Saturday, April 30, 2016

Would You Believe Campaign Cash-- Bribes Basically-- Keeps Up The Price Of Medications?


This afternoon we looked at David Jolly's STOP Act, an attempt to start chipping away at the domination of big money over Congress. Several people told me I should have included some concrete examples of how the money chase influences policy. Of course, that's been one of the major themes of DWT since 2005 but let me offer a specific example I ran across today regarding how Big Pharma bribes Congress to keep drug prices high. Ryan Grim pointed out that pharmaceutical industry lobbyists are desperate to slow down an Obama administration plan to reduce drug prices and that they're getting some help from both sides of the aisle. Before we get into looking at how Huff Po dealt with that yesterday, lets take a quick look at which House members are scooping up the biggest does of cash from Big Pharma so far this cycle. So far in the cycle they've spent $8,982,706 bribing members of the House, of which $5,779,854 went to Republicans and $3,202,852 went to Democrats. This year's dirty dozen:
Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)- $288,050
Paul Ryan (R-WI)- $254,139
Kevin Brady (R-TX)- $198,751
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $188,190
Erik Paulsen (R-MN)- $186,550
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)- $168,113
Fred Upton (R-MI)- $159,350
Renee Ellmers (R-NC)- $155,449
Brett Guthrie (R-KY)- $138,199
Leonard Lance (R-NJ)- $133,100
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- $126,190
Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)- $123,335
No, none of them have signed on as co-sponsors of Jolly's bill to prevent congressmembers for asking for bribes-- but all of them are integral to pushing Pharma's agenda in Congress. And one thing Pharma wants is to stop the Obama administration plan to promulgate a "new rule that would experiment with ending the financial incentive doctors have for prescribing some extremely expensive medications." When doctors prescribe an expensive drug to a patient they can take a 6% cut off the top-- so a lot of overly expensive drugs get prescribed a lot more frequently than is reasonable.

The Democrats say their protests against the rule aren't as bad as the Republicans' protests
The Democratic letter gives HHS the opportunity to quickly answer the questions and move forward with the rule, while the GOP missive aims to stop it cold. All of the tussling takes place amid the implicit threat to attach a rider to legislation that would block the rule. If Republicans think they can do so without much Democratic opposition, there’s little to stop them. Pelosi’s alternate letter can be seen as an attempt to show there is division between the parties in how frightened they respectively are of the powerful lobbies at work here.

Pelosi encouraged her caucus to get behind the Neal letter to fend off the GOP attack. In fact, Pelosi’s office even helped with the letter: Democrats forgot to scrub their data from the document before circulating it, and an inspection of its properties reveals that it was last handled by a health policy fellow in Pelosi’s office.

The Republican letter simply asks for HHS to withdraw its new rule, citing “deep concerns.”

...The Medicare drugs proposal is part of a larger push by the White House to tackle prescription drug costs, which are rising rapidly even as costs in other parts of the health care system have grown more slowly in recent years. The administration is limited in what it can do to ameliorate drug spending without new legislation, but convened a forum at the White House in November to air the issue and has issued a slate of smaller reforms.

Any effort targeting the pharmaceutical industry and a segment of the medical community’s wallets is bound to attract staunch opposition, as this Medicare plan has. The proposal launched a fierce lobbying battle, with drug makers, cancer doctors and some patient groups charging that the plan to shift the financial incentives to provide more expensive drugs, higher doses of the medicines or both would be harmful to patients and interfere with clinical decisions by health care providers.

Congressional Quarterly recently reported that “the pharmaceutical industry is spending record sums in Washington, amid rising congressional and regulatory interest in high drug prices,” noting that its spending in the first quarter of 2016 outpaced everything since 2010, the height of lobbying over Obamacare.

The pharmaceutical industry also is fighting back against a set of cost-cutting proposals released this month by the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, a coalition that includes the lobbying arms of the hospital and health insurance industries, physician societies, the seniors’ advocacy group AARP and large companies such as Walmart.

The rationale for the proposed regulation is that the current system not only can overpay for these drugs, but can encourage physicians to use medicines that are the most profitable to their practices instead of most appropriate for patients. The independent Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, which advises Congress on policy, has cautioned about these incentives and urged lawmakers to update the way these drug prices are set.

The change would affect medicines administered by doctors in a medical setting, not drugs purchased at pharmacies and taken by patients, and those costs are covered by Medicare Part B, the portion of the program that pays for doctor visits and similar services. Medicare spends about $20 billion a year on these medications, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under a formula created during the George W. Bush administration, physicians who purchase these medicines for use in their offices are paid the “average sales price” of the drugs plus an additional 6 percent. The Obama administration wants to reduce the markup to 2.5 percent plus a fee of $16.80 per day. The regulation also would call for experiments with other payment methods, including linking the amount doctors get to how well the medicine works to treat patients’ illnesses.

As one senior House Democratic aide put it in an email:
Basically the old system was really good for doctors-- they got paid more if they prescribed really expensive drugs because they got a percentage of the cost of the drug. So guess what they did? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. We’ve been trying to solve this problem for awhile and the spike in drug costs has made it even more urgent. The administration certainly went big and bold with this proposal but many people think it will be dialed back somewhat in the final version. Only a few specialties will really lose out, the others will actually benefit. But those specialists are the ones who have been making tons of $ on a broken system. Is it their fault the system is broken? Of course not. Is it their fault that drug costs have gone up so much? No, but you didn’t see them complaining too much either.
Meanwhile Indiana crook Larry Bucshon (R), says he's introduce legislation to repeal whatever the Obama administration passes along these lines and vows he has Democratic votes lined up-- New Dems and Blue Dogs, primarily, not actual Democrats-- to make it look bipartisan. So how's that for understanding how campaign contributions make your life worse?

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My Fabulous, Wonderful Adventure At Stony Brook This Week


This was a pretty special week for me. My doctor gave me permission to fly for the first time since my stem cell transplant left me without an immune system. I've spent the last 6 months gets immunized for everything from whooping cough and diptheria to polio and dozens of strains of influenza. But she told me I can start going to concerts again and even go on planes-- crowded places where germs are known to lurk. My old university, Stony Brook, had planned a ceremony to honor my support of the EOP/AIM program, which provides access to higher education-- and the opportunities that come with that-- for economically disadvantaged students who possess the potential to succeed in college, but whose academic preparation in high school has not fully prepared them to pursue college education. The scholarship I've set up with them is particularly aimed at kids determined to pursue a career in public service.

I wasn't sure what they had in mind but I did know there would be a ceremony starting at 5 and there'd be dinner. Since I was going out there for the day anyway, I asked if it would be possible to put together a lunch with the current EOP/AIM students who are interested in public service and I asked 3 friends to join me in answering questions from the students, DuWayne Gregory, the presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, and a current candidate for Congress (Peter King's seat on Long Island's South Shore); Tom Suozzi, the fiery former Nassau County Executive who is also running for Congress this year (Steve Israel's seat on the North Shore); and David Keith, closer in age to the students and one of the most sought-after political strategists anywhere in America, currently employed by Michael Bloomberg and Bette Midler's non-partisan greening of New York initiative.

My three guests were outstanding and, judging by the questions and responses, the students seemed to get a great deal out of it. Afterwards a faculty member stood up and announced that long after the students in the room had forgotten any individual classes they had taken during their college careers, they would probably still remember the two plus hours we had just spent talking about public service and leadership.

DuWayne Gregory has been endorsed by Blue America and we've talked about his qualifications for office and about his campaign for the seat before. The other candidate, Tom Suozzi, is in the middle of the extensive Blue America vetting process and we haven't written much about him and his swing-district race that came alive when Steve Israel announced he would finally be retiring from Congress. Tom is a consummate Long Island politician, albeit always a fighter and an outsider, never an establishment hack, and he turned out to be a truly inspirational speaker in the best sense of the term.

The NY-03 race features 5 Democrats vying for Israel's seat, including Jonathan Clarke, the candidate who endorsed Bernie and is running on his platform, plus 3 pretty standard, garden variety careerist local Democrats, Jon Kaiman, Anna Kaplan and Israel-crony Steve Stern. Suozzi is the outlier in the bunch, the deep thinker, primarily concerned with what he can do to perfect democracy and make the lives of his Nassau, Suffolk and Queens constituents better.

As of the March 31 FEC filing deadline, Israel's candidate, Steve Stern, had raised the most money, $500,634 (including nearly $70,000 in self-funding) with the help of Israel's machine. Suozzi, a late entrant into the race, was close behind with $451,306, an amount similar to the $445,161 Anna Kaplan had raised. Jon Kaiman reported $242,379 and Jonathan Clarke, who's running a Bernie-style small donor campaign, hadn't generated enough money to have triggered a report by the end of March. Many observers are betting on Suozzi to win the Democratic nomination and to go on and win the district, which is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans but swings reliably blue in presidential years. Obama won the area against McCain 54-46% and 4 years later beat Romney there, 51-48%.

This cycle, the DCCC has been quietly counseling their corrupt conservative candidates to challenge their progressive opponents' ballot petition signatures, tying them up in court and draining their campaign funds in endless and expensive bickering. Israel recently got his puppet candidate, Steven Williams to try that with Syracuse progressive Eric Kingson and the DCCC succeed with that strategy to knock Lindy Li off the ballot for "ex"-Republican Mike Parrish in a suburban Philadelphia district. Jon Kaiman, a sleazy ex-Hempstead town supervisor, clallenged Suozzi's signatures, in what looks like a Steve Israel-inspired move that he hopes will help Stern. The likely Republican nominee, Jack Martins, pointed out, through his campaign manager, that "Whoever wins will be crawling across the finish line bruised and out of money" and that "Martins will be ready for them and will win in November."
Though more than 2,400 people signed Suozzi’s petition backing him as a candidate, Kaiman’s campaign charges the former Nassau County executive did not have 1,250 signatures from active registered Democrats living in the Third Congressional District.

“Suozzi did not submit the required number of valid signatures, and thus is not eligible to run for Congress,” Kaiman campaign manager Jeff Guillot said in a statement Monday. “As was shown, by our successful filing of over 4,000 signatures, it takes only grassroots support and a strong organization to get on the ballot.”

The signatures in question could be from people registered under different parties or at an address outside the district, or those who signed more than one candidate petition.

In a statement on Tuesday, Suozzi campaign manager Mike Florio said Suozzi’s petition is valid and called Kaiman’s objections “sad attempts by his opponents to distract voters from the real issues” that come “straight out of the Republican playbook.”

Back to Stony Brook for a moment, the school I graduated from in 1969. The Suffolk County legislature recognized the award the university gave me last week with an official proclamation of congratulations, a fancy-looking document suitable for framing and hanging. I had to laugh because my last previous interaction with Suffolk County was when I was the focus of the largest college campus drug bust in history (until then), Operation Stony Brook. Being incredibly incompetent, the police failed to arrest me. (They used to try busting me by sending policemen "disguised" with store-bought fake beards and hippie vests but with police shoes sticking out under their pants.) Anyway, instead the corrupt, Republican D.A., Harry O'Brien, negotiated with me to testify at a Grand Jury convened in Riverhead. During the proceedings there was a lot of screaming and cursing from righteously indignant conservatives and O'Brien had vowed to lock me up forever. He failed and years later he was caught late one night on Jones Beach with an underage black kid engaging in oral sex. These conservatives never change! But after all these years Suffolk County has changed-- and very much for the better; hey... I guess they like me now.

The picture up top is of me and Stony Brook poet Nickeisha Gaynor-- you can call her Keisha-- who introduced me at the ceremony. The Right To Grow Up is a video she made as a class project, inspired by Black Lives Matter, connecting the Jim Crow era to the present day. It's worth watching:

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Grayson: "Money Is The Original Sin Of Politics And Governance"


Campaign money is very bipartisan and is also the root of power for the congressional leadership. It takes a special kind of crooked mind-- a Rahm Emanuel, a Mitch McConnell, a John Boehner, a Chuck Schumer, a Steny Hoyer, a Debbie Wasserman Schultz-- to suck up to the corrupt sources of cash and then use it to buy influence from your colleagues without those kinds of inclinations but with the same all-encompassing need to raise ungodly sums of money for reelection.

Jolly, a former lobbyist himself, told the CBS News audience this week that to chase the money-changers out of the temples of government the American people are going to have to get genuinely angry, something he contends will happen "when they learn that you have a part time Congress in a full-time world, spending more time shaking down the American people for money than doing their job."

His appearance on 60 Minutes, which CBS has conveniently expunged from YouTube, infuriated the congressional leadership of both parties-- and the NRCC is pushing back against Jolly hard, accusing him of lying "when he told O’Donnell that he was told at a meeting shortly after being elected that he needed to raise $18,000 every day."
"Simply put, this meeting never happened,” [NRCC Executive Director Rob] Simms writes. “It is a work of fiction. Had the reporter or producer of the story bothered to verify this claim, they would have been told as much.”

The letter was made public in a story written by Politico Friday afternoon.

Jolly’s congressional office denies Simms statement outright, and they say they have the exact time and date when Jolly was told by “party leadership” the directive that he was going to have to raise $18,000 per day.

“In response to the NRCC’s broadside to the credibility of Rep. David Jolly, and in response to the Executive Director’s bold assertion that a meeting with party leadership directing Rep. Jolly to raise $18,000 per day did not occur, we can confirm the date was April 3, 2014, the time was 5:30 p.m., the location was the NRCC’s Political Conference Room on the Second Floor,” writes Preston Rudie, Jolly’s communications director, in a statement to “Out of respect for those involved, Rep. Jolly has intentionally left out names of participants since the beginning of this story, but if the NRCC wishes to escalate their denial, we are happy to provide additional information regarding the meeting.”

Simms takes several shots at Jolly in his letter to CBS News, writing that the NRCC raised over $2 million in his special election victory over Democrat Alex Sink in March 2014, “significantly more than the congressman raised and spent on his own behalf.”

And he makes explicit what some of Jolly’s GOP senate opponents have said about The Stop Act since he first introduced it three months ago-- that it’s purely a publicity stunt to cover over the fact that he is struggling to compete financially with some of his other opponents in fundraising.
The Stop Act, which has virtually no chance of passing for the very reasons Jolly introduced it-- money = power = more money = more power = congressional garbage like Steve Israel, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Steny Hoyer-- would prohibit federal officeholders from directly soliciting political contributions. The bill has 8 co-sponsors:
John Mica (R-FL)
Rich Nugent (R-FL)
Walter Jones (R-NC)
Sean Duffy (R-WI)
Reid Ribble (R-WI)
Rick Nolan (D-MN)
Brendan Boyle (D-PA)
Alan Grayson (D-FL)
Grayson is the big deal on that list because, unlike Jolly and unlike the others on the list, he knows how to mobilize members across party lines and in the face of opposition from the party leadership to pass legislation. If Grayson-- who is running against Jolly for the open Florida Senate seat and crushed him in the race's first debate last week-- really gets into putting his energy behind passing the bill, he can get it done... even if it would face certain death in the Senate.

Grayson and Jolly

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How Do You Make The Criminal Justice System Fairer? Ted Lieu Is Working On It


Ted Lieu: "We cannot both be a nation that believes in the principle of innocent until proven guilty, yet incarcerate over 450,000 Americans who have not been convicted of a crime"

When Blue America endorsed Ted Lieu for Congress in 2014 we didn't expect him to just kick back in his prestigious new job and vote correctly. His record of achievement in the California legislature made us certain he would go to Congress as a leader, not a follower. And his peers saw him the same way; he was immediately elected president of the freshman class. And we were right about him. Ted's the opposite of a go-along-to-get-along backbencher and has already been working to solve real problems for real people in his new role, while many of his colleagues get bogged down in partisan bickering that leads nowhere.

In February, Ted introduced the No Money Bail Act, not exactly something any class of wealthy campaign donors is going to get all excited about-- and not an issue Congress has considered before. But it is an issue constituents back in the Los Angeles area have talked with him about. Now there are 27 co-sponsors who have signed onto the bill, including some of Congress' most senior members on issues of criminal justice, like Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Mike Honda (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), John Conyers (D-MI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). This week, Ted wrote an OpEd at Talk Poverty about the injustices of the current system and how his bill addresses the problem.
After reading about the recent death of 26-year-old Jeffrey Pendleton-- who was being held in a New Hampshire jail simply because he couldn’t afford to pay $100 in bail-- my reaction was anger.  Why was Mr. Pendleton held in jail in the first place?  He had not been convicted of a crime, nor did he appear to pose a flight risk or danger to the public. He was locked up simply because he was poor. And he died in a jail cell.

Tragically, stories like his are far too common in America, and they are the reason I have introduced the No Money Bail Act of 2016 to reform our system of pretrial detention.

Last July, Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to signal while driving in Texas. She was put in jail and bail was set at $5,000, an amount she could not afford to pay. Three days later she was found hanged in her cell.  And Qiana Williams, who shared her story at the White House last December and on Capitol Hill this past February, spent weeks in a St. Louis jail because she couldn’t afford to pay court and traffic fees.

Across the country, it comes down to this: People of means are able to pay their way out of jail, while the poor remain behind bars awaiting their day in court.

Even for those who can muster the funds, the money bail system is unfair.

In San Francisco, 29-year-old Crystal Patterson, who gets by on a $12.50-an-hour job, paid a bail bondsman $1,500 plus interest to post her $150,000 bail so she could return home to care for her grandmother.  She also signed an agreement to pay back the $15,000 bond posted by the bail bondsman. Afterwards, the District Attorney dropped the charges, but, though the bail bondsman would have been returned the $150,000 bail, Patterson is unlikely to ever see the money she paid to the bail bond company.

At any given moment, more than 450,000 Americans are locked up without ever having been convicted of a crime.  In my home state of California, more than two-thirds of those in jail haven’t been convicted, a total of more than 42,000 people.

Moreover, even a few days in jail can be devastating for families-- especially those that are already fighting to make ends meet.  Perversely, money bail gives inmates a strong incentive to plead guilty, even when innocent, because they cannot afford bail and need to get back to their families, jobs, or education. Being locked up can also increase an individual’s risk of suicide and depression.

Finally, unnecessary pretrial detention of low-risk defendants is expensive. State and local governments in the U.S. spend an estimated $14 billion annually to incarcerate people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. In contrast, pretrial systems based on risk, rather than wealth, cost on average $7 per day.

For these reasons, most nations consider money bail an obstruction of justice. In fact, the only other country that maintains a large commercial bail bond industry is the Philippines. In the case of our disgraceful bail system, American exceptionalism is decidedly not a good thing.

Any serious effort at criminal justice reform must address our feudal-like bail system, which amounts to modern-day debtors’ prisons.  The “No Money Bail Act of 2016,” which I introduced earlier this year, would eliminate the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release at the federal level, and also would give states three years to switch to alternative systems or else forfeit law enforcement grants.

Justice in America should not be bought and paid for.  For the sake of Jeffrey Pendleton, Sandra Bland, Qiana Williams, and the countless other Americans who have suffered at the hands of our unjust money bail system, it is long past time that the United States join the rest of the civilized world when it comes to pretrial incarceration.
Ted's No Money Bail Act has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Pretrial Justice Institute, The Drug Policy Alliance, The Sentencing Project, The National Legal Aide and Defender Association, and the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies. If you'd like to help Ted in his reelection campaign, he's one of a tiny handful of incumbents Blue America has endorsed this year.

With Republicans running the show in the House, H.R.461 is sitting in the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations, which is chaired by Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and populated primarily with right-wing GOP crackpots-- like Louie Gohmert, Trey Gowdy,and Ken Buck-- who don't see the Justice system in terms of fairness but in terms of retribution and revenge. Two members of the subcommittee, Karen Bass and Judy Chu, have signed on as co-sponsors, but legislation of this nature isn't ever going to get out of committees and subcommittees to even be debated ad voted on until the Republican grip on Congress is broken. That's why we spend so much time here at DWT railing against the incompetent corrupt conservatives who run the DCCC and prevent Democrats from winning back the House. Both Blue America and Ted Lieu have endorsed Lou Vince for the congressional seat currently held by right-wing Republican Steve Knight, who hasn't signed onto Ted's bail bill. Lou Vince, an L.A.P.D. detective, explained why he will sign on and help Ted pass it:
After 21 years on the streets of Los Angeles, I know that our criminal justice system is in sore need of reform. The money bail system is the perfect place to start. The current system disproportionately harms low-income people that often times don't have the means to pay the lowest amount of bail, forcing them to remain in jail. The United States is one of the very few countries in the world that even have this type of system. In the state of California, where our jails are already overcrowded, we can solve two problems with one bill. We can reduce prison overcrowding and take a serious, meaningful step towards addressing the many injustice of our criminal justice system. I would be glad to join Congressman Lieu as a co-sponsor of this important legislation and use my background and experience in the criminal justice system to push strongly for this bill.
But it isn't just congressives Republicans uninterested in helping reform the system. Ostensibly, New Jersey machine candidate Donald Norcross is a Democrat. Like Steve Knight, he has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill either. The progressive running against him in the Camden/Cherry Hill area of South Jersey, Alex Law, in eager to work with Ted on passing this bill. This morning he told us "I fully support Ted Lieu's No Money Bail Act of 2016. Ted is taking courageous action to help those less fortunate in our country. It is plainly obvious that our criminal justice system is broken. Plans like this are an excellent start to make sure not only our criminal justice system improves, but also in that the bill moves our governing philosophy as a nation towards one with more compassion in it. When I get to Washington, this is exactly the kind of policy I would support."

I doubt anyone thought Debbie Wasserman Schultz would ever consider co-sponsoring Ted Lieu's legislation, or even votung for it. She stands firmly behind her campaign donors in the private prison industry and their business model requires keeping cells full, guilt of innocence be damned. Wasserman Schultz's primary challenger this year, reformer Tim Canova, offers South Floridians an entirely different perspective. "I support Ted Lieu’s bill, H.R. 4611, the No Money Bail Act of 2016," he told us yesterday. "The present money bail system punishes the poor, is applied in a racially discriminatory manner, and according to research, fails to prevent nearly half of the most dangerous pretrial detainees from being released without supervision. The present bail system costs taxpayers $14 billion a year, while lining the pockets of the private for-profit prison industry and the politicians who support the prison privatization agenda. According to the bill, pretrial detention should not be based on the ability to pay money as a condition of pretrial release, but instead 'on whether the accused is likely to fail to appear in court is a threat to public safety.' Public safety and the interests of taxpayers both demand that we rethink our costly and ineffective money bail system."

And that's exactly why we're trying to help reform-minded Democrats like Lou Vince, Alex Law and Tim Canova win their races. If you'd like to help, you can follow the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

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Democrats Protect Social Security, Right? Well... Not THESE Democrats


A small gaggle of greed-obsessed billionaires and multimillionaires are financing another of their endless attempts to wreck the most successful and beloved social safety net programs in history, Social Security. Greed-obsessed billionaires and multimillionaires have always hated Social Security and even tried fomenting a coup d'état against Franklin Roosevelt for signing it into law. Of course, all the plotters were conservatives, including Irénée du Pont, J.P. Morgan and, of course, Nazi sympathizer Prescott Bush. Today, Republicans are still denigrating the government and still trying to destroy Social Security-- although now they approach it differently. Now they say they have to make some adjustments to "save it." Those adjustments inevitably mean raising the retirement age so that more people die before they can collect on what they've put in and on cutting benefits to the elderly. The conservative dream is to "privatize" it, meaning turn it over to the tender embrace of the Wall Street banksters, heirs to the class of criminals who tried hiring a general to lead a military move against FDR.

Instead of coups though, today we have massive brain-washing exercises through Fox News and Hate Talk Radio, underpinned by a network of billionaire-financed think-tanks. One of the worst of the right-wing think-tanks, No Labels," just roused two wealthy old white men out of retirement to give wrecking Social Security another try. I'm sure anyone who's been reading DWT for any length of time remembers the odious Joe Lieberman and billionaire Jon Huntsman, heir to a family of Mormon fanatics who became rich manufacturing one of earth's most devastating pollutants, polystyrene, the biggest and most toxic component of plastic garbage in the ocean. Every cent of the Huntsman fortune should be seized by the government and used to clean up the existential worldwide mess the family created. Instead, Huntsman has teamed up Lieberman to make poor people's lives unbearable in old age.

Wall Street banksters fund No Labels to destroy Social Security, Medicare and other social services and they have decided on Lieberman and Huntsman as their new frontmen. Reactionary politics is the name of their game and the two of them have been spotted recently lurking around Capitol Hill, shopping their ideas to lawmakers-- primarily Republicans and New Dems-- and to their natural allies on K Street, the corporate lobbyists. The organization founded by Eric Kingson, Social Security Works is sounding the alarm and demanding that Lieberman and Huntsman stand down. Social Security Works points out that that in the midst of a $7.7 trillion retirement security crisis and with two-thirds of retirees relying on Social Security for the majority of their income, now is not the time to be cutting Americans' hard earned benefits. Instead, as Kingson, a congressional candidate in Syracuse, and other progressives explain as part of their campaigns, we should be expanding Social Security benefits for millions of Americans. Social Security Works:
The American people are united in our support of protecting and expanding Social Security-- the most successful social insurance program in our country's history. And right now, a majority of Democrats in Congress support our efforts. We cannot allow Lieberman and Huntsman to successfully flip Congressional Democrats-- and worse yet, the next president-- on the future of Social Security.

All we need in order to strengthen Social Security is to finally ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share. Right now, individuals pay into Social Security on the first $118,500 of their income. But if wealthier individuals pay in on ALL of their income, we will be able to expand the benefits of millions of Americans and have enough left to extend the lifespan of the Social Security trust fund.
No one likes to admit in public-- especially not right before an election-- that they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. But on February 6, 2013, Oregon Blue Dog Kurt Schrader offered an amendment seeking to insert the anti-Social Security provisions of Simpson-Bowles into another bill. Schrader's House Amendment 19 to HR 444 failed 75-348. But 54 Democrats, primarily New Dems and Blue Dogs (the Hillary wing) voted for it. Thankfully, many are no longer in Congress, but these are some of the Democrats who voted for a death sentence for Social Security that day:
Ami Bera (New Dem-CA)
Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Gerry Connolly (New Dem-VA)
Jim Cooper (Blue Dog-TN)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Joe Crowley (New Dem-NY)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Susan Davis (New Dem-CA)
John Delaney (New Dem-MD)
Denny Heck (New Dem-WA)
Jim Himes (New Dem-CT)
Steny Hoyer (MD)
Derek Kilmer (New Dem-WA)
Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)
Rick Larsen (New Dem-WA)
Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL)
Gregory Meeks (New Dem-NY)
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)

Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)
Adam Smith (New Dem-WA)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Filemon Vela (New Dem-TX)
New Dems Joe Garcia (FL) and Pete Gallego (TX) both voted for it as well and were subsequently defeated for reelect. I mention these two scumbags because both are trying to worm their way back into Congress this year. This would be an especially good year to defeat Kurt Schrader, who has a strong progressive opponent, Dave McTeague. McTeague and all the progressives on this list want to expand, not cut, Social Security:
Goal Thermometer

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Do You Like Your Senators?


A pile of crap that no one likes even in their own states

Thursday, Morning Consult published the approval and disapproval ratings of every senator. Only their own constituents were asked to vote. Bernie is the most popular senator in America once again-- with an 80% approval rating. Although Miss McConnell remains the most disliked senator in the country among his own constituents-- his disapproval is 49%-- the Republican senators who ran for president are unpopular with their own constituents, especially Little Marco. Of all senators who ran for president, his approval took the biggest hit since Morning Consult's last round of surveys was released in November. Rubio's approval dropped five points to 45% and his disapproval increased eight points to 41%. Cruz's approval is 55% and his disapproval is 30% (slightly better among Texans than in November).

The 10 senators with the highest approval ratings:
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)- 80%
Susan Collins (R-ME)- 79%
John Hoeven (R-ND)- 74%
Angus King (I-ME)- 74%
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)- 73%
Tom Carper (D-DE)- 69%
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)- 68%
John Barrasso (R-WY)- 65%
Al Franken (D-MN)- 63%
Chris Coons (D-DE)- 63%
The 10 senators with the highest disapproval ratings:
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)- 49%
Pat Roberts (R-KS)- 42%
John McCain (R-AZ)- 42%
Marco Rubio (R-FL)- 41%
David Vitter (R-LA)- 40%
Jon Tester (D-MT)- 40%
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)- 38%
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)- 37%
You know how they say every senator thinks he or she could be president? At the very least, they see themselves as powerful in the center of their own Beltway universes. Nevertheless, some of these guys-- who might be hoping for a call for presidential running mate interest, are barely even known by theor own constituents. The least known senators back home:
Gary Peters (D-MI)- 34%
John Cornyn (R-TX)- 33%
Rob Portman (R-OH)- 32%
Tim Scott (R-SC)- 31%
Dean Heller (R-NV)- 30%
Ed Markey (D-MA)- 30%
Mark Kirk (R-IL)- 29%
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)- 29%
Roger Wicker (R-MS)- 29%
Richard Burr (R-NC)- 28%
But among the senators who will be facing the voters in November, the ones who have the lowest ratings when you combined approval and disapproval are these 10 on the most vulnerable list:
Mark Kirk (R-IL)- 6%
John McCain (R-AZ)- 7%
Ron Johnson (R-WI)- 11%
Brian Schatz (D-HI)- 13%
Richard Burr (R-NC)- 15%
Rand Paul (R-KY)- 16%
Pat Toomey (R-PA)- 18%
Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)- 19%
Rob Portman (R-OH)- 20%
Roy Blunt (R-MO)- 20%


Hillary Is Much Better Than Trump, Right?


Eric Levitz's New York Magazine story after the quintet of northeast primaries this week, seems to indicate that Trump will fight Clinton for the Bernie supporters-- or, at least, use some of the populist Bernie messaging to clobber her and her and her cronies' corporate instincts. His racism, sexism, xenophobia and penchant for fascism isn't going to play well among any of the Bernie supporters I know. Other than that though, he's ready to take her on in the battle of the evil of two lessers shaping up for November. "[T]he Donald," writes Levitz, "plans to read up on this democratic socialist all the kids are talking about." After winning all the GOP primaries Tuesday, Trump told the Morning Joe audience that "Bernie Sanders has a message that's interesting. I'm going to be taking a lot of the things Bernie said and using them. I can reread some of his speeches and get some very good material." Most of what Trump said was nonsense, perfect for Morning Joe but Clinton's got to be worried that if she's facing Trump, he's going to be hitting her from the left (as well as from the right.) Will it work? Levitz doesn't think so.

But no matter how well Trump apes Sanders's critiques of trade deals, the Iraq War, and Goldman speeches, he's going to have a hard time defeating Clinton, for reasons he deftly illustrated later in the interview. Asked about the former secretary of State's strength on women's issues, the presumptive Republican nominee replied, "Well, I haven't quite recovered, it's early in the morning, from her shouting that message. And I know a lot of people would say, 'You can't say that about a woman,' because of course a woman doesn't shout. But the way she shouted that message was... oof... that was the way she said it. And I guess I'll have to get used to a lot of that over the next five or six months."

Finally, Trump said he was probably okay with the president's decision to send more troops to Syria, but he had a big problem with Obama informing the American people of what he was doing in their name.

"I can live with it, but [what] I don't like doing is sending them in so-- I mean, with such fanfare," Trump said. "Let them go in, go in quietly. Be unpredictable, but I just-- from my standpoint, I find it very, very hard every time we do something we announce it for publicity reasons, and I think that's very negative. I think it's a bad thing."

Some would argue that a president should inform the American public of his decision to escalate a foreign war less for "publicity" than for democratic legitimacy (which is already, arguably, undermined by the executive's expansive war powers). But Donald Trump is not one of those people.
Clinton's ugly corporate campaign has been fuming that Bernie is mounting such a powerful canpaign against her instead of just acting as a passive sparring partner. Now they're demanding he cut it out-- for real, not the way she told her bankster buddies on Wall Street to cut it out-- and hand over his supporters to her hideous machine. "We will unify the party to win this election and build an America where we can all rise together," she bellowed at her Philly victory rally Tuesday night, "an America where we lift each other up instead of tearing each other down... I applaud Senator Sanders and his millions of supporters for challenging us to get unaccountable money out of our politics and giving greater emphasis to closing the gap of inequality, and I know together we will get that done because whether you support Senator Sanders or you support me, there’s much more that unites us than divides us." Ehhh... Hillary has some basics in common with progressives but her vision for a future of this country isn't remotely acceptable to many Bernie supporters. How many and how powerfully they cling to that may determine who the next president will be.

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Can Local Democrats Cut Off The Tentacles Of DCCC Political Bosses-- In California?


Not the Beltway

William Ostrander, the congressional candidate in CA-24-- Santa Barbara and San Luis Obsispo-- who has endorsed Bernie and is running on his issues, tends to get left out of the Beltway coverage of the race for open seat created by the retirement of backbencher Lois Capps. Capps and the DCCC picked their candidate, Salud Carbajal, and as far as the media wen, that was the end of the story. That's why the media missed the gargantuan 74-26% victory Mary Ellen Balchunis had over "heavily favored" DCCC recruit Bill Golderer in the Philly suburbs Tuesday. Golderer had the Beltway Democrats, Inc machine firmly behind him. The DCCC assured "journalists" and pundits that the race was all wrapped up and that there was nothing to see in Delaware County. Besides Golderer outspent Balchunis $239,391 to $45,541. There are races like this all over the country, where to DCCC tries to create facts on the ground with a lazy and ignorant Beltway media reprinting their press releases and "tips." It didn't work in PA-07 and there are districts in California where the strategy may well fail as well, particulrly in CA-25, where local favorite, Lou Vince, is battling some DCCC carpetbagger from Orange County and in CA-24, where the DCCC wants another go-along-to-get-along careerist to not make waves.

This week, Impactmania published an interview with William Ostrander that helps explain why California central coast residents are starting to wonder why the media is reporting a version of the race-- a virtual anointment of Carbajal-- that is different from what they're seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears in a lively swing district race that features 3 Republicans, 4 Democrats and 2 independents.

Melissa Walker kicked off the interview by asking Ostrander, a sustainable farmer, why he's running for Congress. He explained, in a way that anyone familiar with Bernie's political revolution will understand, that he believes "our current system is unresponsive and corrupted by money and that dynamic affects all legislative outcomes. The huge sum of money needed to run a viable campaign excludes participation for many and forces candidates to disproportionately seek the interests of a handful of wealthy contributors and special interests. We need to dilute the influence of money so the interests our representatives work for is the community at large-- not just those with disposable incomes who can make campaign contributions. Reform of how candidates finance campaigns is critical to address the 'calculated inequalities' facing most Americans today."
As Director of the Citizens Congress I have worked toward reforms at the local, state, and national level. I have given a Congressional briefing on campaign finance reform in DC, and held a national congress here in San Luis Obispo with people from all over the country, including Lawrence Lessig, Trevor Potter, and Hedrick Smith.

As a farmer, I am dedicated to sustainable, regenerative agriculture, restoring genetic diversity in our flora and fauna, conserving our natural resources and protecting our food supply without the use of petro-chemicals and GMO’s.

As a single parent, I’m concerned for the cost of my sons’ education and developing young people’s employment prospects after school in careers that match their skills.

As a union member I understand the necessity of collective bargaining and the right to organize. And as an activist, the necessity of all of us participating in our governance.

Do you have expertise in a particular area that you think would benefit the citizens of the 24th District? How will that expertise inform your work as a congressperson?

Yes, I do! This is a great question. Candidates are typically asked a variety of questions on a wide range of subjects. That may well suggest how they will vote on general legislation, but what most people don’t realize is that new bills have about an 8% chance of being passed on average. That means a legislator must be very committed and aggressive to be successful in passing legislation. That means that that legislator must have experienced and understand the issue personally.

If you consider that Lois Capps was a nurse before she was a legislator it’s very easy to understand that approximately half of all of the legislation that she originated-- most were not passed-- were on issues of health.

If you review my platform issues, money in politics, agriculture’s role in climate change, student debt and a national civil service program, and wealth inequality, you will find a life parallel. For example, I am the co-founder and director of a non-profit fighting for campaign finance reform.

I am somewhat of an expert in the area of money in politics and I work on it everyday. I’ve given Congressional briefings on the subject. I’ve co-authored an ordinance for publicly funded elections in San Luis Obispo.

As a regenerative farmer, I work on improving the soil and sequestering durable carbon through natural processes. I was also a self-funded volunteer in rural Namibia, Africa, and I recognize the harmony that needs to exist between farming and conservation.

I presently have a son in college and I understand the high price of education. And in 2009, my construction and real estate businesses were devastated by unregulated Wall Street abuses.

I live these issues. One of my concerns about my opponents is they have little to no private sector experience, and as a consequence, a poor understanding of how policy trickles down or the practical priorities within change.

If you are elected, what do you hope to accomplish during your first term in office?

The first thing that I will do is to throw my weight and experience of non-profits at the issue of money in politics. No matter what your issue, money in politics is the umbrella issue of all the others.

We need public financing of elections and strict disclosure of private money. It’s absurd that we use private money to elect public officials.

Our legal system understands that conflict and judges recuse themselves when there may be a conflict of interest with someone before the bench. Ironically, the very people who create the laws judges preside over consider themselves exempt from this same conflict of interest.

At present there are at least 12 bills languishing in committee in the House of Representatives dealing with money in politics that leaders are refusing to bring up for a vote. I would be tenacious in my push to enable legislation to be brought to the floor for discussion and a vote.

The public gets it. Legislators spend 30 to 70 percent of their time simply trying to raise money rather than solve our considerable list of problems. The second thing would be to reshape the farm bill to actually benefit the health of farmers, consumers and the environment.

Farm bill policies originated in 1935, under entirely different circumstances than we have today. Using the farm bill to promote agricultural practices that would reduce green house gas emissions, monetize carbon farming, restore soil health, and focus more on foods rather than commodities.

For example, Americans are encouraged to eat 50 percent of their foods in the forms of fruits and vegetables and yet over 80 percent of our farm subsidies go to corn and soybeans. Fruits and vegetables get less than one half of one percent! Even tobacco gets more at 2 percent.

Think of how changing this priority could change the dynamics of global warming, and at the same time, the overall health of the country while defraying billions in health care and environmental costs!

Polls indicate that most voters don’t think the government works. What would you do to fix the underlying structures and systems that are flawed?

First, I would ask you to refer to our government rather than the government. Reagan did us a huge disservice by creating the us versus them mentality about our governance, which, in and of itself is part of the problem. No one seems to remember it is “We the People…”

One of the most important things I can do as a candidate is to educate people about how our election system and the legislatures actually operate. When voters learn about how much time candidates spend raising money, or how cronyism supports the same recycled candidates in the same dysfunctional system, or specific and narrow interest can use wealth to warp laws that favor a special interest over the community interest, people are appalled and begin to search for, and demand, alternatives.

Today our election system barely qualifies as democratic and people are finally seeing the reasons why.

Our democracy is designed to be a creative tension of ideas. Today we have two fundamental issues to contend with that render consensus, or at least majority rule, nearly impossible. One,  we have forgotten what our social contract is with one another. There is too much of “I did it on my own”, or, “I’ve got mine, you get your own!” in our discourse.

And two, I hate to sound like a broken record, but money in politics fuels the us versus them polarity in our country today.

Statistically, political consultants know that ideologically consistent voters are twice as likely to give money and be active than the ideological center, so we are encouraged to be divided.

One of my platform issues regarding student debt includes a national civil service program that requires 18 to 25 year olds to put in at least 500 hours of civil service. Whether that is caring for the elderly, mentoring youth, environmental clean up, or even the military, I believe that our youth need to commit to participating in the amazing country that they are inheriting.

I would also strive to remind people of our social contract and remove private money from the process by which we elect our public officials.

The people in power within the structure of the Beltway Democratic Party, Inc-- the Chuck Schumers, Steny Hoyers, Steve Israels, Joe Crowleys... may pay lip service to some of these ideas about campaign finance reform and how lobbyist and special interest money is at the root of the preponderance of problems the country is saddled with, but this is the very system that is the source of their power and guys like Chuck Schumer-- who has taken $24,710,208 from the Finance Sector-- or Steny Hoyer-- who has taken more money from corrupt K Street lobbyists than anyone serving in the House today, are not going to do anything to change a system that puts them on the top of the heap. To break free from that system, we need less Chuck Schumers and fewer Steny Hoyers-- and the zombie-candidates they recruit-- and more independent outsiders like Ostrander who understand the corrupt nature of the system and intend to smash it to bits.
Goal Thermometer

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Will Clinton Attempt to Bring Sanders Supporters into the Democratic Fold?


Clinton to Sanders: "No, you come to me." Can you read that headline any other way?

by Gaius Publius 

Something to keep your eye on in the lead-up to post-East Coast voting, and something that could well affect the voting after that. Will Clinton move toward Sanders' positions, as an appeal for his supporters, or will she, as I've said elsewhere, insist the mountain (of his voters) come to Mohammad?

Seems the latter.

First, Clinton operative Peter Daou, in the headline above, makes the position clear:
"If Bernie Wants Real Progress He'll Align His Message With Hers"
No link, but the google will find the piece for you if want to read it.

Second, note this from Josh Abramson, in a Huff Post piece called "5 Things We’ve Learned About Hillary Clinton Since She Won the New York Primary". I'll let you read the other four things he says we've learned (do read; it's a nice piece). But here's the fifth point (my occasional emphasis):
5. There will be no attempt whatsoever to bring Sanders supporters back into the Democratic fold.

Sanders supporters knew Clinton was angry at them for voting for Bernie — they could tell by her comment saying that she “feels sorry for” young voters too misinformed to vote for her; or by Bill Clinton saying that Sanders voters are so unsophisticated that they just want to “shoot every third banker on Wall Street”; or by David Plouffe (a Clinton ally) saying that every person who donates money to Sanders is being taken in by an obvious “fraud”; or by the unnamed Clinton staffer so certain she or he was speaking in a tone and manner consistent with the view of the Clinton campaign that she or he told Politico that the Clinton campaign “kicked Bernie’s ass” in New York and that Sanders can “go fuck himself.”

And so on.

But who knew that, with almost twenty primaries and caucuses left, and more than 1,400 delegates left to be awarded, Clinton would start vetting potential Vice Presidential picks in full view of an electorate she says she’s still working hard to win over? And who knew that not only would Sanders not be considered for a unity ticket, but — apparently — her top picks for VP, Cory Booker and Julian Castro, are reliable Clintonites with no ties whatsoever to the Sanders campaign or the movement he heads? And who knew Elizabeth Warren would almost certainly be frozen out of the VP conversation due to her decision to stay neutral in the primary race rather than endorse Clinton?

Well, everyone.

Everyone who knows the Clintons, that is.

So, if you’re either a Sanders supporter, sympathetic to the Sanders campaign, or a Hillary voter desperately hoping she’ll do something to bring into the Democratic fold the 40 percent of Sanders voters who say they won’t vote for Hillary in the fall — all but ensuring a Trump presidency — here’s some news for you: the signals are now being sent that Sanders and his people will, by calculated design, get absolutely nothing.

Hillary lost in 2008 and received the second-most powerful position in the world [note the assertion of a trade for SoS].

Sanders will be ignored and shunned.

What lies behind this “strategy” for the fall election — if we can call it that — is the same hubris that permitted Secretary Clinton never to reveal her Wall Street transcripts, to condescend to millennials at every turn, to refuse to apologize for bad judgment in the whole email-server affair, to refuse to apologize for her 1994 crime bill vote, to try to get away with (during the Michigan debate) the lie that Sanders had opposed the auto bailout, and so on.

In other words, America is already seeing the Hillary Clinton they’ll get during the fall election campaign — and also, should Clinton somehow manage to squeak by Donald Trump in November, the sort of Nixonian White House we can expect in consequence.

And it isn’t pretty.
Is Abramson right? He could well be. Everything through the second large paragraph is true. Will his conclusion prove true as well?

To test it, I'd look for this — Sanders and Clinton will have the discussion they've started to have. Sanders is saying, in effect "I can't snap my fingers and make my supporters vote for you. You have to convince them yourself." As evidenced by her response to Maddow in their recent town hall, this goes up Clinton's back. Her response, in effect, "I'm winning because of my own positions."

My suggestion, watch as this plays out. It's a clear dividing line. Clinton seems to want Sanders to "throw some words her way" (my phrase, but it reflects the way candidates like Clinton seem to campaign, by figuring out in an advertising sense which words to throw out); wants Sanders to bless her with a kind of public holy water that (she thinks) will magically erase the voters' memory of his reservations on policy. And she thinks his supporters will accept it if he does that and consider her new-blessed and suddenly known-good.

I think she's wrong, that this is an issues campaign, not a cosmetic or personalities one, and to win Sanders supporters, she has to at least appear to bend his way. Will she do that? Will she at least "throw some words" at his supporters? It's really a test of wills and dominance at this point. Will she see it that way and harden her will against him? Or soften and surrender just a little? The election could turn on that decision.

Finally, did you notice the word "hubris" in the Abramson piece above? So did I And I've been using the word a lot myself as well. This isn't just about wills and dominance, or calculation and policy — it's about Zeus and his lightning bolts getting revenge, or more mundanely, spiking the ball in the end zone in your defender's face. Hubris, and a decision to make.

American Crossroads

The path is littered with them these days. This is one more American crossroad, this time for her. What will Clinton do? Will she swallow her hubris and pride and at the very least pretend? Or will she carry on with talk like, "Rachel, can't you see I'm winning?! Now let him come to me."

If she can't, in pride or the flush of victory, make herself move in substance to the mountain of Sanders voters, can she win in the general election? Place your bets. The answer is just months away.


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