Monday, March 30, 2015

"We Have a Deal" (New York Budget): Strong on Education and Ethics Reform

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)
(is kinda happy, if ...)

If State Legislators Pass a Bill
(leaders agree, now let's see

Two related articles and moving pieced to this budget “deal” story - the one that the Gov and Party Leaders have agreed on. We still need it to be a law to have any meaning: here (highlights): A New York state budget deal was announced Sunday night by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Legislature leaders that included education reforms and increased school aid, ethics reform rules that require legislators to disclose outside income, and a $1.5 billion pot of money that Upstate cities can compete for.

The Gov and party leaders said the budget includes $23.5 billion in school aid, an overall school aid increase of approximately $1.4 billion, or 6.1 percent. 

Spending on all state operations grows by only 2 percent, the leaders said. 

Some $1.5 billion will be available for Upstate cities comes from $5.4 billion in lawsuit settlements. 

Continue at the Syracuse link.

From the NY Times here (also in part):  Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders on Sunday night (March 29, 2015) reached an agreement on the next state budget, capping weeks of deliberations over issues like deterring public corruption and improving public schools. The budget, which still needs the formal approval of lawmakers, would be the state’s fifth in a row passed by the April 1 deadline. 

Key parts in addition to education reform measures include: 

Administration officials said the ethics changes would require lawmakers to disclose more about the income they earn on top of their government salaries, including broader disclosure of legal clients. Mr. Cuomo’s effort to seek more disclosure had rankled some legislators who work as lawyers.

The budget also expands a pension-forfeiture law; further restricts the use of campaign funds for personal expenses; and puts in place new oversight for lawmakers’ travel expenses. Legislators, who earn base salaries of $79,500 and have not received a raise since 1999, also could see that change: The budget creates a commission that would study raising their pay, though no pay hike could take effect until 2017.

Continue at the NY Times link.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Firing Squad in Utah and Public Education Death Sentence in New York State

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Hawks Charter Schools as "Future Fix" (my label)

Nine Hedge Fund  Billionaires Behind Cuomo in More Ways Than One
(and they have the mega bucks to prove it)

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Cuomo told the NYS legislature point blank: “Don’t tell me that if we only had more money [for education], it would change. We have been putting more money into this system every year for a decade and it hasn’t changed and 250,000 failing children will condemn the failing schools by this system.”

Putting his money, or lack thereof, where his mouth is, Mr. Cuomo banked his gubernatorial legacy on a budget that would again fail to meet the state’s public-school funding requirements, instead increasing the privatization of New York’s education system and weakening New York State’s once powerful teachers’ union, the NYSUT. 

His education reform proposal would tie 50 percent of teacher evaluations to student test scores, based on a controversial practice called Value-Added Modeling, and thus by come accounts, drastically weaken teachers’ opportunity for tenure, and expedite the firing of teachers, making room for a hundred more charter schools that promote state takeover of “failing” (or poor) school districts — a tactic that has been used to expand charter school growth without the consent of elected school boards across the country. 

In his 2014 re-election bid, Mr. Cuomo declared that as governor he would work to enact long-term measures to “break” public education, which he called “one of the only remaining public monopolies.” His pledge will be put to the test when the state legislature votes on his budget proposal by the end of March.

The consensus that New York public schools do not require more funding is curious, given the landmark 2006 Campaign for Fiscal Equity court ruling and subsequent statewide resolution ordering the state to correct its inequitable school-funding formula to provide every student their constitutional right to “sound basic education.” Back in 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer and the New York State Legislature enacted a statewide resolution, creating one statewide school aid formula based on student poverty concentration and district wealth and promising to add $5.5 billion in schools’s operating aid over four years. 

Yet in 2009, after two years of more equitable funding, the state froze school aid, citing the financial crisis. Over the next two years, New York State actually cut school funding, including $2.1 billion in classroom cuts.

Now here we are today with what? Oh, yeah the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say... 9 billionaires bent on running the show or the whole shebang as it were, thus:

For example, Zakiyah Ansari, a parent and public schools advocate with the labor-backed Alliance for Quality Education, called such reasoning shameful, “Why do Cuomo and these hedge funders say money doesn’t matter? I’m sure it matters in Scarsdale. I’m sure it matters where the Waltons send their kids. They don’t send their kids to schools with overcrowded classrooms, over-testing, no art, no music, no sports programs, etc. Does money only ‘not matter’ when it comes to black and brown kids?”

But the coalition to remake New York’s education system isn’t hearing it. A few years ago, such blunt threats against public schools, the state’s formidable teachers’ union, NYSUT, not to mention the majority of Cuomo’s own party, would have been unthinkable.

Over the last year, a dark-money charter-school advocacy group, Families for Excellent Schools, smashed almost all lobbying records in Albany and a Super PAC, New Yorkers’ for a balanced Albany poured $4.3 million into six Senate races, helping tip the Senate Republican in a state with six times as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Thus, with the infusion of five business-friendly senators, Governor Cuomo’s radical education reform bill is suddenly a real political possibility.

Clearly, the governor’s ambitions are not focused on New York State any longer.

A recent Quinnipiac poll, for example, indicates Cuomo’s education proposal has lowered his overall approval rating to its lowest in office, with only 28 percent in support of and 63 percent against his massive reform plan.

Continue at story link here from The Nation >>> good stuff for those of us who follow this assault on public education and their Unions, whether by Scott Walker in Wisconsin or now by Andrew Cuomo in New York State. As they say: same old, same old.   

Monday, March 23, 2015

Utah Sets the National Mood (I guess) for New Death Penalty Method

No problems with faulty meds or sloppy injections ... 
Straight to the X-marks the spot

Utah makes if official and apparently legal:  re: Utah governor declares firing squad legal.

Background: Gov. Gary Herbert (Natch: a Republican) signed a law into effect that allows the firing squad – a controversial method – to be used when no lethal-injection drugs are available.

Story is here >>> Critics slam “backward” decision.

History in Utah of this Method: Ronnie Lee Gardner (b. January 16, 1961 – d. June 18, 2010) was a criminal who received the death penalty for a murder in 1985. He was executed by a firing squad (Fr word: fusillading) in June 2010. Gardner spent nearly 25 years in the court system, prompting Utah to introduce legislation to limit the number of appeals in capital cases.

Apparently, they got that and with this law, much more: This “Back to the Future” method.

History since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1976 reflects these three executions in the US:

1.  Gary Gilmore was executed in January 1977, at Utah’s State Prison.

2.  John Albert Taylor was executed in 1996. Taylor reportedly chose this method of execution, in the words of the New York Times, “to make a statement that Utah was sanctioning murder.”

3.  Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by five anonymous officers in June 2010.

Idaho banned execution by firing squad in 2009. That left Oklahoma as the only state left that utilized the method (but only as a secondary method).

In January 2015, Wyoming passed legislation making it their legal form of capital punishment.  

Now Utah joins that exclusive club. Neat club, eh???

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Voting Rights Under Undue Stress and Pressure: Our Entire System Very Shaky

Give us our way on voting or get blown to smithereens !!! 

GOP ideal voting scheme by 2016

Quite long, so bear with me ... voting rights is a worthwhile and timely issue.

Since the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder conservative governments in the South and elsewhere have raced to introduce new voting restrictions. Most prominent in the attacks is the comprehensive vote-restriction law passed by the Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature. Their laws (1) cut back early voting, (2) restrict private groups from conducting voter-registration drives, (3) eliminate election-day voter registration, and (4) impose the strictest voter ID rules in the country. There is evidence that Republican legislatures elsewhere will follow North Carolina's lead (and in fact, many have – some ruled against, but that has not stopped the GOP from sustaining that effort).

Let’s face it, neither the American people nor the federal courts would tolerate restrictions like on voting rights if they were imposed on: (1) freedom of speech, (2) freedom to assemble, (3) freedom of religion, or (4) freedom to petition government for redress of grievances. Many Southern states – and probably a majority of the Supreme Court – would reject far less onerous restrictions on the right (5) to keep and bear arms. Note that each of those rights is mentioned only once in the Constitution whereas the “right to vote” is mentioned five times. Yet, this Court has brushed that aside with lingo such as “it’s some sort of privilege to vote” that allows states and presumably themselves to observe it at their convenience. It is NOT a privilege to vote - it's our right to vote!!

Even an overwhelming majority of Congress – which is given the power to enforce the right to vote in no fewer than four different places in the Constitution – cannot protect that right more strongly than the Court feels appropriate for them to do so. So, what would happen if we took the Constitution's text on this matter seriously, i.e., voting is merely a privilege and not much else?

Okay, stay close to me on this story for you to consider about the instructions given by a home owner to his house-sitter as he prepares to travel abroad to make the point:  “Don't let the dog out at night. Don't feed the dog dry food.” The homeowner returned six weeks later and found his dog dead of starvation.  The dog owner interrogates the house sitter about not following two simple instructions.

The house-sitter, in turn, explains his view this way: “You never said there actually was a dog, or that if there was one I should feed it, just that I shouldn't let it out, or feed it dry food. I did neither of those two things.”

So, does that explanation satisfy the dog owner? Hardly. Now the analogy to voting rights and the lackadaisical Court view about voting rights simply being a "privilege."  Note: many of our most cherished rights are guaranteed but written in the same kind of language that homeowner used to the house sitter.

Take for example, the First Amendment: It does not say (as most people believe): “that … everyone has freedom of speech and of religion.” That is not the language. The first amendment clearly prohibits “Congress from making laws infringing on religious freedom and our freedom of speech.”  But you would not say that it does not guarantee free speech and religion.

What about the right to vote? The phrase appears for the first time in the Fourteenth Amendment, which says that states shall lose congressional representation “… when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime.”

But whatever that section of the Fourteenth Amendment means, it really can't mean that everyone must be allowed to vote. It merely penalizes states that withhold the ballot but does not require them to grant it. (Mumbo jumbo, right? Right).

The Fifteenth Amendment, however, does speak specifically of “the right of citizens of the United States to vote.” That right appears a total of three more times, each time now protected against “…abridgment, as an individual right of citizens, one that can be enforced by both courts and Congress.”

Yet courts and citizens remain oddly ambivalent about that. It is common to regard voting as a “privilege, or an incident of citizenship granted to some but not all.”

Ding, false. That “privilege” over the years has been made dependent on such roadblocks as:  (1) literacy test; (2) long residency in the community; (3) ability to prove ones identity; or (4) proving lack of a criminal past.

None of these conditions would be allowed to restrict free speech, or freedom from unreasonable searches or seizures, or the right to counsel. Each one of those rights is mentioned once in the Constitution.

The right to vote of citizens of the United States remains a kind of stepchild in the family of American rights, perhaps because it is not listed in the Bill of Rights, or perhaps because many Americans still retain the Framers' ambivalence about democracy.

In the Fifteenth Amendment, the right to vote is not to be “denied or abridged on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (Note the second verb. Abridge). Many things might “abridge” a right without “denying it altogether.”  Whatever the status of the right as a right, it is apparently quite strictly protected from any kind of limit – any of limit, that is, based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The target about that is perfectly clear: racial restrictions on voting, or restrictions of the voting rights of former slaves. It is commonplace, thus, to describe the amendment as aimed solely at racial restrictions on the right to vote.

But that description slights part of the text. The Fifteenth amendment mentions “race and color,” but those aren't the only grounds of discrimination it forbids. It also uses the word “servitude,” which echoes the Thirteenth Amendment's prohibition not only of slavery but of “involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted” (i.e., put in jail after duly conducted trial).

The choice of the word “servitude” interacts intriguingly with the text of the Thirteenth Amendment, and that is, that “slavery is prohibited, as is involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime.”  

That language certainly foresaw that in the future, convicts might be put to hard labor, as indeed they were. But that kind of “servitude” is not mentioned in the Fifteenth Amendment. That omission suggests that conviction of crime in and of itself would not be an acceptable reason for restricting “the right to vote” since even convicted criminals must be afforded the right in its fullest extent according to law.

In Section Two of the 15th Amendment, as in Section Two of the 13th Amendment, and Section Five of the 14th Amendment, Congress is again given the power to enforce the amendment “by appropriate legislation.” The Supreme Court has taken as narrow a view of that power as it has before. It is has written of the right to vote in scare quotes such as “the right” to vote, as if it were somehow questionable or inferior to other rights all described above.

In light of the Constitution's actual language, those readings about voting rights seem as strained as the house-sitter's argument that an owner's instructions permitted or allowed him to starve the dog to death.

My Blogger Note: This posting was taken almost verbatim (swiped from) from the book American Epic: Reading the Constitution referenced in the Atlantic article. I did edit and re-edited it to fit this Blog. I hope no one considers that plagiarism – that surely was not my intent. That is why I cited the book link. I also provided at least one link that the article did not. Too many excuses, I suspect, but as I said, I never intended to do any harm or discredit or disrespect to the article on this topic – a topic I consider the most-important of any issue facing the country. That is our right to vote and be free and easy to pick and choose the kind of government we the people want and not what narrow special interest groups flush with tons of money from a handful of billionaires bent on buying and owning the country tell us what they want for us. — dmf

Friday, March 20, 2015

Voting May Be Getting Harder, When It Should Be Easy and Unimpeded

GOP Seeks Cake Walk in 2016: The Envelope Please. The Results
(How about a hearty oops)

How About Another Layer Added to That Cake
(Like more harsh voter ID laws)

Fresh off the press at the best place to review and examine voting rights is from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU – this just added, in part.

My Intro: If the GOP can 't win an election the old-fashioned way, e.g., fair and honest campaigns with fair and open voting, then why not try some sleazy, underhanded, nasty, illogical ploys instead. Hey, says the GOP in unison: “That sounds easy, let's do it.”  

As the early stages of the 2016 presidential race begin, state legislatures are already considering hundreds of laws that could determine access to the ballot. (That would be on top of the already long list of harsh laws in effect and mostly from RED states).

Finally, these two maps illustrate the point:

We need more of this:

And, less of this:

Thanks for stopping by. Voting rights must be restored, unhampered, fair and open. It's the single most-important thing that keeps us great: freedom to pick and choose the kind of government and country we the people want and not want special interest groups and tons of money tell us what they think we need.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Lame Duck President" Who Me? Nope. But, Nice Try, Mitch and John

Yip Dee Frickin' Doo

Why is the usually vocal GOP silent on this - another American history record:  Now 60 straight months of job growth. That is the most-sustained growth in our history, even counting WWII.
But, the GOP is silent and that silence is deafening isn't it? Why?

First, the GOP cannot bring themselves to give Mr. Obama credit for anything, absolutely nothing, and all good news since the near total economic meltdown in 2008.

Second, the GOP is too busy telling the public that “Obama and his policies both are failures.”

Sadly, 32% of the voters fell for it and have given the GOP power, and that says a ton about the education level of those who did vote, but worse: about those who did not vote, and I’d wager they have a ton of regret since the midterms in November. 

So, what is the Obama record despite the massive and, yes, even effective GOP highly-funded PR machine?

  1. Overhauled the food safety system.
  2. Advanced women's rights in the work place.
  3. Ended Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) in our military.
  4. Stopped defending DOMA in court.
  5. Passed the Hate Crimes bill.
  6. Appointed two women (first Latino) to the Supreme Court.
  7. Expanded access to medical care and provided subsidies for poor people.
  8. Expanded the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
  9. Fixed the preexisting conditions travesty as part of the ACA.
  10. Invested in clean and solar energy.
  11. Overhauled the credit card industry, making it much more consumer-friendly.
  12. Got Dodd-Frank passed; although somewhat weak is regulates the big banks.
  13. Created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  14. Done a lot for veterans (not just talk like the GOP).
  15. Got help for those injured during the clean-up after 9/11 attacks.
  16. Scaled Afghanistan.
  17. Wall Street stocks at sustained all-time records.
  18. Now over 16 million enrolled in good affordable health care plans.
  19. And, oh, yeah, he got Osama bin-Laden.
  20. For those who say he is weak on illegal immigrants - try this on for size.
Has there been some mistakes and missteps – for sure, but not at the hyped level the GOP wants us to believe and in most cases as they say “there ain’t no there, there.”  

Related on the same subject from these two place places here and here (both good reads). 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Koch Brothers Want to Own the VA: That Must Not Be Allowed to Happen

          The Koch Goals Are Clear: Fund, Buy, Own, and Run America

Americans vs. the Koch's

Here we go again ... just like a gerbil on a wheel with those two billionaire brothers. My question is simple: Why is that?  

This story comes from Media Matters here, in part with this introduction: “The Arizona Republic 
recently published an editorial promoting Concerned Veterans for America's (CVA) efforts to privatize much of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While the group is presented by the Republic as an impartial veterans organization, it is actually a right-wing group backed by Charles and David Koch and headed by a Fox News contributor.”  And, also from the Washington Post here which identified CVA as an “...organization that is part of the of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers' political network.”

MY VIEWS:  The VA must be reformed without any doubt (their long of problems), but it must not be made private and especially allowed to become a pet project of the Koch brothers, or any other private citizen, or any special interest political group for their self-interests and business profits.

First, please allow me to remind everyone of the basis for the VA as seen in these remarks:

President Abraham Lincoln in dedicating Gettysburg said in part: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

With the words: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

He was affirming the government’s obligation to care for those injured during war and to provide for the families (widows and children) of those who perished on the battlefield.

The government in the sense of his words means clearly that the people as the public and thus, government are responsible, and not a pack of billionaires bent on self interests and profit.

I can't say much more except leadership from those in the know about Vet issues are sorely needed to fix the VA - not a political action committee or team of ultra rich brothers.

FYI: Yes, I am a Marine Corps infantry combat Vet (VN era: two tours and three wounds).

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Public Education Still Under GOP-RW Fire: Still No Rational Solutions Offered

Let's Talk Turkey With Turkeys No Less

Topic Du Jour

I picked up on this story from the National Education Association (NEA) via my email mailing list. Also, at their home page there is a lot of good stuff there. And, yes, I am a staunch supporter of public education, since I am a product of that system, have had my own kids go through it, and I taught at grades 8-12 myself. I happen to think public education (K-12) is the backbone of the country, just like NCO's are the backbone of the military. Having said that, this is the topic at hand for this post.

A recent national poll is giving lawmakers new incentive to push for charter schools that are more transparent and accountable to students, parents, and the taxpayers who invest in them.

The poll shows overwhelming public support for measures addressing fraud, mismanagement, and poor student performance linked to charter schools

Improving teacher training and qualifications, preventing fraud, serving high-needs children, and making sure that traditional public schools are not hurt by charter schools also received strong support from those surveyed. The survey, which involved 1,000 registered voters, was released by In the Public Interest (ITPI) and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD). CPD also released a recent report alleging that tens of millions of dollars have been lost to charter schools nationwide due to fraud and mismanagement.

“$100 million in taxpayer dollars have been wasted and over 100-thousand children attend charter schools that are failing to meet the needs of children,” said Kyle Serrette, director of education at CPD. “It’s time for lawmakers to add stronger oversight provisions before more money is lost and more children are enrolled in failing charter schools.”

Some of the poll’s other key findings include the following:

  • 62 percent of voters want to hold constant or reduce the number charters in their area;
  • 63 percent rate the quality of education at public schools in their neighborhood as excellent or good;
  • 68 percent hold a favorable view of public school teachers; and
  • When it comes to problems facing K-12 education, school choice ranks last.
  • Overwhelming majorities (some as high as 89 percent) support for proposals contained in the Charter School Accountability Agenda being pushed by ITPI and CPD.
The Charter School Accountability Agenda contains the groups’ solutions for making sure that charter schools fulfill their original purpose — to serve as incubators for new and innovative ways of teaching and learning that could later be adopted by traditional public schools.

The proposals are based on standards outlined in the Annenberg Institute’s report for improving charter schools.  

THE FOCUS: Charter school growth has increased exponentially in recent years but critics charge that lawmakers have done very little in developing standards to ensure that these schools give all students a quality education and are accountable to the communities they serve. 

Currently, more than 2 million students attend the nation’s more than 6,000 charter schools, which make up 6.3 percent of all taxpayer-funded K-12 schools. 

FYI: You can click here to tell your legislator(s) to adopt common sense standards for charter schools.

Enjoy the post and for goodness sake, do your own research ... 

The kids of today are the leaders of tomorrow. They need and deserve the very best we can offer - that's what we had, right? 

Thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Headlines: Iran Letter Blowback Startles GOP — No Shït Sherlock

Even GOP Ancestors Were Easily Startled

Legal Update on this topic follows:   A legal reading on that nasty senate letter to Iran was written by these two:  (1)  Robert Howse, Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law at NYU School of Law, and (2) Ruti Teitel. Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law, New York Law School, Distinguished Research Scholar at Columbia University and a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Their analysis is in this story. It makes for a very good read.

International Law Logo clip art

Original Post Starts Here:

Not a big surprise except to the GOP it seems about Iran's reaction to their nasty threatening Senate letter that basically tells Iran any nuclear agreement between President Obama and the P5+1 would not be worth paper it's written on unless the GOP approved it (paraphrased).

The P5+1 is not just the United States with Mr. Obama in charge as the right wing wants to project. Indeed it's a group of six world powers which in 2006 joined together in a diplomatic effort with Iran in regard to its nuclear program. It is made up of the P5 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council: United Kingdom, United States, Russia, China, and France) then the plus one (Germany).

This story is here from Politico, in part:

Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. Sen. John McCain said Republicans — many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm — should have given it closer consideration.

McCain said: “It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm. I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blow back that there is.”

Brilliant, Senator McCain, just brilliant and well, I guess that you and the other grey beards in the GOP just decided to allow Sen. Tom Cotton to run the show and carry the ball and all you did was sign without reading? Amazing, truly amazing and now you are surprised, startled even which is the word I think you are grasping for ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Now 100% Certain: The GOP is Full of Bigots, Racists, Nasty, Ugly, Mean People

Jindal Tries to Put Icing on the GOP's Shit Sandwich
(to make it sweet and more palatable)

Related to this now almost out-of-control story that I have been tracking closely about that letter 47 GOP senators signed to Iran telling them any nuclear deal needed their approval and not President Obama's. 

Now Iran has responded (LA Times story) by saying in part that “The United is Untrustworthy.”

Anchor-baby Gov. Piyush “Bobby (his reel name)” Jindal (R-LA) steps in (and I mean really steps in it) and doubles down by resetting the game board.

“Jindal — who has tried to stand out in a crowded presidential field with strident attacks on President Obama’s foreign policy — issued a call today (March 10, 2015) for “all potential presidential candidates” to sign on to a letter written by 47 GOP senators to the government of Iran.”

I have only thing to say:  Jindal and those like him are sick, mean, nasty, ugly, spiteful, arrogant, and  flat out wrong on this issue (like so many other issues before as they constantly insult Mr. Obama). I hope they live to regret this latest stunt w/o harming the country with their crap.

I'm done now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

King v. Burwell: SCOTUS Hears ACA Subsidies Case at the Heart of Health Care

Pretty Graphic Results if SCOTUS
Rules Against the ACA

Let's Hope the Court Does Not Go This Far

United States Supreme Court today in King v. Burwell


The ACA states, in part, that tax credits will be available through the so-called exchanges (online marketplaces), quote: “…established by the State.” Those 4 words are the sticky wicket.

When it was being crafted Congressional lawmakers assumed most or all states would create their own exchanges. After it passed in March 2010, it then became clear that many states would rely on the federal government to operate them as the law allows.

Then in 2012, the IRS issued regulations making the subsidies available in all states. The proverbial shït hit the proverbial fan.

GOP Rightwing challengers (mostly) say those credits cannot be offered in exchanges operated by the Federal government where right now some 34 states have them and thus fall into that category. Without subsidies, insurance costs for low-income Americans would skyrocket.

Those same challengers say that was not simply a drafting error that instead lawmakers purposely made tax credits available only in state-run exchanges as an incentive for governors and legislatures to create their own exchanges (and thus lessen the burden on the Federal taxpayers) – again the crap hit the fan.

From the other side, ACA proponents are backed by some 22 governors and legislatures who argue that they were never told they needed to set up state exchanges in order for their citizens to get tax credits (from the Feds). Maybe a Rick Perry oops needed at that point!!

Further, supporters claim that slant on the issue was not even discussed when the law was being drafted.

So, if the court should take that into consideration then over 8 million Americans would be hurt if the subsidies are eliminated.

Status at the high court today (a bit encouraging): Key question and possibilities:

Q: How bad will we (the court) make things if we rule against the government (shutting off the Fed subsidies)?

Possible Remedies: Justice Kennedy (always a swing vote), seemed decidedly more sympathetic to the government than might have been expected. He seems worried over a constitutional blow against the states. 

Even the two Justices most openly sympathetic to the challengers: Justices Alito and Scalia — seemed to concede the dire consequences that could follow, by suggesting ways to alleviate it: (1) Alito said the Court could delay its ruling to allow time to adjust as they have in past cases, and (2) Scalia said Congress could be counted on to fix it (which they have in the past on other bills).

Sticking point: With this all-GOP congress, itching to repeal the ACA (Obama-care) would or in fact could they be counted on to “fix” it? That is the million-dollar question isn’t it?

Stay tuned – we ain’t done yet (but maybe soon). Then we’ll see who stands with whom on this critical issue. Check back later.

Related to this subject: here from Media Matters and here at my earlier post below.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Picture Worth a Million Non-Voters: Why the GOP Loves More Voter ID Laws

Typical Scene in the 2014 Midterms and Possibly in 2016
(Shame on the Rightwing)

The headlines from here are encouraging based on the 2014 election turnout results:

Five Ways to Fix America’s Dismal Voter Turnout Problem

Just like the Tom Hanks line from the movie Apollo 13: America, we have a problem.”

Some background: Voter turnout in the U.S. during the 2014 midterm election hit the lowest point since the 1940s.

Plus, the number of Americans heading to the polls each election has been declining for the last fifty years, but added to that, sadly, are the states and lawmakers who have been pushing efforts to keep even more people away from the polls (those nasty voter ID laws).

People do not vote for various reasons, (I think most are weak and limp). Some of the reasons are easier to solve than others.

According to a U.S. Census report from 2013:

  1. 14 percent of nonvoting respondents were unable to participate because of an illness or disability,
  2. 8.6 percent were out of town,
  3. 12.7 percent did not like the candidates or campaign issues, and
  4. 19 percent were just too busy.
Some people cannot take time off from work on those Tuesdays in November to vote, and that has led some lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to call for making Election Day a federal holiday (which I totally support – possibly two days).

Still other voters may not feel engaged in politics or informed enough to vote.

Nearly 6 mission (actually 5.85 million) are prohibited from voting due to a felony conviction on their records.

Then add the harsh voter ID laws, carefully crafted to make sure that certain classes of voters (those who mostly vote for DEMS) never vote …. It’s a mathematical scheme…. Keep our base in tow and stymie theirs – ergo: we win.

Welcome to America – now on the backside of the down slope to nowhere. Shame on those who advocate for more hash and strict voting laws, and shame on us for letting them get away with it.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

CPAC 2015: TEA Party Cesspool to Bellow Against Anything Good and Decent

The "Root of Legislative Evil"
(Center for Radical Laws that Benefit a Few and Harm Many)(

Big Runaway Money Since Citizens United (2010) Ruling
(It's the money, stupid)

First of all, who is ALEC and what do they stand for? In a nutshell:

For almost 40 years now, up to 300 of the largest US corporations — including Koch Industries, Verizon, Bank of America, and Exxon *to name few biggies — have used ALEC to push model legislation, which is beneficial to their corporate interests, into law in the states. 

ALEC boasts that a third of all state legislators in the U.S. are members, introducing around 1,000 ALEC bills every year. By using ALEC to pursue their agenda, they are able to hide their fingerprints, avoid lobbying disclosure, and evade the kind of increased scrutiny that comes when citizens know it’s actually corporations that drafted some of their most important laws.

Recent ALEC bills have rolled back voting rights, reduced environmental protections, and stripped away collective bargaining rights for workers around the country just to name some.

Snapshot from Wikipedia:

Founded: September 1973
Current CEO: Ron Scheberle
Nonprofit category: Government and Public Administration
Tax code status: 501(c) (3)
Founders: Paul Weyrich, Mark Rhoads, Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett

Now about CPAC 2015 – a few key notes from here for those concerned about public education:

CPAC represents the largest gathering of right-wing conservatives from around the country bent on finding ways to undermine public education and limit opportunity for students.

Without a doubt, discussions about siphoning away taxpayer dollars from public education and funneling them into private and religious schools and expanding privately-run charter schools that, despite getting public funding, are not accountable or transparent to the communities they are supposed to serve are red meat for that crowd.

A lot of the speaker’s ideas and prepared talking points come from the ALEC playbook, which includes restricting the ability of educators to advocate for their students and dismantling public education.

Then there is anti-Union types (Scott Walker, in charge) etc. In short just about anything good is fair game for them … the more red meat the better: anti-this, that, druthers.  

Enjoy the research.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Keystone XL Pipeline Update: President Obama Issues Promised Veto

Updated Map of Pipeline Pipeline (the XL Extension)

View of the Pipeline and Tar Sands Crude Route 

Deeply Involved - Why? Big, big money
(Koch and Tar Sands - Helluva Tonic)

Everything Up to This Point Got Us to this Point:  Mr. Obama has made good on his promise - now the ball is in the GOP's corner - can they muster the voters to over ride (2/3 of each house required to over ride, thus that is unlikely).

For the record: This is only the third veto from Mr. Obama.

Related story here - from the people who would have been impacted in the worst possible ways.

Updated: Will the clash over Keystone ever end? By Kaye Foley (Yahoo news): 

On February 11, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the 11th bill approving the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline after it also passed the Senate. It is now headed to President Obama’s desk for his signature, but he has threatened a veto.

It’s the latest chapter in this six-year saga.

In 2008, the Canadian energy company TransCanada submitted plans for the pipeline to the U.S. State Department.

The proposed 1,179-mile Keystone XL pipeline would go from the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to Steele City, Neb. It’s the final piece of a 3,800-mile network that would bring 830,000 barrels of oil a day to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

There are already miles and miles of pipelines beneath U.S. soil. But Keystone has ignited a debate that has become a focal point in Washington. Environmentalists say it’s a threat to the environment. The process of extracting oil from the oil sands in Alberta releases more greenhouse gases than traditional oil drilling.

Meanwhile, supporters claim it will improve U.S. energy security while creating thousands of jobs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has urged President Obama to sign, saying, “The Keystone jobs bill is just common sense.”

The White House opposes the bill because it circumvents the administration’s review of whether or not Keystone XL is in the national interest. President Obama wants to wait for the final recommendation from the State Department. But even if the president vetoes, it’s not the end of this story. Congress could try to override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, although it currently lacks the votes.

GOP supporters may also look to attach Keystone as a rider to any must-pass legislation. (call that another GOP “poison pill” stunt – i.e., pass the bill we want, or else – so, is that anyway to run a country).

Stay tuned – or as Yogi Berra would say:

This update deals with rail transport of oil and latest disaster (story here) in West Virginia. I also provide more background on other rail disaster below.

The logic behind this update is simple: The GOP says no pipeline, okay, we'll transport the tar sands crude via rail ... one way or the other we will get the oil from Canada to Texas. Of course their effort is backed by you know who (Hint: Two brothers named Koch - more on that below, too). They want this project no matter the cost, damage, or future outlook for anything except their bottom line.

Too dramatic photo for you? Common in most rail explosions

  1. On Oct. 19, four rail cars carrying crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas derailed in Alberta, causing a fire that burned for days and forcing evacuation of the nearby hamlet of Gainford.
  2. Another crude-oil tanker train derailed on Nov. 8 and burned near AlicevilleAla., releasing up to 750,000 gallons of oil. 
  3. And on Dec. 30, 20 cars in a mile-long train carrying crude oil ignited and burned after colliding with a derailed grain train near CasseltonN.D., sending up a giant fireball and spilling what federal investigators later estimated to be 476,000 gallons of oil.
Yes, in Canada, too: Last July, 47 people died in a single disaster when an unattended train including 72 tanker cars loaded with crude oil rolled downhill, exploded and burned in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic in Quebec province. Forty buildings were demolished, and an estimated 5.6 million liters (1.5 million gallons) of crude oil spilled or burned.

The tempo of oil-train accidents has increased along with the sharp rise in tanker shipments, as has the amount of oil discharged. Soon after the Casselton spill, an investigative news report by the McClatchy news agency concluded, based on federal data, that last year more oil spilled in the U.S. from rail tank cars than in all the nearly 40 previous years on record combined.

But later that month, on Feb. 26, a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. Sumwalt, told a congressional hearing that incidents such as the Casselton explosion have become an “increasingly commonplace story.” He said continued use of tanker cars built to meet current federal standards poses “an unacceptable public risk.”  Meanwhile, the Association of American Railroads is pressing the federal government to impose “more rigorous standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, including asking for retrofitting tank cars to meet the higher standards or phasing those that cannot be made safer.”

The incidents continue. On Feb. 13, several cars of a train carrying heavy Canadian crude derailed in Western Pennsylvania. This time only a few thousand gallons leaked out, and there was no fire or explosion.

UPDATE (February 9, 2015): This update of the status of this pipeline comes from a very 
thought-providing article here (in the LA Times). This gives us the impression of being between a rock and a hard spot, or lodged between the Koch brothers and the Saudis. I am not entirely sure which is worse: Sipping Koch or gulping Saudi oil???

Credit: David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
(click for larger view)

Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial and ecologically dubious extraction process more commonly known as “fracking,” has opened up vast new reserves of oil in AlbertaNorth Dakota and other areas

The production potential is so great that the United States, rather than being an oil importer reliant on suppliers in the troubled regions of the Middle East, could soon be a major exporter.

The energy independence for which a generation of politicians have clamored is at hand.
Except for one thing.  Fracking is not cheap and the Saudis know it.

Oil prices need to be high to justify drilling into tar sands and shale rock to bring up the hard-to-get-at crude. One good side benefit of high-cost fossil fuels is that renewable energy development has finally become economically feasible. Even as the environment is being compromised by fracking for dirty oil, environmentally friendly wind and solar power businesses have begun to prosper. But, with gasoline prices plummeting to half what they were two years ago, alternative-energy companies are taking a big hit.

Even more dramatic is the effect on the North American oil boom. As profits slump, drilling slows and jobs go away. Even the congressional debate over the Keystone XL pipeline could become moot.

There is no reason to build an expensive pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast if cheap gas makes the cost of pumping from the tar sands a bad business deal. 

[I agree with the article in this regard] … this is just what the Saudis want. Against their own short-term interests, they and their OPEC partners have kept production high and oil abundant.

Continue the article from the link above.

Side Note: Cheap gas is not good news for those who worry about climate change – minus the science deniers, that is … oops.

Original Post (January 29, 2015): This senate vote forces President to veto the pipeline ... the GOP got what they wanted a showdown and utter disregard for clean water, healthy land and air and for what? Big, big payoff for gas, oil, energy industry and the biggest tar sands land holder: Refreshing Koch-a-Kola.
This headline from Media Matters triggered me to got back and review my notes and references on the whole Keystone XL pipeline issue, which is extensive and very complex. My update follows this:

Despite Dropping Oil Prices, Media Are Still Dismissing Keystone XL Climate Impact 

This story is quite detailed with this introduction: Many news outlets are uncritically touting the State Department's conclusion that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not significantly worsen climate change without noting that this determination was based on an expectation of high oil prices. Some media outlets, however, have reported the significance of the recent plunge in oil prices, such as the Associated Press, which noted that “…low oil prices could make the pipeline more important to the development of new oil sands projects in Canada than anticipated by the State Department ... and therefore is more likely to increase emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming.” Continue reading at the above link.

My overall review starts from here (long, but I think important):   Two points from TransCanada here and here.

Some GOPers say: “The positives far outweigh the negatives.” I retort: What negatives? Should we not always strive to reduce or eliminate negatives (and strive for the benefits and positives)? 
Building this pipeline, with a record of over several dozen spills (12 in one year alone) should be reason to pause and not rush into this: it is not a crapshoot … throw the dice and scream 7 come 11 ain’t the answer. Once a spill occurs, all bets are off  because this type of crude (tar sands) is like a rock laden with heavy syrup: it sinks to the bottom of the lake or river, etc. It does not float on the top of the water where is can be easily skimmed off. Why take a chance on any prospective, and I add, massive spill like imagine across or near the Ogallala Aquifer

Who is the Tar Sands Biggest Land Owner? 

More on the Ogallala Aquifer: This is s a hallow water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. It is one of the world's largest aquifers, covering an area of approximately 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of eight States: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas). It was named in 1898 by N. H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, NE. The aquifer is part of the High Plains Aquifer System, and rests on the Ogallala Formation, which is the principal geologic unit underlying 80% of the High Plains.

About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies the aquifer, which yields about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the United States. Since 1950, agricultural irrigation has reduced the saturated volume of the aquifer by an estimated 9%. Depletion is accelerating, with 2% lost between 2001 and 2009 alone. Certain aquifer zones are now empty;  these areas will take over 6,000 years to replenish naturally through rainfall.

The aquifer system supplies drinking water to 82 percent of the 2.3 million people (1990 census) who live within the boundaries of the High Plains study area.  

Myth: Keystone XL Will Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs:

Any big construction project requires workers to build it. How many? The U.S. State Department’s analysis says 3,900 would be employed directly if the job is done in one year, or 1,950 per year if work is spread over two. TransCanada Corp. puts the number higher, saying the project would support 9,000 construction jobs directly.

There would be additional, “indirect” work for companies supplying goods and services, including concrete, fuel, surveying, welding materials and earth-moving equipment required for the project, and “induced” jobs resulting from money spent by workers and suppliers, such as ranchers providing beef for restaurants and construction camps.

Counting up everything, the State Department estimates a total of 42,100 jobs could be created. Trans Canada has accepted the 42,100 figure for total employment. Whatever the number, these jobs are temporary, lasting only for the year or two that it would take to complete the project. The number of permanent jobs is much lower. “The proposed Project would generate approximately 50 jobs during operations,” according to the State Department analysis.

House Republicans are still claiming the project would create 120,000 jobs. But that’s based on outdated information. The House Energy Committee’s GOP majority website extrapolates from figures given by Trans Canada two years ago — for a much longer pipeline than is now proposed.

That was before President Obama initially rejected the original Canada-to-Texas project pending changes in the route. Since then, TransCanada has completed a 485-mile segment of the original project — running from Cushing, OK to refineries in Texas — which did not require presidential approval because it did not cross an international border. Now named the “Gulf Coast Pipeline Project,” construction began in August 2012 and was completed this year. It went into operation on Jan. 22.

The current Keystone XL project includes 875 miles within the U.S. And, as noted, even TransCanada says it would create about 42,000 temporary jobs, not 120,000.

Pipelines can be hazardous. An average of 97,376 barrels (4.1 million gallons) of petroleum and other “hazardous liquids” have been spilled each year in pipeline incidents over the last decade, according to the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline & Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These incidents have claimed an average of two lives per year, and resulted in more than $263 million in annual reported property damage as well.

Those figures include the most expensive onshore oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, caused when 30-inch pipe operated by Enbridge ruptured on July 26, 2010, near Marshall, Mich. That dumped more than 1 million gallons of Canadian diluted bitumen — the same material that would be carried in the proposed 36-inch Keystone pipeline — into the Kalamazoo River. Enbridge is still struggling to complete the cleanup, having failed to meet a Dec. 31 Environmental Protection Agency deadline for dredging remaining oil residue that settled on the bottom of the river.

Although Enbridge initially put the spill at about 840,000 gallons, the EPA said last year that 1.15 million gallons had been recovered and 350,000 cubic yards of contaminated river sediment remained to be recovered. Enbridge said in August 2013 that it had spent more than $1 billion on the cleanup and remediation to date, and the figure continues to rise.

A spill from the Keystone could potentially have similar effects. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, in its final evaluation report on the project, found that the properties of the diluted forms of bitumen that would flow through the state in the Keystone pipeline “are similar in many respects to other heavy sour crude oils.” For what it’s worth, TransCanada says it plans to make the Keystone “the safest pipeline ever constructed in the U.S.,” adding more remote shut-off valves and inspections and burying the pipe more deeply than with other pipelines.

And that calamity is by no means an isolated incident.  

This presentation is outstanding in that is shows graphically the Koch reach into so many areas or our lives ... the pipeline segment is at about the 38:00-minute mark. It shows the evidence re: this project - worth your time to watch:

Based on relative safety records to date, the State Department estimated that an average of six deaths per year would result if the Keystone isn’t built and the same amount of oil is shipped by rail instead. More than twice as much oil is likely to be spilled as well, State estimated.

(1)  Tar sands are “game over” for the climate. Canada’s tar sands, which Keystone XL would carry, could contain double the carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in history — and green lighting the pipeline that would carry them to the global market would be disastrous for climate change.

(2)  The supposed benefits of the tar sands pipeline have been over hyped. While supporters once said that the pipeline would bring gas prices down, experts agree that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline could even increase domestic gas prices — and have little chance of lowering them. Jobs numbers, too, have been wildly inflated; TransCanada gave U.S. officials a job number that was 67 times higher than the number they used in Canada. While every U.S. job is important, the estimates on this project have ranged from 50 permanent jobs, to 2,500 temporary jobs, to TransCanada’s claim of 20,000 jobs. Even unions agree that clean energy jobs outweigh this potential for temporary dirty oil jobs.  

(3)  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline puts our country’s natural resources at risk. The pipeline route passes through Nebraska’s Ogallala Aquifer (as discussed above), which is the country’s largest source of freshwater as addressed above. Even a single spill could have disastrous consequences for generations to come — and a University of Nebraska at Lincoln analysis of the pipeline finds that it could have 91 major spills in 50 years.

(4)  On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Americans voted against dirty energy and against Big Oil. Big Oil bet big on the election — and lost big. Big Oil-backed groups spent over $270 million on television ads in the last two months of the cycle alone, and have little to show for it. A recent Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll found that 64 percent of voters say they have a favorable impression of renewable energy. In a Zogby poll released today, only 12 percent of respondents said that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was a “priority.” Meanwhile, 48 percent identified renewable energy as a priority.

(5)  The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline compromises our energy security. The tar sands oil that will pass through the pipeline is intended for the international market, making Keystone XL a pipeline that goes through the U.S. — not to the U.S. Furthermore, the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline continues to feed our dangerous addiction to oil that compromises national security and places American troops in harm’s way.

Key Point:  Canada’s pro-industry energy regulator — the National Energy Board — just announced a sweeping audit of TransCanada’s Canadian operations. This is the latest in a long series of accidents, shutdowns and pipeline safety infractions that have hounded the Canadian pipeline operator TransCanada.  Earlier this month, TransCanada was forced to shut its leak prone Keystone I tar sands pipeline down for four days after finding an “anomaly” — a technical term for cracks, corrosion or other defects in a pipeline which may lead to a rupture. These incidents are not unique; TransCanada has a sordid history as a pipeline operator

Don’t take my word for, ask the folks in Upper Michigan along the Kalamazoo River regarding a record spill there.  

Note: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once said that “TransCanada could pursue an alternative route through Canada to the West Coast, where oil could be shipped to China and other Asian markets.” However, Canadian Native group opponents call the West Coast option far fetched. They note that Canadian regulators have announced a one-year delay for a similar project that would carry tar sands oil to British Columbia (Canada's west coast as Harper referred to). But, that group has constitutionally protected treaty rights and unsettled land claims that could allow them to block or significantly delay both pipelines.

Finally, Media Matters here takes on and debunks five of the prevailing media myths about Keystone XL.

As I've said all along from my research and actual events, this is still a very bad idea. Stay tuned - this issue is by no means a "done deal."