mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Money No Where In Sight”: As Zika Spreads, Republicans Hold Funding Hostage

More than three months have passed since President Obama first asked Congress for $1.8 billion to fund the fight against the Zika virus, and the full amount is still nowhere in sight.

The mosquito-borne virus, which can also be transmitted between humans, has become a growing concern in recent weeks. The CDC announced Friday that the number of pregnant women with the virus has tripled, and that number is only expected to swell as the summer months bring more mosquitoes to the United States and its territories. People with Zika do not always show symptoms, further complicating the ability to monitor the spread of the virus.

Despite the alarming developments, Republicans have balked at the request by the President, offering a fraction of his requested amount. The House on Wednesday passed the Republican-backed Zika Response Appropriations Act, a bill that would provide $622.1 million in funding towards Zika but would also lead to other cuts — including on funds allocated for the fight against Ebola — in order to satisfy Republican demands to limit deficit spending.

Democrats have called out Republicans for failing to allocate the necessary funding, which would be used for training efforts, testing, and mosquito control. The Senate on Tuesday voted to push forward $1.1 billion in emergency funding — still less than the amount requested by the President. No Democrats opposed it.

Some Republicans, particularly those representing the Southeastern United States where the Virus is expected to be the most prevalent, have called on Congress to provide as much funding as the President has requested.

“There is no reason why we should not fully fund this,” Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said earlier this week. Rubio went on to slam the House bill, saying “Quite frankly, that’s just not going to cut it.”

Obama warned Congress on Friday not to go on recess without first addressing the funding he has requested, noting that it is not yet time to panic but that the issue should be taken seriously. The president met with his top public safety officers and said there is still more research needed to find answers on the virus — research that can only happen once the necessary funding is allocated by Congress.

The long wait for funding has had a ripple effect on the local level, at least for the time being. The CDC was forced to move $44 million from state and local governments — including $1.1 million in New York City — to fight the Zika virus. Local governments will be limited in their ability to respond to other public health emergencies until adequate funding is made available.

 

By: Matt Tracy, The National Memo, May 20, 2016

May 22, 2016 Posted by | House Republicans, Public Health, Zika Virus | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Michigan’s Great Stink”: State Officials Knew They Were Damaging Public Health, Putting Children In Particular At Risk

In the 1850s, London, the world’s largest city, still didn’t have a sewer system. Waste simply flowed into the Thames, which was as disgusting as you might imagine. But conservatives, including the magazine The Economist and the prime minister, opposed any effort to remedy the situation. After all, such an effort would involve increased government spending and, they insisted, infringe on personal liberty and local control.

It took the Great Stink of 1858, when the stench made the Houses of Parliament unusable, to produce action.

But that’s all ancient history. Modern politicians, no matter how conservative, understand that public health is an essential government role. Right? No, wrong — as illustrated by the disaster in Flint, Mich.

What we know so far is that in 2014 the city’s emergency manager — appointed by Rick Snyder, the state’s Republican governor — decided to switch to an unsafe water source, with lead contamination and more, in order to save money. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that state officials knew that they were damaging public health, putting children in particular at risk, even as they stonewalled both residents and health experts.

This story — America in the 21st century, and you can trust neither the water nor what officials say about it — would be a horrifying outrage even if it were an accident or an isolated instance of bad policy. But it isn’t. On the contrary, the nightmare in Flint reflects the resurgence in American politics of exactly the same attitudes that led to London’s Great Stink more than a century and a half ago.

Let’s back up a bit, and talk about the role of government in an advanced society.

In the modern world, much government spending goes to social insurance programs — things like Social Security, Medicare and so on, that are supposed to protect citizens from the misfortunes of life. Such spending is the subject of fierce political debate, and understandably so. Liberals want to help the poor and unlucky, conservatives want to let people keep their hard-earned income, and there’s no right answer to this debate, because it’s a question of values.

There should, however, be much less debate about spending on what Econ 101 calls public goods — things that benefit everyone and can’t be provided by the private sector. Yes, we can differ over exactly how big a military we need or how dense and well-maintained the road network should be, but you wouldn’t expect controversy about spending enough to provide key public goods like basic education or safe drinking water.

Yet a funny thing has happened as hard-line conservatives have taken over many U.S. state governments. Or actually, it’s not funny at all. Not surprisingly, they have sought to cut social insurance spending on the poor. In fact, many state governments dislike spending on the poor so much that they are rejecting a Medicaid expansion that wouldn’t cost them anything, because it’s federally financed. But what we also see is extreme penny pinching on public goods.

It’s easy to come up with examples. Kansas, which made headlines with its failed strategy of cutting taxes in the expectation of an economic miracle, has tried to close the resulting budget gap largely with cuts in education. North Carolina has also imposed drastic cuts on schools. And in New Jersey, Chris Christie famously canceled a desperately needed rail tunnel under the Hudson.

Nor are we talking only about a handful of cases. Public construction spending as a share of national income has fallen sharply in recent years, reflecting cutbacks by state and local governments that are ever less interested in providing public goods for the future. And this includes sharp cuts in spending on water supply.

So are we just talking about the effects of ideology? Didn’t Flint find itself in the cross hairs of austerity because it’s a poor, mostly African-American city? Yes, that’s definitely part of what happened — it would be hard to imagine something similar happening to Grosse Pointe.

But these really aren’t separate stories. What we see in Flint is an all too typically American situation of (literally) poisonous interaction between ideology and race, in which small-government extremists are empowered by the sense of too many voters that good government is simply a giveaway to Those People.

Now what? Mr. Snyder has finally expressed some contrition, although he’s still withholding much of the information we need to fully understand what happened. And meanwhile we are, inevitably, being told that we shouldn’t make the poisoning of Flint a partisan issue.

But you can’t understand what happened in Flint, and what will happen in many other places if current trends continue, without understanding the ideology that made the disaster possible.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 25, 2016

January 31, 2016 Posted by | Flint Michigan, Lead Poisoining, Public Health, Rick Snyder | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Enforcing The Sound Of Silence”: An Epidemic Of CNE Syndrome Strikes Our State Governments

It’s well known that harsh climate conditions can mess with your mind — from cabin fever to heat delirium. But America is now experiencing an even more dangerous mind-numbing disease called Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism.

Oddly, CNE Syndrome almost exclusively afflicts a narrow segment of our population: Republican political officials and candidates. Scientific studies suggest that CNE Syndrome might stem from a genetic defect, but scientists say more research is needed on that.

The symptoms, however, are uniform and include an obsessive impulse by GOP politicos to deny that human-caused climate change is happening. It’s often accompanied by a feverish insistence that government employees be banned from studying it, discussing it or even uttering such phrases as “climate change” and “global warming.”

Hard to believe? For an example of the mind-altering impact of Climaticus Non-Vocalism Extremism, look at Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin administration. The Koch-funded governor and Republican presidential wannabe is an ardent climate-change denier — but the state’s public lands board has escalated his denial to Orwellian censorship. The two GOP commissioners on the three-member board, which oversees the ecological health of thousands of acres of Wisconsin forestlands, have banned agency employees from even considering damage caused by climate change. Worse, they have such severe cases of CNE Syndrome that they’ve imposed a gag order on freedom of speech by public lands employees, prohibiting them from even talking about climate change while on the job.The heartbreak of CNE is that its victims even deny that they’re in denial about the disease. Thus, the Wisconsin duo say that their no-speech rule is not censorship, because employees are still free to talk about climate change at home — or even chit-chat about it “by the water cooler,” just as they might talk about sports.

Gov. Walker — who wants to be your president — says that he finds that censorship perfectly reasonable.

But it’s not just Wisconsin that has imposed such ridiculous levels of science denial and censorship. This raises the question: If a state government issues a right-wing political order, but it’s not written down, does it make a sound? Let’s ask Florida.

Bart Bibler, a respected employee of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, says you betcha it makes a sound — even though the order directed at state employees like him was meant to enforce the sound of silence. Since Rick Scott became governor of the Sunshine State, various agencies run by his appointees have issued 1984-style newspeak decrees that “climate change,” “global warming,” “sustainability” and other terms related to Earth’s looming climate disaster are verboten.

Unaware of this censorship edict, Bibler innocently blurted out the phrase “climate change” in a February teleconference. To his amazement, his breach of ideological correctness earned him an official letter of reprimand, a two-day suspension without pay, and — get this — an order to undergo a doctor’s evaluation to verify his mental “fitness for duty.”

When outrage over this blunt attempt to banish the idea of climate change spread across the country, the governor and his appointees doubled-down on Orwellian denial: “It’s not true,” said the slippery Scott, insisting that no such gag policy exists. By “exist,” though, he means his dictate is not written down. As many employees have confirmed, however, state officials verbally impose their policy of outlawing the language of climate change. The official taboo is so extreme that even a phrase as benign and factual as “sea-level rise” is banned. Instead, Scott’s team has mandated that this measurable (and alarming) reality be referred to as “nuisance flooding.”

It’s their mental fitness that needs to be evaluated! Trying to ban words only amplifies their sound, meaning, and impact — while also exposing how pathetically scared and stupid the censors are.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, May 6, 2015

May 7, 2015 Posted by | Climate Change, Rick Scott, Scott Walker | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Most Opaque Investment Schemes Ever Devised”: Cities And States Paying Massive Secret Fees To Wall Street

California’s report said $440 million. New Jersey’s said $600 million. In Pennsylvania, the tally is $700 million. Those Wall Street fees paid by public workers’ pension systems have kicked off an intensifying debate over whether such expenses are necessary. Now, a report from an industry-friendly source says those huge levies represent only a fraction of the true amounts being raked in by Wall Street firms from state and local governments.

“Less than one-half of the very substantial [private equity] costs incurred by U.S. pension funds are currently being disclosed,” says the report from CEM, whose website says the financial analysis firm “serve(s) over 350 blue-chip corporate and government clients worldwide.”

Currently, about 9 percent — or $270 billion — of America’s $3 trillion public pension fund assets are invested in private equity firms. With the financial industry’s standard 2 percent management fee, that quarter-trillion dollars generates roughly $5.4 billion in annual management fees for the private equity industry — and that’s not including additional “performance” fees paid on investment returns. If CEM’s calculations are applied uniformly, it could mean taxpayers and retirees may actually be paying double — more than $10 billion a year.

Public officials are overseeing this massive payout to Wall Street at the very moment many of those same officials are demanding big cuts to retirees’ promised pension benefits.

“With billions of public worker and taxpayer dollars put at risk in the highest-cost, most opaque investment schemes ever devised by Wall Street for a decade now, investigations that hold Wall Street profiteers accountable are long, long overdue,” said former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Ted Siedle.

Private equity firms have argued that their fees are worth the expense, because they supposedly deliver returns for investors that beat low-fee index funds, which track the broader stock market. But those private equity returns are typically self-reported by the firms over the life of those longer-term investments, meaning there are few ways to verify whether the returns are real. Indeed, a recent study from George Washington University argued that private equity firms are using their self-reporting authority to mislead investors into believing their returns are smoother and more consistent than they actually are.

In a 2014 speech, the SEC’s top examiner, Andrew Bowden, sounded the alarm about undisclosed fees in the private equity industry, saying the agency had discovered “violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time” at firms it had evaluated.

To date, however, the SEC has taken few actions to crack down on the practices, but some states are starting to step up their oversight.

In New Jersey, for instance, pension trustees announced a formal investigation of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration after evidence surfaced suggesting that the Republican administration has not been disclosing all state pension fees paid to financial firms.

In Rhode Island, the new state treasurer, Seth Magaziner, a Democrat, recently published a review of all the fees that state’s beleaguered pension fund has paid. The analysis revealed that the former financial firm of Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo is charging the state’s pension fund the highest fee rate of any firm in its asset class.

In Pennsylvania, the new Democratic governor, Tom Wolf used his first budget address to call for the state “to stop excessive fees to Wall Street managers.”

These moves are shining a spotlight on one of the most lucrative yet little-noticed Wall Street schemes. With so much money at issue – and with pensioners retirement income on the line — that scrutiny is long overdue.

 

By: David Sirota, Senior Writer at the International Business Times; The National Memo, April 24, 2015

April 24, 2015 Posted by | Pension Plans, Public Employees, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Field Starting To Get Pretty Crowded”: Everyone’s Hopping On The Populist Bandwagon; Will It Lead To Actual Policy Change?

There’s no shortage of groups and people who want the 2016 presidential race to be about their issue of choice, hoping that all the candidates will be forced to answer their questions and maybe even support their preferred policy solutions. But if you call yourself an economic populist — even if the word “populism” wasn’t so central to how you talked about the economy a year or two ago — you may have a better shot than most at seeing the 2016 debate move to your ground.

The populism bandwagon is starting to get pretty crowded. As Matea Gold reported yesterday, the Democratic millionaires and billionaires of the Democracy Alliance were heartened at their recent gathering by Hillary Clinton’s argument that “the deck is stacked in favor of those already at the top,” and “the organization is urging donors to contribute to an expanded suite of advocacy groups and think tanks devoted to economic inequality.” As one participant said, “The election will be won or lost on this.”

This morning I got on a conference call with a group of liberal organizations holding a conference in Washington this weekend called “Populism2015,” the primary goal of which seems to be political organizing aimed specifically at pushing issues of economic equality into the presidential campaign.

Groups with a general ideological perspective like the ones involved in this effort (including the Campaign for America’s Future and USAction) often shift their focus as the political debate changes. When we’re debating health care, they make a push on health care; when we’re debating trade, they do the same with trade; and so on. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of political opportunism, since it’s often how movements make progress, by adapting their message and demands to the environment of the moment. And if their goal is to get Hillary Clinton (and whatever other Democrats run) to talk about inequality, then they’ve already succeeded.

But the devil is really in the details.

The Populism2015 folks have an agenda that includes increased public investment to create jobs, higher taxes on the wealthy, a $15 minimum wage, breaking up the big banks, increasing Social Security benefits, and opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal President Obama is currently trying to get through Congress. It’s likely that Clinton will embrace some of these items, but not others. The question is whether grassroots activism can generate the pressure that will not only bring her over, but ultimately translate into policy change.

That’s where it gets daunting. For instance, one of the items the liberal groups listed was getting big money out of politics. When I asked how they were going to accomplish that given a string of Supreme Court decisions making it easier for just the opposite to occur, they said that the first step was to organize to change state and local laws, and that would ultimately translate to a national effort. Which is great, but they didn’t seem to want to talk about how it’s all but impossible to imagine how a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United could be accomplished (and for the record, Clinton says she’s got a campaign finance reform plan, but hasn’t yet revealed what it is).

Campaign finance reform could well be one of those issues that lots of people pay lip service to, but little definable progress ends up being seen on in the near term. On some of the other items on the populist agenda, on the other hand, it’s easier to envision policy change relatively soon. One state after another is passing increases in the minimum wage, and the push for a $15 minimum could make the $10.10 rate President Obama has advocated seem like a moderate compromise.

As Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future said on the call: “We’re in a populist moment here in America, and even conservative Republicans tell us that.” It’s true that the GOP candidates are starting to frame their arguments in populist terms, as weird as it is for a Republican advocating something like eliminating the capital gains tax to say he just wants to help the little guy fight against entrenched power.

When the other side is adopting your language and claiming to share your goals, you may be halfway to victory. It’s the other half that’s the hard part.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plume Line, The Washington Post, April 16, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Economic Inequality, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: