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“The Government Problem”: The Central Issue Is Whom The Government Is For

Some believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.

Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.

It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.

The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.

For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.

Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.

But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.

The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.

It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.

Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.

In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.

Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.

Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.

In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.

An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.

In addition to the provisions in the recent spending bill that reward Wall Street, health insurers, the travel industry, food companies, and defense contractors, other corporate goodies have been long baked into the federal budget.

Big agribusiness gets price supports. Hedge-fund and private-equity managers get their own special “carried-interest” tax loophole. The oil and gas industry gets its special tax subsidies.

Big Pharma gets a particularly big benefit: a prohibition on government using its vast bargaining power under Medicare and Medicaid to negotiate low drug prices.

Why are politicians doing so much for corporate executives and Wall Street insiders? Follow the money. It’s because they’re flooding Washington with money as never before, financing an increasing portion of politicians’ campaigns.

The Supreme Court’s decision this year in McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, following in the wake of Citizen’s United, already eliminated the $123,200 cap on the amount an individual could contribute to federal candidates.

The new spending legislation, just enacted, makes it easier for wealthy individuals to write big checks to political parties. Before, individuals could donate up to $32,400 to the Democratic or Republican National Committees.

Starting in 2015, they can donate ten times as much. In a two-year election cycle, a couple will be able to give $1,296,000 to a party’s various accounts.

But the only couples capable of giving that much are those that include corporate executives, Wall Street moguls, and other big-moneyed interests.

Which means Washington will be even more attentive to their needs in the next round of legislation.

That’s been the pattern. As wealth continues to concentrate at the top, individuals and entities with lots of money have greater political power to get favors from government – like the rollback of the Dodd-Frank law and the accumulation of additional corporate welfare. These favors, in turn, further entrench and expand the wealth at the top.

The size of government isn’t the problem. That’s a canard used to hide the far larger problem.

The larger problem is that much of government is no longer working for the vast majority it’s intended to serve. It’s working instead for a small minority at the top.

If government were responding to the public’s interest instead of the moneyed interests, it would be smaller and more efficient.

But unless or until we can reverse the vicious cycle of big money getting political favors that makes big money even bigger, we can’t get the government we want and deserve.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, December 23, 2014

December 28, 2014 Posted by | Dodd-Frank, Federal Government, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republicans Aren’t Pro-Life”: They’re Just Pro-Birth, And There’s A Big Difference

One of the main platforms of the Republicans is that, as a party, they say they are definitively pro-life. But if you really look closely at their stance on weapons, abortion, food stamps, global warming, minimum wage, veterans, prisons, etc… you have to wonder how they can make that claim.

AK47, military-style weapons and large magazine clips are part of the Republican chant. They claim it is their Second Amendment right to bear these arms, but even in Wyatt Earp’s Dodge City, outsiders were told to leave their guns at the city limits. Today Republicans, who are funded and graded by the NRA, want to have guns not only for self-protection, but also for showmanship. They believe it is their right to carry weapons everywhere including family restaurants, bars, classrooms and churches.

On average, three people are killed by a gun every hour and approximately seven are shot. How can anyone who says they are pro-life also be pro-weapon? If the Republican Party truly believes life is sacred, then why do they insist on unrestricted assault weapons — whose sole purpose is to kill — rather than reasonable gun regulations?

I also wonder how, on the one hand, a pro-life Republican demands that pregnant women have their unwanted children. Yet on the other hand, choose to cut food stamps that help feed these women and children. Did they ever consider the financial responsibilities involved in raising a child when they voted to close down small clinics that perform abortions and insurance coverage for birth control?

Currently, the Republicans are suggesting paying for summer lunches but only for rural kids, not urban ones. In other words, they want to provide food for the mostly rural white kids, but not provide food for the mainly minority, inner-city kids. How do these actions match their pro-life philosophy?

If you are pro-life, I would bet that you would vote for the right to breathe… but, a breath free of pollution is becoming more and more difficult these days. Republicans, like Florida’s Marco Rubio, continue to deny man’s role in climate change and denounce any scientific evidence. Is this really a pro-life stance when the impact to our children and grandchildren will be devastating?

The Republicans boast pro-life but also oppose raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to a living income. If they are really for life, then why would they be against paying a living wage that makes it possible for people who work to put food on their table? Not only is voting for the increase in minimum wage the right decision, but it also makes good business sense. Henry Ford, a leading businessman of his time, understood if he didn’t pay his workers enough to buy his product, then he wouldn’t prosper; today’s Republicans like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz obviously believe otherwise.

Something else to ponder is when you vote for war, but against taking care of the wounded warriors, is that really being pro-life? Sending men and women into battle seems to be easy for Republicans, yet only two Republicans, Sens. Dean Heller and Jerry Moran, voted for a bill that would improve veterans’ healthcare and other benefits.

Republican state governors like Idaho’s Butch Otter and Virginia’s Bob McDonnell don’t want to expand Medicaid, even though it is virtually free to them. Without the federal funds, fewer people can receive healthcare, and many will die. Doesn’t sound much like a pro-life stance to me.

The Republican House voted more than 50 times to repeal the ACA yet kept their government funded healthcare. How can they say no to improved healthcare for our war heroes, but accept it for themselves? Do they only believe in pro-life when it’s opportune?

When it comes to the death penalty, the same Republicans stating they are pro-life don’t seem to think twice about having someone put to death in their state — even though many of the accused people who were once on death row have been exonerated. Texas Governor Rick Perry brags about the number of executions that have taken place under his governorship. Do they understand that even if the person is guilty, they are taking someone’s life?

Republicans aren’t pro-life. They are just pro-birth. And there’s a big difference between the two.

 

By: Gerry Myers, CEO, President and Co-Founder of Advisory Link; The Huffington Post Blog, June 4, 2014

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Pro-Life, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Republicans For More Fat Kids”: More Fat And Dumb Kids Just Means More Future Republican Voters

Some days you have to wonder where the Republicans would draw the “if Obama’s for it, we’re against it” line. I can’t think of a single instance these past five years when Barack Obama endorsed something and Republicans said, “Hey, that’s actually a good idea!” The comic nadir, you’ll remember, was when Obama was for lower taxes (of the payroll variety), and they even contrived a way to be against that, at least for a while.

So it should not come as a surprise to us that now Republicans want more fat kids. And the reason Republicans want more fat kids is straightforward and predictable: Michelle Obama wants fewer of them. And that’s all they need to know. If she’s fer it, they’re agin’ it.

I’m talking of course about the school lunch program food fight going on now between the first lady and the GOP House. At Mrs. Obama’s behest, the school lunch program was overhauled in 2010 to include more fresh fruits and vegetables, fewer overall calories, somewhat smaller portions, and other goals, all in an effort to do something about the childhood obesity epidemic, in which the percentage of young children (6-11) who are obese has nearly tripled in the last 30 years and the percentage of adolescents (12-19) has more than quadrupled.

I remember thinking, back in the early days of the administration, when Mrs. Obama had those kids planting kale in the White House vegetable garden and step-classing with her to beat the band, that this was no anodyne first lady project. It was obvious at the time to anyone who grasped the basic logical connections that if she was really serious about American health, she was going to run like a locomotive right into some of the most powerful corporate interests in America—the handful of huge food conglomerates that stock most of what sits on our grocery shelves, and more specifically the ultra-powerful sugar lobby. This ain’t adult literacy. This is power politics, I knew, and push would eventually and inevitably come to shove.

She also, perhaps unwittingly, brought herself face-to-scowling-face with the clique of Americans who not only hate her husband (and by extension her) but who think “liberty” means that they must be able to eat and drink anything they damn well please. I say “perhaps unwittingly” because there was probably no way for her to know back in late 2008 and early 2009 that a simple effort to get kids to exercise and eat greens would become not a point of trans-ideological commonality but yet another ideological ground zero, or that the Big Gulp would become part of the culture wars. But sure enough, there was (who else?) Sarah Palin, sipping from one at her 2013 CPAC speech, and sugar became something that real conservatives embraced.

And so here we are, with House Republicans, led by some Alabamian (improvement: at least he’s not a Texan) named Robert Aderholt, who denies climate change, too, by the by, on the cusp of passing legislation that would let districts that want to opt out of the new school lunch standards.

The stated reason is that the new standards have created added expense—fresh fruits and vegetables cost more than canned ones—and some districts have been losing money. That, I readily allow, is true. You can read this GAO report (.pdf) to get up to speed on some of the problems school districts have encountered in implementing the new standards. As rollouts go, the new school lunch program hasn’t been great—better than Obamacare, certainly, and Windows Vista and iOS7 (reminders that the private sector screws these things up, too), but certainly a little top-heavy and inflexible on the rule-making side.

But many districts also swear by the new rules, as was evidenced Tuesday by the administrators who appeared with Mrs. Obama at the White House to defend them. And the Department of Agriculture, which runs school lunches, has already made some changes the GAO report recommended. So it seems they’re trying to get it right. And remember, please remember: The new program comes after many years of school cafeterias across the country farming out their lunch operations to McDonald’s and the like, thus ensuring that kids were gorging themselves every day on some of the worst sewage you can put in a human body. So the new effort is a sea change for the better.

If there are kinks, iron them out, of course. But that isn’t really the Republicans’ game. Their proposal is relatively mild only because they know nothing harsher would see the light of day in the Senate. But if they take over the Senate, watch for a watering-down or defunding of the whole business.

But what about the science, you say? Yes. It’s irrefutable. Sugar makes people fatter and, in all likelihood, dumber. But what does that matter to Republicans? I mean, hey; more fat and dumb kids just means more future Republican voters.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 28, 2014

May 29, 2014 Posted by | Childhood Obesity, Republicans | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Full Stomach, Lying Mouth”: Paul Ryan’s CPAC Speech Was Based On A Lie

Paul Ryan’s CPAC speech yesterday was almost comically offensive even before it became clear that it was based on a lie.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the speech itself, in which Ryan denounced the left for offering people “a full stomach— and an empty soul.” Discussing the moral squalor of free school lunch programs, Ryan retold a story he heard from Eloise Anderson, a former single mother on assistance who became a hero to the right by calling for the abolishment of welfare (She’s now a member of Scott Walker’s cabinet). It was about a boy Anderson had ostensibly met who didn’t want a free government lunch. “He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’,” said Ryan. “He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

Ryan’s words would have been nasty even if the underlying story were true. Do parents whose kids get subsidized school lunches not care for them? Does Ryan really think their souls are empty? Last night, however, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported that the anecdote Ryan used was actually ripped out of context from the bestselling book “An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny.” The book is about the friendship between author Laura Schroff and Maurice Mazyck, whom Schroff met when he was begging on the street. At one point, she made him school lunches every day and left them with her doorman to pick up on the way to school. In a heartbreaking passage, Mazyck asked her to put them in a brown paper bag like the ones all the other kids had.

Anderson’s communication’s director now admits that she never actually spoke to Mazyck, though she appropriated his story when she testified last year at a congressional hearing chaired by Ryan. As it happens, Schroff and Mazyck have partnered with an organization called No Kid Hungry that, among other things, works to connect poor children to free school meals. “[A] simple inquiry would have determined that the person telling the story actually is an advocate for the federal programs that Ryan now claims leaves people with ‘a full stomach and an empty soul,’” writes Kessler, describing it as a story “too good to check.”

That in itself is telling, since even in it’s apocryphal version, it’s not that good of a story. After all, it’s not as if liberals think that free school lunches are better than homemade ones. The argument for free school lunches are that they are better than no lunch at all. The implication of Ryan’s “full stomach…empty soul” line is that he disagrees. He just knows better than to say so outright, and so he needs to hide behind an imaginary poor child.

 

By: Michelle Goldberg, The Nation, March 7, 2014

March 8, 2014 Posted by | CPAC, Paul Ryan | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Paul Ryan And The Brown Bag”: Once Again, The Congressman Just Doesn’t Get It

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) covered a fair amount of ground in his speech this morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), but there was one story in particular that stood out.

“This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my friend Governor Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch – one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.

“That’s what the Left just doesn’t understand.”

I’ve read this a few times, hoping Ryan had some other subtle subtext, but I’m afraid the congressman really is as confused as his anecdote suggests.

The child may have wanted a lunch in a brown-paper bag, but – and I hope Ryan pauses to really think about this – his family is poor. The boy “didn’t want a free lunch,” but – and this is key – he didn’t want to be hungry, either.

It’s true that Republican policymakers could take away that free lunch the child received at the school, but that doesn’t mean the boy’s family will suddenly have more money to pack a healthy lunch in a brown-paper bag.

What’s more, it’s also true this kid may come from a struggling family, but it doesn’t mean he lacks “someone who cares for him”; it means he and his family lack the resources needed to send him to school with a good meal. Robert Schlesinger added, “A kid with a brown paper bag does have someone who loves them; but the kid without the brown paper bag, the one whose parent either won’t or can’t – because they’re working hard to get ahead and give themselves and their families better lives – deserves a society that loves and cares for them too.”

That’s what Paul Ryan just doesn’t understand.

In the same speech, the Wisconsin Republican added:

“The reason [Democrats[ keep talking about income inequality is because they can’t talk about economic growth. They have spent five, long years in power, and all they have to show for it is this lousy website.”

That’d be a good point, just so long as one overlooks the Recovery Act that ended the Great Recession, the millions of new jobs, health care reform that brought coverage to millions, the rescue of the auto industry, Wall Street reform, the end of the war in Iraq, counter-terrorism successes, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and student-loan reform, among other things.

Oh, and the health care website was fixed a few months ago.

Other that, though, Ryan’s on strong ground.

Update: In the school-lunch anecdote, I falsely assumed Ryan had the basic details of the story right. He didn’t: “Via Wonkette, the school lunch story appears to have been recycled from a story and altered beyond recognition in the process. The original story had nothing to do with a child turning down a free lunch. It’s about a kid, Maurice, who met a private benefactor, Laura, asking to literally have his lunch placed in a brown paper bag.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 6, 2014

March 7, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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