additional jobs in the private sector.

“These job losses shrink the purchasing power of workers’ families, which in turn affects local businesses and slows recovery, CBPP reported. “Moreover, many of the services being cut are important to states’ long-term economic strength. Research shows that in order to prosper, businesses require a well-educated, healthy workforce. Many of the state budget cuts described here will weaken that workforce in the future by diminishing the quality of elementary and high schools, making college less affordable, and reducing residents’ access to health care. In the long term, the savings from today’s cuts may cost states much more in diminished economic growth.”

All of the 48 states releasing initial budget proposals for fiscal year 2012 (which begins 7/1 in most states) have done so, and for the fourth year in a row, these budgets propose deep cuts in education, health care and other important public services — in many cases, deeper than previous cuts, CBPP reported (3/21). These cuts will delay the nation’s economic recovery and undermine efforts to create jobs, Michael Leachman, Erica Williams and NIcholas Johnson wrote.

A review of the initial budget proposals released in the 48 states (Kentucky and Wyoming are in the middle of a two-year budget cycle) shows that nearly all states are proposing to spend less money than they spent in 2008 (after inflation), even though the cost of providing services will be higher. At least 39 states are proposing major cuts in core public services. At least 21 states have proposed identifiable, deep cuts in pre-kindergarten and/or K-12 spending. At least 25 states have proposed identifiable, deep cuts in health care.

At the same time, seven governors facing shortfalls are proposing large tax cuts, mostly for corporations; the loss of revenue from these tax cuts in 2012 means that those states would have to enact even deeper spending cuts to balance their budgets.

SANDERS PROPOSES SOCIAL SECURITY PROTECTION. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation requiring a two-thirds supermajority to pass any legislation that would cut or privatize Social Security benefits. His Social Security Protection Act parallels other legislation offered by Senate Republicans that would supermajorities to raise spending caps or taxes.

“Social Security has never contributed one dime to the federal budget deficit or the national debt,” Sanders said (3/15). “In fact, Social Security currently has a $2.6 tln surplus that is projected to grow to $4.2 tln in 2023. It is absurd, therefore, to be discussing Social Security within the context of deficit reduction.” 

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) introduced the same measure in the House. “Social Security is an intergenerational contract that has never been broken. The GOP has pledged to attack its very foundation. This bill would arm us for the coming battle,” Weiner said.

Sanders and Weiner were joined at the press conference today by Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

National Nurses United endorsed the bill. “Nurses all over the country are worried about cuts to Social Security that could come out of the current discussion on deficit,” said Deborah Burger, RN, co-President of National Nurses United (NNU). NNU has been outspoken in its work to preserve Social Security both because of its importance to nurses and to their patients. Nursing is one of the most dangerous professions in America due to manually lifting patients, endemic understaffing at hospitals, and the threat of physical violence. Raising the retirement age would be especially damaging to nurses and other health care workers.

“What we need right now is economic stimulus, not austerity. Programs like Social Security were created to get us out of the Great Depression, we cannot cut benefits now.” Burger added. “Workers who have paid into Social Security all their lives should get as least as much protection for their benefits as rich people are getting for their tax breaks.”

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2011


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