The Billings Outpost

McCutcheon decision threatens democracy

HELENA HANDBAG

Cathy Siegner

If the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon et al. vs. Federal Election Commission had come out one day earlier, we could have been forgiven for suspecting it was an April Fool’s Day joke. The court’s 5-to-4 decision released April 2 struck down limits on the total amount individuals can contribute to federal candidates or political party committees in a two-year election cycle and basically turned our semi-democracy into a fire sale with assets going to the highest bidder.

Think that’s an overstatement? It’s not. Back in October, the Sunlight Foundation (sunlightfoundation.com), a nonpartisan, nonprofit outfit launched in 2005 to help make government more open and accountable via technology, stated that, should the U.S. Supreme Court find for McCutcheon, the “1 percent of the 1 percent” would be calling the shots from here on out and rendering U.S. voters almost unnecessary.

Here’s part of the Sunlight analysis: “Our best guess is that parties and leadership committees will converge on these donors, giving roughly 1,000 people a unique ability to set and limit the party agendas. Presumably, they will shift their money from super PACs to party committees because giving directly to party and leadership committees affords these donors more opportunities to talk directly to party leaders, and increases their bargaining power within the party structure. And party leaders want to control the money and the messages it buys.”

Further, Sunlight’s report noted, those highly sought-after 1,000 deep-pocket donors are partisan, primarily support Republicans, gave mainly to so-called “super PACs” in 2012, and mainly come from the finance, insurance and real estate sectors.

On the plus side, last week’s high court decision doesn’t change existing limits on how much individuals can give to candidates, which are now set at $2,600 per candidate in primary and general elections. It also doesn’t change current federal law banning direct campaign contributions from corporations and/or unions; however, they can still funnel unlimited amounts to candidates via super PACs and other entities.

Interestingly enough, I was able to guess how each of the nine justices lined up on this decision except one (I thought Anthony Kennedy might have sided with the minority, but he was, yet again, the swing vote).

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion on behalf of himself, plus Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Kennedy. Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion.

Dissenting were Associate Justices Stephen Breyer (who also delivered a relatively rare oral dissent from the bench), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

In case you’re wondering about the “et al.” (Latin for “and others”) filing the case along with Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon, it was the Republican National Committee. Go figure.

Dim view

Gov. Steve Bullock, who has long advocated campaign-spending reforms, released a statement immediately following the McCutcheon vs. FEC ruling. It stated, “It seems as if the Supreme Court is determined to give total license to the wealthy to use their resources to drown out the voices of working familiars in our elections. It’s disappointing that [the] Court’s majority once again issued a ruling that seeks to turn our elections into auctions.”

Bullock continued: “I wish I could say that I’m surprised, but I’m not. This ruling, along with previous rulings from the Supreme Court’s majority, makes it all the more important that we protect our Montana laws that require disclosure and transparency.”

I’ll try to wade through this particular pool of irony without getting wet. There was Bullock’s back-room decision to appoint his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to fill out the remainder of Max Baucus’ U.S. Senate term. Then there was the lame way the governor tried to avoid talking about his appointment process by telling the press and the public there was no vacancy to discuss until Baucus officially resigned.

Finally, there was the staged roll-out of the Baucus resignation, the Walsh appointment, and the appointment of a new lieutenant governor.

Eventually, through a media information request for emails, we learned that Bullock staffers had devised a script to orchestrate the whole thing, and that our governor, that tireless advocate of disclosure and transparency, had played his part perfectly.

If Bullock really wants disclosure and transparency in government, let’s start on the state level by getting a little more of it from him.

 Supco solution

Tom Magstadt, a former political science professor who now writes for a living, has come up with a prescription for how to revamp the U.S. Supreme Court. In his piece published Sunday on nationofchange.org, “Five Reasons to Fix the Supreme Court Now,” Magstadt states that the U.S. is at a tipping point and that the nation’s highest court must be reformed if we are to have a chance at reclaiming our representative democracy. Briefly, here is his rationale:

Reason 1. The U.S. Supreme Court has no business making laws. As the third, and only unelected, branch of government (the other two being the elected Congress and the elected executive, e.g., the president), there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution nor the Bill of Rights granting legislative powers to the Supreme Court.

Reason 2. By not protecting the integrity of elections, the court is undermining the very foundations of representative democracy. Magstadt writes that U.S. Supreme Court justices are sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution, yet some of them disdain parts they don’t like and, as a result, are blocking campaign finance reform.

Reason 3. The Supreme Court is too small (nine members), there is too little turnover, and, therefore, members don’t accurately reflect the wider society. Magstadt says the court should be expanded to 19 justices. Many other countries have more than that on their highest courts, he points out. Congress would have to approve such a change, with the last time being back in 1869.

Reason 4. Rewriting or amending the U.S. Constitution isn’t likely, so changes to the high court may need to be done via constitutional amendment. Magstadt suggests making this easier by subjecting justices, who currently enjoy lifetime appointments, to impeachment for failing to uphold the Constitution, and, by extension, undermining the integrity of elections.

Reason 5. The U.S. is at a critical juncture right now, Magstadt says, and “the McCutcheon ruling means that one wealthy individual can now write checks totaling $3.5 million to candidates, political parties and political committees.” That alone means that “the super-rich 1 percent can go on a campaign spending spree like never before in the nation’s history.”

Quote of the week

“Our only real hope for democracy is that we get the money out of politics entirely and establish a system of publicly funded elections. In a world with an unbiased and independent media befitting our First Amendment, the big story would not be who won in the McCutcheon case, it would be that there are ways of creating a democratic society, and it would use this case to demonstrate if and how we are failing or succeeding to that end.”

– Linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky, in an interview with Abel Collins of the Huffington Post, published March 27.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 20 April 2014 17:08

Hits: 323

Computer science students need higher standards

OPINION

By JOHN LOWRY

I read a Sept. 23 Billings Gazette article “Exec pushes computer science degrees” with great interest. Here is my take on the problem – not enough such graduates – and what might be done to strengthen those numbers.

While I applaud the article’s proffered solutions (adding additional introductory labs, instituting a free online computer programming course, and having more programming courses in our high schools), I don’t believe those go far enough.

Mike Dennison’s Gazette article mentions that the three state institutions (University of Montana, Montana State University and Montana Tech) currently have about 450 students with computer science majors, but most recently only 43 graduated. Why so few?

To fix ideas, let us assume the class breakdown is 200 freshmen, 125 sophomores, 75 juniors and 50 seniors. Some will change majors because more attractive options open to them; some will change because they really didn’t understand what computer science was all about (It’s NOT just playing computer games). But the main reason students drop out of the computer science program is that the courses are hard.

Aren’t the beginning students smart enough? I don’t for a minute believe that. Well then, are they just too lazy to do the work? I don’t believe the general work ethic is anywhere higher than in Montana. Then what’s the problem? Culture, and preparation.

First, culture. We’re a rural state, and many parents of our students have not had the advantage of a college degree. Most of those parents are given to quick and easy approval in certain cases: “I see you boys stacked up 1,100 bales this weekend, son. Good job!”

But “I see you’re pulling A’s in your Algebra II exams, Suzy!” is much less likely. It’s not enough to make two touchdowns Friday night, or put up 100 feet of fence line over a long weekend, if you don’t get it where mathematics is concerned and can’t think up an original premise on which to base your weekly English theme.

An example. My first morning as the National Center for Appropriate Technology’s director of research and development (this was back in 1980) I was given a tour of the facility on Butte’s Continental Drive. We ended up out back among a small copse of solar collectors. I noticed that various of those pointed in slightly different directions, so I asked, “Which way is south?” Answer: “Oh, it’s over towards the Highlands ... ” with an arm flung in that direction.

“Not good enough,” I said. “I want them on an accurate south, plus or minus one degree.” By 3 p.m. that was accomplished. The ability and the work ethic were there, but the standards were too low. They soon improved, at least among the survivors.

Second, preparation. Public education is going through a hard time. I doubt that even half of the math teachers have a firm idea what their subject is really all about. Yes, it does deal with numbers and equations, but primarily mathematics is a rarified form of language in which the objects it treats (numbers, functions, statements, etc.) have definite meanings and the operations (addition, raising to powers, logical implication, etc.) have definite rules on how they work.

It will never foster that correct view to limit the class to quick answers (It’s not like a TV quiz show) and multiple choice tests. Learning how to analyze a problem (What really is asked for? How might I approach it?) should begin far back in grade school, but seldom does. The last year or so of high school doesn’t give even the able student sufficient background to deal successfully with the more difficult college subjects.

Another example. One of my first computer consulting jobs after starting up Computer Expertise (1984) was for Nick Cladis; he wanted a program to deal with zero-coupon bonds. Nick had had a programmer working on such a program for some weeks, but to no avail. When I looked into that fellow’s efforts I saw that he had been trying to approximate the necessary exponential functions with straight lines! In that case, the knowledge base simply wasn’t there. Perhaps even more to the point, he didn’t know what it was that he didn’t know, and had made no apparent effort to find out.

Higher standards regarding intellectual work, and starting sooner, would do us all, not just the computer industry, a world of good. There’s no reason not to try.

John Lowry is a retired physicist in Billings.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 March 2014 11:38

Hits: 2478

Montana has brand new lieutenant governor

Political news dominated Big Sky Country during the past week. The big news is that Montana now has a new U.S. senator and a new lieutenant governor in John Walsh and Angela McLean, respectively.

Former Lt. Gov. Walsh, whom Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Feb. 7 to fill out the remainder of U.S. Max Baucus’ term, was sworn into his new position by Vice President Joe Biden on Feb. 11. He is reportedly the first Iraq war veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate.

McLean, a high school teacher, Twin Bridges native, and chairwoman of the Montana Board of Regents, was appointed by Bullock to replace Walsh on Feb. 10, with the announcement made in her honors government classroom at Anaconda High School. McLean was formally sworn into office by District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda.

Of course, the U.S. Senate seat has a much higher profile than does the position of Montana lieutenant governor, but these developments are just the beginning of what could be a very interesting ride for both of these gubernatorial appointees.

Three assumptions

Apparently recovering some of his political courage, Gov. Bullock asserted last Friday that, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called him back in December to discuss his choice to replace the resigning Sen. Baucus, D-Mont., he told Reid that “it was none of your damn business.”

First off, I’m guessing that a Democratic governor doesn’t talk to a Democratic Senate majority leader that way, but I wasn’t there and Reid hasn’t yet offered his version of the conversation. Since Reid also called former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who filed to run in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate seat, and asked him to drop out, there must be brazen qualities lurking in the relatively milquetoasty Senate majority leader.

My second assumption is that Bullock is getting mightily tired of dealing with the lingering criticism about how he’s handled the U.S. Senate appointment. This is understandable, and no doubt he’s gotten increasingly ticked off about it, but it’s also his own fault. So, governor, quit playing semantic games with the public and we will all be happier, including you.

My third assumption is that Reid and Bullock actually had the same appointee in mind – namely, John Walsh – so the content and tone of their December conversation is really beside the point. Perhaps we can all agree on that one, at least barring any new (and more believable) information.

Political jobs

John Walsh has a new campaign manager for his U.S. Senate run. It’s Aaron Murphy, who has been based in Billings as a principal with Washington, D.C.-based Hilltop Public Solutions. Previously, Murphy was communications manager for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and had worked in a similar capacity on Tester’s 2012 successful reelection campaign against former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

Murphy, originally from Wyoming, has a journalism background and has worked at TV stations in Billings and Portland, Ore.

He sent out an email Feb. 14 on behalf of the Walsh campaign stating that “draft-dodging Karl Rove” and the Koch Brothers had launched an attack ad in Montana critiquing Walsh’s “lifetime of service and his record on fighting for Montanans.” A new ad for Walsh was attached to the email, which uses the tagline, “John Walsh, Montana Courage.” Clearly the revamped Walsh campaign plans to heavily lean on the candidate’s longtime military background.

Murphy replaces former campaign manager Michelle Mayorga, who joined the Walsh campaign in October after working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee as their Western political director and as a national field director for Planned Parenthood Action.

State rebellion

A group of concerned New Hampshire citizens is trying to draw public attention to the increasing influence of big money in campaigns and the importance of campaign finance reform. Calling themselves “New Hampshire Rebellion,” the group recruited people to walk for two weeks across that state in January and ask 2016 primary candidates this question: “How are YOU going to end the system of corruption in Washington?”

New Hampshire Rebellion (nhrebellion.org) is not advocating any specific solution to the problem but recommends looking at several. These include state statutes limiting how much money candidates can raise by matching contributions with public funding; tax credits and deductions for small contributions to political campaigns; vouchers voters would use to fund campaigns by members of Congress who agree to only accept small contributions, and a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and declaring that “corporations are not persons” and “money is not speech.”

The group sums up the situation this way: “Regardless of the final form reform takes, our first step must be to grow the movement and making systemic corruption the top issue on the mind of all voters, and all candidates, in 2016. We must build a cross-partisan movement that recognizes the need for this fundamental reform, and we must use that movement to convince the politicians to take action.”

In explaining how the group chose its name, leaders point out that New Hampshire is one of seven states where the state constitution specifically protects the “right of revolution.” They further note, “But we’re not calling for a revolution – yet. And we don’t mean to ‘rebel’ against the ordinary processes of government. Indeed, we want to use those procedures, and in particular, the presidential primary in 2016, to bring about the reform we believe this nation needs.”

Virginia ethics

The Virginia Senate recently amended an ethics bill to prohibit lawmakers from being reimbursed for expenses if they attend any conferences for which agenda or materials are not readily available to the public. Some observers say this proposal is targeted at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative political group active in model state legislation such as the controversial “stand your ground” law in Florida.

The Virginia proposal’s wording states: “No legislator shall ... accept compensation or reimbursement for expenses for attendance or services performed at a conference for which the conference agenda or materials are not readily available to the public.” No word on whether a definition will be provided for the word “readily.” So far, the bill has reportedly received bipartisan support in the Virginia Legislature.

Quote of the week

“It must be really interesting for not just the American public but people around the world to view a very effective Congress that gets things done. So I can imagine that [Obama] must feel: ‘Gosh, I wish we could move that quickly.’”

Kevin Spacey, about his Netflix show, “House of Cards,” in which he plays fictional U.S. Vice President Frank Underwood.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 February 2014 22:02

Hits: 1502

Walsh gets Senate seat; GOP readies attack

HELENA HANDBAG

Cathy Siegner

To the surprise of few, Gov. Steve Bullock has chosen his lieutenant governor, John Walsh, to fill out the remainder of Max Baucus’ term in the U.S. Senate. The announcement, made at a press conference in the Capitol Building in Helena this past Friday, was sprinkled throughout with irony, although it was undoubtedly unintentional.

In his acceptance speech, Walsh talked about how he learned from his Butte upbringing that the country was built by people working together regardless of their beliefs. “That’s why I believe this isn’t about party – it’s about having leaders who will put Montana first,” he said. Well, sorry to burst that particular bubble, but if Walsh thinks that his appointment isn’t about party and helping the Democrats retain majority control of the U.S. Senate, he’s either in dreamland or trying to send Montana voters there.

Bullock, whose supply of political courage is apparently running low, had played a ridiculous game with the public via the press basically consisting of, “I can’t comment on the selection process because we don’t actually have a vacancy yet.” Apparently we were supposed to believe that he hadn’t been conferring with Baucus, the White House, Senate Democratic leaders and other party insiders for weeks beforehand. Uh huh.

The governor is getting hassled for his politically expedient choice and rightly so. In fact, Republicans were slamming Walsh even before he was named to the post. In a cartoonish 47-second YouTube video posted a few days prior to the appointment, the National Republican Senatorial Committee claimed that, “Harry Reid and Barack Obama are pulling the strings in Montana,” and that Walsh was “afraid of the spotlight” because of well-publicized problems from his past.

Nanoseconds after Walsh was named, the Montana State Republican Central Committee posted another YouTube video, this one nearly 1.5 minutes long, which uses video clips of Walsh from 2012 decrying the practice of “cronyism” and making a “political appointment” and contrasting them with news reports from 2014 that Walsh was widely expected to be named to replace Baucus. “John Walsh, an insider chosen by insiders,” it concludes. Pretty tough to argue that point.

The Daily Kos, usually a pro-Democratic site, noted that Bullock “went the simplest and safest route” by choosing Walsh, adding that, while Walsh’s chances will be boosted by his temporary incumbency and by having access to wealthy campaign donors in Washington, D.C., the race remains “Lean Republican” because of the superior financial position of GOP Senate primary candidate U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

Also, the Daily Kos analysis pointed out, Walsh will have to spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to D.C. instead of being out on the campaign trail, plus he may have to vote on some tough issues between now and the general election on Nov. 4. But, the analysis concluded, “Walsh and the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] have undoubtedly polled these questions to death, and if a Senate appointment had been a net negative, Bullock would have surely picked someone else.”

Daily Kos isn’t the only political handicapper with that view. The Fix, the Washington Post’s appropriately named political blog, calls Montana’s U.S. Senate race one of three open seats that are “must-wins for the GOP” across the country this year. Here’s their capsule analysis: “Things are looking up for Democrats here with Walsh headed to the Senate. But it’s still a slightly better pickup opportunity for Republicans than Arkansas. It will be interesting to watch how Walsh navigates big votes in Washington. Coming from a conservative state, it would be reasonable to expect to see him try to put distance between himself and the Obama administration in a tangible way.”

The Cook Political Report currently rates the Montana Senate race as “Lean Republican,” and The Hill noted last week that the Republican-aligned polling outfit American Crossroads has Daines ahead of Walsh by double digits: “In Montana, Rep. Steve Daines (R) holds a commanding 14-point lead over Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D), who many expect will be appointed to former Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) seat later on Friday.”

Packing up

After being unanimously confirmed by his U.S. Senate colleagues last week as the next U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus will soon be packing up to head over to Beijing. That huge city (population about 11.5 million) doesn’t seem like the healthiest place to live given the funky air quality, which has literally been off the charts in recent years.

Since 2008, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has had an air-quality monitoring device on top of its building that records air-quality data. Using standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the device records the level of air pollution from zero to 500, which is supposedly the top of the EPA scale. Levels between 301-500 are considered “hazardous,” and people are advised to avoid any outdoor activity. The device has reportedly recorded levels as high as 755 in the recent past.

Baucus will have air purifiers in his office, not to mention wherever he ends up living. Jogging, which he has been known to do on a regular basis, is going to be a rare event unless he can find an indoor track. I’m betting that Baucus will serve in his new post until President Obama leaves office in January 2017 and that he will then head straight back to Montana on the first (and fastest) airplane he can find.

Changing jobs

While one Montana native takes on an ambassadorship, another is stepping down from one. Michael McFaul, who was born in Glasgow and went to high school in Butte and Bozeman, will be leaving Moscow as the U.S. ambassador to Russia after the Sochi Olympics are over.

McFaul has been the U.S. Ambassador in Moscow for about two years. He formerly taught political science at Stanford University and has a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He linked up with the Obama administration in 2009 to help “reset” U.S. relations with Russia, which were in bad shape after eight years of former President George W. Bush.

McFaul has been a controversial figure in Russia because he met with pro-democracy groups just after his arrival there, and some of the more anti-American media outlets view him as a troublemaker for regularly using social media to directly communicate with students and others in that country (and consequently bypassing them).

While McFaul said that he loves his job and will miss Russia, he has indicated that he is looking forward to returning to his family in California.

Bad vote

Even though the U.S. Senate came together to confirm Max Baucus in his new position, they couldn’t manage to pass a no-brainer bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months. The proposal failed on a mostly party-line 58-40 vote last Thursday, leaving about 1.75 million people without any weekly checks to help them through the continuing economic slump.

The proposal only needed two more affirmative votes to pass, and two GOP senators (both from Kansas) didn’t vote. Things are that close in the U.S. Senate these days.

However, the bill’s $6-billion price tag was daunting, and the bill faced an uphill battle in the U.S. House even if it had passed in the other chamber.

New chairman

One of the pitches Max Baucus made every six years when he sought re-election to the U.S. Senate was that he was “chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.”

That position is indeed powerful, but it will now be occupied by somebody else, namely U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., since ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., declined it due to his impending retirement.

Assuming the Democrats retain control of the U.S. Senate, Wyden will take up the cause Baucus dropped: overhauling our tax system. Oregon’s senior senator recently called it a “dysfunctional, rotten mess,” which is relatively diplomatic compared to what others would call it.

His first step will be backing a bill to extend about 50 tax breaks for renewable energy, research and development, mortgage debt and others and then introduce larger reforms from there.

Wyden also said he would like to triple the standard tax deduction to $30,000 so that middle-class taxpayers might get a much-needed financial break. He wants to deal with what he calls the “Neiman Marcus-Dollar Tree economy,” meaning that higher-end retailers and the low-end ones are driving retail sales, while those marketing to the middle-income earners are left out.

Quote of the week

“There are a lot of terrible, entrenched congressmen out there. We’re going to choose one of them, throw him or her into the national spotlight, and see if we can’t send him or her scuttling under the refrigerator on election night.”

– Bill Maher, about his new “flip the district” project planned for his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher,” New York Times, Jan. 30.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 February 2014 00:31

Hits: 1866

Congress beginning to notice unemployed

HELENA HANDBAG

CATHY SIEGNER -

I note with interest recent signs of congressional concern over the fate of the estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed, who saw their benefit checks abruptly cut off Dec. 28. This alleged concern is instructive, perhaps more for what it reveals about politics and the economy than anything else, although the issue is also being teed up as part of the ongoing partisan grudge match in this mid-term election year.

Exhibit A is how President Obama continues to bring up the long-term unemployed every chance he gets. He focused on these folks during a White House speech on Jan. 7, the same day the U.S. Senate voted to debate extending benefits for three months, a proposal carrying an estimated price tag of $6.5 billion.

“The long-term unemployed are not lazy, they’re not lacking in motivation, they’re coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations,” Obama said. “It’s hard out there. A lot of our friends, our neighbors, have lost their jobs and they are working their tails off every single day.”

Others are focusing on all the money not being circulated throughout the U.S. economy by the people who are no longer receiving their unemployment checks. Some estimates put the amount being lost at $1 billion each week. And these unemployment checks for the long-term unemployed aren’t even that much. We’re talking about $300 per week on average, which isn’t enough to cover a mortgage or rent plus pay utility bills and put food on the table.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are talking about how to pay for the short-term benefits extension and say that they won’t support an extension without a plan to cover the cost and to create jobs. Some of these same people blithely approve mega-zillions for vaguely defined military programs and/or don’t believe government can or should create jobs, so it’s wise to take such bluster with about 10 pounds of salt.

Democrats aren’t doing a whole lot about it either besides waiting to see how much the voters care and how much they can pin blame for inaction on the other side of the aisle. They want to back the president by pointing to a slow but steady improvement in the economy, and they’d really like to shift the focus away from continuing problems with the Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”).

Unemployment is a much larger and symptomatic issue than the latest partisan political skirmishes would indicate. For a good overall view of why it’s so important, see Brad Plumer’s Jan. 7 discussion on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, where he explains the context and why it’s impacting our economy so deeply. This ongoing problem isn’t going to be easily solved, especially by short-term spending.

Among other depressing facts, Plumer notes that long-term unemployment in this country is still as high as it’s ever been since World War II, and that 4 million people from all types of occupational backgrounds have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. Data show that those who have been without a job for that long or longer have just a 12 percent chance of finding a new one, and that there are nearly three unemployed people out there looking for work for every available job opening.

Besides the personal economic toll that long-term unemployment takes on people, Plumer notes there are less-tangible but far-reaching effects on physical and mental health and a negative domino effect on self-esteem, family relationships and other social interactions. We all pay for this grim scenario, directly or indirectly.

Trade deal

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., isn’t going to be in the Senate much longer, but he’s using whatever time he has left there to help fast-track the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of increasing corporate economic and political domination.

On Jan. 9, Baucus was the lone Democrat sponsoring TPP fast-track legislation, along with U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and U.S. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich.). President Obama backs the TPP, which is also supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and U.S. corporations that do business overseas.

If U.S. proposals for the TPP are successful, the deal would, for the first time ever, allow foreign corporations to challenge a country’s laws or regulations in a privately run international court, a power currently reserved for sovereign nations. Other U.S. proposals in the works would allow pharmaceutical companies long-term monopolies on new drugs and hamper government health services from negotiating lower drug prices with such companies. Another U.S. proposal would limit foreign governments from using “capital controls” to avoid banking crises.

It’s hard to get details on exactly what proposals are being considered under the TPP because talks held since 2010 among trade representatives of the involved nations are classified and not even members of Congress or their staffers are being kept informed. In fact, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who will replace Baucus as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, reportedly hadn’t even seen the TPP fast-track legislation before it was introduced last week.

Leaked documents have indicated nearly unanimous opposition from other negotiating countries to most American proposals under the TPP, which has clearly delayed progress of the trade pact. One leaked memo noted that only the U.S. and Japan supported most of the American proposals and that the “United States shows zero flexibility.”

Ironically, the same can be said of the Baucus fast-track bill since it would give the president the power to present TPP and other trade deals to Congress that could not be amended and would require an up-or-down vote.

Quote of the week

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

– Pope Francis, in his “Evangelii Gadium” or “Joy of the Gospel,” November.

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 January 2014 09:48

Hits: 2002

Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

Top Desktop version