Category: Progressive

Congratulations to our LGBT friends and relatives – Constitutional progress prevails

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White House illuminated in celebration, tonight

A special Thank You to Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He is the sole traditional American conservative within that court. The sole honest conservative in that court. Willing to look forward, willing to join in building progress and understanding in a nation still wracked by divisions grounded in hate and fear on the Right.

Including the syllabus of the original filing, here is the Supreme Court’s decision [.pdf] – which Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.

Attention Grayheads — Congressional Voting Records


Workingclass men and women built this land. We deserve the fruits of our labor.

This week, the Alliance for Retired Americans released its annual report detailing the voting record of every U.S. Representative and Senator on issues important to current and future retirees. The voting record looks at ten key votes in both the Senate and the House and assigns a “Pro-Retiree” score for each member of Congress. Scores reflect a member’s level of support for retirees and older Americans.

This year, votes examined include whether to:

Privatize Medicare and create a voucher-like system in its place;

Turn Medicaid into a block grant system, which would undercut its ability to provide care for millions of older Americans;

Raise the minimum wage; and

Increase the debt ceiling and keep the government open…

In total, 49 members of the Senate and 135 members of the House received perfect scores of 100 percent. 34 Senators and 122 House members received zeros. Of those members of the Senate who have declared their candidacy for President, Ted Cruz (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rand Paul (R-KY) scored zero while Bernie Sanders (I-VT) scored 100%.

I hope my peers break the mold of American ignorance and vote in their own general interest instead of believing what politicians say – versus what they actually do.

There’s an interactive map at the ARA site so you can check up on your own state.

NSA bulk phone records collecting to expire – at least for a while – we hope


“What do we do, now?”

Even as the Senate remains at an impasse over the future of US domestic surveillance powers, the National Security Agency will be legally unable to collect US phone records in bulk by the time Congress returns from its Memorial Day vacation…

The administration, as suggested in a memo it sent Congress on Wednesday, declined to ask a secret surveillance court for another 90-day extension of the order necessary to collect US phone metadata in bulk. The filing deadline was Friday, hours before the Senate failed to come to terms on a bill that would have formally repealed the NSA domestic surveillance program…

It represents a quiet, unceremonious end to the most domestically acrimonious NSA program revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, in a June 2013 exposé in the Guardian – effectively preempting a bid by GOP leader Mitch McConnell to retain it. But McConnell and other Senate Republicans intend to continue their fight to preserve both that program and other broad surveillance powers under the Patriot Act…

I hope no one expected leading Republicans to support unfettered privacy for Americans other than themselves.

“The Senate is in gridlock, but the tides are shifting,” Michael Macleod-Ball of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office said Saturday. “For the first time, a majority of senators took a stand against simply rubber-stamping provisions of the Patriot Act that have been used to spy on Americans…

It is unclear how the House will vote if its choices are pushed to the extremes that the Senate impasse has set up: all the post-9/11 domestic surveillance powers under the Patriot Act or none of them.

The NSA and the Obama administration have conceded that the bulk domestic phone records collection has never stopped a terrorist attack. Even though the administration has taken as a fallback position the line that the FBI surveillance powers under Section 215 are crucial for domestic counterterrorism, a Justice Department inspector general’s report issued on Thursday “did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.”

I was heartened by the actions of a New Mexico Senator I haven’t followed as well or as long as I have Tom Udall. That is Martin Heinrich. I wasn’t surprised by Rand Paul’s grandstand opposition. After all, he’s running for president. Heinrich has nothing to run for other than re-election and that is with a base that is highly dependent on government funding for every military-industrial gewgaw since the invention of the Cold War.

Apprehensive as I am of Democrats who talk like they’re prepared to stand up for working class families and constitutional rights, civil rights and civil liberties – Martin Heinrich appears ready to walk the walk, as well.

Homes leaving the power grid is a sign of bad public utility policies

SolarCity Corp. Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive doesn’t want his customers defecting from the power grid — unless they live in Hawaii.

The biggest U.S. residential solar installer expects to offer by next year a package that combines solar panels, batteries and a back-up generator, and will supply all the power needed by residential customers.

In Hawaii, home to the highest U.S. electricity rates, using the setup to disconnect from the power grid may save people as much as 15 percent compared to their local utility bills, Rive said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

In other states, utilities would benefit from millions of homes with batteries and solar panels, by tapping the stored electricity during periods of peak demand when the local grid needs extra capacity. Having people disconnect from power grids is a symptom of poorly designed regulations.

“It’s bad policy that got us there,” Rive, 38, said in the interview in San Francisco.

Utilities in states from Arizona to Wisconsin are seeking changes to rates and adding fees for residential customers with solar power, to offset lost revenue from the growth of companies like SolarCity.

Most public utilities are as incompetent as elected officials from the two weasel parties we’re allowed. Instead of working to combine alternative power sources and systems, they’re like craft unions or guilds in the 19th Century trying to protect their fiefdom instead of moving to the collective benefits of modern tech.

Our family is convinced of the benefits of solar technology for all the good reasons – from health and sane energy production to long-range reduced cost. Our public utility here in New Mexico is as backwards as any. Perfectly willing to lie and cheat to maintain their guaranteed profits regardless of environmental and cost negatives. They misstated their cost of maintaining coal-burning plants by a billion dollar$, they’re already trying to push pandering state politicians into a regressive tax on homeowners who convert to solar power – even grid-tied systems.

Useless enemies of progress. It will be their policies that determine whether we go grid-tied or off the grid when we convert our little compound to solar.

Oh yeah. Before going to bed, last night, I caught the end of Rive’s interview with Emily Chang on BLOOMBERG WEST. He obviously has little confidence in either public utilities corporations or state regulators doing anything sensible. He figures Solar City will end up bringing the Hawaiian model as an option to all the mainland states.

Stephen Colbert and friends fund projects for teachers across South Carolina


Click to visit donorschoose.org

Teachers across Spartanburg County were shocked to learn their online education grants had been funded Thursday morning by a partnership including South Carolina native Stephen Colbert.

Colbert, a comedian and television personality, announced that he partnered with the nonprofit group Share Fair Nation, and Greenville-based ScanSource to fund every classroom project in the state on DonorsChoose.org, a website that lets teachers crowd fund classroom projects by requesting the necessary materials from donors.

Together, the three contributions will give $800,000 to fund nearly 1,000 projects for more than 800 teachers at 375 schools across the state…

Turner Fortner, a kindergarten teacher at Oakland Elementary School, said her request asked for school supplies for the students who will be in her class next year. She was surprised her request was funded, but was especially shocked by the source of the money. “I was like, are my eyes playing tricks on me,” she said. “I’m so thankful for what he (Colbert) did for teachers across South Carolina. More than anything, I’m thankful for what he did for my students for next year.”

And that, my friends, is how the best of teachers always think. What can we do to make education better, make it work for these kids?

Hat tip to Stephen Colbert.

Bernie’s petition

At a time of massive wealth inequality, when 99% of all new income generated in this country goes to the top 1%, and when over half of the American people have less than $10,000 in savings, the last thing we should do is cut Social Security.

When the average Social Security benefit is $1,328 a month, and more than one-third of our senior citizens rely on Social Security for virtually all of their income, our job is to expand benefits, not cut them.

Despite what some of my Republican colleagues have said, Social Security is not going broke. It has a $2.8 trillion surplus and can pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 18 years.

The best way to make Social Security solvent for the next 50 years is to scrap the cap on taxable earnings. Join me and my friends at Social Security Works in calling on Congress to scrap the cap and expand, not cut Social Security!

Today, a Wall Street CEO who makes $18 million a year pays the same into Social Security as someone earning $118,500. That’s absurd. If we simply applied the payroll tax on income above $250,000, not only could we extend Social Security’s solvency until 2065, we could also increase benefits to meet the elderly’s higher living expenses.

Despite the logic behind that, some Republicans want to raise the Social Security retirement age to 69 and reduce benefits. I wonder what world these people are living in. To take benefits away from seniors now is simply a continuation of the war being waged by the Republican Party against the elderly, against the children, against the sick and against the poor, in order to benefit millionaires and billionaires…

Stand with me today and call on Congress to scrap the cap and use the increased revenues to expand, not cut Social Security. If we stand together and fight back, we can win this battle.

Sincerely,

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at 5.17.25 PM

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Click on the link in the post. Join the fight.

How the IRS could do your taxes for you

Tax Day doesn’t have to suck — at least not this much.

The IRS knows what you make. It knows if you typically take the standard deduction. For a lot of Americans, the IRS could just fill out their taxes for them. It would save billions of dollars in tax preparation fees and hundreds of millions of hours spent filling out tax forms.

This isn’t some wild idea: it was piloted in California, where citizens loved it — 97 percent of those who used it said they would do so again. It’s how taxes work in Denmark, Sweden, and Spain…

Politicians ranging from President Obama to Ronald Reagan have supported this tax change — but there are some very rich companies and some very powerful activists standing in its way.

Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, is a particularly powerful opponent. Such a system “minimizes the taxpayers’ voice blah, blah, blah…”

But that excuse doesn’t hold much water. Under these automatic systems, no one has to let the IRS fill out their taxes for them. They can continue to do it by hand or by TurboTax, or hire an accountant. Intuit knows, however, that many fewer Americans would do their own taxes under this scenario, and that would be a big hit to Intuit’s bottom line.

Some anti-tax conservatives also hate the idea of the IRS filling out sample returns. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, warns, “Conservatives, in particular, should see this ploy for what it clearly is: a money-grab by the government.” The easier and more efficient the tax system is, the more money it will raise, and the less public anger there will be for anti-tax conservatives to harness.

I’ve looked at samples and, frankly, come up with no difference in results. Plus a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon in February my wife and I usually spend cranking out a return — handed back to us.

Of course, regulation which ends up saving taxpayers and the government money and time is way too rational for Congress to consider. Especially when there are lobbyists with deep pockets who say the change is unnecessary and probably unAmerican.

Asia’s Multilateralism


That’s Bob Shiller’s book on Irrational Exuberance on the shelf

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are poised to hold their annual meetings, but the big news in global economic governance will not be made in Washington DC in the coming days. Indeed, that news was made last month, when the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy joined more than 30 other countries as founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The $50 billion AIIB, launched by China, will help meet Asia’s enormous infrastructure needs, which are well beyond the capacity of today’s institutional arrangements to finance.

One would have thought that the AIIB’s launch, and the decision of so many governments to support it, would be a cause for universal celebration. And for the IMF, the World Bank, and many others, it was. But, puzzlingly, wealthy European countries’ decision to join provoked the ire of American officials. Indeed, one unnamed American source accused the UK of “constant accommodation” of China. Covertly, the United States put pressure on countries around the world to stay away.

In fact, America’s opposition to the AIIB is inconsistent with its stated economic priorities in Asia. Sadly, it seems to be another case of America’s insecurity about its global influence trumping its idealistic rhetoric – this time possibly undermining an important opportunity to strengthen Asia’s developing economies.

China itself is a testament to the extent to which infrastructure investment can contribute to development. Last month, I visited formerly remote areas of the country that are now prosperous as a result of the connectivity – and thus the freer flow of people, goods, and ideas – that such investments have delivered.

The AIIB would bring similar benefits to other parts of Asia, which deepens the irony of US opposition. President Barack Obama’s administration is championing the virtues of trade; but, in developing countries, lack of infrastructure is a far more serious barrier to trade than tariffs.

A generally wholistic understanding of the workings of the global economy is just one of the reasons Joe Stiglitz was honored with the Nobel Prize in economics. It ain’t a bad start.

RTFA and understand why modern economists think our government’s hypocrisy ain’t new – just backwards for a couple new reasons.

Uninsured rate for Americans below 12%


Connecticut opened the first health insurance storefront in the nation

The uninsured rate among U.S. adults declined to 11.9% for the first quarter of 2015 — down one percentage point from the previous quarter and 5.2 points since the end of 2013, just before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. The uninsured rate is the lowest since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008.

…The uninsured rate has dropped sharply since the most significant change to the U.S. healthcare system in the Affordable Care Act — the provision requiring most Americans to carry health insurance — took effect at the beginning of 2014. An improving economy and a falling unemployment rate may also have accelerated the steep drop in the percentage of uninsured over the past year. However, the uninsured rate is significantly lower than it was in early 2008, before the depths of the economic recession, suggesting that the recent decline is due to more than just an improving economy.

While the uninsured rate has declined across all key demographic groups since the healthcare law fully took effect in January 2014, it has dropped most among lower-income Americans and Hispanics — the groups most likely to lack insurance. The uninsured rate among Americans earning less than $36,000 in annual household income dropped 8.7 points since the end of 2013, while the rate among Hispanics fell 8.3 points. The significant drop in uninsured Hispanics is a key accomplishment for the Obama administration, which led targeted efforts to insure this group as they had the highest uninsured population of all key subgroups. However, despite the gains in insurance coverage among Hispanics and lower-income Americans, these groups still have higher uninsured rates than other key subgroups.

Americans aged 26 to 34 have also seen gains in coverage since the healthcare law went into effect — the uninsured rate among this group is down 7.4 points since the end of 2013, the largest drop among any age group. Blacks have also seen a substantial drop in their uninsured rate since the fourth quarter of 2013 — 7.3 points.

RTFA for lots of stats, predictably conservative analysis.

The most important thing we will all be forced to recognize about this successful start-up is that Republicans hate it. Today’s conservatives, their bigot allies, economics failures whose knowledge made it only a half century beyond Henry Clay – will dissect every step of growth in coverage, savings for working people and the working poor, Americans in general – to try to find the socialist plot behind the whole endeavor. Socialist ethics really frustrates folks who consider protecting greed the 11th Commandment.

I’ll tell you the socialist plot, right now. Folks who care – want a true single-payer system with the right to negotiate fixed prices on procedures and meds. Just like the the freaking military. Just like every other sensible, frugal, industrial democracy. It works and has been working for over a half-century in some cases.

I realize that’s still too modern for some folks; but, try an honest debate grounded in real numbers and real needs sometime. Walk away from the sleaze and deceit today’s Republicans have to rely upon to justify their existence on this planet – and their opposition to true socialized healthcare.