Friday, February 18, 2011

Last Call

Since we seem to have a few folks having some trouble understanding what's going on in Wisconsin, here's a primer.

In Wisconsin, budget season is two years long. The current budget window was opened on July 1, 2009, and will close on June 30 of this year. If for unexpected reason, the state finds itself faced with a severe deficit within a biennial window, the legislature must pass what's known a "budget repair bill" -- to close the gap with spending cuts or other emergency measures.

The state has not crossed that threshold.

The previous governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, passed a budget that left the state poised for a surplus this year. When Walker took office in January he chipped away at that surplus with three conservative tax expenditure bills, but not severely enough to trigger a budget repair bill. The current, small shortfall was "manufactured by Governor Walker's own insistence on making the deficit worse with the bills he passed in January," Kreitlow said. But Walker cited that shortfall to introduce a "budget repair bill" anyhow -- a fully elective move that includes his plan to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.

"The trigger had not been reached prior to Governor Walker adding to the previous year's deficit by passing bills that didn't create a single job," Kreitlow said.

Walker will soon have to introduce an actual budget, which will outline spending and revenue policy for the two years between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013. And the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau -- the official scorekeeper -- does project that he'll face a $3 billion shortfall. But Democrats faced a shortfall twice as large ahead of the previous budget cycle and managed to close the gap.

"The $3 billion is a projection based on requests and forecasts, but it's the governor who has to do the hard work of putting together a plan," Kreitow explained. "it is just practically half of the projected deficit that we closed in the last budget bill, which we did by making serious cuts and some very deliberate choices. That's what we expect leaders to do." In 2009, Wisconsin Dems did get just over a billion in help from the stimulus bill, but they made up the rest by giving state agencies less money than they asked for, and through furloughs and other real austerity measures.

"We know it could be closed again by making tough choices," Kreitow said. "But not included in those tough choices would be stripping away labor rights that have allowed there to be labor peace in Wisconsin for over 50 years."

To recap:  Wisconsin had a $6 billion shortfall in 2009-2011.  It was closed when Democrats made painful cuts.  Democrats balanced the budget and even had a small surplus as a result.  Voters rewarded them by putting Republicans in charge, including Scott Walker, because voters don't like cuts, and they don't like tax increases.  Democrats in Wisconsin did both, but they solved the state's fiscal problems and they balanced the two-year budget.

Scott Walker's first act was to pass tax cuts that eliminated the surplus and caused a shortfall for the June 30, 2011 deadline.  He then used that shortfall as an excuse to go after state worker benefits and collective bargaining rights.  Yes, the 2011-2013 budget is going to be messy, mainly because states actually have to pay for tax cuts.  Walker's tax cuts are going to cost Wisconsin dearly, too.

So if tax cuts create jobs and revenue, how come Wisconsin is going broke?

That's it.

Deep In The Changing Heart Of Texas

The 2010 Census numbers bear out what many have estimated for years now:  Texas, like California, is now a majority minority state, and that's going to make things difficult for the GOP to keep their supermajority.

Texas is a majority-minority state for the first time in a redistricting period, according to just-released census data, a fact that could complicate Republicans’ hopes for a partisan gerrymander—and make the state competitive for Democrats in future years.

Whites now account for just 45 percent of the state's population, down from 52 percent a decade ago. The Hispanic population is now 38 percent of the total population—growing by 42 percent—while the African-American population grew slightly and is now 12 percent of the total population. The state gained four congressional seats in reapportionment, largely due to minority growth: Almost 90 percent of the state's growth was from minorities.

The census findings complicate Republicans' hopes for a partisan gerrymander during this redistricting process. The Democratic lean of Hispanic voters and Voting Rights Act requirements that protect the group's voting strength from being watered down means that despite Republican control of the redistricting process, the GOP will struggle to make the map much more favorable to their party.

"The numbers will dictate what is possible and what can be done," said state Sen. Kel Seliger, one of the Republicans tapped to run the redistricting process. Seliger predicted there would be at least one more Hispanic opportunity district in the Rio Grande Valley, but said it was too early to predict whether there should be a second, something Hispanic groups have called for, because the redistricting committee has yet to analyze the Citizen Voting Age Population data that they must use to draw the lines.

Republicans under former Rep. Tom DeLay effectively re-redistricted the state in the middle of the decade, tearing apart districts Democrats had carefully drawn to protect their "WD-40s"—white Democrats over 40. The plan was a big success for Republicans: The delegation went from 17-15 Democrat earlier in the decade to 21-11 Republican in 2004. Republicans now hold 23 of the 32 House seats after picking up three districts in the 2010 wave election, and Democrats hold only one House seat where whites make up more than a quarter of the district's population. Forty-two of the 49 Democratic state representatives are minorities.

So, we'll see what this means down the road for the Lone Star State, but odds are pretty good that Texas may not be the blood red state that gave us Dubya for too much longer.

No Planned Parenthood Survives First Contact With The Enemy

Republicans sure are working to create jobs misery.

The House has approved a Republican proposal to block federal aid for Planned Parenthood.

The 240-185 vote on Friday is a victory for anti-abortion forces led by Indiana GOP Rep. Mike Pence. He says taxpayer money should not go to groups that provide or promote abortion.

"This afternoon's vote is a victory for taxpayers and a victory for life," Pence said Friday. "By banning funding to Planned Parenthood, Congress has taken a stand for millions of Americans who believe their tax dollars should not be used to subsidize the largest abortion provider in America."

Democrats say Planned Parenthood provides contraception and other valuable family planning services, and that cutting off the money will make it hard for women to get such basic help.

Planned Parenthood provides services in hundreds of clinics around the country. Pence aides say the group reported receiving $363 million in federal money in its latest report.

You know, about 2% of Planned Parenthood's services involve abortions.  Those abortions are not paid for with federal money except in cases of rape or incest, consistent with the Hyde Amendment.  So in order to punish Planned Parenthood, Pence and the GOP are willing to strip hundreds of millions from clinics across the country.  Nice guys.

And really, the goal here is to punish anyone who happens to have a uterus.  It's what Republicans do.

A Bunch Of Block Heads, Part 2

Republicans continue to try to do anything they can to make sure government doesn't try to regulate the multi-trillion dollar Wall Street tycoons.

Republicans aiming to unhinge the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation have turned to a new line of attack and have told the Treasury, Federal Reserve and other regulators to do more due diligence, according to a letter obtained on Thursday.

The letter raises questions about whether U.S. regulators are adequately following federal rule-making procedures such as reviewing public comments and conducting rigorous economic analyses of the rules' impact on the industry.

A failure to abide by these guidelines has in the past forced the Securities and Exchange Commission to backtrack on numerous rules. The issue could come up again under Dodd-Frank if industry groups decide to challenge regulators for weaknesses in their rule making.

"We are concerned that regulators are not allowing adequate time for meaningful public comment on their proposed rules," said the letter, which was addressed to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the heads of the Fed and market and banking regulators.

"We also believe that regulators are not conducting rigorous analyses of the costs and benefits of their rules and the effects those rules could have on the economy," said the letter, signed by the Republicans on the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees the implementation of Dodd-Frank.

The letter was dated February 15 and sent the same week Republicans on the committee voiced concerns about short public comment periods and the quality of cost-benefit analyses.

In short, the Republicans are back to complaining that government is doing too much, just like they did during the PPACA debate.  Not enough public comment, not enough cost-benefit analysis, not enough time to implement the rules.  At the same time, Republicans are making sure these regulators don't have the staff or resources they need to get the job done:

The SEC has been without a chief economist for 10 months. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, meanwhile, only just filled the chief economist spot in December following an 11-month vacancy.

"The failure to promptly fill these key positions suggests that economic analyses is not a high priority for our regulators," Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the panel, told regulators.

SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler have assured lawmakers in a series of hearings this week that the agencies are following federal rule-making procedures and having in-house economists weigh in on the cost-benefit analyses that are required.

"We are absolutely trying to grow" the number of economists on staff, which currently totals 30, Schapiro said, adding that the agency is aggressively recruiting a chief economist.

Kind of hard to do when Republicans are proposing to cut financial regulators' budget this year by billions and to defund the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau completely.  Republicans don't want anyone taking too close a look at Wall Street.  That's what Wall Street is paying the Republicans to make happen, and they have unlimited billions to see it through.

Jobless Future

A gaunt-looking Apple CEO Steve Jobs is said to have been photographed leaving the same cancer clinic where late actor Patrick Swayze went for chemotherapy.

Jobs, 55, who in January went on his third leave of absence from Apple in seven years, is suffering from pancreatic cancer and attending the Stanford Cancer Center in Palo Alto, Calif., for treatment.
There is a lot of speculation because Jobs has kept his information very private.  But regardless of how sensitive the topic, rumors and information is going to leak out.  It doesn't look good for Jobs, but it's never too late to hope for a miracle.

Flash Of Rage Leads To Righteous Bust

Keepin' it classy, a Florida mother suggested a woman dress more modestly, and when challenged pulled her own breasts out of her shirt and squeezed them together.  The argument went on long enough for police to arrive and arrest her for disorderly conduct. 

I will keep you abreast of any updates.

Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger Badger President! President!

President Obama is weighing in on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's "emergency" plan to strip public employees of bargaining rights, and Democrats are coming our to protest in other states where Republicans are planning to do the same.

President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin's broiling budget battle, mobilizing opposition Thursday to a Republican bill that would curb public-worker benefits while planning similar action in other state capitals.

Obama accused Scott Walker, the state's new Republican governor, of unleashing an "assault" on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would nullify collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

The president's political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.

Their efforts began to spread, as thousands of labor supporters turned out for a hearing in Columbus, Ohio, to protest a measure from Gov. John Kasich (R) that would cut collective-bargaining rights.

By the end of the day, Democratic Party officials were working to organize additional demonstrations in Ohio and Indiana, where an effort is underway to trim benefits for public workers. Some union activists predicted similar protests in Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Under Walker's plan, most public workers - excluding police, firefighters and state troopers - would have to pay half of their pension costs and at least 12 percent of their health-care costs. They would lose bargaining rights for anything other than pay. Walker, who took office last month, says the emergency measure is needed to save $300 million over the next two years to help close a $3.6 billion budget gap.

"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions," Obama told a Milwaukee television reporter, taking the unusual step of inviting a local station into the White House for a sit-down interview. "I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens." 

Remember, Walker's first order of business when faced with the state's budget problems was to cut taxes in January on "98% of small businesses, freeing them up to create jobs"  (which PolitiFact called him out for lying on)  thus creating the "emergency" to  "necessitate" going after state employees.  Walker has indeed cut taxes and has only made Wisconsin's fiscal situation worse, and he's doing it to force an "emergency" to hit state workers in the pocketbook.

Other Republican controlled states are following suit.  The Dems are calling them out, and it's about damn time.

Upping The Stakes In Israel

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu figures with the Republicans in control of the House, there's not really anything Obama can do to give him any static about continuing to build settlements in occupied territories.

He'd be wrong about that.

In a dramatic departure from longstanding policy, the United States intends to support a United Nations Security Council resolutions censuring Israel for building settlements in Palestinian territory.

The Obama administration told Arab governments Tuesday it will back a draft resolution saying the Security Council "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity," according to Foreign Policy magazine.

The language, which was confirmed to Foreign Policy by two Security Council diplomats, calls the Israeli settlements "a serious obstacle to the peace process." It says the Security Council "condemns all forms of violence, including rocket fire from Gaza, and stresses the need for calm and security for both peoples."

The Obama administration has used similar language to criticize Israel on settlements, but has not supported any such UN resolution condemning Israel. Doing so would constitute a significant US policy shift towards its ally.

But the US also intends to veto a stronger non-binding resolution by the 15-member body denouncing the Israeli settlements as "illegal." The new language was part of a compromise put forth by Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN.

The earlier resolution was offered by the Palestinian Authority and garnered nearly 120 co-sponsors, all Arab and non-aligned states. UN diplomats told Reuters it would probably be approved by all Security Council members other than the US.

The fact is that before the Obama administration, the US has always used its position on the UN Security Council to veto any and all criticism of Israel by the UN, even when pretty much the entire rest of the world is behind it, including all the other UN permanent Security Council members.

This time however the US is allowing Israel to get dinged.  It's still stopping the more forceful declaration that the settlements are illegal, which if passed could have serious international repercussions for Tel Aviv.  But if the Obama administration has gotten to this point, it's pretty clear Netanyahu has gone way too far.

It's making a lot of people on Capitol Hill very, very nervous.

Perhaps we'll have a realistic debate about Israel.

Perhaps people will start acting like adults in Congress, too.

Perhaps the moon is made of cream cheese as well.

Take Him To Your Leader

It's not surprising that South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint has a pretty dismal opinion about President Obama, but this statement is just bizarre.

Arch-conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) said Thursday that President Barack Obama should not be considered the leader of the United States.

"This whole idea that the President is the leader of our country is a mistake," DeMint said during a speech to the Washington, DC chapter of the Federalist Society, according to Talking Points Memo.

Described by some as the most conservative member of the Senate, DeMint came to fame in 2009 when he said in a leaked private conversation that defeat on health care will be Obama's "Waterloo." He insisted Thursday that leadership should occur at the local level, not the national level.

"Leadership starts in the homes in the communities, in businesses, in churches," he said. "I've lived in a community and I know where the leaders are and it's not in Washington. And this pretense that he's our nation's leader... I'm not just talking about Obama, I'm talking about any President."

"A candidate who goes out and makes all these promises about what he's going to do in all areas of our society needs to be removed from consideration."

After implying that the president has overreached in his desire to reform American society, DeMint curiously claimed Obama isn't going to lead and therefore should be replaced.

"It's pretty clear this President is not going to lead," he said. "We've got to replace this President."

There are a couple ways to parse DeMint's..."logic" here.

One, after the Bush years, the guy just doesn't respect the office of President at all anymore, and figures Obama is a puppet President like Bush was, but that doesn't explain DeMint saying on one hand the notion that the President is leader of the country is hogwash, and on the other hand going after Obama for not showing leadership.

Two, this is a dog whistle to the Birthers with all the subtlety of a fireworks explosion in a nitroglycerin factory.  Obama isn't DeMint's president, and Obama needs to be replaced.  Still doesn't explain the disdain for the office itself.

Three, DeMint is trying to attack Obama outside of both sides of his mouth because he figures nobody will notice, he's just bashing Obama.

I'm going with three, myself.  Obama Derangement Syndrome is pretty awesome.


Related Posts with Thumbnails