Archive for October, 2007

SCHIP Update (10/31/07)

October 31, 2007

There have been some new developments on SCHIP reported in the press. Here are a few stories to look at, while I go back to writing poetry…

  • GOP Senator Chides Bush on Health Bill , David Espo, The Associated Press – 2 hours ago

Grassley, in a conference call to reporters in Iowa, said,

They’re throwing cold water in my face. The president’s making it so central to the debate really is a shock to me….I’ve been at this six months and we’ve never discussed anything but a cigarette tax

According to Espo, Bush told House Republicans in that closed-door meeting at the White House Tuesday he would veto any health insurance bill that raises taxes, which AP terms “a significant hardening of his public position. ” He also suggested he would reject any other measure that includes higher taxes. This is a real slap at the Democrat’s efforts to pass legislation while not increasing the deficit.

Espo writes that House members John Boehner (OH) and Roy Blunt (MO) are involvled in Grassley’s compromise talks, not because they have any intention of votting for a bill that raises taxes, but in order to “coax as many concessions as possible from Grassley, Hatch and Democrats so that members of the GOP rank and file who will agree to raise taxes are satisfied with the overall bill. “

See also:

P.S. I started this entry when I received an email from OMB Watch financial summary entitled “Critical Vote on Children’s Health Tomorrow,” but mysterouly, the link was to Matt Lewis’s blog entry of October 25 noting that SCHIP failed to muster enough votes in the House to override a veto. No mention there of what’s come of Grassley’s efforts. He wrote back to say that the headline should have referred to the AMT, not SCHIP.

FCC Holds “Public” Hearing on Localism Today, Why the Short Notice? (10/31/07)

October 31, 2007

To rate this entry on Newstrust, go here.

The intensity of the public’s concern about the how broadcasters serve their community is something the Commission should not, and in practice, cannot, ignore. Despite obvious attempts to minimize public attendance at events such as this, thousands of Americans have shown up to tell you how much they care. Please don’t ignore them.
Andrew Schwartzman, Media Access Project, Statement of 10/31/07
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that promoting “localism ” is one of its key goals of its ownership rules, along with competition and diversity. On its consumer fact sheet, “Broadcasting and Localism,” the FCC explains localism:

Broadcast radio and television are distinctly local media. They are licensed to local communities, and the FCC has long required broadcasters to serve the needs and interests of the communities to which they are licensed.

Despite this rhetoric about localism, however, recent rumored rule changes would allow media consoditation by eliminating restrictions on owning electronic and print news outlets in the same city. FCC chairman Kenneth Martin is reportedly seeking a vote on his not-yet-public plan at the FCC’s December 18 meeting. The last time the commission adopted rules favoring media consolidation, it ran into trouble in the courts and Congrss. In a October 18 news release about the new rules, Chris Dodd (D-CT) said:

The vitality of our democracy is already threatened by mergers and takeovers that are swiftly leaving our sources of information in a few controlling hands. We cannot afford to continue down that road.

He asked his colleagues running for President to

speak with a unified voice and state clearly to the American people that we will protect free speech, and support the market place of ideas which forms the real bulwark of our democracy.

Today, October 31, the FCC is holding one of its hearings on localism, this time in Washington, DC, as announced October 24 with an agenda which followed on October 29. In both documents, the commission says that the hearing ‘s purpose is

to gather information from consumers, industry, civic organizations, and others on on broadcasters’ role in their local communities and proposed changes to our rules.

Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, the two Democratic appointees on the the Commission, issued their own press statement, October 24 complaing about the short notice, saying it

doesn’t bode well for the future of the Commission’s localism and media ownership proceedings.

Over two weeks ago, we agreed to clear our calendars for the possibility of a localism hearing in Washington on Oct 31st. But neither we nor the public received any confirmation that the hearing would occur until tonight—just 5 business days before the event.

This is unacceptable and unfair to the public. And it makes putting together an expert panel nearly impossible.

“Is the Commission serious about allowing the public to participate in the agency’s decision-making? Or is the goal to be able to claim that hearings have been held, even if the public has not had a chance to fully participate?”

This last paragraph poses a good question. The timing makes me wonder what held up the hearing date’s confirmation. I’m guessing from my days planning meetings when I was Executive Director of New River Community Sentencing, that the witnesses from both sides could have been asked to hold the date the same time the commissions were. But, even two weeks can be short notice, especially for those with other commitments and travel arrangements to make. Five days is worse, obviously.

This especially holds true for the “consumers” and “civic organizations” and “others” the FCC says it wanted to gather information from, in addition to industry. Someone needs to investigate if anyone received earlier confirmation, so as to stack the deck in favor of the position of the Commission Chairman Kenneth Martin, who, like his predecessor, Michael Powell, has a preference for media consolidation, among other things. Some of us question how well the current FCC serves the interests of the general public, as opposed to those of the industry the commission was established to regulate.

One finally irony, is the chiding tone in the announcement regarding those who will need reasonable accommodation for their disability, if it includes more than open captioning and sign language interpreters:

Make your request as early as possible. Last minute requests will be accepted, but may not be possible to fill.

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Early this afternoon, I heard from Andrew Schwartzman (email) , the President and CEO of the Media Access Project (MAP), a non-profit public interest law firm , which represents consumer interests regarding the FCC. Via email, he answered some of my questions about how the hearing was going, from his standpoint as one of the folks giving testimony:

  • about 150 people were outside
  • the FCC hearing room was full
  • they are hearing members of the public now; you can view it online
  • none of the GOP members are sympathetic on ownership

So here’s the next question I posed to Schwartzman: Since none of the GOP members are sympathetic regarding consolidation and since the they are the majority vote, what’s to be done ? What’s next, if you favor how do diversity and local ownership? Congress? The courts? I’ll let you know his answer.

Eric Pfeiffer of The Washington Times, by the way, posted an article, “MoveOn opposes FCC rule change” shortly after 3:00 p.m. today, the first reporter with any content other than a reprinted newsrelease. It noted that ,

Democratic lawmakers, led by New York’s Maurice D. Hinchey in the House and North Dakota’s Byron L. Dorgan in the Senate, plan to introduce legislation that would block the FCC from implementing its proposed changes before the end of the year.

Pfeiffer added that,

There is also speculation Mr. Hinchey would include language in his anti-consolidation bill that would reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. A spokesman for Mr. Hinchey’s office told The Washington Times on the condition of anonymity Monday that such plans are possible, but that Republican lawmakers and activists were exaggerating the impact and imminence of the possible move.

He reports that News Corp., which owns Fox News, and the New York Times Co. support relaxing the rules.

Also of interest, the online magazine Radio Ink wrote today that the Media and Democracy Coalition (MDC) released a poll indicating that

Fifty-seven percent of 1,000 respondents age
18 and over said they support the broadcast-newspaper ban. Seventy percent see media consolidation as a problem, and 42 percent say it’s a “major problem.”

Asked about their preferred news sources, 61 percent of respondents said they watch a local TV newscast daily, compared to 44 percent who watch national TV news. Thirty-five percent, meanwhile, read a local newspaper every day, while 5 percent read a national paper. The coalition says “preferred” local news sources are “threatened by the concentration of ownership by a few, very large multinational conglomerates.”

MDC includes groups such as Common Cause, the Center for International Media Action, the Future of Music Coalition, the Consumers Union, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Office of Communications of the United Church of Christ, and Prometheus Radio Project. While I couldn’t find the poll on MDC’s website, which apparently has not been updated for some time, Ben Lieberman of MAP, kinkly provided a link, the October 18, 2007 poll by Greenberg Quenlan Rosner Research, “Public Opposed to Media Consolidation.”

Radio Ink quotes MDC’s Executive Director Beth McConnell as saying,

The results of this poll should come as no surprise to the FCC,since thousands have vocalized their opposition to weaker media-ownership rules at public hearings held recently. The FCC should listen to the public and reject rule changes that would concentrate ownership even further.

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I’m taking a break to finish a poem for this issue of Verbal Events so I don’t have as much time as usual to devote the blog today. Before I close , though, let me tell you something about MAP. Below the description of the group’s top issues, I’ve reprinted in its entirety today’s hearing statement by Schwartzman.

You can find Chairman Martin’s statement here and here are the statements of Copps, and Republican appointees Deborah Taylor Tate and Robert M. McDowell . I look forward to critiquing them later. To file your own comments on localism, use this form. For more information on FCC, check out the articles I wrote for LLRX.com:

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MAP advocates for:

  • Media Ownership rules that encourage greater diversity and limit an individual company’s ability to dominate public discourse.
  • Broadband/Open Access so that citizens can to chose their Internet service provider, access any content or service, and transmit any information desired
  • Low Power FM (LPFM) LPFM so that individuals and small community groups can connect with and reach out to their neighborhoods and local communities.
  • Public Interest Obligations including public file obligations, children’s television requirements, and other obligations under Title III of the Communications Act.
  • Free Speech in Broadcast Media Media, particularly broadcast media
  • Civil Rights and Non-Discriminatory Deployment

Here’s Schwartzman’s statement from today’s localism hearing:

For more than 30 years, I have sat on panels such as this. During that time, I have heard the testimony of scores of talented, dedicated commercial broadcasters who have provided meaningful service to their local communities. Few, if any, are more committed to public service than my friend Jim Goodmon.

My testimony today is not about those broadcasters. It is about the much larger number of broadcasters who do little or nothing to address the problems, needs and interests of the communities they are licensed to serve. They are never invited to appear by the NAB or by the Commission. They are the ones who should be called upon to explain why they lack any locally originated programming other than advertisements. They should be asked how they merit a free license for exclusive use of scarce publicly owned spectrum when they don’t provide something – anything – designed to serve the public interest, as opposed to their own private interests. Indeed, although I hope this will soon change, as of now, the Commission’s policy is that radio or TV stations carrying commercials or home shopping presentations 24 hours a day are presumed to be operating in the public interest.

Sadly, in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the consequent growth of large regional and national ownership groups, the number of good broadcasters is diminishing, and the number of mediocre broadcasters is increasing.

Locally originated news and public affairs programming is but one important measure of commitment to local service. There are about 1400 full power commercial TV stations in the United States, and another five or six hundred Class A stations. According to the RTNDA, less than 800 of those 2000 stations originate newscasts. 2000 minus 800 is 1200. How can the Commission possibly make the statutorily mandated determination that those 1200 stations are operated in the public interest? I don’t think it can.

It is even worse with radio. Thousands of stations do little or nothing, and thousands more outsource their newsgathering to a single company which carries essentially identical newscasts on scores of stations. Indeed, one company alone, Metro Networks (which is owned by Viacom, itself a group owner) provides newscasts for more than 2000 of the nation’s radio stations. Where is the viewpoint diversity in that?

The radio industry’s abandonment of local public service is especially worth exploration. In many markets, commercial broadcasting has simply ceded public service to non-commercial broadcasting. This is quite puzzling, since we supposedly rely on marketplace forces to insure that public needs are met. Yet there is clearly a huge audience of well-educated high income listeners who have abandoned commercial radio and now rely on public stations for local news and information.

As you have heard in other hearings, technologies marketed with such names as “voice tracking” and “central casting” are used to cover up the fact that many broadcasters export programming into local stations rather than create it on site. This would be a much more useful hearing if the Commission were to invite or – if necessary – compel the testimony of those licensees, whose stations are run by senior management and program executives located hundreds or thousands of miles away from the communities they are obligated to serve.

How and why do those stations get their licenses renewed? It can’t be because they carry public service announcements when they can’t sell the airtime. Or maybe it can. I’d like to know. So would millions of American citizens. After all, protection of their right to receive information is, and ought to be, the primary goal of the Commission’s regulatory system.

What should the Commission do about this? Unless and until the Commission has answers for these questions, it cannot complete this localism inquiry. These are matters that you ought to address before, not after, it contemplates further relaxation of its
broadcast ownership rules.

That having been said, here is a list of things the Commission could do to start fixing the problem:

  • Develop a meaningful and much more transparent license renewal process based on much more detailed information about broadcasters’ actual program practices.
  • Reduce the term of broadcast licenses to three years.
  • Require every single licensee to carry minimum amounts of locally originated, licensee produced, programming designed to address local needs, tastes and interests.
  • Expand the number of low power FM stations.
  • Develop meaningful programs to double the number of minority and female owned broadcast stations within the next five years.
  • Deny must-carry privileges to over the air TV stations which devote more than 12 hours per day to home shopping presentations.

One last point bears special emphasis. Much of my presentation thus far has focused on increasing the amount of programming which is responsive to local needs and tastes. But not everything important can be measured. Effective local service requires institutional and personal attachments to the community. It requires a diverse workforce that is capable of conveying the many different perspectives found in each community. There is no way to document the qualitative impact of having a station operated locally by individuals citizens who live in the community and expect to remain there.

The intensity of the public’s concern about the how broadcasters serve their community is something the Commission should not, and in practice, cannot, ignore. Despite obvious attempts to minimize public attendance at events such as this, thousands of Americans have shown up to tell you how much they care. Please don’t ignore them.

October 2007: 22,563
2007 YTD: 148,686
2006 TOTAL: 61,308
Total since 1/1/06: 209,994

John Tanner comes to Congress (finally). What the fuss is about (10/30/07)

October 30, 2007

To review this post on Newstrust, go here.

John Tanner’s letter of October 26 to Rosa Rosales, President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) refers to an October 5 panel discussion. Tanner had addressed LULAC’s conference July 12.

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John K. Tanner has headed the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice since 2005. In that capacity, he accepted an invitation to participate in an October 5 panel discussion “It’s Not Over – Defending the Right to Vote Against Disenfranchising Tactics” (workshop nine) at the second annual National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles.

And bless his heart, he made the following colorful statement in defense of the Georgia Voter ID program, as documented in a video by Brad Blog and transcribed by TPM’s John Kiel:

It’s probably true that among those who don’t [have photo ID], it’s primarily elderly persons. And that’s a shame. You know, creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance. Of course…that also ties in to the racial aspect, because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly. The way white people do. They die first.

There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country. And so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly, has the opposite impact on minorities – just the math is such as that.

It seems that Mr. Tanner is following in the footsteps- in-mouth rhetorical path blazed by Mr. Bush, recounted by Paul Krugman in “Little Black Lies” the January 28, 2005 New York Times. According to Krugman, that week Bush said in closed meeting with African-Americans on Social Security:

African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people.

Tanner, of course, is not the only problem at Justice. He is merely a career employee enthusiastically carrying out the wishes of his bosses, while his colleagues have quit in frustraton. While there have been calls for his firing, the problems will remain, perhaps more subtly, as long as the Department continues, like so many others, to be so highly politicized.

Today at 10 a.m., in the Rayburn Office Building, the House Judiciary Committee hosted an oversight hearing by Jerold Nadler’s (D-NY) Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. The topic: Tanner’s section. His previous appearance, scheduled for July 17, had been cancelled according to a July 16 letter to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, signed by Judiciary’s Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Nadler.

We received an e-mail message on July 12th from the Department of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs informing the Committee of the Department’s decision to send a Deputy Assistant Attorney General to testify instead of John Tanner, the Voting Section Chief, whom we requested.

We are disappointed by this decision. Brad Schlozman and Hans Von Spakovsky, both former senior Department of Justice officials who served in the CRT, recently testified before the Senate and stated that Mr. Tanner played a key role in the Department’s decision to approve the Georgia Photo Identification law. In addition, there have been numerous articles and letters discussing serious matters that came before the Voting Section under Mr. Tanner’s leadership.

The Georgia ID requirements had been judged discriminatory by the staff. Another “serious matter” was Tanner writing Ohio voting officials June 29, 2005, assuring them complaints minority voter suppression during the 2004 Ohio presidential election were unfounded according to unprecedented solo investigation. Then there were accusations of the banning of staff opinions in civil rights cases, an exodus of career employees, and a shifting emphasis away from racial discrimination, as noted by Neil A. Lewis in his New York Times article of June 14, “Justice Dept. Reshapes Its Civil Rights Mission,”

In recent years, the Bush administration has recast the federal government’s role in civil rights by aggressively pursuing religion-oriented cases while significantly diminishing its involvement in the traditional area of race.

Details of Tanner’s record can be found in:

Mr. Tanner apologized at the hearing today, as he did in the letter to Rosales. Artur Davis (D-AL) wasn’t buying, as recounted by Kiel in “Davis Grills Tanner on Minorities ‘Die First’ Comment.” There’s a video there, too.

DC Lawyer Bob Bauer (email, bio) had an interesting commentary on October 10, “The Tanner Doctrine—and from the Chief of the Voting Rights Section, No Less.”

It is not that he could not have put together a defense of the Department’s reading of the constitutionality of ID requirements—nothing persuasive, perhaps, but dignified enough to be delivered with what is called a “straight-face.” It is possible to be wrong without being silly; insensitive without being callous; blunt without being flip about the costs of particular policies.

Bauer doesn’t enumerate that defense, but it consisted of the argument
that IDs were needed to counter voter fraud. Opponents of the law countered that there was no problem with voter fraud in the state with no reported cases in over a decade.

In his comments on October 5, Tanner also said,

People who are poor are poor. They’re not stupid. They’re not helpless.

Bauer writes,

The impression he hopes to create is this: that he, Tanner, is just as sympathetic to the poor as their defenders, and maybe more so. He believes them to be capable; he refuses to see them as helpless. The poor are just like us, Tanner wants us to think, and we know perfectly well that is not all that much a burden—not in cost, not in effort, and not in understanding the need—to obtain identification.

Then to posit Tanner’s true meaning, Bauer astutely points to the lower court decision in an Illinois case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that

the poor have been singled out for a reason, which is that they have certain political preferences, and it is supposed that with a little additional pressure—more cost, more inconvenience, experienced keenly by those who are poor—their political impact can be blunted.

He concludes,

This does not make the poor either “stupid” or “helpless.” It makes them a target.

Grassley said to be working towards veto-proof SCHIP (10/29/0707)

October 29, 2007

Congressional Quarterly writes that an unnamed House Republican aide has told its reporters that Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-IA),

is contacting House Republicans to discern what changes in the bill would produce a veto-proof majority in their chamber.

See my review and a link to the entire article at Newstrust. I’ll complete this later, as the library is closing and I’m sure there’s more news to come on this topic.

Rangel’s Proposed Tax Package Political Hornet’s Nest (10/28/07)

October 28, 2007

To rate this post at Newstrust, go here.

There used to be a time when the Republicans were known for their fiscal conservatism. The pejorative the Republicans use for Democrats, “Tax and spend” rings hollow these days when contrasted with their practice: “Don’t tax and yet spend.” Compare the success of Clinton in balancing the budget with Bush’s growing deficits resulting from his embrace of the Reagan notion that tax cuts for the wealthy “trickle down” and generate increased revenues. It makes a girl pine for the days when Papa Bush denounced “voodoo economics.”

“Don’t tax and yet spend” came to the fore Thursday, October 25 with the Republican critique of Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) submitted his Tax Reduction and Reform Act of 2007, HR 3970 (summary). Although clearly wanting to make the tax system more progressive, Rangel included items espoused by Republicans, such as elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and a cut in the overall corporate tax rate, the jockeying for position started immediately. The difference between the Republicans and Rangel is that he wants to offset the cost of cuts.

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (MO) issued a statement October 25 through PRNewswire entitled “Blunt: Democrats Outdo Themselves with ‘Mother of All Tax Hikes,'” saying he was writing about Rangel’s plan

to impose the “Mother of All Tax Hikes” on American families, including a direct tax increase of $1.3 trillion.

Here’s the statement in full for those of my friends at Newstrust who rightly have noted that I don’t always give voice to conservatives:

Having raised taxes by more than $100 billion already this Congress, and passed a budget plan that will raise them by at least $300 billion more, the majority has set a pretty high bar for surprising the American people with news of another attempt to raise their taxes.

But in announcing a plan today to increase taxes on working families by a staggering $1.3 trillion – the largest income tax hike in American history – Democrats have found a way to outdo even their most historic tax-raising schemes of the past. Indeed, as the chairman suggested, this is the ‘mother’ of all tax bills. And given its scale, it might be the father, grandfather, nephew and second-cousin of them as well. “If this plan were to become law, the effective top marginal tax rate in this country would be the same as it is in Germany. But what Democrats fail to understand is that, when you adopt European-style tax rates, European-style growth rates can’t be far behind. And the slower we’re able grow our economy, the fewer jobs will be available for American workers and the less we’ll be able to compete in a 21st century, global economy. “Though the majority will likely suggest this bill is aimed only at the rich and famous, I our nation’s small business owners by now know far better than that. This is a bill that casts an egregiously wide net to pay for egregiously reckless spending agenda. And if I were them, I wouldn’t make its contents known beyond this building.

As we say here in the South, “Why, bless his heart;” I just love Blunt’s use of “working families.” I’m not arguing about whether those who would bear higher taxes under the bill work or not. I object to lumping them in with the rest of us, using the subtle linguistic conflating of the term “working families” with “working class.”

At one time, “working class” was used in contrast with the terms “middle class” and “upper class. ” It generally referred to those who earned an hourly wage through physical labor. When unions in this country raised the wages of their members and other workers, the class line in terms of income blurred, especially as compared to lower-salaried professionals such as teachers. Lines further blurred with the growing economic insecurity of the “middle class” besieged with relatively flat salaries, increasing costs of medical insurance and real estate (to name two) and the loss of some of their jobs through outsourcing. But given continuing good economic fortunes of those at the top and their relatively few numbers, it seems odd to conflate everybody into a group. It could be argued that it makes the term meaningless.

Congressional Quarterly did a good job in its in its October 26 article, “Republicans Eye 2008 and Ratchet Up the Rhetoric on Rangel’s Tax Plan.” Unlike more polemic stories masquerading as news, this gives the major outlines of the tax policy proposed while identifying rhetoric on both sides for what it is: rhetoric. The article quoted Blunt as saying,

Very seldom in politics do your opponents give you this kind of gift.

Rangel replied,

Just don���t say it���s a dramatic tax increase, if I���m running around saying that 90 million people are going to get a tax cut. And if you believe that, tell me, who are the people that are getting this tremendous tax increase? And I can count, and 90 million people are not included in that number.

Most interesting to me was the observation that,

The winner in the 2007-08 tax debate may be the party that best translates the Washington-speak of budgets, baselines and revenue neutrality for voters.

I would have liked to see more in the article on the nuts and bolts of the bill, so here it is. Rangel would offset the cost of eliminating the alternative minimum tax in two stages. This year he would limit the number of households subject to this tax originally created to stop rich families from evading taxes. Last year, the AMT affected 3.5 million households. The number could jump by 21 million households this year unless Congress takes action. He plans to raise enough money to roll back this AMT ���surge��� by eliminating the ���carried interest��� loophole which allows private equity and hedge fund managers avoid billions of dollars in taxes annually. To understand this issue, you might want to read “The Taxation of Carried Interest “ by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, Peter R. Orszag, a written version of his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on July 11. Under Rangel���s proposal, the private equity and hedge fund managers would also start paying taxes on income held in offshore accounts.

In a second stage, next year Rangel would move for a vote to abolish the AMT entirely. He would offset this cost through a ���surcharge��� –an additional 4 percent tax on incomes over $200,000 and an extra 4.6 percent on incomes over $500,000. These surcharges increase the top tax rate on ordinary income to 39.6 percent and the top rate on dividends and long-term capital gains from 15 to 19.6 percent. To read more about the AMT, see OMB Watch’s summary, “AMT: Prospects for reform and the paygo challenge.”

Additionally, Rangel proposes to lower the corporate income tax rate to 30.5%. He would do this by eliminating tax provisions that favor some industries over others. The
Wall Street Journal
, provided a good rundown of the effects of the bill on October 26 in “Tax Blueprint Mixes Pain, Gains: Rangel Proposal is seen as shaping long-term debate” by Sarah Lueck and Jessie Drucker. I’m a fan of Drucker for his articles on Wal-Mart, but methinks, the writers editorialized a bit in their news coverage, when they wrote,

The broad attempt to revamp the tax code introduced yesterday by the House’s top tax writer could hurt oil and technology companies, manufacturing firms and others in order to fund an across-the-board cut in tax rates long sought by many corporations.

Substitute “displease” for “hurt” and I’d find the article more neutral. Interestingly the article discloses that

Industries are likely to fight any attempt to end tax preferences because few big companies pay anywhere close to the required rate of 35%. The true rate for thousands of big companies is generally in the mid-20% range, according to Internal Revenue Service data and other research.

And then of course, there are all kinds of ways of expensing profits…

Homegrown Terrorism? (10/27/07)

October 27, 2007

Did anybody hear that the House passed H.R. 1955, Jane Harmon’s “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” on October 23 by the unbelievable margin of 404 to 6. Those voting nay– Dems : Abercrombie, Costello, Kucinich and Repubs: Duncan, Flake and Rohrabacher.

Ultra-right paramilitary groups are screaming about this law, but I have to admit, it gives me the willies and there seems to be no reporting of the measure, other than in the bill record database at the WaPo.

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Here are some interesting developments on the Web. I’ve told you about Newstrust. Now, I’ve discovered Newcloud, another social network, where folks vote stories up or down, like digg; however the stories seem to be of more import and are in set categories.

Check out Pro Publica.

Newsweek’s The Politics of Eavesdropping.

Supreme Court

Koyaanisqatsi (10/26/07)

October 26, 2007

It’s Sustainability Week in Blacksburg and this afternoon I attended the film Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (imdb listing) (1975-82)with music by Philip Glass. The photos of skyscrapers reflecting the clouds were all the more ominous due to the iconoggraphy of September 11. More later–the library closeth

SCHIP–Changes garner no new support (10/25/07)

October 25, 2007

Pat Oliphant today on SCHIP.

Today the House voted on a new version of the SCHIP renewal, H.R. 3963, The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities judged the changes to be significant. They analyzed the bill as:

  • further increasing the focus on covering the lowest-income uninsured children;
  • tightening citizenship documentation option;
  • accelerating e elimination of SCHIP coverage of childless adults; and
  • taking additional steps to limit “crowd-out” of children now on private insurance switching to public programs.

The Republican leadership issued a press statement saying the Democrats claims of improvement were all a myth. And no new votes were gained. In the vote, One, in fact, was lost– Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI). And the President again says he will veto the bill.

I’m beginning to think Mr. Bush and his supporters find it more important to disagree than to reach a compromise.

Is the White House Redacting Science (Again)? (10/24/07)

October 24, 2007

You may have been reading the dust-up caused when someone at the CDC leaked a copy of the 14 pages of original testimony by its director Dr. Julie Gerberding (bio, email) regarding the health effects of climate change to the Associated Press. The White House made cuts and the final version given at the October 23 Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works hearing was only six pages. In “CDC Director Says White House Didn’t Dilute Climate Testimony,” which appeared today in The Wall Street Journal, Ann Carrns writes

The CDC plans to post versions of her testimony on its Web site, [Dr. Gerberding]…said, showing her remarks before and after the editing.

When I checked 10:30 p.m. only the six page version was available here.

Andrew C. Revkin’s story, “White House Cuts to Climate Testimony Raise Questions” slated to run in the October 25 New York Times, however, says we can read the original version via Climate Science Watch (CSW). Here’s where. CSW is a project of the Goverment Accountability Project, whose mission is to protect occupational free speech.

Props to CSW for making the following available:

  • Statement by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, calling on White house to release Dr. Gerberding’s uncensored testimony.

  • Redacting the Science of Climate Change: An Investigative and Synthesis Report
    by Tarek Maaserani, Government Accountability Project, March 2007

  • Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science,
    A report of the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project, February 2007

  • Testimony of Rick Piltz, Director, Climate Science Watch, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hearing on Allegations of Political Interference with the Work of Government Climate Change Scientists, January 30, 2007

  • Testimony of Rick Piltz, Director, Climate Science Watch, before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Hearing on Climate Change Research and Scientific Integrity, February 7, 2007

  • March 30, 2007, posting on House Science and Technology Committee hearing on March 28, 2007.

Bush threaatens another veto–on Labor-HHS Appropriations (10/23/07)

October 23, 2007

The Senate voted by a veto-proof vote of of 75-19 to approve a $150 billion Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (H.R. 3043).

No Democrats voted against the bill. Obama, Biden, Dodd, Clinton and McCain were absent possibly out campaigning for the presidential nomination. Also absent was Ted Kennedy. The 29 Republicans defecting from Bush and voting for the measure were:

Alexander (R-TN)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Cochran (R-MS)
Coleman (R-MN)
Collins (R-ME)
Craig (R-ID)
Crapo (R-ID)
Dole (R-NC)

Domenici (R-NM)
Grassley (R-IA)
Hagel (R-NE)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Isakson (R-GA)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
McConnell (R-KY)

Murkowski (R-AK)
Roberts (R-KS)
Shelby (R-AL)
Smith (R-OR)
Snowe (R-ME)
Specter (R-PA)
Stevens (R-AK)
Sununu (R-NH)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (R-VA)

The House version passed July 276-140, after its introduction on July 13 by David Obey and its report out of the Appropriations Committee that same date. The bill funds programs such as Head Start, the National Institutes of Health, the Occupational Safety and Health and Administration and college loan programs. President Bush requested cuts to many of these programs, as detailed by the Coalition on Human Needs’ analysis.

President Bush has threatened to veto this appropriations bill and eight others, saying that while he requested a total of $933 billion for FY 08 discretionary spending, Congress has proposed $956 billion. The $23 billion difference represents less than one percent of the $2.9 trillion total congressional proposal; the recent supplemental funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan $196 billion.

Two unrelated budget process measures were offered during the proceedings. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) would have instituted mandatory, automatic cuts to programs covered under the bill if they received an “ineffective” rating by the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART). This amendment would have transfered appropriating power to the executive branch, theatening program services with random budget cuts throughout the year outside of the regular appropriations process. The amendment was defeated 68-21.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) offer his version of sunset commissions, which would have given the executive branch power to establish unelected commissions with the power to fast-track copngress their proposals to restructure or eliminate government programs and agencies Cornyn’s withdrew his proposal when a point of order was raised against it, but he vowed to continue to raise the issue.

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have announced they will send this bill to the president on the heels of a veto override vote on a bill reauthorizing the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) which failed by 15 votes.

If Bush vetos this appropriations bill, it will be another oppportunity to observe how much support is present in Congress for diverging from Bush on appropriations bills generally.

The Labor-HHS appropriations bill is the second-largest appropriations bill, and the congressional versions have the biggest funding difference compared to the president’s requests, with the Senate version being about $11 billion more. OMB Watch writes,

If Congress can pass this bill over the president’s intended veto, it can probably pass other bills over the president’s objections. This would pressure the president to negotiate with Congress over the remaining appropriations bills he has also threatened to veto.

Alternatively, a stalemate over Labor-HHS means no end in sight for the FY 08 budget fight. Congress could give in to the president’s demands for budget cuts, or it may attempt to package popular appropriations bills with unpopular ones. Either way, smaller amounts of funding for social programs are more likely if the Labor-HHS appropriations bill is not enacted the first time around.

A September Hart Research poll by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees and US Action found about two-thirds of Americans favor the congressional funding proposals for Head Start and cancer research included in the bill.