How Obama and Congressional Republicans Intend to Pass TPP Into Law

Washington’s Blog | March 18 2016

Back on 10 December 2015, the head of the U.S. Senate, the pro-Obama-trade-deals Republican Mitch McConnell, said that Obama shouldn’t try to pass his TPP or any other of his three mega-trade-deals until after the November elections, because Senators and Representatives won’t vote for it until the voters have already voted for their re-election (so that they’ll then be free to vote against those voters’ interests).

The previous congressional votes on these deals showed that congressional Republicans overwhelmingly favor them but many congressional Democrats oppose them. For example, in the crucial vote, in the Senate, only 37 of the 100 Senators voted against the enabling legislation (without which legislation they can’t pass), called “Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority,” which will enable the President to ram these treaties through Congress, and 30 of these Senators were Democrats, 5 (Collins, Cruz, Paul, Sessions, and Shelby) were Republicans, and 2 (Sanders and King) were independents. That’s both independents, 30 of the 44 Democrats, and only 5 of the 54 Republicans. So: these bills are overwhelmingly Republican trade bills, which were created by a ‘Democratic’ President.

These deals will be enormously favorable to large international corporations, at the expense of workers’ rights, consumer rights, and environmental protection; so, it’s natural that they have overwhelming Republican support in Congress.

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The Koch-Fueled Plot to Destroy the VA

By Kevin Drum | Sun Mar. 13 | Mother Jones

A ranking of the various kinds of American health care on a “socialized medicine” scale of 1 to 10 would look something like this:

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If you’re a hardcore libertarian, which program would you be most eager to privatize? The VA, of course, which is America’s only genuine example of purely socialized medicine. In the past, the VA’s status as health care provider to military vets has protected it from attack, but that’s changed over the past few years. Why? Because of a carefully orchestrated smear campaign by a Koch-funded activist group called Concerned Veterans for America. Over at the Washington Monthly, Alicia Mundy reports:

Though the CVA’s incorporation papers don’t reveal its donors, Wayne Gable, former head of federal affairs for Koch Industries, is listed as a trustee. The group also hired Pete Hegseth as its CEO…a seasoned conservative activist, having been groomed at a series of organizations connected to—and often indirectly funded by—the Koch brothers.

…Hegseth became a fixture on Fox and was a guest on Bill Maher’s show….By late 2013, Hegseth and the CVA were making the case that the VA needed “market-based” reform that provided vets with more “choice” to receive care from private doctors and hospitals.

…Then, on April 9, 2014, at a hearing in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Representative [Jeff] Miller dropped the bomb. He announced that his staff had been quietly investigating the VA hospital in Phoenix and had made a shocking discovery: some local VA officials had altered or destroyed records to hide evidence of lengthy wait times for appointments. And worse, Miller claimed, as many as forty veterans could have died while waiting for care.

This latter charge guaranteed screaming headlines from the likes of CNN, but was later shown to be unsubstantiated…In only twenty-eight out of the more than 3,000 patient cases examined by the inspector general was there any evidence of patient care being adversely affected by wait times…In most VA facilities, wait times for established patients to see a primary care doc or a specialist were in the range of two to four days…For the VA system as a whole, 96 percent of patients received appointments within thirty days.

In short, there was no fundamental problem at the VA with wait times, in Phoenix or anywhere else.

Continue reading The Koch-Fueled Plot to Destroy the VA

The VA Isn’t Broken, Yet

by Alicia Mundy | March/April/May 2016 | Washington Monthly

Inside the Koch brothers’ campaign to invent a scandal and dismantle the country’s most successful health care system.
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Falling in line: Republican candidates like Marco Rubio have made pilgrimages to events sponsored by the Koch brothers-funded group Concerned Veterans for America.

In past presidential primaries, when candidates wanted to win the votes of veterans they would trek to American Legion halls and Veterans of Foreign Wars conventions in far corners of Iowa and New Hampshire. While there’s been a little of that in the current primary contest, a new pattern has emerged, at least on the Republican side.

Over the last year, every major GOP candidate with the exception of Donald Trump has made a pilgrimage to gatherings put on by Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), a group that had barely formed during the 2012 primary cycle. Whereas candidates back in the day were under pressure from the old-line veterans’ groups to promise undying support for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and its nationwide network of hospitals and clinics, the opposite has been true this season. Candidates at CVA rallies have been competing with each other to badmouth the VA and its allegedly shabby treatment of veterans. And all have pledged fealty to the CVA’s goal of moving as many vets as possible out of the VA into private care. Even Trump is calling for more “choice.”

This may not at first hearing seem too surprising. Nearly the whole of the Republican Party has become more radically antigovernment in recent years. And since the spring of 2014, when headlines started appearing about long wait times and cover-ups at some VA hospitals, a strong narrative has built up, including in the mainstream media, that the system is fundamentally broken. A recent front-page headline in the New York Times proclaimed, as if it were a matter of fact, that Bernie Sanders’s support for the VA during the controversy over wait times proved his poor judgment: “Faith in Agency Clouded Bernie Sanders’s V.A. Response.”

Continue reading The VA Isn’t Broken, Yet

It Turns Out the Koch Brothers Took an Interest in the VA Hospital System

BY CHARLES P. PIERCE | MAR 11, 2016 | Esquire

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A great number of people out there will tell you that there is nothing that unusual about how the Koch Brothers are slinging around their money in an attempt to refashion government at almost every level to conform to their dystopian concept of civilization. There are even people who will point to their various charitable endeavors as though these were somehow acceptable penance for their unceasing campaign to deform the country into something they can keep in their poolhouse. Then again, there’s also someone like Alicia Mundy, who comes along and explains that, yes, the Kochs are every bit the conniving plutocrats that you think they are, and that, yes, they want everything and are half on the way to getting it.

Continue reading It Turns Out the Koch Brothers Took an Interest in the VA Hospital System

Unsure About Socialism? Here’s More Evidence That Capitalism Is Killing America

by Paul Buchheit | March 14, 2016 } Common Dreams

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(Photo: wildwise studio/flickr/cc.)

A recent Gallup poll found that less people would vote for a socialist than for an atheist, a Muslim, or an evangelical Christian. Media-numbed Americans still believe that “government is the problem.” Yet evidence keeps pouring in that free-market capitalism treats public safety as a profit-killer, dismisses environmental issues as irrelevant to business, and eliminates jobs to please investors.

Reports from the past six months show that the ongoing record of capitalist greed and irresponsibility has plunged to new lows.

1. Mocking Public Health and Safety

It’s disturbing enough that Volkswagen and Ford and General Motors and other auto companies rigged emissions tests and took safety shortcuts to save money; and that the Southern California Gas Co. lied about its poisonous sulfur levels; and that Exxon was found to be hiding its own climate change research for four decades; and that tens of thousands of government-subsidized abandoned mines have been left to pollute our waterways.

Continue reading Unsure About Socialism? Here’s More Evidence That Capitalism Is Killing America

Higher taxes do not kill jobs

by David Cay Johnston | June 20, 2014 | AlJazeera America 

County-level BLS data tell the true story about job growth

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America added 2.3 million jobs last year as the economy continued its too-slow recovery from the Great Recession. But it is where those jobs were concentrated that should garner attention. New county-level data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveal where jobs are increasing and decreasing. According to the numbers, job growth was concentrated in places that raised taxes, such as California, and in already high-tax areas, notably New York City.

Indeed, the empirical evidence indicates that increased or already high taxes appear not to put a damper on jobs, posing new challenges for those who argue that tax cuts are the primary and perhaps sole elixir for our economic woes and that tax increases always and everywhere spell doom for job seekers.

First, consider California, where voters in 2012 elected to increase both sales and income taxes beginning in 2013. Last year California ranked third in job growth at 2.9 percent, much better than the national average of 1.8 percent.

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Americans have lost out on $6.6 trillion

by David Cay Johnston | July 09, 2014 | AlJazeeraAmerica

The inability to maintain 2000-level prosperity has cost us all

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Why are so many Americans feeling squeezed economically even as the economy expands at an accelerating pace?

Last month set a new record for sustained job creation: 52 straight months of added jobs, with a robust 288,000 more jobs in June and more than 9 million jobs created since February 2010. The unemployment rate is down to 6.1 percent, and the number of long-term unemployed has been slashed, from about 5 million people to about 3 million.

The stock market is soaring, reaching a record high on July 3. The Dow Jones industrial average passed 17,000 — amazing compared with its Great Recession low of 6,627 in March 2009, just weeks after President Barack Obama took office.

So what’s missing? Why did Obama acknowledge in a television interview last week that the “underlying trend for middle class families, that they don’t feel, no matter how hard they work, they’re able to get ahead in the same way that their parents were able to get ahead.”

Continue reading Americans have lost out on $6.6 trillion

Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015

By Brendan Fischer and Zachary Peters, PR Watch | News Analysis | March 09 2016 | TruthOut 

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ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from an accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests. (Photo: School Money via Shutterstock; Edited: LW / TO)

Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org and PRWatch.org. (A PDF version of this report may be downloaded here.)

One of ALEC’s biggest funders is Koch Industries and the Koch brothers’ fortune. The Kochs have had a seat at the table – where the private sector votes as equals with legislators – on ALEC’s education task force via their “grassroots” group Americans for Prosperity and their Freedom Partners group, which was described as the Kochs’ “secret bank.”

The Kochs also have a voice on ALEC’s Education Task Force through multiple state-based think tanks of the State Policy Network, ALEC’s sister organization, which is funded by many of the same corporations and foundations and donor entities.

ALEC’s Education Task Force is also funded by the billionaire DeVos family, which bankrolls a privatization operation called “American Federation of Children,” and by for-profit corporations like K12 Inc., which was founded by junk-bond king Michael Milliken.

Continue reading Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015

Iowa Poll: Majority want police to wear body cameras

by Kathy A. Bolten |  March 11, 2016 } The Des Moines Register

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Eric Spring, sergeant for the Johnston Police Department, wears a body camera on his shirt. (Photo: Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

A strong majority of Iowans support requiring the state’s law enforcement officers to wear body cameras to capture interactions with citizens, a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows.

Iowans also favor treating the images those cameras record as public documents that anyone could inspect.

Marcia Beck of Des Moines is among the 76 percent of Iowans who favor requiring law officers to wear body cameras.

“I think (body cameras) hold police accountable for what they do,” said Beck, 63. “There can’t be any question about whether an officer did right or wrong — it’s there on camera.”

A growing number of Iowa’s 350 law enforcement agencies now — or will soon — equip officers with body cameras as a way to increase accountability and allay concerns about officer misconduct. Police officers in Des Moines are expected to begin wearing body cameras by June; officers in Clive, Waukee, Johnston and Iowa City already wear the devices.

Continue reading Iowa Poll: Majority want police to wear body cameras

Corrupt Societies Encourage Lying

By Laurel Hamers | Mar. 9, 2016 | Science Magazine

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How likely are you to tell a lie? A new study links individual cheating with institutionalized rule-breaking.

When do we decide it’s OK to tell a lie? Perhaps when we see people in positions of power doing the same. A new study finds that individuals are more likely to lie if they live in a country with high levels of institutional corruption and fraud—suggesting that poorly run institutions hurt society in more ways than previously suspected.

Past research has shown that people are more likely to break the rules if those around them are also doing so. For instance, people surrounded by graffiti and litter are more likely to drop trash themselves. “But what we really don’t know is to what extent societal norms like political fraud, corruption, and tax evasion trickle down—and to what extent such societal norms corrupt individuals,” says Shaul Shalvi, a behavioral scientist at the University of Amsterdam who was not involved in the work.

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