The Social Security trustees reported (4/23) that the trust fund has $2.7 tln in reserves and will grow to $3.06 tln by 2021, allowing the retirement program to pay every nickel owed to beneficiaries in full for at least another 20 years. After that, although you may have heard “news” reports that the fund would run out of money in 2033, the trustees reported that payroll tax income would continue to pay about three quarters of scheduled benefits through 2086.

However, the trustees recommended legislative modifications to avoid disruptive consequences. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who chairs the Senate aging subcommittee as well as the Defending Social Security Caucus, said the most effective way to strengthen Social Security for the next 75 years is to eliminate the cap on the payroll tax on income above $250,000. “Right now, someone who earns $110,100 pays the same amount of money into Social Security as a billionaire. That makes no sense,” he said. Sanders introduced legislation to strengthen Social Security and guarantee benefits for 75 years by extending the payroll tax that most Americans already pay to those who earn above $250,000 a year.

Americans of all political stripes oppose cuts to Social Security benefits, but as the Columbia Journalism Review noted (4/18), media coverage has perpetuated the belief — particularly among young Americans — that Social Security is broken. “The elite press repeatedly quotes the commentary of the devoted opponents of social insurance retirement programs,” Yale professor emeritus Theodore Marmor told CJR. “But they appear unaware of how they are supporting a strategic attack on social insurance that has been going on for years.”

Strengthen Social Security, a progressive coalition to protect the program, also noted that, unlike some news reports that have incorrectly stated that Social Security contributes to the deficit, by law Social Security cannot borrow. If it lacks the revenue to cover benefits, its only recourse is to cut benefits. “Thus it does not and cannot contribute to the federal deficit.” It added, “Cutting its modest benefits does not reduce the federal debt subject to limit by a penny.”

The program could be stabilized by raising the payroll tax cap, by taxing sales of stock or by taxing the assets of very large estates.

The Medicare trust fund faces “exhaustion” in 2024, after which dedicated revenues will decline slowly to 67% in 2045, and then rise slowly until it reaches 69% in 2086. However, the trustees found that projected Medicare costs over 75 years are substantially lower than they otherwise would be because of cost savings in the Affordable Care Act.

TOP SUPER PAC DONORS SUPPORT REPUBLICANS. Last January, a study found that 17 of the top 20 political donors are Republicans or conservatives. USA Today published a similar roundup of Super PAC donors in the 2012 cycle (4/22), and found the same pattern. Eight of the top ten Super PAC donors are Republicans or corporations who donate exclusively to Republicans. One is the Cooperative of American Physicians, a group of physicians focused on mitigating the cost of malpractice liability that supports a single Democrat. The other non-Republican group is the National Education Association, a teachers union.

Notably, the top three Super PAC donors are all Republicans, and their more than $45 million in contributions adds up to more than four times the total spending by the remainder of the top ten: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson of Las Vegas, Nev., $25 mln; Harold and Annette Simmons, Dallas, $13.7 mln; Bob Perry, Houston, $6.7 mln; NEA, Washington, D.C., $3.5 mln; Contran Corp., Dallas, $3 mln; Peter Thiel, San Francisco, $2.7 mln; A. Jerrold Perenchio/Jerry Perenchio Living Trust, Los Angeles, $2.6 mln; Cooperative of American Physicians, L.A., $2.5 mln; William J. Dore, Lake Charles, La., $2.25 mln; Foster S. Friess, Jackson, Wyo., $2.25 mln.

Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/23) that these totals may also understate the total amount of spending by these wealthy right-wing benefactors because donors can keep their identities secret by funneling their money into non-profit arms of political organizations. The Center for Public Integrity reported that 62% of the $123 mln raised by Karl Rove’s “Crossroads” political empire in 2010 and 2011 (or $76.8 mln) came from fewer than 100 secret donors to Crossroads GPS, which doesn’t make the names of its donors public.

American Crossroads, a super PAC, discloses its contributors, but under the Citizens United decision, Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)4 which is controlled by the same people as the super PAC, can contribute to the super PAC while keeping its 501(c)4 contributors secret. Republicans have blocked efforts to force disclosure of 501(c)4 contributors.

The combined $123 mln raised in two years, Milhouser noted, is more than Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) spent on his entire 2008 presidential general election campaign. In addition, American Crossroads has already raised another $49 mln in the first quarter of 2012, giving the super PAC about $100 mln for this cycle, according to Politico.com. Crossroads GPS only reports its fundraising totals once a year.

“With giant corporations and billionaire activists dominating the airwaves and overwhelming the political process, Crossroads and similar organizations continue to show just how wrong the Supreme Court’s 5-4 majority was in thinking ‘independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’” Milhouser wrote.

MOMENTUM GROWS TO OVERTURN ‘CITIZENS UNITED.’ The Vermont Senate passed a resolution (4/13) asking Congress to consider a constitutional amendment to clarify that “money is not speech and corporations are not persons under the US Constitution.” The resolution, similar to one adopted by 64 Vermont towns during March town meetings and a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is designed to undo the damage caused by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that allowed corporations to contribute to political PACs. Similar referenda and resolutions have passed in 147 cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Boulder, Colo., Madison, Wis., Portland, Maine and Oregon, state legislatures in Hawaii and New Mexico and attorneys general from 11 states. Supporters of the constitutional amendment, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) attended a summit in Washington, D.C. (4/18).

VATICAN SEEKS TO REIN IN NUNS. An American archbishop has been appointed by the Vatican to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the largest organization of nuns in the US, after the group — which includes 1,500 superiors who run the sisters’ communities — was accused of promoting “certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had conducted a “doctrinal assessment” since 2009 and gave Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain power to review and revise the organization’s policies.

The announcement cited individual nuns at conference gatherings challenging church teachings on homosexuality and male-only priesthood, and accused the group’s leaders of focusing too much on poverty and economic injustice while keeping “silent” on abortion and same-sex marriage. The report did not cite the group’s support for President Obama’s health care reform, but conference leaders told the New York Times (4/20) that Vatican investigators had pointedly raised the issue and the fact that the conference had split with American bishops, who opposed reform.

The sisters’ leaders said they reaffirmed their opposition to abortion but also claimed the right to speak out on a “moral imperative” like health care, just as the bishops had.

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who has served as president of the group, said she was deeply distraught at the news. “When you set out to reform a people, a group, who have done nothing wrong, you have to have an intention, a motivation that is not only not morally based, but actually immoral,” she told the National Catholic Reporter, where she also writes a column. “Because you are attempting to control people for one thing and one thing only — and that is for thinking, for being willing to discuss the issues of the age ... If we stop thinking, if we stop demanding the divine right to think, and to see that as a Catholic gift, then we are betraying the church no matter what the powers of the church see as an inconvenient truth in their own times.”

Sister Beth Rindler of Detroit, a member of the National Coalition of American Nuns as well as the LCWR, told TheDailyBeast.com she is shocked by the report, which she attributed to a gender gap between Vatican men and American nuns. “The church in Rome believes in the patrimony of God. But we believe that God created men and women equally,” she said. “That’s where we clash.”

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (and a Catholic), noted at HuffingtonPost.com (4/20) that trying exert control over the nuns was a risk for the bishops. “Most Catholics only know there are bishops, but they personally know the nuns — they teach their children, run their hospitals, and carry out the gospel injunctions to feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. The bishops may want to convert the church, transforming it into a ‘corpus Santorum,’ but when they pick on the nuns, methinks they may be over-reaching.”

The number of Catholic nuns in the US has declined steadily, from 180,000 in 1965 to fewer than 60,000 today, the Daily Beast reported.

BISHOP LIKENS OBAMA TO HITLER, STALIN. Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria during a homily (4/14) compared President Obama with Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care,” said Jenky. “In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.”

Ian Milhiser noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/20): “First of all, nothing Obama has done — including his recent policy guaranteeing women’s access to contraception — violates the Catholic Church’s religious liberty under the United States Constitution. As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia (who happens to be Catholic) explained in a seminal Supreme Court decision more than two decades ago, ‘the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a “valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).’” In other words, so long as a law applies universally to the faithful and the non-faithful alike, it does not offend the Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.

“There is absolutely no comparison whatsoever between requiring religious groups to follow the exact same laws as everyone else, which is what the United States Constitution calls for, and singling out particular groups for persecution or even genocide, which is what Adolf Hitler did. Jenky is simply wrong suggest that applying the law equally to everyone starts America ‘down the path’ to persecuting the faithful.”

Jenky’s suggestion that Obama resembles two of the greatest mass murders in human history has not sat well with Jewish groups. Chicago’s Anti-Defamation League demanded an apology from Jenky, noting that “there are few, if any, parallels in history to the religious intolerance and anti-Semitism fostered in society by Stalin, and especially Hitler, who under his regime perpetuated the open persecution and ultimate genocide of Jews, Catholics and many other minorities.” The organization Faithful America launched a petition calling on Bishop Jenky to apologize for his initial comparison between Obama and Hitler. (See the petition at faithfulamerica.org.)

A prominent advocate for the separation of church and state filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, accusing the Catholic Diocese of Peoria of violating federal law by intervening in a political campaign. Rev. Barry Lynn, United Church of Christ minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alleges that Jenky’s homily effectively urged Catholics to vote against Obama.

A spokesman for Jenky tried to “walk back” some of the inflammatory rhetoric. “Based upon the current government’s threatened infringement upon the Church’s religious exercise of its ministry, Bishop Jenky offered historical context and comparisons as a means to prevent a repetition of historical attacks upon the Catholic Church and other religions,” said Patricia Gibson, chancellor of the Peoria Diocese (4/19). “Bishop Jenky gave several examples of times in history in which religious groups were persecuted because of what they believed,” Gibson said. “We certainly have not reached the same level of persecution. However, history teaches us to be cautious once we start down the path of limiting religious liberty.”

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago declined to comment on the comparison but echoed some of the frustration Jenky expressed. “This is the first time in the history of our country where our very own government has told our Catholic institutions ‘If you’re going to operate in public, you can’t operate in a Catholic way, you have to give up your Catholic identity,’” George told a CBS reporter (4/19).

BISHOPS DON’T LIKE GOP BUDGET CUTS, EITHER. Republicans don’t get a free ride from the Catholic bishops, who sent a letter blasting the GOP for its budget. Bishops Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., and Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (3/6) to urge that lawmakers reject “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition” programs for “moral and human reasons ... A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly,” the bishops wrote.

“We support proposals in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget to strengthen programs that serve poor and vulnerable people, such as Pell Grants and improved workforce training and development. We also support proposals to restore cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as well as efforts to make permanent recent expansions of low-income tax credits.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chastised Catholic bishops at a news conference on Capitol Hill (4/18), saying they needed to look at the bigger picture after they complained that the GOP budget plan fails to meet “moral criteria.”

‘CAP & TRADE’ STATES GROW FASTER WHILE CUTTING POLLUTION. Northeastern states participating in America’s first carbon cap and trade program have outperformed the rest of the country in GDP growth and reduction in global warming pollution. That’s according to Environment New Jersey, which examined emissions data and economic growth indicators from 2000 to 2009.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a nine-state cap-and-trade market designed to reduce emissions in the utility sector 10% by 2018. A recent independent analysis showed that the program has already created $1.6 bln in economic value and set the stage for $1.1 bln in ratepayer savings through investments in efficiency and renewable energy. This latest report shows that states under the RGGI program saw a 20% greater reduction in per-capita carbon emissions than non-RGGI states — all while growing per-capita GDP at double the rate of the rest of the country.

InsideClimateNews.org reported (4/20): “It’s very clear that emissions have decreased in the Northeast. I think it’s largely because of low natural gas prices, plus the effects of RGGI on top of that,” said Bob Teetz, vice president of environmental services at National Grid USA, a Waltham, Mass.-based electric and gas company. The utility operates 4,000 megawatts of natural gas power plants in Long Island, N.Y.

Stephen Lacey of ThinkProgress.org noted that the program has helped stimulate more efficiency and renewable energy, it has helped local businesses grow, it has added enormous economic value to the region, and it has not driven up electric rates. He compared that real-world experience to the outlandish claims made by opponents of the program. The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity actually claimed that RGGI would drive rates up in New Jersey by 90%. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) pulled his state out of the program, calling it a “gimmicky tax.” According to program administrators, proceeds from carbon credit auctions brought $29 mln to New Jersey in 2010, leveraging $3 to $4 in benefits for every dollar invested.

“Opponents who claim cap and trade is bad for the economy simply don’t have a leg to stand on,” Lacey concluded.

RON PAUL BACKERS TAKE IOWA GOP LEADERSHIP. Supporters of Ron Paul haven’t given up their hopes to get his name placed in nomination at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August. Jennifer Jacobs reported in the Des Moines Register (4/21) that a rising tide of Republicans who share Paul’s philosophy of limited government are flooding into GOP party roles in Iowa. Six of the new Iowa Republican state central committee members have expressed support for Paul and two others have close ties. The growing Paul faction in leadership positions in the Republican Party of Iowa, includes the new chairman, A.J. Spiker, who was Paul’s campaign vice chairman in Iowa.

To get Paul nominated, he must have a majority of support from at least five state delegations. With states like North Dakota, Minnesota and others on track, Jacobs noted, his supporters could attempt to nominate him from the floor. Iowa’s 28 delegates are all “unbound,” meaning they can individually decide which candidate to support. To stop Paul supporters from controlling the Iowa delegation, Romney backers in Iowa told Jacobs they will likely team up with Christian conservatives.

Paul supporters reportedly hope to gain leadership roles through district conventions in Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, Missouri and Maine.

FLA. GOV. SCOTT UNAWARE OF RAPE CRISIS. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) shocked the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence when he vetoed $1.5 mln to fund 30 rape crisis centers (4/17) — in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, no less. A spokesman for Scott told HuffingtonPost.com the allocation was duplicative because the state already provides funding for rape prevention and sexual assault services elsewhere in the $70 bln budget. But Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, said she provided the governor’s office with information that the rape crisis centers have waiting lists and services are unavailable because of a lack of money.

NADER TO GET TRIAL IN LAWSUIT VS. DEMS. The Maine Supreme Court ruled unanimously (4/19) that Ralph Nader’s lawsuit for damages against the Democratic Party and its allies concerning that party’s efforts to keep him off the ballot as an independent candidate in 17 states in the 2004 presidential election is entitled to a trial, *Ballot Access News* reported (ballot-access.org, 4/19).

ALEC ENDS GUN, VOTER SUPPRESSION TASK FORCE. In the face of mounting pressure from progressive activists and its own corporate sponsors, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-wing group funded by corporations like ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, announced (4/17) that it will shut down a task force that deals with “non-economic issues,” like voter suppression efforts and “stand your ground” gun laws. ALEC came under intense scrutiny after progressive groups like Color of Change began pressuring corporations that fund ALEC to drop their support. The Center for American Progress also released a report highlighting the right-wing group’s role in pushing voter suppression efforts around the country. As a result, 11 companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Intuit, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wendy’s, Mars, Arizona Public Service, Reed Elsevier, American Traffic Solutions and Blue Cross Blue Shield pulled out from ALEC. In response to the exodus of corporate funding, ALEC made the decision to scale back its operations and focus on “economic” matters. But Scott Keyes noted at ThinkProgress.org (4/17) that ALEC will continue to push corporate-friendly conservative economic legislation. Here is a short list of ostensibly economic measures ALEC has supported in the past:

• State union-busting measures

• Repealing minimum wage laws

• Privatizing public lands

• Repealing capital gains taxes

• Repealing the estate tax

• Fighting any efforts to address manmade climate change while touting “the many benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment”

• Repealing paid sick day laws around the country

• Requiring a super-majority to raise taxes

• Pushing rules that deem that kids eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk.”

LABOR RIPS COLOMBIA TRADE DEAL. The Secret Service prostitution scandal may have grabbed the attention during President Obama’s trip to Colombia, but AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka ripped into Obama for taking a key step towards the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement — which Trumka claimed would have domestic political ramifications for Obama. Trumka said continuing betrayal of labor would make it harder to turn out supporters this fall and was already muddying Obama’s efforts to draw a sharp contrast with Mitt Romney over who represents the 99%.

Obama accepted Colombia’s assurances that it would protect organized labor, clearing the way for the free trade deal wot take effect on 5/15. Trumka had warned Obama that certification was premature, because Colombia had failed to do enough to stop the killing of union organizers and human rights workers, and because the deal risks harming US workers while enriching multinational corporations, Greg Sargent noted at WashingtonPost.com (4/16).

Asked whether the move could hurt enthusiasm among blue-collar swing voters, Trumka said the labor organizers on the ground who will drive turnout were already responding negatively. “The people on the ground who deliver the votes are ... wondering why,” Trumka said. “Our job is made more difficult.”

WHITE GUYS VS. OBAMA. Women, minorities and young voters overwhelmingly support President Obama, but white men are lining up behind Mitt Romney, Steve Kornacki noted at Salon.com (4/20). In 2008, Obama edged out John McCain by 1 point among all men, but a Pew survey (4/17) found all men favoring Romney by 6 points, 50-44, due to white men favoring Romney by 26 points, 60% to 34%. White women favored Romney 49-44, but all women favored Obama 56-43. Obama enjoys 61% support among youths 18-29, 67% support among Latinos and 95% support among blacks. Recent polls by Quinnipiac and ABC News/Washington Post show similar margins among white men.

Kornacki noted, “By itself, Obama’s struggle with white working-class men is no surprise. Bill Clinton held his own with them in his 1996 reelection campaign, but they turned on Al Gore in 2000 and haven’t looked back since. The question is why Obama’s support among them has fallen so much.

“The obvious explanation is the economy and general economic anxiety, which is presumably more pronounced among working-class voters. But if this is the reason, then shouldn’t Obama’s numbers be down just as sharply among non-college white women? Right now, there’s not much evidence that they are; some recent polls show him dipping slightly below his ’08 performance with this group, but others have him running even with or even slightly ahead of that pace.

“It could also be that the blue-collar men have been more receptive (especially in the face of tough economic times) to the right’s unrelenting efforts to create culturally based resentment of Obama. Conservative leaders, news outlets and commentators have taken countless  opportunities to add to their preferred caricature of Obama as a radical leftist eager to settle old racial scores on behalf of black America. The more subtle voices have simply pushed the idea that there’s something distinctly un-American about Obama’s policies. It may be that all of this has had an effect beyond the hardcore Republican base.

“Whatever the reason, Obama’s white guy problem is particularly ominous for his chances in a swing state like Ohio, with its large blue-collar population. The flip side, though, is that he may not be as damaged in swing states with more diverse populations — Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, for instance, where Hispanics account for a growing share of the electorate. This could create a path to victory for Obama even if he’s unable to win back any of the blue-collar white men he’s lost.

“At this point, if Obama wins a second term, it will be despite losing to Romney among men and among whites. This doesn’t mean he can afford to write off blue-collar white men completely. But if he gets his clock cleaned with them and still prevails, it will speak to the advantage Democrats figure to enjoy as America continues to diversify in the years ahead.”

MUSLIMS EXEMPT FROM FIRST AMENDMENT. Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (4/20), “It’s comforting to think that we’ve learned not to jump at every shadow, not to duck under the bed every time some ratings-starved radio geek yells ‘Muslim!”, not be alarmed every time there’s a bustle in the hedgerow. But that unreasoning terror and blind panic have been made permanent parts of all our institutions of self-government. They are there in every military tribunal, in every drone strike, in every memo that gives the president — any president — powers that would have been unthinkable even 15 years ago. They are there in the desire on the part of this administration to ‘move on’ from the constitutional depredations of the Bush era. And they were there in a courtroom in Boston [April 12] when a man named Tarek Mehanna was sent away for 17-and-a-half years for things he said and for things he believed, and for promulgating what he said and believed, but not for anything he actually did to advance the cause he was alleged to have advocated.”

The prosecution said Mehanna went to Yemen with the intention of finding a training camp whence he would go to fight in Iraq. But he never found one, so he returned to the US and, the prosecution said, he translated and disseminated violent jihadi material online. “That is all he is alleged to have done,” Pierce noted. “The prosecutors in this trial managed to carve out a Muslim exemption from the First Amendment.”

Mehanna is no prize, Pierce noted, but he had faced life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines for disseminating material online.

In Michigan, meanwhile, a US district judge in March dismissed the most serious charges against nine suspected members of the Hutaree Christian militia who prosecutors said plotted to kill police officers with bombs and guns. The group also was accused of preparing a “hit list” of judges, business leaders, educators and others. Much of the evidence was secretly recorded statements and conversations between the accused Hutaree members and the two undercover operatives who infiltrated the group. “The government’s case is built largely of circumstantial evidence,” Judge Victoria Roberts said March 27. “While this evidence could certainly lead a rational fact-finder to conclude that ‘something fishy’ was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States government.” Defense attorney William Swor said the leader, David Stone, was a Christian who was bracing for war against the Antichrist. “This is not the United States government. This is Satan’s army,” Swor told the judge, according to the Associated Press (3/27).

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2012


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